HARTFORD, CT — Republican legislative leaders are meeting with House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz today, but the reason for the meeting is unclear.
It signals that General Assembly Democrats are close to finding agreement on the budget within their caucuses, but Aresimowicz’s office declined comment prior to the meeting.
The Democratic Party, which holds a 79-72 majority over Republicans in the House and is tied with Republicans in the Senate, has not released any budget documents since the end of June. But last week Aresimowicz said Democrats were only $100 million to $400 million apart.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, isn’t holding his breath for an outcome.
Fasano said that before the $1.57 billion labor concession package, which erased about one-third of the deficit, Democrats alleged they were close to a deal. With the new labor agreement in the rearview mirror, Fasano said he expected that a budget deal with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would be announced within days.
But it’s been more than a week since the Senate approved the labor concessions and there’s been no word of a deal.
“To argue you got rid of a third of problem and you don’t know where to go next tells me SEBAC didn’t solve the problem,” Fasano said, referring to the deal negotiated with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.
If that labor deal was the corner piece of the Democratic budget proposal, then “where is it?” Fasano said. He added that he’s given Democratic leadership all the information they’ve requested about his budget proposal.
Since the Senate Republican and House Republican budget proposals assumed more in labor savings than was achieved through the labor agreement ratified last week, it means both Republican budget proposals are out of balance.
Fasano said he had no desire to put together another budget proposal without Democrats putting forward at least one line-by-line budget proposal with policy to back up the numbers.
“Show me your cards,” Fasano said Monday.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said the Senate Democratic caucus was meeting Monday to see if they couldn’t reach a consensus on a budget proposal.
Osten said they’ve been meeting on a daily basis with House Democrats and the governor’s staff to make sure all their efficiency proposals and savings are achievable with the labor deal in place.
As part of the process of finalizing a budget, Osten said they reviewed all the budgets out there, including the Republican proposals, to make sure they didn’t leave any good ideas on the table.
She said she’d be happy to see Republican votes for the budget because the final package will include many of their ideas.
“It won’t belong to one caucus,” Osten said.
Osten said if they’re able to find consensus on a budget proposal then she expects the General Assembly would be able to pass a budget in the next two or three weeks. She said they want the budget and the policy implementing the budget to be part of one big bill.
Typically, the budget numbers are adopted and the policy allocating the funding and revenue is detailed in two or three bills.
Osten said it’s their intention to put everything into one budget bill.
Malloy has been running the state by executive order since July 1. The order restricts the amount of money he can spend because it doesn’t allow him to raise revenue and he’s stated he wants to avoid increasing the deficit.
Meanwhile, Moody’s Investor Services released a report warning that negative impacts on local government credit ratings are growing as Connecticut enters its second month without a state budget.
“Lacking certainty on the funding amounts, some municipalities may not have set the property tax levy high enough or may be overspending given the possibility of large state funding cuts,” Moody’s analysts stated in their report.
Analysts point out that the largest portion of state aid — the education cost-sharing grant — is due in October. Communities will receive some funding, but they may need to make unexpected cuts or take emergency action to raise revenue through supplemental tax hikes once allocation amounts are finalized.
Malloy has said he would change the executive order to make sure struggling municipalities receive more education aid than other towns. That could prove to be problematic for some communities.
Many municipalities prepared budgets assuming less severe cuts, but some assumed an increase in state aid.
“Our review of 87 municipalities with passed fiscal 2018 budgets shows they assumed an average decrease of 15 percent in state aid from fiscal 2017 levels. Forty-one of the 87 local governments assumed state funding cuts of 10 percent or more,” according to Moody’s.
At least three of the 87 cities and towns assumed an increase of 10 to 20 percent, and 17 assumed an increase of up to 10 percent. At least 26 communities assumed a decrease in funding of up to 10 percent.