HARTFORD, CT — It was the first meeting of Democratic and Republican legislative leaders since passage of the state employee concession package, but they’re no closer to resolving the two-year budget deficit than they were in June.
The labor package resolved $1.57 billion of the projected two-year, $5.1 billion budget deficit, but the two parties were no closer to eliminating the rest of the $3.5 billion state budget deficit Tuesday.
After meeting for more than an hour behind closed doors at the state Capitol, members of both caucuses and parties emerged to tell reporters they are continuing to share information about how to resolve the remainder of the budget deficit.
“I want to share ideas and thoughts,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said. “I think the people of Connecticut want us to work together.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said there’s no question the people of Connecticut want the parties to work together, “but we have different ideas about how the state of Connecticut moves forward.”
She said Republicans don’t believe tax increases will fix those problems.
“We’re open to see if there are any other ways to move the budget forward without them,” Klarides said.
The Senate Democratic caucus has also bristled at the notion of a sales tax increase to 6.99 percent. The House Democrats have maintained their support for a sales tax increase to help municipalities keep property taxes low, but Aresimowicz admitted that a budget with a sales tax increase wouldn’t pass the Senate.
Aresimowicz said Tuesday’s discussion was hard because they don’t have a completed budget document to negotiate.
“This isn’t a single party negotiation,” Aresimowicz said.
He said it has to pass the House, the Senate, and it has to be signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. And there’s no document they can all agree on that would get enough votes at this point to become law.
Republican legislators don’t support a sales tax increase, Senate Democrats don’t support a sales tax increase, and legislators from both parties don’t like Malloy’s distribution of municipal and education aid.
“What you’re seeing is a close Republican and Democrat split in the House and Senate,” Klarides said. “That hasn’t been seen in 50 years and that is why this is so difficult.”
She said they all want the best for the state of Connecticut, but their visions are different.
Klarides continued to express her frustration over the recently passed labor deal, which locks the state into an agreement on health and pension benefits until 2027.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said in the past there has always been either the votes or the revenue to make adjustments to the budget.
“That is not available anymore,” Ritter said. “It’s not a tool anyone can use anymore given the state’s fiscal condition.”
However, he warned that the sooner they vote on a budget, the sooner they avoid “worse cuts down the road.”
There’s been no push by Democratic legislators to get Republicans to revise their budget proposals to account for the labor agreement. Republicans assumed the state would change collective bargaining and get more savings from unionized state employees. That didn’t happen.
Regardless, “I’m not expecting the minority party to fill all of the hole caused by the SEBAC agreement,” Aresimowicz said.
He said they plan to meet again Thursday to discuss their various proposals.
“I think sitting down and having a discussion is helpful. I don’t know where it goes,” Aresimowicz said. “SEBAC’s behind us, we can’t relive that fight anymore.”
In the meantime, Malloy’s staff is continuing its efforts to get information about budget reserves from a number of municipalities. Malloy asked for information about the fiscal health of municipalities before leaving for the west coast last week. He is expected to return to Connecticut on Thursday.