Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Senate President Martin Looney and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Democratic leaders in the General Assembly said that any vote against the budget they put on the board during the week of Sept. 11 should be seen as an endorsement of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s executive order.

Republicans say that’s “ridiculous” and “absurd.”

Following a closed-door meeting with Republican legislative leaders Wednesday, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, and Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said that voting against a two-year budget should be seen as an endorsement of Malloy’s executive order, which eliminates education funding for 85 communities.

“If you don’t want to work in a bipartisan way and you vote no, you are going to be just as responsible as everybody else for the cuts that go to your town. I truly believe that,” Ritter said.

Looney said anyone who votes against a budget the week of Sept. 11 is casting a vote to continue to operate under the governor’s executive order.

“It’s time to start voting yes and get to yes if you really want to be a representative of your town,” Ritter added.

Republican legislative leaders and their representatives struggled to restrain themselves over the comment.

“Patently absurd,” Pat O’Neil, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus, said.

Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called the statement “ridiculous.”

While Republicans have expressed their concern and displeasure with proposals to increase the sales tax and the governor’s proposal to shift teacher retirement costs to municipalities, they have also put forward alternatives to those proposals. Fasano refused to draw a line in the sand and say that there were never going to be Republican votes for a budget that increases the sales tax.

“When you do negotiations you never draw lines,” Fasano said. “… You need to have the open communication.”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said between her and Fasano she thinks they’re put forward at least eight budget proposals in the last six months and they’re stuck with a labor agreement that they can’t change for a decade.

“How many times can Lucy pull the football out from under you?” Klarides said. “They’ve put themselves in a situation where they believe the only way to fix this is through sales tax increases. We believe strongly there is another way.”

But Ritter said the executive order Malloy revised two weeks ago is “the alternative budget.”

“If you can’t come in here and put a green button to something, you’re saying the executive order is better,” Ritter said. “I don’t believe that’s right for your town.”

Looney said they want a budget that protects social services, but doesn’t burden people with excessive taxation.

That’s easier said than done.

“If it were easy to do it would have been done awhile ago,” Looney said.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Senate Republican President Len Fasano (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

At the same time, Democratic and Republican legislative leaders said there’s a lot of agreement on what can be done to change how the state of Connecticut and municipalities operate.

“There’s a lot of agreement between all four caucuses and the governor,” Ritter said.

He said they’re all working toward a bipartisan budget proposal.

Looney said a sales tax increase and eliminating sales tax exemptions are options under consideration, but the focus at the moment has been on structural changes.

“I think the tax talk is very premature,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said.

He said they’re focused on “structural changes.” Asked for examples of those “structural” or “systematic” changes, Duff referred reporters to a press aide.

“I can get you some of the options that are out there,” Duff said. “I think the press has seen at least 12 to 13 of things on the list.”

He said those things are “more substantial” than a sales tax increase, but none of the three proposals sent later by a press aide would produce the savings necessary to close the immediate $3.5 billion deficit.

One of the three examples of structural change sent by the press aide seeks to cap the estimates and finals portion of the income tax at $3.1 billion. By capping the projections, it limits the amount of money the state can expect to spend.

The proposal, if it’s adopted, is expected to reduce spending about $30 million in the year following its enactment.

Looney said they’ve also looked at helping municipalities consolidate town and school board purchasing and some back office functions.