The Democratic majority has reached a budget deal before the deadline, but the Republican minority’s failure to produce a counter-proposal and the Democratic majority’s failure to address transportation cast a shadow over the accomplishment.
Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, held a press conference Monday and sitting beside the two men was a poster titled, “GOP Budget.” The poster was blank besides an empty white piece of paper taped to it.
“We’ll get attacked on the floor and that’s fine, but when you propose nothing?” Ritter said, gesturing to the poster at his left. “Nothing. I mean, come on. It’s hard to, in this building, do anything and everyone is prepared to take shots, but how can you negotiate with someone without even a piece of paper, not even a summary of ideas?”
The 567-page budget will possibly be debated in both chambers Monday.
“We’re really proud of the document that came out,” Aresimowicz said. “It’s coming out on time, balanced, it makes investments in our municipalities — education, workforce development, there is the extension of the Municipal Redevelopment Authority.”
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said the budget was “disgusting” and a “hodgepodge of ideas with no plan, no future, and no direction for the state of Connecticut.” He said the Republicans were not given a chance to contribute their ideas.
“We were never invited to a room, ever,” Fasano said.
Aresimowicz said the Republicans were invited to the negotiating table “repeatedly.”
“The governor has said since January, ‘open door policy’,” Aresimowicz said. “‘Come in, I want to hear your ideas. Let’s talk about it.’ Every year they have produced a document. Why did they take a pass?”
Fasano said he asked Gov. Ned Lamont in February to gather the leaders and start the session with a discussion about the budget.
“We never got a meeting with a governor with all the leaders,” Fasano said. “His door was open to talk to me, but after that it went nowhere.”
Fasano said that the Democrats’ focus on their own policies made it pointless to try to contribute to the budget.
“It’s funding paid family leave, we didn’t like the paid family leave they did,” Fasano said. “We weren’t with the minimum wage that they did. And the other policies we see in this budget, we were never going to be with.”
Fasano said that even “disgusting” budgets are embraced by the majority party historically, and the Democrats’ pride in the budget doesn’t mean much.
“I don’t think there was ever a budget that the Democrats put out that they haven’t hugged, kissed, and loved,” Fasano said.
One thing the Democrats do regard as a failure, however, is transportation. Aresimowicz said he went to Lamont’s office on Saturday and while Lamont praised the budget for its timeliness and completion, he scolded Aresimowicz for the legislature’s inability to “do its job.”
“I don’t know if you have seen Governor Lamont mad or not before, but he was very upset Saturday with the fact that we have not finished the work when it comes to transportation,” Aresimowicz said. “He was not just saying tolls. He was saying whatever the answer is, it has to happen. It affects the economic development here in our state, it affects safety here in the state and I am not letting you off the hook.”
Aresimowicz said that although Lamont may not have said it directly, it was clear to him that Lamont may demand the legislators continue working on transportation after the session ends. Aresimowicz does not know when the special session will begin, but he thinks it will be soon.
“I’ve known Ned a long time, going back to 2006, but I’ve never seen him as angry as he was on Saturday,” Aresimowicz said. “Very happy about other things but when the subject turned to that, the meeting became incredibly uncomfortable.”
Aresimowicz said Lamont’s exact words were, “You need to do your jobs. You were elected to solve problems facing the state and this is a problem facing the state.”
Fasano agreed that the budget should have addressed transportation because it is a “crisis” facing the state. He said this budget is actually draining the Special Transportation fund that would help to solve the problems.
“If transportation is a priority, why didn’t they put more money into transportation?” Fasano asked. “They couldn’t even agree to put in the couple of bucks we were talking about for transportation. But I thought that was a crisis. I thought it was going to make the world come to an end. But they didn’t address it in this budget.”
These issues, while frustrating, will take a back seat today as both chambers debate the $43.35-billion budget.
Democrats were quick to point out the transfer of $2 billion into the Rainy Day Fund. However, the volatility cap, which was part of the bipartisan budget two years ago, requires most of the surplus funds to be placed in the Rainy Day Fund.
“The only reason they keep talking, they’re so proud — it’s only because they can’t touch that,” Fasano said. “It’s the MC Hammer song. They can’t touch that surplus. It’s stuck there.”
Fasano said he’s counted at least $13 million in “giveaways” in the budget to tourism and local arts organizations. There’s another $1.9 million in “pork” for little leagues and other local organizations.
Maribel La Luz, Lamont’s communications director fired back at Fasano.
“Sen. Fasano has now spent more time googling song lyrics from MC Hammer than he has putting together a budget. Gov. Lamont made clear in January that he has an open-door policy, one that Sen. Fasano has utilized several times since then. Why, then, during none of those meetings, did Sen. Fasano take the opportunity to review his budget proposal with the Governor and share his ideas? Simple answer: Sen. Fasano has never had a budget proposal, period.”
Ritter said he expects this to receive criticism, but said it cannot be taken seriously without the other side releasing a proposal of their own.
“What would you have done differently?” Ritter asked the critics of the proposed budget. “They would say, ‘Well you could make cuts’.”
Again gesturing to the blank poster beside him, Ritter asked, “Do you have a list of those cuts?”