Democrats Yet To Embrace Malloy’s Proposed Budget Cuts [Courant]

June 22, 2015

Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — Under increasing pressure from liberal groups opposed to any more spending cuts for social services, Democratic legislators have not yet embraced Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan for more budget reductions and fewer tax increases as they prepare for a special session at the end of the month.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney said flatly that his caucus has not endorsed Malloy’s plan for more than $200 million in additional budget cuts that are not part of the two-year, $40 billion budget that was passed by the legislature more than two weeks ago.

“We’re open-minded to what the governor had to say,” Looney said in an interview. “We have not endorsed any part of it, but we are meeting to try to deal with some of the objections that were raised by the businesses. … But it seems that the level of outcry didn’t really develop until after the budget was voted.”

Fairfield-based General Electric and other companies objected to the tax package, which includes a so-called unitary tax that would increase taxes on large companies such as GE. The budget also called for tripling the sales tax on computer and data processing services to 3 percent, but Malloy has since called for maintaining that tax at the current level of 1 percent.

In addition to easing business tax increases, Malloy is seeking increased authority to make budget cuts without legislative approval. He has asked for increased authority in the past and has not received it from legislators, who usually want to maintain their power as a separate branch of government.

Democrats, who control the General Assembly, are expected to hold House and Senate caucuses next week to hash out budget details before the special session, now expected to take place June 29 and 30. The new fiscal year starts July 1.

Looney and House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey met with Malloy on Friday, and they said after the meeting that they are still working on a budget plan.

“We don’t have a plan yet, so we don’t know what the votes will be,” Sharkey said. “The governor’s proposal is just that. It’s a proposal. That’s not going to be the final word. We’re going to be producing an implementer with the governor that will get the votes necessary to pass.” Sharkey said he plans to listen to the ideas of House Democrats during a caucus scheduled for Tuesday. An “implementer” is a bill that provides the details of implementing the broad outlines of the budget.

Malloy did not provide details on the substance of Friday’s meeting. When questioned by reporters, he continued walking to his car on the way to an appointment in Waterbury.

“We had a discussion,” Malloy said. “It was a good one, and I think it will be fruitful.”

Looney said he was interested in discussing “alternate revenues” to balance the budget, but he declined to say what they might be.

Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven was upset that Democrats didn’t provide any details about possible new revenues.

“Where is the transparency?” Fasano asked. “Where is the outrage over these backroom deals that could potentially change the future of the state for everyone?

“These deals take place in so much darkness, not even night vision could shed light onto these politics. When you are making decisions in the dark, it is very easy to make errors and to misjudge. We need to open the doors and open the conversation.”

Meanwhile, pressure is building from liberal groups that want no more budget reductions, including Better Choices for Connecticut, a coalition of 45 groups that support Democratic campaigns, including unions. In addition to opposing Malloy’s plan for an additional across-the-board 1.5 percent cut, the group wants to increase the state income tax on the wealthy by another 0.5 percent, pushing it above 7 percent.

Also, families of people with mental health or intellectual disabilities held a news conference earlier this week to urge legislators to reject Malloy’s proposed budget cuts and keep the approved budget intact. Heather Gates, CEO of a nonprofit mental health agency, said that the cuts would be “shocking and devastating to thousands of clients.”

Republicans: It’s Not Enough

The state budget was passed by a three-vote margin in the House. Five Republicans were absent, and House Republican leader Themis Klarides said she believes that all five would have opposed the budget.

Three House Democrats also missed the vote, but one of them, Rep. Mary Fritz of Wallingford, said she would have voted against the budget. Fritz said she might not be able to attend the special session, but said she opposes giving Malloy the increased budget-cutting authority he is seeking.

“I was not elected to give away my legislative powers to the executive branch of government,” Fritz said. “I would not ever give him, after the budget has been put in place, the right to change anything in the budget that he so desires. That’s not what we’re about.”