State budget passes after marathon session; Late-night turmoil brought it down to the wire [Rep-Am]

June 5, 2015

Republican American

HARTFORD — Passing a two-year, nearly $40.3 billion budget plan turned out more challenging than might have been expected after Democrats and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy shook hands on a budget deal last weekend.

Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, Senate chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, summed it up at the start of the Senate’s debate on the main budget bill late Wednesday afternoon.

“Clearly this has not been an easy process to get to a final product,” Bye said.

The close budget votes in the House and Senate Wednesday culminated three days full of tension, secrecy, wheeling and dealing, and brinksmanship since the budget agreement was finalized after midnight Saturday.

The final vote in the Senate came with a little more 30 minutes left in the session after Senate Republicans spent hours filibustering the Democratic budget package. The 19-17 vote was the bare minimum required to pass it.

The House also narrowly approved the budget Wednesday morning in a marathon session that started late Tuesday afternoon.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, kept the House in session overnight until they were confident that they finally were positioned to pass the budget.

That happened shortly after 5 a.m. when enough “no” votes in the Democratic caucus had been flipped and enough opponents had headed home, including some Democrats who had been encouraged to go.

House Democrats narrowly approved the budget bill in a 73-70 vote just after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The margin was just one more vote than necessary

Sharkey reflected on the budget votes Wednesday after the House had adjourned.

“I think there was high drama in the Senate,” he said.

Fed-up Senate Republicans mounted a filibuster that carried into the final hour of the legislature’s session, looking to take advantage of the legislature’s tradition of unlimited debate.

Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, was upset that Democrats and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy shut Republicans out of the budget negotiations despite the repeated requests of GOP leaders to be invited to the table.

He also accused Sharkey and Aresimowicz had essentially held House members hostage while they tried to turn “no” votes and whittle down the number of opponents.

Republicans in the House and Senate also objected to the spending and tax increases that Malloy and Democrats had proposed.

“We don’t like this budget. We have been left out of the process. I think what they did to the House last night was deplorable,” Fasano told reporters shortly after 10:30 p.m. “It is not the decorum of this building. You don’t hold people here in an effort to twist arms, almost jail them until they vote your way, or attrition causes you to get the votes the way you want it.”

Before ending the filibuster, Fasano acknowledged Senate Democrats could easily bust the filibuster attempt by moving to close debate.

Fasano ended the filibuster after Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, prepared to move to close the debate under Senate rules. The confrontation could have ended badly.

Sharkey pushed back hard in his friendly way when told of Fasano’s remarks to reporters and his later comments on the Senate floor regarding how he and Aresimowicz conducted themselves.

“Sen. Fasano is a very friend of mine. We’ve known each other for many years. He doesn’t have any idea of what he’s talking about, and I’d appreciate it if he would keep his remarks to the House, and not to the activities of House,” Sharkey said.

The Democratic budget proposes to spend slightly more than $19.8 million in the upcoming 2016 fiscal year and slightly less than $20.5 billion in the 2017 fiscal year.

The revenue package raises $670.5 million from higher taxes in the first year and $496.1 million in the second year. When licenses, fees and other revenue sources are tabulated, the overall figures adds up to $1.4 billion over the two-year budget cycle.

Republicans contend the tax increases are closer to $2.3 billion because the Office of Fiscal Analysis does not include transfers of sales tax receipts to the Special Transportation Fund and municipal aid.

House and Senate Republicans have been calling the tax increases the second largest in state history since Malloy and the Democrats approved a record $2.6 billion in the first two-year budget that Malloy signed as governor in 2011.

Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown, argued the record-setting 2011 increases failed to support the levels of spending that Malloy and Democrats have set during his turn at the microphone in the GOP filibuster.

“Here we are four years later, and it didn’t work, and we are going to do it again,” said Kane, the ranking Senate member of the Appropriations Committee. “We are going to raise taxes again because we can’t stop spending.”

Fasano ended the filibuster after Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, prepared to move to close the debate under Senate rules.

Troubles in the House and other last-minute developments required greater exertions on the part of the Democratic leadership and the governor’s office to get the budget deal approved.

In the House, resistance and illness among rank-and-file House Democrats complicated the efforts of Sharkey and Aresimowicz to pass the budget plan.

Newbies in the caucus who were not around when Democrats approved the largest tax increase in state history four years ago needed some assuring and convincing, said Rep. Jeffrey J. Berger, D-73rd District.

“We probably have 20 new members since four years ago when we voted the first tax increase,” he said.

After the final vote, Sharkey defended the Democratic package, calling it a “transformational budget.”

Looney also praised the Democratic budget.

“I think it is one of the best budget I think I have encountered in my 35 years in the General Assembly,” he said.