Republican Senate leader says even split is “exciting,” optimistic about budget progress

January 11, 2017

Article as it appeared in The New London Day

State Senate Republican leader Len Fasano said Monday that the opportunity to now work in a Senate split evenly across partisan lines is “really exciting” but called the governor’s approach to filling in the state’s budget deficit “grossly unfair.”

Meanwhile, he praised a deal that will allow him to share leadership of the Senate with Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney.

Fasano, who was sworn in last week as the Republican President Pro Tempore, a new title that puts him in a leadership position at the head of a split 17-17 member Senate, said in an interview with The Day’s Editorial Board that General Assembly Republicans will have more leverage in the upcoming fiscal year budget and other issues.

During the November elections, House Republicans gained eight seats to narrow the Democratic majority to 79-72, and closed a gap in the Senate to reach a stalemate of 18 members from each party. One state senator from each party resigned last week, in a deal allowing each to take a new job while maintaining an even 17-17 balance in the Senate.

As part of the deal Fasano made with Looney, Republicans will have more power over what business comes before the body, and legislative committees will be chaired by three people, a Senate Democrat and Senate Republican, and a House Democrat. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a Democrat, will cast a vote in the Senate in case of a tie.

“I’m just looking forward to a fresh new start for the state,” Fasano said. “I think our ideas will finally be able to be heard. Whether they’ll act, we’ll see, but they’ll be heard.”

Fasano said the Democratic-majority Senate in place before November’s election was unwilling to engage Republicans on decisions related to the fiscal year budget in place until July 1 of this year.

“We’d have the conversations and they’d say ‘OK,’ and then they’d march forward with their plans,” he said. But, he said, the closer House and tied Senate will make negotiations on the budget and other legislation easier.

“I think they recognize that those days are gone,” he said about the Democrats. “I think the dynamic is already changed, I can feel it in the building.”

Fasano declined to name any cuts Republicans in the Senate might propose to meet spending goals, but said newly appointed Appropriations Committee co-chair, state Sen. Paul Formica, has begun meeting with other Republicans to begin a proposal for the 2018 budget.

Formica, R-East Lyme, and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, were both named as co-chairs of the Appropriations Committee alongside state Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-West Hartford.

The committee handles state budget appropriations, the budgets of state agencies, salaries and benefits for state employees, teachers’ retirement and veterans’ pensions and collective bargaining agreements.

Senate Republican leadership appointed Formica, a second-term senator and the former first selectman of East Lyme, to co-chair the committee on Jan. 4, the first day of the legislative session.

“Paul is tremendously respected in the building,” Fasano said. “His experience in this, both as a business guy and as a municipal individual … I think will be helpful in this current job.”

Fasano said he’s focused in the first month of the legislative session, which began on Jan. 4, on alleviating a deficit in the current budget before tackling the projected $1.45 billion deficit in next year’s budget.

“The first thing we should do in the first 30 days is solve the 2017 budget hole, and then turn to ’18,” he said. “But we need to solve ’17 now. Just get it done.”

Fasano criticized Malloy’s approach of making mid-year cuts to state education aid to towns, which the governor announced in December as necessary measures to achieve savings goals in the current state budget.

“That to me, is beyond the pale,” Fasano said. “It is our hope as we go through the whole of 2017 that we can find a way to find some money to fill in that gap. That will be something we’ll look at if we can do that,” he said.

He praised Malloy for advocating what Fasano called long-needed structural changes to the state budget to handle the state deficit, and for saying in a speech last week that legislators will not be able to cherry pick funding priorities if the deficit is to be reduced.

“What I liked about the governor’s speech is, for the first time I had heard since I have been in the building ‘everything is on the table.’ I don’t think there’s an issue he left off the table, which is perfect.”