Budget approved, Malloy pledges to veto
HARTFORD » With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy likely to veto the $40 billion Republican budget narrowly approved by the House and Senate, the General Assembly is back where it started and maneuvering in shifting political sands.
“You have to take the party patch off or this will never work,” said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz after his Democratic budget went down in flames early Saturday due to the defection of four caucus members.
“The [Republican] budget is more of a political document — they know it can’t be implemented,” Aresimowicz said. “Let’s get serious about negotiations.”
State Rep. Kim Rose, D-Milford and one of four House members who voted for the Republican budget, said Saturday her vote was intended to force bipartisan negotiations.
“I didn’t feel either budget was a good budget,” Rose said. “The Republican budget was a little kinder to Milford. But we need to move forward. It’s my hope we work together to protect services and do structural reforms.”
Democrats, who have enjoyed majority control of the Legislature for years, are now operating in new and unfamiliar territory — perhaps a byproduct of the conservative wave that swept Donald Trump into the White House last fall.
But the underlying risk of the political jockeying is draconian cuts in October to education and municipal aid that Malloy must execute under his executive order now funding essential services in the absence of an adopted spending plan by the Legislature.
“We know our financial problems will get significantly worse in October, resulting in massive cuts to towns, hospitals, private providers and others,” Malloy said. “Connecticut is counting on us — let’s keep working.” Stunning defeat The adoption of a Republican budget in a Democratic controlled House and Senate on Thursday and Friday reverberated through the state’s political circles.
The Senate voted 21-15 on Friday afternoon for the Republican package and on Saturday the House adopted the spending plan by a narrow 77-73 cast in the early morning hours. Seven attempts by Democrats to amend the GOP budget, which would have sent it back to the Senate, failed.
Rose said she knew Malloy, a Democrat who backed his party’s budget, would veto the Republican plan that she helped adopt — and admitted that factored in her decision to support the bill in hopes the two sides would later produce a better spending plan.
“Since the last national election, it’s not black and white anymore,” Rose said. “You can’t go too far left or right. You must be willing to negotiate.”
State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, also defected from her party and backed the Republican plan, along with Sens. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield and Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury.
Slossberg said her choice did not come easily. “This has been a long and difficult process,” she said.
“Connecticut has had multibillion-dollar deficits for so many years, and we are going to be looking at multibillion-dollar deficits for the next 30 years,” Slossberg said. “It scares me. We have to turn the curve and make those hard choices.”
The differences in the Democratic and Republican spending plans are stark.
The Democrats proposed plugging the state’s $3.5 billion deficit with a cocktail of spending cuts and increased fees and surcharges. Their budget slapped a 49cent per month fee on cellphones, a new fee on “summer” homes and created a new state authority to implement highway tolls.
The Republican budget in part relies on huge spending cuts at UConn and eliminating the state Citizen’s Election program, which provides public money to fund campaigns.
The GOP plan also slashes the Earned Income Tax Credit that allows poor families to get a break on their state income tax.
For Malloy, the GOP plan simply goes too far.
“It relies on too many unrealistic savings, it contains immense cuts to higher education, and it would violate existing state contracts with our employees, resulting in costly legal battles for years to come,” Malloy said.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, called the Republican plan one that would move the state ahead and plug a $3.5 billion deficit.
“We have to start somewhere,” she said of a budget stalemate that has gone on for 77 days, and urged Democrats to stop “kicking the can.” Shifting sands It was not that many years ago that Democrats enjoyed healthy margins in the House and Senate, comfortable enough that the defection of two or three members — and sometimes more — made no difference.
But the margin between Democrats and Republicans has been steadily tightening. During the last election, the House majority dropped to seven votes and Senate was left tied 18-18, with Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman able to break a deadlocked vote.
“There could be shifting alignments,” said Gary Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University. “Maybe this is the tip of the iceberg, these Democratic defections. Democrats should take heed.”
Steve McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University, said the political ground has been shifting for some time.
“There are a lot of suburban Democrats facing pressure to vote for more austere budgets,” McLean said. “They are concerned they will face a tough election next year.”
McLean attributed much of the shift to the divide between urban and suburban areas in Connecticut, noting many Democrats come from the suburbs.
“The Democrats have lost that big majority,” McLean said. “The fissure is so large that some will vote for the Republican budget. But it’s also easy to vote for a budget they know won’t pass the governor.”
Still, McLean said the upcoming race for governor looks like it could be “frightening for Democrats. I don’t think it has as much to do with Trump as the urban and suburban divide.”
Ronald Schurin, a UConn political science professor, said he believes the Democratic defections are mostly a negotiating tactic designed to get a better deal.
“This reflects the Republican base flexing its political muscle,” Schurin said. “But at the end of the day this budget and the dacronian custs will go nowhere.”
Democratic Party Chairman Nick Balletto insisted his party has strong support across the state.
“I have traveled to all corners of the state in recent months, talking to those who felt left out of our political system and are making their voice heard since Donald Trump was elected,” Balletto said. “I can assure you that there is a groundswell of grassroots supporters who believe in our values and that what we are fighting for is right. They will not be slowed down in this effort to move Connecticut forward.”
Republican Party Chairman J.R. Romano saw the vote differently, saying it was a repudiation of Malloy and Democrats.
“[The vote] was a victory for Connecticut taxpayers and a defeat for Gov. Malloy’s policies. It shows Republicans can lead the state to prosperity,” Romano wrote on Twitter.