Connecticut lawmakers are working on closing a nearly $1 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year before their legislative session ends at midnight on Wednesday, May 4.
At issue are three competing plans: One introduced by Democratic Governor Daniel Malloy, another introduced by legislative Republicans, and a partial fix that was tabled a while back by the Democratic leaders in the legislature.
In this week’s installment of WSHU’s series on regional politics, Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma speaks with Associated Press State Capitol Reporter Susan Haigh and Morning Edition Host Tom Kuser to talk about the fact that this issue might go down to the wire.
TOM: Ebong, is that really the case?
EBONG: It looks that way. Connecticut has a history of when you have some heavy lifting to do leaving it until the final moments of the legislative session and then rushing it right through. And it looks as if we are going to have that same type of situation this year because we have such a big hole to fix in the budget.
TOM: Susan, could you give us a brief idea of the different plans that have been put forward?
SUSAN: Well, what you have going now is the Democrats, that’s the latest plan to come forward. They put together a proposal that would protect funding for hospitals, protect various programs that their members care about. And what they want to do is not run it, we’ve found out, but now they want to use it as a basis for discussions for hopefully a bipartisan agreement that would be reached with the Republicans and the governor.
TOM: Now in recent weeks, the governor himself has submitted two different budgets for this session. Is that unusual?
SUSAN: It’s very unusual. I mean what happened is that the first one was his regularly expected budget. But that one was at time when our deficit was around $570 million and that came out in February. And those estimates were from January. Then he ended up coming out with another plan after he was frustrated with the Democrats for proposing plans that only covered the $570 million. And he came out with a second plan that covered $922 [million]. But that plan included a lot of things that lawmakers were upset about. He wanted to cut education funding to some towns, entirely. He wanted to cut funding for hospitals dramatically. And then in the meantime, the Republicans, they came out with a plan themselves, that also met the $922 million. But that included things that the majority Democrats didn’t like, like eliminating the public financing of elections, and changing some grant funding. So this whole situation is very unusual, I mean I’ve been up here for a long time, and it seems that budgets tend to be messy. But this one is particularly messy because the deficit problem is humongous and the revenue estimates don’t show that it is going to be improving anytime soon.
TOM: And I’m wondering too what do you make of the Republicans call for the governor to scale back his transportation fund?
SUSAN: Well that’s going to be a difficult thing to get him to agree to because that’s the hallmark of his administration. What that’s up against is the Democrats have their hallmark type plan and that is to use a portion of the sales tax revenue, and Malloy wants to use part of the sales tax revenue to partially fund his transportation initiative. But the Democrats want to use part of it as well to provide local property tax relief. And so you have these two competing interests here where the Democrats wants theirs to pass and the governor wants his to pass, and the Republicans have proposed cutting both to some extent.
TOM: Sounds like a long way from a done deal. What do you make of Malloy’s threat to call lawmakers back for a special session if they don’t reach a deal by May 4?
SUSAN: It wouldn’t be the first special session I’ve covered that’s for sure. You know they’ve got time. May 4 is May 4 if they don’t have a deal, you know the new budget year doesn’t begin until July 1.
TOM: There’s been a lot of talk about service cuts. From what you’ve seen, how bad would that really be?
SUSAN: It would be pretty serious. I mean they are already happening. The governor is already issuing hundreds of layoffs. In programs like emergency mental health crises teams that go out when someone is having an episode, those people have been laid off because primarily it’s a programmatic cut. So we are seeing the effects of it already.
TOM: Ebong, with all of this in, at the end of the day whatever they come up with, the lawmakers, would it fix our long-term budget problems in Connecticut?
EBONG: I doubt it. Because everyone I’ve talked to says we have structural problems with our budget in Connecticut. There’s not enough revenue for the services that we have to pay for. So we have to cut back on services in Connecticut. And that’s some real heavy lifting. And I doubt if that would happen in an election year.
TOM: Sounds like there’s a lot of action to come. Ebong and Susan, thank you for your time today.
SUSAN: Thank you for having me.
EBONG: Thank you, Tom.