Connecticut lawmakers are expected back at the State Capitol on Thursday. They’ll be there to finally vote on the state’s two-year budget that was supposed to have taken effect on July 1. Lawmakers have spent the past three months since they adjourned from their regular session arguing about how to fix a $3.5 billion deficit in the state’s $40 billion two-year budget.
Since July 1, Governor Dannel Malloy has had to take control of state spending under his limited executive authority. He has threatened drastic cuts in state aid to cities and towns.
WSHU’s Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma has been following developments in Hartford and sat down with Morning Edition Host Tom Kuser to update him on the latest. Below is a transcript of their conversation.
Ebong, are we really going to see a budget vote on Thursday?
It looks very likely. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, a Democrat from Berlin, is the person calling lawmakers in for the vote. He says there can no longer be any delays because Governor Malloy is threatening to drastically cut state funding for education if there is no budget by October 1st.
"This entire building should understand, October 1st, if it comes to be and the executive order takes place, it’s going to be a bad situation for public education for the State of Connecticut."
Does that mean that lawmakers have reached an agreement on how to close the $3.5 billion deficit?
They’re still working on that. Aresimowicz says Democrats will go it alone if they can’t get an agreement with the Republicans. Although he says they’d prefer to have Republicans’ votes.
But, Ebong, don’t they have a 50-50 tie between Democrats and Republicans in the State Senate? Does that mean that the Democrats can’t afford to lose any votes and will need the lieutenant governor as a tiebreaker in order to get a budget?
Tom, it does. And here’s Aresimowicz explaining the scenarios:
“Either you get it to pass in the House, you get it to pass in the Senate and you receive a governor’s signature. Or you get 101 in the House and 24 in the Senate to override the lack of a government signature. But we’re committed to not let October 1st happen.”
So, again Ebong, do they have an agreement?
I don’t think they do. The bipartisan talks seem to have gone nowhere, and it seems as if the Democrats have decided to cut a deal with Governor Malloy. Earlier this week, they’ve dropped their demand for an increase in the sales tax that the governor and some moderate Democrats had been against.
If they’re not going for an increase in the sales tax, how do the Democrats expect to raise the money to close the budget gap? Or are they counting on having more cuts to state spending?
Well, Tom, they're still considering a number of new sources of revenue, even at this eleventh hour. Those include the possibility of an increase in specific taxes, such as the real estate conveyance tax and the restaurant tax. But Aresimowicz says what’s not being considering right now is legalizing recreational use of marijuana so it can be taxed and having a comeback of highway tolls.
Well, how about the Republicans, what’s their position on all of this?
It seems the Republicans are pretty upset that the Democrats are making a final deal with the governor and cutting them out. Here’s what House Republican Leader Themis Klarides of Derby had to say about that:
“If you want to be in bed with the governor, if you want to make a deal with the governor, that is your prerogative. But you cannot expect us to sit here and continue these back and forth when you are not doing it in a way that’s open and honest.”
Does that means the GOP has been shut out?
Aresimowicz still thinks they can talk but it doesn’t seem as if it’s going anywhere. Here’s what Senate Republican President Len Fasano of North Haven had to say:
“I don’t care what budget they put out, it’s doomed for failure. And it’s doomed to set the state in the same path that they have followed for six years.”
Doomed for failure, it sounds pretty serious. So, three months of negotiations have pretty much led nowhere?
Yes, I think these are very difficult decisions and politicians generally try to avoid having to make them until the absolute last minute. And as Senate Democratic President Martin Looney of New Haven says, the choice is between passing the budget or having the governor run the state by executive order.
“The alternative to the executive order is that the budget we tend to put on the board on Thursday, and the failure to pass that, would mean very severe cuts that the governor proposed in his executive order will go into effect as of October 1st. So I think the choice is what we’ll vote on Thursday or what will go into effect on October 1st otherwise.”
I guess the basic question here, Ebong, is will Connecticut have a budget on Thursday?
Well, we’ll have to wait and see. But I think it’s highly likely that by Friday morning, there’ll be a budget.
Ebong, thanks for your insights this morning.
Thank you, Tom.