After suggestions Tuesday that a bipartisan solution to Connecticut’s budget crisis was close at hand, Republican Gov. John G. Rowland and key Democratic state legislators failed to agree on a solution last night as lawmakers wrapped up the second day of a marathon special legislative session.
Looking to slash an estimated $300 million from the state budget, Democrats said they were prepared to pass their own deficit reduction package under the threat of a possible gubernatorial veto.
Rowland called for the special legislative session last month after indications that the economic effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist disaster were threatening to throw the budget into disarray.
State Rep. Cam Staples, a New Haven Democrat, said last night that the Democratic plan did not call for cuts in education funding to municipalities — a possibility that had worried New Haven politicians.
“They’re relatively modest adjustments because we don’t want to overreact in case the revenue situation changes over the next couple of months,” Staples said Tuesday night, after returning from the state capitol. “It’s going to be lots of minor reductions in accounts of agencies which are not projecting to spend their full allotment for the year.”
Before hearing of the impasse in Hartford yesterday, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said he was confident a solution could be reached.
“For the last seven years, the governor and the legislature have come together each year and figured out a working budget,” he said. “I have a feeling they’ll be able to resolve this in the same way and in short order.”
DeStefano said he blamed the shortfall on a series of Rowland’s tax cuts, not on overspending by legislative Democrats.
Staples said the Democrats’ plan did not call for reductions in any of New Haven’s other major sources of state funding.
Neither funding to health and human welfare services nor money New Haven gets from the Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, program was slated for reduction, he said.
The Democratic plan, which includes a mix of budget cuts and last minute borrowing, covers about $240 million of the $300 million estimated shortfall. Rowland would be responsible for paying off the remaining portion of the deficit before the end of the fiscal year in June.
It was not clear Wednesday night whether Rowland would sign or veto the bill, but his budget director immediately blasted the Democrats’ proposal as “totally irresponsible.”
Budget chief Marc Ryan said it was “disconcerting” that Democrats appeared unwilling to accept that significant spending cuts were needed to cope with a decline in revenues caused by the weakening economy.
“All day long the Democrats said they were going to come up with [additional] cuts. But the truth is, they took out one gimmick and replaced it with five others. They’ve really accomplished nothing,” Ryan said Wednesday night.
Rowland said earlier this week that he would be forced to lay off state workers and cut funding to municipal services if the legislature did not present him with a solution that pleased him.
DeStefano called Rowland’s suggestions counterproductive.
“This is a manageable problem in a very large budget,” the mayor said. “Everyone would be best served by not resorting to ultimatums and threats.”
Staples said Democratic legislators would have a list sometime today of what would be cut specifically under the proposal.
“As much as we can control it, it will not affect any personnel costs,” Staples said. “So it won’t affect layoffs. Obviously we’re all waiting to see the details.”
–The Associated Press contributed to this story.