With a new year comes a new legislative session. But as Connecticut lawmakers are discovering, it presents familiar challenges.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell, opening the 2009–’10 legislative session of the General Assembly with her State of the State Address last week, proclaimed that the trying times brought in by 2008 “will not go quietly in this new year.” The state is currently facing an expanding budget deficit as declining state revenues meet increasing demands for services. And with cities and towns across the state facing similar shortfalls, they are looking to the statehouse and beyond for assistance.
Senate President Donald Williams, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan and House Majority Leader Denise Merrill, all Democrats, lead the General Assembly this session. Their party has a veto-proof hold over both houses of the General Assembly, assuming it can keep its caucus members in line.
Because of this majority, members of the General Assembly expect Republican legislators to be marginalized in both Houses. Instead, Democrats intend to work with the one Republican who can halt their legislation dead in its tracks: Rell.
“There really aren’t too many of them left,” Sen. Toni Harp, deputy president pro tempore and chairwoman of the appropriations committee of New Haven told the News in November. “But they still have the Governor’s Mansion.”
Indeed, tensions are rising between Rell and the Democratic legislators over the growing budget gap as Democrats are trying to make their own mark on the budget process, said a staffer close to the situation.
In late December, Rell called a special session to close the budget gap for Jan. 2, but Democrats stalled, scheduling consideration on the governor’s latest deficit mitigation measure for this Wednesday.
Rell responded with a harsh statement expressing disappointment with the date; new revenue estimates are to be released by the State Office of Policy and Management on Jan. 15.
“My fear is that if the Legislature acts on Jan. 14, they will be a day early and potentially millions of dollars short,” she said.
But Democratic leadership in the General Assembly has defended its decision by asserting that the weight of the budget deficit will carry over to other legislative issues.
“Legislation that costs money will have to pass a strict cost-benefit analysis,” said Speaker Donovan at a press conference last week. “So many people depend on the state for services as vital as education and health care. We need to protect crucial services while pulling tightly on our belt.”
The 2009 regular legislative session runs from Jan. 7 to June 3, with the possibility of convening additional sessions as needed.