Two weeks ago, a leak of the state Republican leadership’s plans to fill Connecticut’s $350 million budget gap threatened to put talks with Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Democratic leadership in Hartford on ice. Still, after a series of marathon sessions last week, Democratic and Republican leaders expressed confidence that they will complete a deal before the end of the year.
In a joint press conference Tuesday after a meeting with leaders from both chambers of the General Assembly, State Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the parties had moved closer to an agreement on state budget cuts — an issue that has cleaved through Hartford’s political scene in recent weeks. Following talks with Malloy Tuesday, party leadership met without the governor to further discuss the caucuses’ plans for the state budget. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, said the leaders have agreed on some line-item cuts and have found “commonality” on other broad topics. The leaders are planning a special session for the week of Dec. 7 to address the budget deficit, said House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.
“We’re moving substantially closer to an agreement, I think,” Looney said at the press conference. “We had hopeful and productive discussions [Tuesday], and we’re going to continue those. We think we have narrowed a lot of the differences between us and are moving closer.”
The specifics of any deal between the four caucuses — two in the Senate and two in the House — remain unclear, and caucus leaders have so far declined to publicly reveal the specifics of their talks. But Fasano and Looney said Tuesday that revised figures from the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis have cast doubt on the merits of the retirement incentive program, a central part of the plans put forward by Republicans and Senate Democrats.
Republican and Democratic plans relied on last week’s OFA estimate that 1,800 state employees would retire under a retirement incentive program, saving the state $80 million in fiscal year 2016. But new figures from OFA released later last week indicate that the program would save just over $40 million.
“That has been a little twist, if you would, that caught us all by a little bit of surprise,” Fasano said. “We are reviewing that again in light of the new number. We’ve talked about that number and we have to revisit it since there’s not as much saving as we had thought.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the retirement incentive program remains on the table despite the revised OFA numbers. In a later press conference on Tuesday, Malloy said the revised figure for the program is an “eye-opener for everyone,” adding that the new figures will force the leadership to seek other cuts from the budget.
Sharkey said the new figures will have no impact on the House Democrats’ plans, which do not contain any proposals for a retirement incentive program. Instead, the House Democrats are proposing cuts to the state’s rainy day fund, special transportation fund and municipal funding.
After meeting with Malloy, the legislative leaders moved their conversation into a separate room. Klarides said this meeting allowed the leaders to discuss only the three sets of plans put forth by groups in the General Assembly.
“The governor had his proposals, and the legislature had our separate proposals,” she said. “We wanted to see where we could get and kind of flesh out some of the issues that we may have had with each other substantively.”
Malloy said he had no concerns about the leaders’ separate meeting and was encouraged by their discussions.
“I think that everyone is approaching this in good faith,” he said at the press conference. “I don’t think that, before today, we made nearly enough progress, and I think that we need to try to speak with one voice, which begins by legislative leaders talking with one another … I think that there’s now an opening for substantial progress to be made.”
Malloy added that he will continue to work on deficit reduction through increasing taxes and lowering spending.
Further meetings between Malloy and the legislative leaders are scheduled for early in the coming week. Fasano said the leaders plan to make the numbers in each caucus’ proposal more exact before talks resume.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said the willingness of all four caucus leaders to discuss their differences has brought them closer to an agreement.
“I think we’re getting there, and I think that if you work closely, in a bipartisan way, and if you have honest discussions like we have, that it takes a little bit longer, but at the end of the day, you get a better product,” he said at the press conference.
Fasano agreed, saying the frank discussions have evinced a “mutual respect among all of the leaders” and a shared desire to reach common ground.
The Democratic leadership recently reversed a proposal to suspend the citizens’ election program.