After weeks of negotiations, Gov. Dannel Malloy has called the General Assembly into a special session starting on Tuesday to pass legislation addressing Connecticut’s $350 million budget gap.
Talks between Malloy and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the General Assembly have continued throughout the fall, with each group offering its own proposals to resolve the budget deficit. Those talks finally broke down last week when Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, told reporters “policy differences” would forestall a full bipartisan agreement. But Malloy and Democratic leaders said they are confident sufficient consensus exists within the Democratic caucus to pass budget legislation in the special session.
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said the caucus has “more or less” reached a consensus on the package of cuts. Though the Senate caucus has yet to reach an exact agreement with the House Democrats, both caucuses agree on the general outlines of the deal.
“We’ve reached an agreement on the broad strokes in terms of the year-by-year cuts,” Joseph said. “We plan to reduce spending at the bottom line by $350 million in [fiscal year] 2016 and $212.3 million in [fiscal year] 2017.”
Fasano said the current impasse between the Democrats and Republicans is caused by “structural differences.” The two parties, he said, have rival conceptions of how to deal with state finances in the long term.
Though talks ended without a bipartisan deal, Fasano had kind words for Malloy, whom he has often criticized in the past.
“The governor was terrific, in my personal opinion — I think he showed great leadership,” Fasano said. “He got us in corners and got us to go places that we don’t go. I think that from a personal aspect, and for someone who’s been critical of Governor Malloy, I cannot speak more highly of Governor Malloy in this process.”
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, declined to reveal the specifics of the proposals the parties had discussed. He added that the level of support in both chambers of the Democratic caucus for Malloy’s budget package is sufficient to warrant calling the special session.
A centerpiece of the plans the Republicans and Senate Democrats presented was a retirement incentive program, which was estimated to save the state roughly $80 million in fiscal year 2016. The program was taken off the table when new numbers from the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis showed it would save less than half that original estimate.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the legislature will be able to meet the $350 million target even without the retirement incentive program. He noted that Malloy’s original plan, presented in early November, does not include the program.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Malloy said all three groups have reached a consensus on spending, but disagreements on the long-term future of state finances still persist.
“If this was only about spending, we have for all intents and purposes an agreement,” he said. “I think both sides have to figure out where they are on this ‘policy’ stuff. In my opinion, it’s close enough. I’m calling them in — let’s get the job done.”
In his Friday formal proclamation convening the special session, Malloy said he is calling on legislators to address the budget shortfall without imposing new taxes or tapping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Previous plans from the Democrats included putting $35 million from the Rainy Day Fund toward the deficit.
The content of proposals from both parties shifted as talks proceeded throughout November and December. The Democrats’ plans originally proposed suspending the Citizens’ Election Program — a public-funding program for elections for state positions — until 2016. But the Senate Democrats reneged on that proposal after widespread discontent within the party. The Senate Democrats also broke with the House Democrats by backing a retirement incentive program in their second round of proposals. This program will also not appear in the plans presented to the General Assembly this week because the program would save significantly less than original estimates suggested.
The lack of a bipartisan deal comes as a disappointment after weeks of talks. Optimism in both parties about the chances of reaching a deal peaked last week, with party leaders noting the talks’ productivity — a far cry from the partisan acrimony that reigned in Hartford after the Republicans’ plans were leaked to The CT Mirror in mid-November.
The General Assembly will also vote on creating a constitutional transportation “lockbox” in the special session.