More than eight months into the year, state lawmakers are still struggling to find common ground on a budget, making Connecticut the only state in the nation without a funding plan for the fiscal year that began on June 30.
Republicans in the Connecticut House of Representatives failed to muster support for a motion on Oct. 3 to override Gov. Dannel Malloy’s veto of their budget bill. The Republican budget passed with a handful of unexpected Democratic votes on Sept. 15 in the Senate and on Sept. 16 in the House of Representatives, but Malloy vetoed the bill on Sept. 28, as he vowed he would at the time of the vote.
The state faces a $3.5 billion deficit over the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years, and has now gone more than 100 days without a buget.
“The governor vetoing this budget and offering no alternative plan for our towns, cities and nonprofits — but his executive order — is a devastating event,” State Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, said at an Oct. 2 press conference.
Democratic Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, came out in favor of the veto, deeming the Republican budget inadequate.
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said that the budget failed to dedicate enough to Democratic priorities like education. In higher education, the budget would have cut support for the University of Connecticut by $309 million, slashed funding for the state university and community college system by $93 million and eliminated scholarships for nearly 15,000 students, according to a Sept. 28 statement from Looney and Duff.
The Democrats are aiming to produce a budget that moves Connecticut forward, with a special focus on investing in cities, job creation programs and higher education, as well as making sure that money is returned equitably to public schools across the state, Joseph said.
Republican legislators, on the other hand, expressed disappointment at the veto, saying they felt the governor had misrepresented the budget in his statements.
“I don’t think he was truthful in his statements [about] why he vetoed our— what turned out to be — bipartisan budget,” said State Rep. Dave Yaccarino, R-North Haven. “He painted it in a totally different light than the actual facts.”
According to Yaccarino, Connecticut Democrats have overstated the Republican budget’s cuts to education, especially those to the University of Connecticut’s funds.
Negotiations between the two parties picked up again after the veto and continued over the weekend. On Friday, top lawmakers from both sides of the aisle issued a joint statement reporting progress in bipartisan negotiations, but a new agreement has yet to materialize.
The lack of a budget creates statewide uncertainty that could have severe economic consequences for Connecticut, such as stunting investment in the state economy by both companies and consumers, said Yaccarino.
“State residents lose confidence, and if you lose confidence, you lose consumer confidence. If you lose consumer confidence, you spend less money at” local retailers and local businesses, he said.
Until a budget passes, the state will continue to operate under executive orders enacted by Malloy. Those orders have subjected many programs to millions of dollars in cuts, including those providing social services. The cuts will likely increase as more time passes with fiscal uncertainty.
At this point, Connecticut remains the only state without a budget for 2017. Part of the difficulty in reaching a compromise stems from the $3.5 billion size of the shortfall. This calls for more cuts to this year’s budget to balance it, as the Connecticut constitution requires.
Another factor contributing to the length of negotiations is the relatively even split between Democrats and Republicans in the Connecticut legislature, according to Joseph. In the 2016 election, Republicans made substantial gains in both chambers of the General Assembly. Now, the 151-member House of Representatives is split between 79 Democrats and 72 Republicans, while the 36-member Senate is deadlocked, with 18 members from each party.
According to Yaccarino, the two main stumbling blocks at this stage in the negotiations are the University of Connecticut budget and changes to teacher pensions. But both Joseph and Yaccarino emphasized the need for the two parties to move forward.
New Haven residents expressed frustration with the lack of progress and a desire for the two parties to come together to focus on issues like public education.
“My son’s school lost a lot of music and arts programs due to [budget cuts], so I think that education is the most important thing,” said Naimah Covington, a New Haven resident and Yale pantry worker.
Another New Haven resident, William Harris Stephen, echoed lawmakers’ desire for the budget to focus on investments for the future.
“Growth and development are the only ways to increase income or the revenue stream because you’re setting up for the future, not for the immediate present,” he said.
The current budget impasse is the longest in Connecticut’s history.
Nathalie Bussemaker | firstname.lastname@example.org