GOP turns up the heat on Malloy to sign budget
Updated 8:06 pm, Sunday, September 17, 2017
HARTFORD — Opportunistic Republicans rallied at the Capitol Sunday in an attempt to pressure Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to put away his veto pen when their budget package — the first from the party out of power to win legislative approval in two decades — reaches the Democrat’s desk.
The two-year $40.7 billion GOP plan emerged from the Senate and House with cross-over support from a group of moderate Democrats, a stunning setback for the party in control of the General Assembly and all six constitutional offices.
“When we have Democrats supporting a Republican budget, I think we are going in the right direction,” said John Slater, who is the state GOP vice chairman and is from Bridgeport. “It’s ultra important to get this message out to as many people as possible.”
Republicans say that their budget avoids onerous tax increases that have hurt Connecticut’s competitiveness and solves a protracted stalemate over how best to close a $3.6 billion deficit. If the state goes without a budget after Oct. 1, they say, cities and towns will suffer the consequences of draconian cuts to their state education funds under an executive order of Malloy.
Their package relies on a controversial $300 million cut to the University of Connecticut over the next two years, as well as the elimination of public subsides for candidates for state office such as governor under the clean-elections program. It also calls for state employees to contribute more to their pensions starting in 2027, when their current labor deal expires.
Malloy has vowed to veto the budget, which could reach his desk this week but hasn’t been submitted to the governor’s office yet by Republicans. On the opposite side of the Capitol, Malloy’s parking space and those of both parties’ legislative leaders were empty Sunday.
GOP two-year $40.7 billion budget package highlights:
General Fund increase of 3.5 percent in first year; 0.6 percent in second year
Saves cities and towns $280 million in teacher pension costs currently borne by the state
Eliminates public campaign financing
Cuts $500 million from public higher education, including $300 million from UConn
Saves $270 million in pension costs over the next two years
Rally on the fly
About 50 Republicans flocked to the north steps of the Capitol at noon as part of a hastily-arranged rally, emboldened by Friday night and Saturday morning’s budget vote. The legislative victory compounds GOP gains in the Legislature, where Democrats hold a 79 to 72 advantage in the House and the tie-breaker of the lieutenant governor in the Senate.
Connecticut could be the only state without budget if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signs a fiscal package approved by lawmakers in his state.
“I think (Malloy) is likely to put the ball back in the court of the state Legislature,” said Dave Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general and Republican gubernatorial candidate from Bridgeport. “Look, I think the last thing we need right now is to increase taxes.”
Walker acknowledged that Malloy is “obviously in a strong position,” because of the looming executive order, which keeps state government running but imposes austerity measures across the board.
Malloy’s spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly on Sunday referred back to the governor’s comments from Saturday, in which he called the GOP budget package “unbalanced” and “unrealistic.”
“If the responsible solution I negotiated with Democrats isn’t going to pass, then it is incumbent on the legislature to reach a new agreement soon — one that is realistic and, ideally, bipartisan,” Malloy said then.
Democrats spent the weekend doing damage control and sounding the alarm about the 1,000-page GOP plan.
“This is a budget that completely destroys higher public education in this state,” Brookfield’s Jennifer Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union 1199 New England, said on the WTNH Sunday political talk show, “Capitol Report. “It ends our clean-election program. It lets Hartford go bankrupt. So this was nothing courageous or moral about this. This is something that’s actually going to be hurting a lot of people in the state and is a terrible budget.”
State Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield, who was one of six House Democrats to break ranks, called for a bipartisan fix to the state’s fiscal woes.
“We all await the Governor’s next steps and will go forward from there,” she said. “The challenges confronting us were a long time in the making. We need to figure out a solution working together as leaders. I support every effort that will bring us closer to the kind of compromise we need to successfully adopt a state budget.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Malloy has given his assurances that he will immediately veto what is a “short-sighted” budget that undercuts collective bargaining and public education.
“So much for allegedly responsible and realistic budgeting,” Looney said.
Looney said there’s a “substantial danger” that no budget gets passed by Oct. 1, defaulting to the governor’s cuts. He declined to say whether Democrats who joined Republicans will face punishment.
“I think we have to look forward rather than backward and keep our focus on getting a budget,” Looney said.
Both Republican gubernatorial hopefuls who spoke at Sunday’s rally could ironically become casualties of the proposed elimination of the decade-old Citizens’ Election Program, which was adopted after the resignation and imprisonment of Gov. John Rowland for corruptions.
Candidates for governor are eligible for $1.4 million in public funds for the primary and $6.5 million for the general election if win their party’s nomination under the program. They must raise $250,000 in increments of $100 or less to qualify.
State Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, has already raised the $250,000.
“It’s going to be a different ballgame for all of us,” said Srinivasan, who voted for the budget. “Is this a perfect budget? The answer is, no. Is it a good budget? Yes. We have lived in excess all of these years.”
Walker said if publicly-funded elections, which could cost more than $40 million in 2018, ar eliminated, he’ll more than be able to make up for it. But to be fair to those gubernatorial candidates who are far along in qualifying, he said, the subsidy should be kept for the state’s highest office.
“That’s actually a competitive advantage for me,” Walker said.
Requests for comment were left Sunday for House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.
Republicans sent a fundraising email blast Sunday morning to try to capitalize on their unexpected legislative victory.
Mark Greenberg, a Litchfield businessman running for state comptroller after multiple unsuccessful bids for Congress in the 5th District, said better days are ahead for Connecticut with GOP ideas.
“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” he said.
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