Long day ahead as lawmakers gather for special session
HARTFORD -- Minutes before the House of Representatives convened Thursday morning, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy predicted a long day as lawmakers try to find $1.6 billion in savings in the budget that takes effect at midnight.
Malloy, speaking to two reporters outside his Capitol office, was optimistic that his plans to change union benefits and expand his authority to cut state agency budgets will meet approval.
"I think they'll be a caucus today and the speaker will take the measure of his caucus and take his own measure and the same thing will happen for the Senate (president) pro tem and his caucus and his own measure and you know I think we're going to make progress today," Malloy said.
"I'm hopeful," he said. "I'm hoping that by 12 o'clock tonight, before the clock strikes 12, we'll have a balanced budget." Malloy doubts that lawmakers will balk at his call for a special session and fail to address the shortfall of $700 million in the first year and $900 million in the second.
"I don't even contemplate that they won't do anything, quite frankly," Malloy said. "I believe there is absolute agreement that something has to be done today."
The House gaveled in at about 11 a.m. amid minority Republican criticism that Democrats were contemplating massive revisions to Malloy's plans. Union members wearing bright green T-shirts were lobbying lawmakers throughout the Capitol in attempt to head off part of the legislation that would affect state employees. It took the House about a half hour to debate and adopt rules and then Republicand and Democrats adjourned to closed-door caucuses.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said the Capitol was awash with rumors, including the possible elimination of Malloy's plan to change benefits in future union contracts.
"We've been locked out of the process by the governor's office," McKinney said while standing next to House minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero in the House chamber. "He's had meetings with legislative leaders and has excluded Republican leaders, despite my reaching out to him and offering to work with him on spending cuts and pension reform."
Cafero, R-Norwalk, said that there is no actual bill to peruse as the session was about to start. "In fairness, I don't think this is a `let's keep them in the dark, so we can slip one past them.' I think especially in the House, I can't speak for the Senate, their caucus is split all over the place, so they have not put the finishing touches on the bill," he said. "We're hearing rumors that they'll take out all references to labor concessions. We're hearing rumors that they might eliminate the governor's ability to use rescission authority to municipalities. "I would bet my house on the fact that 99 percent of the people in this General Assembly have no idea what we're about to vote on today," Cafero said.
Speaker of the House Christopher G. Donovan, speaking to reporters just before starting the session, said that it's up to the 99-member majority caucus on which issues it wants to debate on vote upon.
"We haven't talked to the caucus yet," Donovan said. "From what the governor has proposed, we kind of understand the role between the governor and Legislature. We know we have to deal with it using decisive action. We will be addressing what to do with labor." Donovan said the caucus would take at least an hour.
Malloy admitted that this week has helped inform him on the workings of the Legislature.
"I'm starting to learn how the Legislature operates and certainly want to be respectful of the processes that have to be engaged in," Malloy said. "I want to work with everyone."