In End of Session Tug & Pull: It’s Dem Against Dem
(Updated 4:27 p.m.) Breaking with tradition, House and Senate Democrats did not hold a joint post-mortem press conference Thursday to discuss the 2012 legislative session. Instead, Sen. President Donald Williams and Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney held their own.
Williams claimed there were “scheduling” issues between the party leaders. However, a spokesman for House Speaker Chris Donovan said the Senate didn’t want to do a press conference with House leaders and dueling press conferences would have been “unproductive.” The conflict highlighted the tension between the two leaders in the final days of the session when each had their top priority legislation die in opposite chambers.
Williams was unable to convince the House to pass the Senate’s signature legislation to expand job programs created last fall during a special session. The bill passed the Senate 32-2 with broad bipartisan support.
Donovan was unable to convince his Senate colleagues to raise his minimum wage increase. Williams said that’s because it never had the votes.
“It was wrong for anyone to think that these two bills should in any way be linked at a time when our businesses need help in a very tough economy,” Williams said.
He said he was told if the Senate had run the minimum wage bill on Tuesday night that the jobs bill would have been run in the House.
“But we don’t run bills when we don’t have the votes,” Williams contended.
Messages were left for Donovan, who was not immediately available for comment Thursday. Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said there is always an expectation that the House and the Senate will work with each other on making sure their priority bills clear the opposite chamber.
The minimum wage bill was one of those things that was very important to the House, Sharkey said in a phone interview.
“There’s always an expectation that the Senate and the House will help each other and when that doesn’t occur there are consequences,” Sharkey said.
It’s the nature of compromise and Sharkey didn’t feel the Senate had put forth very much effort in making sure the bill was passed.
Williams, who supports the minimum wage in general, said Donovan worked hard to lobby his Senate members, but he said “at the end of the day the votes simply were not there.”
Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, a proponent of the minimum wage increase, said Wednesday that she was just two votes shy of getting the Senate to vote on a two-year, 50 cent minimum wage hike.
Republicans, who held their own joint press conference later in the day, saw the death of a bipartisan bill as an example of dysfunction within the majority party and a reason why one-party government isn’t working for Connecticut.
“Obviously no one’s ever going to admit it, but the reality is, a good bipartisan jobs package working, off of what we worked on last fall, died because of one man’s insistence on passing the minimum wage increase,” Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said, referring to Donovan. “The blame for that falls squarely on his shoulders.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said he resented being caught in the middle of a dispute between Democrats.
“The irony of it was that decision was made the night before. As Sen. McKinney indicated, this was a tradeoff between the minimum wage and S.B. 1. When that did not happen on Tuesday evening, it wasn’t going to happen,” he said.
Williams vowed to resurrect the jobs bill or a version of it during the special session to implement portions of the budget.
However, Cafero said he may have trouble getting it raised because of the narrowly defined call to special session, which targets bills needed to implement the budget.
“I think they have to be true to their word and what they said publicly,” Cafero said. “If they do try to bring it up, I think we’re going to call them on it and point that out.”
What the legislature decides to address during its upcoming special session will be up to them, Malloy said Thursday morning. But he said there were useful aspects of the Senate Democrats jobs package.
“I think making dollars available to small companies but bigger than 50 makes a lot of sense,” the governor said.
But if he brings up the jobs bill, does that mean Donovan will continue to push a hike in the minimum wage? Sharkey said that’s a question still up for discussion.
Williams said there is “no sensible link” between the two bills. He said his bill has overwhelming bipartisan support and it should not be linked to a bill that “never had support throughout the session.”
Sharkey said one person’s perception about something is not necessarily a view shared by others.
But the session wasn’t a complete loss, according to Williams.
Repeal of the death penalty, strengthening racial profiling laws, medical marijuana, Sunday liquor sales, allowing home care and daycare workers to organize, and campaign finance reform were all victories for the Democratic majority in both chambers.
“One of the crowning achievements for Senate Democrats this session was rescuing the education bill,” Williams said.
He said when they got to the end of the session it looked like Malloy’s signature piece of education legislation would fail and would need to be finished in a special session. But that all turned around last Sunday morning when lawmakers were able to reach an agreement which pleased both education reform advocates and the state’s two teacher unions.
The bill not only “provides real reform” but it was able to do so in a way that “respects the teaching profession,” Williams said.
At a separate press conference Malloy said he saw no cause for disappointment in what was accomplished during the short session.
Malloy said lawmakers passed bills this year that have been issues at the state Capitol for years.
“We really accomplished a great deal in a short period of time. Folks were good enough to work with our administration to see those things like voting rights and Sunday sales and design-build and medical marijuana and storm response all pass,” he said, speaking to reporters. “I’d be hard pressed to come away from this session disappointed.”
Malloy said he plans to sign the Sunday liquor sales bill early next week so that alcohol would be available for purchase the following Sunday.
The education reform package that passed late in the session gives the state a whole new toolbox to bring about education reform in the state, he said, but don’t expect it to happen overnight.
“We’ve moved from being dead in the water to being in a situation where, if properly implemented, our state will surge ahead of other states,” he said. “Surge in education reform means that five, or seven, or 10 years from now we’ll be in a substantially better situation than we are.”
The governor remained lukewarm on his position regarding legislation to re-work the state’s campaign finance system. The bill cleared the legislature despite the concerns of his chief legal counsel, Andrew McDonald, who said provisions in it may be unconstitutional.
“I have not reached a conclusion but there’s plenty of time to study it at this point. Certainly we’ll reach out to some legal scholars on that subject,” he said.
Moving forward, the governor said the state needs to focus on continuing to foster an economic recovery. He said he’s always concerned about the state’s fiscal situation.
“If I had a billion dollar surplus I’d worry about the state’s finances. I’m watching very carefully what’s going on in Europe,” he said. “... Fundamentally I think we’re in a pretty good place.”
Republican lawmakers disagreed.
“One party government has given us the biggest tax increase in the state of Connecticut,” McKinney said during their post-mortem press conference Thursday afternoon. “It’s given us a budget that’s out of balance and a budget that’s not honest and transparent.”