Democrats Struggle With Putting Finishing Touches On Budget
HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 8 a.m.) Connecticut is nearing almost 40 days without a budget and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
Democratic legislative leaders have continued their negotiations behind closed doors and Republicans have largely been left on the sidelines as their colleagues with perhaps the slimmest majority in decades work on a budget they can get Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to sign.
Before agreeing to approve $1.57 billion in labor concessions last week three moderate Democratic Senators put forward a dozen proposals to reform Connecticut’s fiscal practices.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he’s happy to discuss the proposals, but he hasn’t had time to discuss them with his own caucus.
Aresimowicz has members in his caucus who are willing to support an increase in the sales tax from 6.35 percent to 6.99 percent. The proposal made at the end of June was meant to help municipalities stabilize their budgets and prevent property tax increases.
The proposed sales tax increase and an additional 1 percent sales tax on food and beverages was supported by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.
Joe DeLong, executive director of CCM, said Monday that they still support a sales tax increase, but not without a specific set of reforms outlined by a bipartisan group of local elected officials in January.
“We’ve defined a set of parameters for this sales tax,” DeLong said. “It’s not something we support no matter what.”
Without the reforms in place, property taxes could increase and defeat the purpose of the increase, DeLong said.
However, that type of broad-based sales tax increase has been met with caution by Democrats in the Senate.
“It’s going to be a balancing act,” Aresimowicz said.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Friday that everything continues to be on the table.
“We are examining every aspect of the budget in search of efficiencies and savings for taxpayers. At the same time, we are striving to protect critical services.”
The Senate Democratic caucus is more amenable to getting rid of some sales tax exemptions—even though it hasn’t specified exactly which ones would be eliminated—than it is a sales tax increase.
“I’m hopeful we all come together. Find a document that is that middle ground,” Aresimowicz told reporters last week.
The final budget is likely going to be a “70/30 document.” That means it’s going to be 70 percent of what legislators can support and 30 percent “is going to be things we don’t like,” he added.
However, before leaving for the west coast last week, Malloy signaled that municipal aid cuts, which both parties dislike, will need to be on the table if he’s going to sign the budget.
“We’ve reduced state services; we’ve cut funding to private providers; we’ve asked state employees to come to the table with concessions; and we’ve raised revenue,” Malloy wrote in a letter to his budget director. “Throughout all of this, we’ve held town aid harmless. In fact, it could be said that we have sacrificed state services and raised revenues in order to shield town government from facing difficult choices required of state leaders and implementing reforms.”
Aresimowicz defended the desire to hold municipalities harmless while also acknowledging that the final product will be negotiated.
“When facing a multi-billion dollar deficit, getting to a balanced budget that can pass the legislature and get signed by the Governor requires everything to be on the table for discussion,” Aresimowicz said Friday. “ Whether it’s our municipalities, businesses, state workers, or our safety net, services and people’s lives are going to be affected. That’s the reality of the budget crisis we are in, and exactly why everyone must remain focused on finalizing an agreement sooner than later to limit that impact as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, the three moderate Democrats in the Senate, Sens. Joan Hartley, Gayle Slossberg, and Paul Doyle, said they are working with their caucus to get a final budget negotiated.
It seems that no one has been able to find the right balance of spending cuts and revenue increases to move forward publicly with a proposal.
Because the General Assembly is in special session there are no public hearings or opportunities for the public to weigh in on the budget.
Malloy doesn’t return to Connecticut from the west coast until Thursday.