This is a crucial week for the state budget process. Action by the General Assembly is expected but there are no guarantees it will happen. State Senate President Don Williams and Speaker of the House Chris Donovan both have been quoted over the weekend saying the plan is to have the senate vote today and the House take up the spending plan tomorrow. The budget may be a bit more palatable to rank and file lawmakers now that the proposed 3-cents per gallon gas tax has been scrapped.
Senate Majority Leader Marty Looney, considered one of the more knowledgeable lawmakers as far as the budget process, tells The Hanging Shad that the Finance Committee is expected to act on new revenue estimates and then a vote in the senate will follow. He says there will be at least 18 votes for the spending plan and probably more. Assuming all the senate Republicans vote against the budget—which is expected—the Democrats have to come up with 18 votes for a tie which would be broken in favor of the budget by Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman who presides over the senate. Looney was confident the senate would pass it with a comfortable margin.
A statement from Gov. Malloy, Williams and Donovan on the tentative budget-voting schedule was released by Williams’ office Sunday. As the person who formerly issued those statements on behalf of the senate president, I can tell you there’s some meaning in that. Malloy is taking a back seat on the issue as would be expected—it’s a legislative vote. However, it’s also says Malloy doesn’t want to be out in front if the process breaks down—a smart move indeed.
The more unknown chamber on the budget vote is the house which as of now is expected to act on the plan Tuesday. The Shad has been told by highly placed legislative sources that state employee labor union operatives are using their leverage with state Speaker of the House Chris Donovan and rank and file to delay a vote until layoff notices have to out later in the week.
There is real concern that labor wants the vote delayed until the Malloy administration is contractually obligated to resort to “Plan B”—large scale layoffs to balance the budget if it can’t get $2 billion in union concessions over two years; the thought being once the public knows the extent of the potential layoffs, labor will have more leverage. Some Capitol insiders doubt that strategy would work however a large pro-labor rally in Bushnell Park yesterday turned out more than a thousand people. Williams, Donovan, Wyman and others all fired up the crowd in support of organized labor.
Larry Dorman, spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) insists labor is staying out of the legislative process. “We can’t and won’t dictate the legislative process. We’re doing what we have to do [on concession talks]. We want to help Connecticut to create jobs,” he said.
Talks between union representatives and the Malloy administration continued over the weekend although Dorman was quick to correct The Shad when I referred to the talks as “negotiations.” He said they are better described as “discussions.”
Meanwhile, multiple media outlets have reported that layoff notices complete with sample letters are ready to go out. The whole situation in Connecticut is getting national attention. The Wall Street Journal lets loose on Malloy for tax increases. And the National Review Online’s Jack Fowler writes a memo to “Republican Senators and ‘Fiscally Conservative Democrats’” calling on Senate Minority Leader John McKinney to call more than 200 amendments if there is a budget debate. Fowler suggests multiple delaying tactics.