Legislative Republicans to be Shut Out of State Budget Negotiations; Rep. Williams: “It’s a Disgrace”

When Democrats in the General Assembly get down to the business of hammering out a new, two-year budget, Republicans will not be in the room, a situation a top Republican calls “a disgrace.” Democratic leaders will soon meet with Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget people to try to find common ground on a new spending plan. It’s clear the negotiations will be between Democratic leadership and the administration.

Republican state Rep. Sean Williams, a ranking member of the finance committee, says he can’t understand why the majority party would exclude the minority. “It’s amazing. We had [bipartisan consensus] on the jobs bill, the education bill, the gun bill and the deficit mitigation bill. Each time we brought something of value to the table. If we’re excluded this time, it’s a disgrace,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Marty Looney says the senate Democrats will caucus the budget issues tomorrow. The proposal that came out of the legislature’s fiscal committees (finance and appropriations) differs from the governor’s. “I’m confident we can work something out and come to a consensus.” On the issue of Republican input, Looney said as of now, it’s just Democratic leadership and the administration. “We’re not sure what kind of formal input the Republicans will have, if at all.”

On the budget itself, Looney says the key to both the governor’s and the legislature’s spending proposals as well as any subsequent agreement is redefining the constitutionally mandated spending cap. Democrats want to exempt from the cap any spending that will be fully reimbursed by the federal government as well as any expenditure for unfunded liabilities for state workers’ pensions and teachers’ retirement plans.

It takes a super majority (three-fifths) in both the Senate and House to change the spending cap. It’s unclear at this point whether the votes are there. “The spending cap is the key to the entire plan,” Looney said. “[Without the change] we’re looking at a couple hundred million dollars in cuts in this year and about $500 million in the second year.”

If in fact there needs to be hundreds of millions of dollars in additional cuts made, it’s very curious why the Democrats would exclude the Republicans, at least from a political stand point. The governor so far has stuck to his “no new taxes” pledge. So if big time fiscal pain needs to be inflicted, why not spread the blame? One would think “we’re all in this together” is preferable to giving the Republicans a golden opportunity to say, “The Dems did this, not us.”