The Alternative Budget Dance

The dance goes like this: the minority party presents an alternative state budget; the majority says, “thanks for coming aboard—we’ll listen; the governor’s office pans the alternative; the majority state party says the alternative plan is a fraud; the minority party thanks the majority and ignores the governor and the state party. Got that? If not, consult your program.

The one thing that is not in question is that the state budget situation is a mess and a way has to be found to balance it preferably without devastating the state’s safety net for the most vulnerable in the state. At the same time, thought must be given to whether state labor unions would be open to more givebacks (they’re not) or face layoffs (which could cause major problems).

Republicans in the General Assembly did Friday what the governor’s office challenged them to do—come up with their own ideas. They did. But it reflects the fact that labor is generally not among the Republicans’ constituencies. While the GOP restores many of the social services cuts that legislative committees have been grappling with, it does so by smacking labor pretty hard. CT Mirror has a comprehensive report on the Republican alternative.

Klarides Fasano 2

A previous so-called give-back deal between the state and labor fell some $253 million short of what it was supposed to save. The Republican alternative budget calls for wage freezes, higher co-pays for state workers and phasing out of longevity payments.

Democratic legislative leaders “welcomed” the Republican alternative. “This is an extremely challenging budget year, and the Republicans deserve credit for sharing their ideas instead of simply sniping from the sidelines. Some of the minority’s proposed adjustments will be incorporated in the full Appropriations Committee budget, so I would expect a bipartisan vote as well,” said Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey and Minority Leader Joe Aresimowicz in a statement.

At least from its statement, the Democratic state party is on an entirely different page from the party’s legislative leaders. “[T]his Republican proposal is nothing short of delusional. Instead of making tough choices the Republicans put forward a plan they know is unworkable and potentially illegal so they can claim a political talking point. Connecticut residents will see this for what it is – just a political game that isn’t serious,” read a statement from party communications director Leigh Appleby. Either the state party is meant to be the attack dog or they didn’t talk to each other beforehand.

The governor’s office was understandably skeptical. “Republicans offer Connecticut a false choice—the only way that this budget could be implemented would be to either illegally break state contracts or lay off thousands of hard-working, middle-class families, stopping our economic recovery dead in its tracks. It’s just not serious,” said Malloy administration spokesman Mark Bergman.

In the final news release of the day, the Republicans drew a distinction between the governor’s response and that of legislative Democrats. “Now is the time to start a conversation and compromise together. The governor’s office, who failed to provide a budget that was in balance or under the spending cap, was quick to seek conflict over collaboration and brush our ideas aside, calling them ‘unrealistic.’ It is encouraging to know that Democrat legislators think differently and are open to a new dialogue and to bringing real change to Hartford…I applaud Democratic legislative leaders for being leaders, and for being open to a new future for our state,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano.

Now that a day filled with posturing statements is done, the real work has to continue. The Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote Monday on a budget bill.