Conn. State Budget Mess: Republicans Complain, Democrats Shrouded in Secrecy, More Union Concessions in Play?

The Connecticut legislature’s effort to get a new, 2-year budget in place is a complete mess. There is no other way to describe it. The spending plan that passed by the slimmest of margins earlier this month is likely to substantially change. Just how is unknown. Predictably, Republicans are complaining about not being included in the process and even worse, Democrats won’t say what they plan to do.

There are so many different sides to the problem it’s hard to keep them straight without a program (perhaps a charity could create such a program and sell them at the state Capitol like vendors outside Fenway—$1 apiece).

There are two critical issues to consider if the legislature is going to have any credibility in its final plan—whatever that may be. 1) The House passed the approved version June 3rd after staying up all night until the votes could be found, and 2) House Democrats apparently know what they will do but aren’t telling anyone.

Actually, there are practical reasons to employ those strategies. If Speaker Brendan Sharkey wants anything to pass, he can keep his peeps at the Capitol for hours on end until he can whip the necessary votes. After 24 hours straight, a “yes” vote for just about anything is a survival tactic. Also, keeping the plan a secret avoids interested parties from objecting to it and letting their representatives know about it.

House members were kept in session overnight before passing a state budget.
House members were kept in session overnight before passing a state budget June 3rd.

Both methods can work. Both are also lousy ways to pass legislation particularly something as important as the state budget.

Advocates are working hard to stop cuts to social services.
Advocates are working hard to stop cuts to social services.

Here are the “sides” in the budget game:
• Gov. Malloy. He wants to roll back some $224 million in taxes on businesses and corporations and he wants the legislature to do it in a bill that puts the budget into law—an “implementer” bill. That’s not what implementer bills are for.
• Progressive Democrats in the House and Senate. They restored many of the social services cuts in Malloy’s original budget proposal, only to see the “safety net” services threatened by the cuts necessary to pay for easing the business taxes. It was a tough sell before Malloy wanted to enact cuts. It’s unclear whether it will fly now. Advocates have been lobby hard to reject the cuts.
• Moderate Democrats (especially in the House). This group is willing to ease the business tax burden and pay for them with cuts.
• House and Senate Republicans. In short, the GOP wants labor unions to come up with the savings they said would result from the last round of concessions. The concessions came up $250 million short. Republicans are hinting that maybe it’s time for some layoffs of state employees. The no-layoff agreement reached by labor and the Malloy administration in 2011 expires June 30.

Next week should be quite a show at the state Capitol.