Conn. Senate Pres. Looney: Republicans are Crying ‘Crocodile Tears’ on Special Session

The top lawmaker in the Connecticut General Assembly is calling out Republicans in their pleas for a special session to deal with crippling budget cuts made by Gov. Dannel Malloy to soften a projected budget deficit. Senate President Martin Looney says it’s his and Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey’s goal to mitigate Malloy’s cuts which fell hard on hospitals and social service programs. But he says Republicans have not committed to the negotiating process which would include delivering GOP votes for the end product.

Malloy ordered cuts totaling $103 million, much of it in Medicaid payments to hospitals, to mitigate a budget deficit for the current fiscal year which is only three months old. Some $16 million in cuts were made to social programs such as those for people with disabilities, substance abuse issues and mental health challenges.

For some time now, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano has been demanding, asking and otherwise cajoling majority Democrats to hold a special session and give the GOP a seat at the budget-negotiating table. Fasano and House Republican Leader Themis Klarides have so far rolled out hospital officials, Fairfield-area GOP lawmakers (GE is in Fairfield) and a physicians to appeal for a special session.

But Looney agrees with Sharkey that the GOP calls are “political grandstanding.” “They are trying to get some political mileage out of calling for a special session but you have to ante up to get in the game,” Looney said. “That means coming to the table, staying at the table and committing votes for the final product. So far, they haven’t been willing to do that,” he said.

Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven)
Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven)

Looney uses the example of the bipartisan gun violence prevention legislation passed in 2013. “Representative [Larry] Cafero and Senator [John] McKinney negotiated with majority Democrats and then produced 40 percent of their members to vote for the final product. We haven’t seen that yet [from GOP leaders]. The minority party doesn’t have to be the responsible party—they can just vote ‘no,’’” Looney said.

To further demonstrate what he says is the Republicans’ insincere offer to come to the table, Looney points out they voted against the last budget that restored drastic cuts to social programs. “Now they are sounding the alarm that these cuts are being made. They crying crocodile tears,” he said.

As The Shad wrote last week, it’s only a matter of time before all the opponents of Malloy’s budget cuts join forces and start making the decisions about how to keep the state’s budget in balance without devastating programs that serve the most vulnerable.

Democratic state Rep. Cathy Abercrombie, co-chair of the legislature’s human services committee, broke ranks of sorts and said straight out that the authorized rescissions are unacceptable. She also said if a special session is needed to reverse the cuts, so be it.

As far as other places to cut, Abercrombie suggested the governor’s transportation initiatives can be scaled back.

There is little doubt Democratic lawmakers have been feeling the pressure from core constituencies—advocates for the most vulnerable in the state. Malloy himself has said he is willing to listen to ideas that would restore the cuts but he too has stopped short of a special session.

For his part, Fasano, who is more media-savvy than many of his colleagues, praised Abercrombie’s stance. “We want to thank Representative Abercrombie for having the courage to stand up to the governor and legislative leadership and speak out for the constituents who are being harmed by these devastating budget cuts. We hope that spirit of courage and hope becomes contagious,” he said.

Don’t count on it. I think they have a shot for that.