Legislators Feeling Heat Over Budget Stalemate
Hartford Courant, August 23, 2017
By Christopher Keating
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to withhold key education funds from 85 towns has ratcheted up the pressure on legislators as they move toward the third month without a state budget.
"If anyone wasn’t paying attention before in West Hartford, everybody is paying attention now,” said Rep. Derek Slap of West Hartford. “I’m very frustrated that the families, towns, and businesses are still in limbo, and we’re approaching September. They don’t care if there’s a D or an R after our name. They want a resolution to this.’’
The potential loss of millions of dollars in many towns has generated deep concerns among school superintendents, parents, and town council members. Overall, the towns could potentially lose a combined $928 million when compared to state aid in all categories that they received for the just-completed fiscal year.
The legislature, however, can stop Malloy’s proposed cuts by passing a new, two-year, $40 billion budget. No votes are expected at least until Sept. 11, but lawmakers have been working behind the scenes on plans that could reduce the cuts to cities and towns.
Last week, Malloy said he was making the cuts because the legislature had yet to come up with a plan to overcome a $3.5 billion deficit and he wanted to assure assistance to the state’s neediest districts. Asked if he was making the proposed cuts to increase pressure on the legislators, he said Friday that he was simply doing his job by running the state through an executive order because lawmakers have failed to pass a budget.
“This has never been my preferred path,’’ Malloy said. “I tried to avoid all of this. … This is reality. Reality is hard, apparently, for some people, and it discomforts others.’’
West Hartford, for example, could lose $20.9 million in education cost-sharing funds, along with about $3 million in other aid categories, under Malloy’s plan.
“Right from the get-go, West Hartford has had a target on its back,’’ Slap said. “It would be horrible for the town. I’ve heard this described as the Robin Hood plan, but this is not Nottingham. This is real. Thousands of students are going to be hurt if this happens.’’
While the education funds generate the most concern, all 169 towns would lose money under categories that include payment in lieu of taxes for state-owned property, along with payments for colleges and hospitals that do not pay local property taxes.
“The threat of it has scared the daylights out of everybody,’’ said state Sen. Len Suzio, a conservative Republican.
Suzio says Malloy is increasing the pressure so that Democrats will pass a budget that includes an increase in the state sales tax. Democrats say they will propose an increase that will be lower than their original plan of 6.99 percent, but the total is subject to change in the coming weeks.
“I think the end game is they know there’s resistance to the sales tax increase, and they will inflict enough pain now to force a vote,’’ Suzio said Monday. “They’ll say: it’s either this or the tax increase. The people in the cities and towns that have been hard hit are saying: ‘This is a disaster,’ and it’s softening them up to accept the tax increase.’’
Concerns aout House democratic plan back to top
Sen. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield, a fiscally conservative Democrat who is a key swing voter in the Senate, said his hometown of Wethersfield and three of the four other towns he represents “were decimated’’ by Malloy’s proposed cuts. Still, he said he has concerns about the House Democratic plan to close the projected $3.5 billion deficit over two years by hiking the current 6.35 percent sales tax.
“I’m certainly not eager to do the sales tax,’’ Doyle said Monday. “That is certainly not one of my selections that I would like to make. But at this point in time, I don’t make absolutes.’’
Doyle is part of a three-member Democratic coalition that has been described as having enormous power in the Senate because the divided chamber has 18 Democrats and 18 Republicans. The state currently has no budget in part because Doyle and fellow Senators Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Gayle Slossberg of Milford have balked at various tax increases. But Doyle has a different view on power in the Senate.
“I look at it as 18 pivotal players,’’ Doyle said. “Any one Democratic senator can say no, and it’s dead. It’s the first time since 1894 that all 18 are essential. If one senator is against something, it can kill anything.’’
Rep. John Hampton, a Democratic swing voter who has opposed some of Malloy’s budget plans in the past, would see all $6 million in educational cost sharing money eliminated in his hometown of Simsbury under Malloy’s plan. But Hampton does not expect that Malloy’s plan will ever be enacted because he hopes the legislature will instead cut a deal to resolve the crisis.
“I’ve been working closely with my first selectman and superintendent to say that the governor doesn’t have the final word on this,’’ Hampton said Monday. “I’m concerned, but not necessarily feeling under pressure.’’
With public schools opening soon, Suzio said the proposed cuts have captured the attention of communities across the state. Malloy, he said, “didn’t take a pruning knife out and tweak this and that. He took a hatchet to precipitate an extreme reaction to extreme cuts.”
House Democratic leaders will be discussing the budget with Republicans on Tuesday, and Senate Democrats are holding a caucus Wednesday to discuss the latest budget developments. While lawmakers are targeting the week of Sept. 11, no final date has been set for a vote.