GOP Calls On Democrats To Override Malloy And Restore Municipal Aid

 GOP Calls On Democrats To Override Malloy And Restore Municipal Aid

Hartford Courant, June 9, 2016
By Russell Blair

HARTFORD — With the legislature scheduled to meet Monday to consider overriding any of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's vetoes, Republicans are pressing Democrats to restore the $20 million in cuts to municipal aid the governor made when he signed the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

"The legislature has the power to override these vetoes and stand up for the people we represent," Senate Republican Minority Leader Len Fasano and House Republican Minority Leader Themis Klarides said in a letter to top Democrats in the General Assembly. "We hope your caucuses will find the courage to stand with us."

A day after a Quinnipiac University poll revealed low approval ratings for both Malloy and the General Assembly, Fasano and Klarides said it was an opportunity for Democrats to "stand with Republicans and challenge the governor."

A veto can only be overriden by a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House. To bring the budget into balance after lawmakers failed to take up his bail reform proposal, Malloy, a Democrat, used his line-item veto authority to cut $20 million in municipal aid, as well as $1.7 million in funding for libraries and museums and $775,000 in payments to federally qualified health centers.

Republicans said Malloy was punishing the legislature for not voting on his Second Chance Society legislation, which would have effectively ended cash bail for offenders being held on nonviolent misdemeanor charges. Reducing the number of people being held in pre-trial detention would help accelerate the closing of a prison in the state, which would save an estimated $15 million, according to the administration.

"Budgeting is about priorities," the Republicans wrote. "The governor's vetoed line item cuts to the budget show a disregard for the groups we have constantly made our priority to protect."

Gov: Further cuts had to be made back to top

Malloy has said that without the Second Chance legislation, further cuts in the budget had to be made.

"It's hard to overstate the hysterical hypocrisy of Connecticut Republicans right now," said Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the governor. "They voted against a budget that cut more than $820 million in spending, and now they're calling on Democrats to come back in and increase expenditures by $20 million, putting the budget out of balance. If this story were pitched to Hollywood screenwriters, it would be rejected as too far-fetched."

Restoring the cuts would mean the state's $20 billion budget would again be out of balance and legislators would have to either find new revenue sources — such as raising taxes — or cut other items from the budget. Faced with the prospect of a deficit of as much as $1 billion, legislators and Malloy previously agreed to program cuts and layoffs to balance spending for next year.

Municipal leaders, however, have decried the most recent $20 million cut, which came after many of them had already voted on their budgets, locked in their mill rates and, in some cases, had sent out tax bills.

Democrats were noncommittal about joining Republicans in restoring the items that Malloy had cut with his veto. Larry Perosino, a spokesman for House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, said House Democrats would caucus Monday to discuss the potential for veto overrides, "and it is helpful to know where the minority party is."

Adam Joseph, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, said the group would also caucus Monday to make a final decision about any overrides. He said Republicans were being hypocritical by decrying the cuts after a budget plan they presented earlier in the legislative session was $160 million out of balance. "We have seen Republicans fail to step up to make tough choices only to hope to come in at the end of the process and attempt to take a victory lap without running the race," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said Republicans were just trying to score points with voters. "If you cut down all the trees in the forests of our beautiful state, you still wouldn't have enough paper to list all the times Republican legislators voted to cut various types of local funding — oftentimes for education — and services for the poor, including health care," he said.

Fasano shot back that Duff "literally helped chase GE out of the state," by supporting a corporate tax increase in 2015. He said the Republican budget "was fully balanced, was reconciled post consensus revenue adjustments and fully funded critical social services that the Democrats abandoned."

While the General Assembly is required to meet for the veto session, they could convene and then adjourn without taking any action. The governor's office said Thursday that he had vetoed eight bills to date. Meanwhile, Malloy's budget office told state agencies this week that more budget cutting lies ahead.

Ben Barnes, Malloy's budget chief, said that his office anticipated a continuation of slow revenue growth and that most agencies will face discretionary spending cuts of at least 10 percent in the next budget. "As a result, we will be significantly challenged to provide all of the services and programs that many have come to expect," he wrote. Barnes said lawmakers should begin planning now for the next budget. He asked them to assess if the budget passed in the May special session would require them to make further cutbacks.

"In many cases, I expect agencies may need to further reduce, or perhaps cease delivering all together, certain programs or services, and additional headcount reductions may be necessary," he wrote. The budget agreed to by Malloy and legislative Democrats calls for a reduction of 2,500 positions in the state workforce. The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis is projecting a $1.3 billion budget deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017, and a $1.4 billion shortfall the following year.