Budget Talks Fall Apart After Committee Leaders Reject Malloy Plans On Pensions, Education Funding
Hartford Courant, April 26, 2017
Amid partisan squabbling and finger-pointing, a plan to vote on a $20.1 billion state budget blew up Tuesday with legislators blaming each other for failing to make progress.
Democrats blamed Republicans, and Republicans blamed Democrats as the budget-writing appropriations committee adjourned without taking a vote. Legislators said they are still trying to reach a compromise to close a projected $1.7 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year, but no committee votes are scheduled for the rest of the week on tax and spending plans.
"It is my hope and my intention that we will" have a vote, Sen. John Fonfara of Hartford said.
At the same time that the appropriations committee was headed toward meltdown, the tax-writing finance committee was holding a public hearing on raising the income tax and the sales tax. Senate Democratic leaders, though, said later that the budget could be balanced without any increases in income, sales or business taxes.
The situation fell into chaos Tuesday as Republicans and Democrats held competing news conferences to explain their actions. Republicans said that Democrats, who control the budget committee by a one-vote margin, simply did not have the votes to pass the budget and should not be blaming them as scapegoats.
The stalemate highlighted this year's new political reality that the Senate is evenly divided for the first time in nearly 125 years. In addition, Democrats hold a slim majority in the House of Representatives that could change if only four Democrats switch their votes.
"Don't blame us for the fact it didn't pass,'' House Republican Leader Themis Klarides of Derby said. "You didn't have enough votes to pass it. It's very simple. Say you didn't have the votes and we're going to continue working, but don't try and find a scapegoat. ... They're desperate. They're blaming us.''
But House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said Democrats bailed out on the budget because they had believed it would be a bipartisan effort — and then Republicans refused to vote for it.
"This is not a Democratic budget,'' he said. "It was not our plan.''
Earlier Tuesday, key committee leaders released a detailed, 262-page budget plan that called for rejecting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's controversial plans to change the education cost-sharing formula and to force towns to share one-third of the cost of teachers' pensions.
Under intense pressure from mayors and first selectmen for nearly three months, lawmakers called to keep the same funding for the educational cost-sharing formula. The state is sending more than $2 billion in cost-sharing funds to municipalities in the current fiscal year, and that number would remain the same in each of the next two years under the committee's plan.
Governor profoundly disappointed back to top
Malloy said he was "profoundly disappointed'' over the developments.
"For now, the only balanced budget proposal is the one I put on the table in February," Malloy said in a statement. "I will continue to share and discuss that plan publicly, listen to new ideas, and work toward a substantial cost-saving agreement with our state employees. What I will not do is sign a budget focused on taxes rather than spending cuts. I will not push off this year's problems onto future generations. And I will not support a budget filled with gimmicks or unsupported revenue projections."
In traditional fashion, the appropriations committee leaders released the details of the budget cuts Tuesday morning. But when the two sides split into caucuses, Democrats said they would not vote for the bill without Republican support, legislators said. As such, the committee adjourned without a vote.
From education to social services to the environment, Democratic leaders rejected cuts proposed by Malloy and restored millions to the budget. They called for raising $14 million a year by increasing by $10 the registration fee for all cars, campers and motorcycles, starting on Jan. 1, 2018. In return, residents could park for free at state parks, while out-of-state vehicles would still be charged.
Saying that a compromise could not be reached shortly after 3 p.m., Democratic Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven announced, "At this point, I would like to adjourn the appropriations committee.''
Lawmakers are struggling to close a projected deficit of $1.7 billion for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, and they are facing deadlines this week for committee votes on the tax-and-spending package.
Overall, the Democratic committee would spend about $200 million more each year than Malloy. While Malloy sought to spend $20.097 billion in the next fiscal year, the committee wants to spend more — $20.296 billion. Over two years, the committee would spend $41.03 billion to fund state government.
The budget battle is far from over. All recommendations are subject to final approval by the House, the Senate and Malloy. No final deals are expected until June at the earliest.
Democratic committee leaders sought to restore cuts proposed by Malloy that included asking municipalities to collectively pay more than $400 million annually as a one-third share of teachers' pensions. Currently, the state pays 100 percent of the employer cost and the towns pay nothing. The teachers contribute 6 percent of their salaries toward their pensions.
First selectmen and mayors were stunned by Malloy's plan for fundamental change in the education formula, which would have resulted in boosting money for 31 underachieving communities. But that plan ran into bipartisan opposition because it would cut money for 138 communities — including the hometowns of many legislators.
The educational cost-sharing formula was among the most controversial changes recommended by Malloy when he released his proposed budget in early February. Although the committee leaders recommended changes to the internal components of the spending formula, the budget proposal has no change in the total amount of education funding – which would provide a huge sigh of relief for cities and towns.
The committee leaders agreed with the governor's spending proposals on bilingual education, low-performing priority school districts, adult education, the American School for the Deaf, vocational agriculture and health and welfare services that are provided to students in private schools.