HARTFORD - With Connecticut's regular legislative session in the history books, the governor and state lawmakers must now turn their full attention to the state budget and how to fix a projected two-year, $5 billion deficit.
It's unclear, however, how quickly they can reach an agreement, despite their announced goal of holding a special session vote before the current fiscal year ends on June 30. It also is murky as to whether any agreement will be bipartisan or ultimately passed by just the Democrats, who hold the slimmest advantage in years in the General Assembly.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday that his administration is making preparations in case no deal is reached.
“There is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to get done,” the governor said, adding how his office is now reviewing “what we need to operate without a budget for some period of time, beginning July 1.”
Malloy would be required to issue limited, short-term budgets until a final two-year plan is signed into law.
There already are signs of possible discontent among the politicians. Republicans, for example, are dissatisfied with the labor savings deal Malloy reached with state employee union leaders, concessions that still need rank-and-file approval. While Malloy's plan is projected to save $1.5 billion over two years, the GOP contends it doesn't deliver enough savings and wrongly extends union agreements for another five years.
“I think it's a very, very difficult thing to vote for,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “I think it has dire consequences for the state of Connecticut.”
Malloy argues that it's unrealistic to expect more concessions, pointing out how many people questioned whether he could reach the $1.5 billion target in the first place and now want more. He also accuses critics of ignoring the agreement's long-term savings, which actuarial analyses show will save a projected $24.7 billion over the next 20 years by doing things such as restructuring the state's pension system and temporarily freezing wages.
“It is an historic agreement,” he said.
There are many other possible areas of dispute between the governor and legislative leaders. They include which, if any, taxes to increase; potential cuts and changes to state aid to cities and towns; potential cuts and changes to hospital funding; and whether to privatize more state social service programs.
No date has been set for the next round of budget negotiations between Malloy and legislative leaders, but there have been discussions and critiques of the various budget ideas already offered by the Democrats and Republicans. It's unclear which, if any, of the more contentious concepts that were unsuccessful in the regular session could return during the upcoming talks. They range from legalizing recreational use of marijuana to instituting highway tolls.
“Everything is on the table,” said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin. “It will be a combination of cuts, revenue ideas, efficiencies, restructuring not only state government at some level but urging municipalities to do that and come back with a plan.”