With a Wednesday deadline looming, Democratic leaders in the General Assembly say they are hopeful a bipartisan agreement can be reached on the second year of the two-year budget. Leaders of both parties are meeting in the first cross-party talks Tuesday.
Democrats released a partial budget earlier this week that has similarities to a Republican proposal, like restoring funding to municipalities, and the Medicare Savings Program or MSP, as well as funding for transportation projects.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said lawmakers should build on the success of last October's bipartisan biennial budget. "No sense in rewriting history, or the budget. Let's move forward with the things we agree on in a bipartisan way," he said.
But according to the Connecticut Mirror, Senate Republicans have attached amendments to several bills that would force a vote on the their budget.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said it makes no sense to try and pass competing budgets in the short time that's left in the session.
"The idea that we are just going to play this game of running budgets that can never become law," he said, "all you are doing is playing games with MSP, municipal aid, the car tax, all those issues because you put them in jeopardy of not getting done by Wednesday, and you watch a lot of other bills that people care about die because of time."
Senate Republican President Len Fasano said the one-page budget issued by Democratic leadership is incomplete. He told reporters he can't meet with the Democrats until he sees their full budget. Meanwhile House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said she's prepared to come to the table - at least to a point.
"Our goal is to always do things in a bipartisan way, as long as we don't compromise our beliefs and our policies," she said.
One financial issue that might cause contention - lawmakers are again debating how much money to give to the cash-strapped city of Hartford, and for how long.
Hartford’s mayor has long made the case that the city has structural deficits that it can’t fix on its own. Earlier this year, the governor approved a decades-long plan to help the city out. Under that plan, the state would have paid down the city’s more than $530 million debt.
But that frustrated some lawmakers, who want to make sure that Hartford doesn’t get too sweet of a deal. The Senate passed a bill Saturday that would allow lawmakers to review and possibly recalculate the need for state aid in five years. That bill now moves to the House.
“It’s hard to predict where they’re going to be in five years, or 10 years, or 20 years and so I think people are trying to make sure that the state does everything that it can to ensure that the city doesn’t go bankrupt,” said Ritter, who represents Hartford. “But, at the same time, and I understand this and acknowledge this, people representing other communities want to make sure the city of Hartford is not receiving money that is so far in excess of what they need to stay afloat. And so, you’re trying to find the right balance.”
Ritter said he’s not going to stand in the way of the Senate bill. And he hopes Hartford’s recent grand list growth and business climate will mean that the city will need less aid over time.
But he’s not sure how long the city will need the aid. “I don’t know the answer to that, but my gut tells me that the moves that we took over the last 12 months, when people look back 50 years from now, they’ll say the Connecticut General Assembly saved the city of Hartford,” Ritter said.
In a statement, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin responded to the Senate proposal. “Over the next five years, our budgets remain very tough and very tight, and if dramatic reductions were to be fully implemented after five years, it’s unlikely that Hartford would be able to sustain those cuts,” Bronin said.
He followed up by saying he understands and respects the desire of lawmakers to revisit the debt agreement, but that the city would work hard to earn the state’s confidence.