July 18 is a pivotal date in Connecticut’s budget making process, and that is what is wrong with the state’s budget making process.
During the first week of July, the Connecticut Post noted in an editorial, “As of now, the next special session to vote on a budget is not scheduled until July 18. Not by coincidence, perhaps, that happens to be the day before the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition [SEBAC] is scheduled to finish voting on contract concessions negotiated by Malloy.”
Generally in politics, things happen as they do because politicians who control events want them to happen in a certain way. Political business in the House of Representatives is controlled by the Speaker of the House, without whose assent bills are not reported to the floor. Democrats did not bring a budget to the floor on June 7, when the legislature was due to close, because Democrats had no budget. Republicans, who did have a budget in hand that had been vetted and declared balanced by the state’s budget office, were not permitted to bring their budget to the floor for an open discussion. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, the budget gatekeeper in the General Assembly, wanted it that way.
Both Republicans and Governor Dannel Malloy then produced mini-budgets that were not voted upon, after which Malloy assumed plenary powers to keep the state running until union-employed Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz was prepared to open a discussion on the budget that should have been finalized on June 7; that was the date during which a Democrat budget acceptable to Aresimowicz’s caucus should have been presented to the General Assembly for discussion and a vote. Aresimowicz also should have allowed debate on the loyal opposition’s budget.
None of this occurred, because Aresimowicz and Malloy, the nominal head of the Democratic Party in Connecticut, did not want any vote on any budget before July 18. Well then, the reader may ask, what was so special about July 18?
Mark Pazniokas and Keith Phaneuf of CTMirror noted in a June 29 report: “Instead of a vote on a mini-budget, House Democratic leaders tried to refocus attention off the failings of the day and onto July 18, when they say they intend to vote on a two-year budget that would protect municipal aid and hospitals, but also would raise the sales tax from 6.35 percent to 6.99 percent.” Aresimowicz was quoted in the CTMirror report to this effect: “House Democrats, really happy to announce that we are putting forward a two-year budget to address the many fiscal situations we’re finding in our state.” And, as was pointedly noted in the report, “He [Aresimowicz] said the day House Democrats hope to vote is one day after state-employee unions are to complete their voting on whether to ratify a tentative concessions deal.”
In the General Assembly, things happen the way they do because Democrat General Assembly leaders, as well as the state’s highly unpopular lame-duck Democratic governor, want them to happen as they do. Malloy, who recently assumed plenary powers, did not want the Republican alternative budget to be brought to the floor for debate, and the Republican budget was snuffed in its crib – likely because Republicans had, since the beginning of Malloy’s first term, gained seats in both the House and Senate. The party split in the Senate is now 18 Democrats, 18 Republicans; and, in recent years, Republicans have drawn uncomfortably close to Democrats in the House as well. There the split is 79 Democrats, 72 Republicans – too close for comfort. Moreover, there is in the General Assembly a moderate Democrat rump faction that occasionally votes with Republicans against destructive progressive policies.
Democrats need to bake into their budget contractual agreements that will not be voted upon by rank and file union members until the 18th, if then. The contracts project dubious savings of $1.5 billion, and the Malloy-Aresimowicz-SEBAC deal extends the terms of the contracts until 2027, thus preventing future governors from realizing future savings until the contracts are terminated. That is the fait accompli Democrats hope to impose upon a future governor and legislature. On the other side of the political barricades, Republicans want to change from contract to statute the process according to which budgets are formed, and in this way recover democratic legislative authority over the budget making process. If Republicans do not succeed during the current legislative session in enacting reforms that have been in the Republican pipeline for many years, they may succeed at the polls in capturing both the governor’s office and one, possibly two houses in the General Assembly.