Dems Pass Plan to Close Budget Deficit

Republicans say plan leaves Conn. in the red

Lawmakers on Monday passed a Democratic plan to close the state's latest budget deficit, even though Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her fellow Republicans claimed it falls far short of what's needed to balance the books.

The proposal by the majority Democrats, approved along mostly party lines, still leaves the state with a $137 million deficit, and the governor with the task of deciding how to cover the remaining red ink.

Sen. Dan Debicella, ranking Republican on the Legislature's budget-writing committee, accused the majority Democrats of "punting" to Rell the hard decisions about which programs to cut.

"Today we are trapped in 'Groundhog Day,' where again we have a bill before us that does not close the full deficit," said Debicella, of Shelton.

Democrats maintain the governor has not done enough to reduce spending within her agencies, such as reducing middle management. They claim the bulk of the deficit can be blamed on overspending by the administration, not just a decline in tax revenues.

"The governor must live within the means of the biennial budget," said Senate President Donald Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. "That's what families around the state of Connecticut are doing."

The governor did not say whether she would sign the deficit-cutting plan into law. In a written statement issued after the votes, said she was "profoundly disappointed" and said state taxpayers have a right to be angry with the situation.

"They are faced with a bill for a state government that has become bloated and unaffordable," Rell said. "Instead of paring back on spending, the majority continues to run from their responsibility."

Democrats in the General Assembly passed a two-year, $37.6 billion budget without Rell's signature in September after a monthslong impasse with her. That budget is now about $467 million short. The figure, however, includes a planned $130 million sales tax reduction that has been scrapped because of falling state revenues.

Rell called lawmakers back to the Capitol last week to vote on her own deficit-cutting plan, but the Democrats ignored the package. They said it would lead to at least 5,000 private-sector job cuts across the state because of her proposed reductions to hospitals and nonprofit social services agencies

They also balked at Rell's proposal to reduce state aid to cities and towns.

"I know that every one of you received thousands of e-mails from people who were going to impacted by this," House Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, told fellow legislators. "We've got to come out of this, and that's not the way to do it."

The Democrats' plan reduces spending by $12.4 million, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. It also siphons money from various state funds and postpones a planned reduction in the state's inheritance tax for two years.

Democrats also publicly urged Rell to meet with the state employee unions to reach additional concessions, such as delaying a payment to the pension fund. Rell said her staff has reached out to the chief negotiator for the unions.

While leaders of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition said they're willing to meet with the Rell administration "to discuss real solutions to the continuing economic crisis," they will not return to the bargaining table to negotiate additional concessions.

SEBAC said it has already saved the state nearly $1 billion in givebacks and other concessions.

"Without the concessions already agreed to by state public service workers, our budget deficit would be even larger," said Rick Tanasi, president of the State Vocational Federation of Teachers, Local 4200A.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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