Connecticut Democratic and Republican legislative leaders have set a new, self-imposed deadline for this afternoon to announce whether they're on the verge of reaching a tentative, bipartisan state budget agreement.
The closed-door negotiations aren't expected to cease if a deal isn't announced on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. However, the lawmakers said Tuesday they see it as a key moment in what has become a long, drawn-out battle. Connecticut has been without a new two-year budget since July 1.
"It is really our goal by 2:30 p.m. to have a decision made on a bipartisan deal," Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said on Tuesday.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney said lawmakers got a "large number of issues" resolved during discussions and Tuesday was "an encouraging day."
It's the final 10 items left on the table and whether lawmakers can get through those or not will determine what update they give on Wednesday.
"From where we started to where we are is a huge, huge monumental movement, and all week we have taken these huge steps forward. We don't want to talk about what those 10 items are because they're delicate items for our caucuses, but I'll tell you they are significant items. But we've had conversations about these items to where we know that further conversation can bridge the gap that still exists," Fasano said.
"There are a few big issues out there where we have to find a way to come to an agreement, but that's what's standing in the way of a bipartisan agreement where we will come out tomorrow and say we have it or we don't," House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said.
While Gov. Dannel Malloy is not in the room for discussions, leaders said his concerns and suggestions certainly are.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, the governor slammed a proposal in the vetoed Republican budget over whether or not benefits can be changed for vested state employees. The governor remains very clear on where he stands on the issue, saying the answer to that question is "no."
Malloy released an actuarial analysis of prospective pensions changes and said, "We already knew that the illegal pension scheme proposed in the Republican budget would lead to a lengthy legal battle and eventually cost Connecticut taxpayers billions of dollars. Now, thanks to this analysis, we also know that even a more modest prospective change for employees who are still unvested in 2027 would offer almost no savings at all to the state in the current biennium."
"I hope this new information is useful to legislative leaders as they work to send a responsible, balanced budget to my desk, and I am hopeful they will not remake the mistakes of the past, the same mistakes that put Connecticut in its current fiscal predicament," Malloy went on to add during his news conference.
In response, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides released a statement saying, "The governor is now calling into question the initial actuarial analysis that state actuaries undertook to assess the Republican budget proposal that was passed in a bipartisan manner. Now, in an attempt to inject himself into our negotiations he is trying to dispute the initial findings which show that hundreds of millions can be saved by making long-term structural changes in the state employee pension plan beginning in in 2027."
Sen. Fasano said the budget currently in the works is not counting on those savings but that the pension changes they've suggested in the past are not illegal.
Unless the general assembly can give a veto-proof thumbs up, Malloy would have the last word.
"We need a budget I can sign quickly. And to be taking steps that does not produce a budget I can sign probably ends any hope of having a hospital agreement, probably will put the budget another $130 to $100 million out of balance, and I think that's an egregious mistake," Malloy said.
In a best-case scenario, the earliest a state budget could come up for a vote is in the middle of next week.