Democrats scrap session on state deficit
Democratic leaders of the Connecticut House of Representatives decided Saturday to cancel a planned vote on a proposal to address the state's budget deficit after Gov. M. Jodi Rell vowed to veto the legislation.
The decision came hours after an early morning vote by the Senate to pass the deficit-reduction plan, but without enough votes to override Rell's threatened veto. The plan passed on a 21-15 vote, with three Democrats -- Sens. Gayle Slossberg, of Milford; Jonathan Harris, of West Hartford, and Joan Hartley, of Waterbury, joining the Republicans. Twenty-four votes are needed for a veto-proof majority.
The lack of a veto-proof majority in the Senate complicates Democrats' efforts to find a way to cover the current fiscal year deficit of approximately $500 million on their own terms. Rell, a Republican, has proposed her own cuts, but Democratic leaders have complained that they are draconian, would trim social service and health care programs severely and would hurt the elderly and poor.
Connecticut is in the midst of a two-year, $37.6 billion budget. Besides the current $500 million hole, the new fiscal year that begins July 1 is about $700 million in deficit, and 2011 could be as much as $3.2 billion in the red.
Rell vowed to veto the Democrats' bill Friday night, before the debate began.
The governor, who is in Colorado visiting family, issued a statement that called the proposal "woefully short on real spending cuts and burdensomely high on tax increases."
Senate Democrats fired back, bringing out the governor's unpopular deficit-cutting plan for a vote, pointing out its flaws and then defeating it.
They later debated the Democratic plan, which would close a psychiatric facility in Middletown for children and teens, eliminate about 20 deputy commissioner positions, merge state economic development agencies, impose two furlough days for nonunion employees, roll back an estate tax cut and impose a hospital tax that's similar to one included in Rell's proposal.
"This plan has cuts, tough choices and consolidations," Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said shortly after the 5:20 a.m. vote. "The Senate did its job and I look forward to final passage of the bill later today in the House -- then putting it on the governor's desk for her signature."
Minority Republicans in the House accused Democrats of trying to push through their deficit-cutting plan at the last minute to score political points.
"This is a partisan budget, not even with the pretense of being bipartisan," said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, on Friday. Cafero complained that the GOP has been calling on Democrats since October to address the deficit.
"The silence has been deafening," he said.
Senate Republicans offered up a GOP alternative during the early Saturday debate. Their plan, which was defeated, included monthly furlough days for nonunion employees, a 10 percent salary reduction for all elected officials and commissioners and numerous mergers of boards and commissions.