Frustrated with Rell and Democrats, GOP legislators quit budget talks

The gulf between Gov. M. Jodi Rell and fellow Republicans in the legislature tore open this afternoon as House and Senate GOP leaders accused the lame duck governor of abandoning any effort to alleviate the multi-billion-dollar deficit she is on pace to hand off to her successor next year.

Rell’s office declined any immediate comment, but majority Democrats quickly dismissed the move as election year posturing by a Republican minority that is more focused on waging a campaign of fiscal blame than actually solving Connecticut’s budget crisis.

“This is the public divorce,” one senior Republican staffer said privately as House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, and Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, blasted Democrats and Rell in a mid-day press conference outside of the Hall of the House.

The Republicans leaders said they would participate in no further budget talks, a move more symbolic than substantive as it was unlikely that the GOP minority would vote for any budget deal acceptable to the Democratic majority.

“It is not simply our obligation to say we balanced the budget on paper and still leave the next governor and legislature with a multi-billion-dollar deficit,” McKinney said, adding neither the administration nor Democratic leaders appear ready to fight for further labor concessions, agency consolidations, privatizations of state services – or anything else that would close a budget gap without new revenue.

“I am disappointed in everybody’s actions,” he said.

“We cannot, in good conscience, … continue ignoring and kicking the can down the road for the next governor and legislature,” Cafero said, referring to legislative analysts’ estimates that state government faces a built-in shortfall of as much as $3.9 billion in 14 months, an amount greater than 20 percent of the current state budget.

When asked whether he believed Rell had given up fighting for spending cuts she proposed earlier this year, Cafero replied, “The macaroni’s cooked.”

Republican State Chairman Chris Healy said some of the longstanding tensions between the Republican governor and GOP legislative minority are inevitable, since she must deal with the Democratic majority to settle on a budget.

“We’ve been down this road before,” Healy said. “We all love her. We like her. We think she is a good person. But she obviously feels she’s made the best deal she can. That’s her right.”

“The worst thing for the Republicans is for us to have a budget deal,” said Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, the co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

He said recent revenue growth increases the likelihood of balancing the next budget without tax hikes.

“You would think that’s a good outcome. They’re playing funeral music at a wedding,” he said of the Republicans.