House Dems name new chairs for key budget committees

As Connecticut heads into the worst budget session in history, House Democrats announced Wednesday new leadership for their two top budget-writing committees.

“We have the basis for a terrific team,” said House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden.

The House chairmanships of the Appropriations and the Finance, Revenue and Bonding committees became vacant following Rep. Cameron C. Staples‘ decision not to run for reelection and Rep. John C. Geragosian‘s being named a state auditor for public accounts Tuesday.

“The good news is they are being replaced by wonderful new leaders,” said House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan of Meriden.

One of those new leaders is Rep. Toni Walker of New Haven, who will head the Appropriations Committee. That committee will be responsible for divvying up what is expected to be a smaller pot of money as the state makes cuts to erase a$3.67 billion deficit.


From left, Rep. Toni Walker, Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey and Speaker Chris Donovan

Donovan said this “money committee” is going to face a lot of pressure in the coming months and he chose Walker because “her help during the budget fight was very valuable” last year.

Walker said she is ready for the task and joked she is already practicing saying “no” to programs she would like to be able to afford to fund.

As co-chairwoman of the Human Services Committee for the last two years and member of the Appropriations Committee for the last five, Walker said this is a job she is all too familiar with.

“We’ve been going through this cleansing process… for the last couple of years because of budget issues,” she said during a press conference Wednesday. “So, right now I think the most important thing is to make sure…the funding that we do have leads to jobs.”

All legislative committees have both a House and Senate chair. Walker’s co-chair will be Sen. Toni Harp. They are both from New Haven. Sharkey said it is not uncommon for both leaders of powerful committees to be from the same part of the state.

“It’s pretty well understood that any efforts to steer more money toward one community would be quickly identified,” he said.

Another “money committee” that will be responsible for generating new revenue– the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee– will be co-chaired by Rep. Patricia M. Widlitz of Guilford.

“People respect her. She is very thorough, serious and really concerned about the state. When we look at finances we need someone that people can work with, respect and will put in the hard work. So that’s why we picked Pat.” Donovan said on why he chose Widlitz to lead the tax-writing committee.

Widlitz,  has been a member of that committee for almost a decade and was previously the co-chair of the Environment Committee. Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook will remain the co-chair of that committee.

This is the first time in recent memory four women will lead the state’s top budget-writing committees. The finance and appropriations committees will be responsible for setting the stage for solutions to close the state’s massive budget deficit.

Donovan said the leaders for these committees are studying up now “so they can hit the ground running.”

Also selected for another key committee chairmanship was Rep. Gerald M. Fox, a Democrat from Stamford, to co-chair the Judiciary Committee with Sen. Eric Coleman of Bloomfield. Fox and Coleman both favor repealing the death penalty and Coleman has already said he expects the committee to introduce a bill. Senate President Don Williams, Gov.-elect Dan Malloy and Donovan have also said they support repeal of the death penalty.

The House leadership announcements come one day after Senate Democrats announced their committee assignments. Democrats have the majority in both the House and Senate and will enjoy having a Democratic governor for the first time in 20 years.

Other committee leadership appointments include:

  • Government Administration and Elections: Co-chairs, Rep. Russell Morin of Wethersfield and Sen. Gayle Slossberg of Milford. Ranking Republicans, Rep. Tony Hwang of Fairfield and Sen. Michael McLachlan
  • Transportation: Co-chairs, Rep. Tony Guerrera of Rocky Hill and Sen. Andrea Stillman of Waterford. Ranking Republicans, Rep. David Scribner of Brookfield and Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton
  • Planning and Development: Rep. Linda Gentile of Ansonia and Sen. Steve Cassano. Ranking Republicans, Bill Aman of South Windsor and Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven
  • Banks: Co-chairs, Rep. William Tong of Stamford and Sen. Bob Duff of Norwalk. Ranking Republicans, Rep. Mike Alberts of Woodstock and Sen. Scott Frantz of Riverside
  • Energy and Technology: Co-chairs, Rep. Vicki Nardello of Prospect and Sen. John Fonfara of Hartford. Ranking Republicans, Rep. Laura Hoydick and Sen. Kevin Witkos of Canton
  • Insurance: Co-chairs, Rep. Robert Megna of New Haven and Sen. Joseph Crisco of Woodbridge. Ranking Republicans, Rep. Chris Coutu of Norwich and Sen. Kelly
  • Labor and Public Employees: Co-chairs, Rep. Zeke Zalaski of Plantsville and Sen. Edith Prague of Columbia. Ranking Republicans, Rep. John Rigby of Winsted and Sen. Anthony Guglielmo of Stafford.
  • Human Services, Co-chairs, Rep. Peter Tercyak of New Britain and Sen. Anthony Musto of Trumbull. Ranking Republicans, Rep. Lile Gibbons of Old Greenwich and Sen. Joe Markley