Legislature may approve budget before concessions finalized

With a budget agreement in hand, legislative leaders are considering having the General Assembly vote on the tax-and-spending plan without waiting to see if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy succeeds in obtaining the $1 billion in labor savings he is seeking from state employees.

A quick vote would leave Malloy with the responsibility for obtaining sufficient savings through layoffs and other spending cuts should concession talks fail, but it also could increase pressure on the unions to quickly resolve the discussions. In effect, a vote would put the legislature on record in favor of concessions.

“I have heard there is a desire to run a budget sooner than later, and I certainly would support this concept.” Malloy told The Mirror. “I’m only a player in this. I don’t run the legislature. So that desire has got to be internally driven by the legislature, or at least the Democratic caucuses.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, each acknowledged separately today that running the budget through the House and Senate prior to the conclusion of concessions is under discussion.

“It’s a possibility. It’s one of the options that we have,” Williams said as he entered a Democratic caucus on the budget late Wednesday afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.

“Absolutely,” Looney added.

Earlier, Donovan also acknowledged it now is one of the options.

“We’re going to have discussions with the governor and see what makes sense,” Donovan said. “We haven’t decided if it makes sense to run it.”

At press conference Wednesday evening to review the revised tax and spending plans, Malloy and the leaders downplayed the impact that a quick budget vote by one or more chambers could have on labor talks.

The governor, whose administration has tried to ramp up pressure on the unions without being overtly inflammatory, declined to say if a vote by one or both chambers for a budget that assumes $1 billion in concessions would strengthen his hand.

“That kind of stuff is something I am trying to avoid talking about. I am trying to be respectful of a process that is ongoing,” Malloy said. He added, “I am going to do my utmost not to use words that are in any way inflammatory or disrespectful. You can use whatever words you want, I am hopeful.”

Malloy has asked that the budget be adopted by May 6, nearly two months before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said he would object to voting on a budget that essentially would have a $1 billion hole to be filled in later by Malloy.

“It’s unconscionable there would be a vote on a budget with a lapse of $1 billion,” Miner said. A “lapse” is money assumed to be unspent or otherwise available before the end of a fiscal year.

But a vote would sharpen the remaining budget issues. It would formalize what Malloy has promised for weeks: He will not seek more than $1.5 billion in new revenuer, regardless of what happens with concession talks.

“We’re good to go,” Rep. Patricia M. Widlitz, D-Guilford, the co-chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said of the tax package.

On the spending side, a vote would leave Malloy on the hook for what happens if the concessions fail.

“If people want me to play the role and blame me, I’m happy to be blamed,” Malloy said.