The state Capitol found a little bit of holiday bipartisanship this week as legislative leaders from both sides called for quick action to reduce the $365 million deficit in the current budget.
Leaders of the Senate’s Democratic majority also endorsed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s pledge to close the gap without raising taxes — a position Republican legislative leaders insisted upon even before the latest shortfall was reported.
“We are committed to making the tough choices and cutting spending in order to balance the state’s budget,” Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, wrote in a statement Wednesday. “We agree with Governor Malloy, it is imperative that we act quickly to address the situation. Earlier this month we discussed with our caucus the need to take action before the end of this calendar year.”
“We obviously have some very difficult decisions ahead of us, but we are confident that by working together, we can pass the deficit mitigation and keep Connecticut on the path to economic growth,” wrote House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, and House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.
Since his budget office projected a roughly 2 percent gap in current finances last week, Malloy has insisted that this shortfall would be covered without boosting revenues.
“We are going to settle this problem without raising taxes,” he told Capitol reporters again this week.
The top Republican in the Senate, Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield, said he was encouraged by discussions over the past week with Williams and with Malloy’s budget chief, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes.
If the goal is to close the deficit with spending cuts, then action can’t wait until after the next regular legislative session begins on Jan. 9, McKinney said. Given the technicalities of the state budget, he added, it needs to happen before the calendar year ends.
Most departments receive their funding in quarterly allotments issued in early July, October, January and April.
But those funds aren’t dispersed evenly, and most agencies spend the bulk of their funds in the middle two quarters.
So if tough decisions aren’t made before funds are released in early January, much of the state budget already will have been spent, McKinney noted. “Allotments will go out the door and we will lose the ability to make much of the savings we need,” he said. “It is absolutely critical that we address the budget deficit and try to pass something before the first of the year.”
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
But Cafero had been calling for action to reduce the deficit even before the latest deficit forecast was announced on Nov. 14.
Cafero released a report from nonpartisan fiscal analysts back on Oct. 18 that showed sales and other tax revenues had eroded well in excess of any level the administration had reported to date. The deficit reported at that time was $27 million.