A tense final day as House GOP threatens filibuster

The General Assembly’s House Republican minority threatened Wednesday to filibuster the final day of the session to protest last-minute revisions to key legislation, adding a dash of drama and tension as legislators worked toward their adjournment deadline of midnight.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, labeled as “outrageous” language that would accelerate the legalization of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and would allow the state to spend the $750 million in new financing pledged to a special budget reserve.

Democrats said the drivers’ license language was a mistake that already has been deleted from the legislation.

House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, remained optimistic that an overall bipartisan deal could be struck. But Cafero threatened at 1 p.m. to effectively shut the session down.

“I’m just so angry,” Cafero told reporters outside the House chamber. “You talk about an outrageous power grab.”

Cafero balked at two pieces of legislation in particular:

An early draft on one of the major omnibus policy bills needed to implement the next state budget. This draft, delivered by the Democratic majority to the Republicans shortly after noon, runs 508 pages and “God knows how many sections,” Cafero said.

And one of those sections moves up the effective date of a bill legalizing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants from Jan. 1, 2015, to next month.

Republicans overwhelmingly opposed the bill, but did appreciate the 2015 implementation date, Cafero said, since it gave time for a task force to study the issue and recommend ways to “fine tune” the implementation process.

“It is a violation of the spirit of what the original bill did,” the House GOP leader said.

The second measure involves a major bonding package approved late Tuesday in the Senate.

That bills orders $750 million in borrowing to help with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s promised conversion of state finances to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

Unlike the modified cash basis system currently used, under GAAP, expenses must be promptly assigned to the year in which they were incurred. In the context of the state budget, that would end an array of accounting gimmicks that have pushed current expenses into future years.

If GAAP standards are used, state finances are deep in the red. State analysts recently pegged the GAAP differential at $1.2 billion.

Malloy originally planned to close that margin by setting aside $80 million annually for 15 years starting this July. But the governor and legislature had to close a big projected deficit just to balance the next budget, and the idea of paying cash to build the entire GAAP reserve was scrapped.

By borrowing $750 million now –- a move that adds $218 million in interest costs -– that leaves just $450 million additional that Malloy and lawmakers must reserve by 2028 to complete the GAAP conversion.

Both the governor and his fellow Democrats in the House and Senate have insisted that borrowing for GAAP has an advantage: It would force the state to save the funds it puts into reserve.

The state would pledge in its bond covenant –- effectively a contract with the investors who buy its bonds -– to use the proceeds only to address the GAAP problem, he said.

But Cafero noted that Section 69 of the bonding bill allows the state to spend the borrowed GAAP dollars if the governor declares “an emergency or the existence of extraordinary circumstances,” and if three-fifths of the House and Senate agree.

Democrats “are literally ignoring their promise to the people,” Cafero said of the backdoor access to the GAAP reserve. “It’s not going to go.”

Though Republicans hold just 52 seats out of 151 in the House, the minority holds considerable influence in the session’s final days.

Because of the mandatory adjournment deadline of midnight, and because legislative rules allow for unlimited discussion, the minority can sink any bill simply by continuing the floor debate.

After a long legislative session that begin in early January, there always is the desire to try to revive ideas left out of earlier bills, Aresimowicz said, adding he remains hopeful the conflicts can be sorted out.

“If there’s issues in there, we’ll see if there’s common ground,” he said. “We’ve worked very well together” in the past. “They have leverage in certain areas. We have leverage in certain areas.”