Bipartisanship, we hardly knew ye.
Hartford’s flirtation with inter-party cooperation ended Friday as the General Assembly returned to the fiscal crisis, an issue expected to dominate the remaining six weeks of the 2013 session and the 2014 race for governor.
After months of coping with the Newtown school massacre, which yielded a gun-control law praised for its scope and bipartisanship, the Appropriations Committee’s revisions to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget Friday marked a reboot of the annual session.
The leaders of the Republican minorities in the House and Senate, each a possible challenger to the Democratic governor, unloaded on Malloy and the Democratic-controlled legislature for a proposal to spend $43 billion over the next two years.
Surrounded by props, including a giant credit card to highlight what the GOP says is irresponsible borrowing to cover operating expenses, Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk and Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield accused Malloy of budget gimmickry.
With public and press attention riveted on the manhunt for the Boston bomber, the GOP’s made-for-TV press conference attracted no broadcast television crews. But McKinney said the Republican message eventually would break through.
“It is a matter of being unyielding,” McKinney said. “Every time the governor gets up and says this is George Bush’s fault, or this is a bad economy’s fault, or this is Jodi Rell’s fault, I am going to stand up and say, ‘You know what? Cut it, it’s a ridiculous argument.’ “
McKinney, who frequently praised the governor for his handling of the Newtown crisis, said Malloy is guilty of overestimating economic growth and underestimating Medicaid caseloads, a sure recipe for a deficit.
“That’s not the economy’s fault. That’s not Washington’s fault. That’s not Jodi Rell’s fault,” he said, referring to Malloy’s GOP predecessor. “That’s Dan Malloy’s fault. And it would be great if, once, he would stand up and take responsibility for the mess he’s created.”
Democrats were quick to respond.
The Malloy administration noted the record $3.6 billion deficit it inherited from Rell, who was governor for six years.
“Sen. McKinney and Rep. Cafero did nothing when Republican governors racked up the largest per-capita deficit in the nation, decimated the state’s pension fund and used financial gimmicks to cover up mismanagement,” said Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman. “It was Gov. Malloy who cleaned that mess up. It’s been two and a half months since the governor put out his budget. Where is the Republican plan?”
House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said McKinney and Cafero made clear the budget is a matter for negotiation between the governor and the Democratic majority.
“I think what you saw earlier today was the minority leaders marginalizing themselves and their caucuses in the budget negotiations,” Sharkey said. “Whenever there is a difficult budget, the political tendency is to run away, run away to the sidelines and not have to make the hard decisions.”
Cafero and McKinney have proposed alternative budgets in other years, but that seems unlikely this year.
McKinney said that part of Malloy’s challenge balancing the budget this year is the failure to realize projected savings from a labor concessions deal in 2011.
“That’s their box,” he said of the Democrats. “We’re going to live in their box.”
Just 24 hours earlier, Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, predicted that the glow of the bipartisan deal on guns would help legislators through the final weeks of the session.
“I think there is more of a foundation for communication, if not mutual trust,” Williams said. “I don’t expect all of a sudden to see the session turn on a dime and become highly partisan.”