Dr. William Petit Jr. speaking on the Capitol steps, with fellow GOP legislators behind him. Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

Minority Republicans in the House and Senate took different approaches Thursday to begin their fall push to pick up seats in the General Assembly.

While House Republicans made it clear they would highlight Democratic legislators’ cooperation with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — whose unpopularity is marked in recent polls — the Senate GOP took aim at Connecticut’s fiscal woes.

And while they pledged major tax relief phased in over the next seven years, they didn’t offer full details on how they would pay for this while closing a major budget deficit.

When you have the ability to stand up and stop something, and you don’t, then whatever blame the public is giving to the governor, they should give to you,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said, referring to Malloy’s fellow Democrats in the House and Senate majorities.

Klarides was joined on the Capitol’s north steps during the mid-day rally by about 50 House Republicans seeking re-election, as well as some new legislative candidates.

Dr. William Petit speaking on the Capitol steps.
Dr. William Petit Jr. speaking on the Capitol steps. Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

Malloy, who insisted while running for re-election in 2014 that nonpartisan deficit forecasts were wrong, said he would cut taxes in his second term. Instead the governor and legislature approved tax hikes worth more than $650 million per year in 2015 while canceling previously approved tax cuts worth more than $200 million per year.

“We’re squeezing our homeowners, our taxpayers… right out of this state,” said Stephanie Cummings, a Waterbury alderman and a Republican candidate for the 74th House District.

Dr. William Petit Jr. of Plainville, a Republican hoping to unseat Democratic Rep. Betty Boukus in the 22nd House District, said voters he talks with respond to his concerns about rapidly growing state borrowing under Malloy — particularly to cover operating costs.

Petit compared it to a household that initially uses its credit card in tough times to buy some groceries or pay for car repairs, then eventually relies on the card out of habit. “You find out you spent money on things you didn’t really need,” he said. “I think the state needs to come to the same realization.”

Malloy has countered his GOP critics frequently by insisting that the bulk of state financing still is used for capital projects that create construction jobs.

The governor’s office did not comment immediately after the Republican press conferences Thursday.

“This is typical GOP, leading with negativity and offering little substance, not dissimilar to the tone set by their own presidential candidate, Donald Trump,” House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said afterward. “Voters will see Democratic legislative candidates bringing forth a detailed positive vision for Connecticut’s future that looks to bring people together from all sides to find real solutions to create jobs and grow our economy for working, middle-class families.”

House Republicans billed their rally as a campaign event, and correspondingly chose to hold it outside of the Capitol; the Senate GOP insisted they were rolling out their 2017 legislative agenda. As a result, they had it in the caucus’s Capitol office.

The session doesn’t begin until early January, and traditionally caucuses do not unveil their legislative agendas until after the election.

The legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis projects state finances, unless adjusted, will run $1.3 billion in deficit next fiscal year. And the Senate GOP centered much of its agenda on the state’s fiscal woes.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the caucus not only would remain opposed to any tax hikes to close the deficit, but also would phase in more than $300 million in state income tax relief between now and 2023.

Senate Republicans would work to restore the property tax credit within the income tax — which stands at $200 — to $500 over six years beginning in 2017. This would save taxpayers $153 million annually once fully implemented.

A second proposal involves exempting the first $100,000 in pension income from the state income tax, relief to be phased in over five years starting in 2019. This eventually would save a projected $172 million annually.

Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, flanked by Sens. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, left, and Art Linares, R-Westbrook.
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, flanked by Sens. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, left, and Art Linares, R-Westbrook. Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

But with analysts already projecting a budget deficit of more than 7 percent, and with already surging state debt costs projected to steadily worsen over the next two decades, how can the GOP expect to deliver that relief?

Further complicating matters, Fasano said Senate Republicans also oppose further cuts in aid to hospitals and in services for the developmentally disabled, and want to restore about $94 million in reductions to the Education Cost Sharing grant to local school districts.

“We’re going to have to look at it (the budget) and make tough choices,” Fasano said, adding that he believes stabilizing taxes would stimulate economic growth.

“We are in a death spiral because of the economic policies that go unimpeded by the Democratic majority,” he said.

“Republicans must have received some polling data showing that people are tired of their tactic of relentlessly tearing down Connecticut without offering a responsible plan,” Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Adam Joseph said. “However, what they offered today was just more political pandering, which they don’t even pretend will balance, and regarding which they offered absolutely no details on how they will achieve it.”

“Actions speak far louder than words, and Connecticut Republicans leave no doubt they are the party of Donald Trump,” added Michael Mandell, executive director of the state Democratic Party. “The top House Republican and GOP legislators from both chambers attended the Republican National Convention as Trump delegates, and the vast majority of GOP legislators have declared their support for his hateful, divisive campaign. This attempt to change the narrative is disingenuous.”

Other components of the Senate Republican legislative agenda include:

  • Requiring legislators to vote on all state employee union contracts.
  • Making transportation funding a priority in the state’s bond package and setting tighter overall limits on borrowing.
  • Restricting state worker pension benefits. This could not be done unilaterally and would require negotiations with employee unions.
  • Phasing out welfare and unemployment compensation benefits more quickly to encourage more people to enter the workforce.
  • Offering tax incentives to businesses willing to invest in new development in brownfield areas.
  • Strengthening child welfare oversight.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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