Bill to give towns more time to pass budget bogs down in Senate

State officials sparred for the second day in a row Wednesday over whether to give communities more time to adopt their local budgets — a fight that left the extension issue in limbo after a 90-minute Senate debate.

Democratic leaders announced early Wednesday afternoon they expected to adopt a bill in the Senate that would suspend municipal budget adoption deadlines set in local charter or ordinance until June 30.

The 36-member Senate is divided between Democrats and Republicans, but Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, a Democrat, can cast a 37th and tie-breaking vote. In addition, Republican Sen. Tony Guglielmo of Stafford was absent from Wednesday’s Senate session.

But after a 90-minute debate, Democrats tabled their bill and accused Republican senators of waging a filibuster.

“We obviously see there was a filibuster going on,” Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said, adding that Republicans had prepared several amendments and wouldn’t commit to ending the debate at any fixed time. “It seems the Republicans aren’t interested in doing anything, even stuff that would be noncontroversial, … something the towns were asking for.”

“This bill is so simple, and yet the Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to vote for it, and used tactics to delay and stall,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.

But Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said there was no filibuster. “We have a right to raise our concerns,” he said, charging that the Democratic bill was rushed and “poorly drafted.”

For example, Fasano said, it allowed local leaders to extend their budget adoption process without holding a public hearing to determine if local voters agree with that decision.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate announced they would place an “emergency-certified” bill — meaning it has not gone through the regular committee review process — on the Senate calendar.

Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, left, and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz.

The House was planning to vote in the near future, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin said earlier in the afternoon. But that was based on the assumption that the Senate would have passed the measure by the close of business Wednesday.

And while the announcement drew praise from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, Republican leaders countered that the best way to show communities how much state aid they can expect is for legislators to resolve the next state budget quickly.

“We think this is something that will enhance budget planning,” Looney told Capitol reporters before the Senate debate. Capitol reporters.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy “put a lot of innovative ideas that call for drastic changes” in funding for municipalities in the biennial budget he proposed in February, Aresimowicz said, adding legislators need time to assess these properly.

Those ideas include a controversial plan to shift a portion of teachers’ pension costs onto local budgets.

Municipal leaders approached the Malloy administration in mid-February and said some communities might need some legal flexibility to adopt a sound budget this spring.

State law doesn’t set any deadline for cities and towns to enact an annual local budget. But some communities have schedules set by local charter or ordinance, and many of these require key adoption votes in March, April and early May.

The state budget normally isn’t adopted until just before the regular legislative session’s adjournment, which this year is set for June 7.

The legislation considered by the Senate on Wednesday would waive any ordinance or charter deadlines until June 30.

Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Senate Republican President Pro Tem Len Fasano of North Haven

Traditionally, the governor’s budget proposal is seen as “the floor” when it comes to the impact on municipal budgets, CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong said. In other words, the final plan adopted by the legislature usually is more favorable to cities and towns in terms of local aid.

DeLong said the “overwhelming majority” of Connecticut cities and towns may not need the extra time, but “a handful” with early deadlines already have said they need an extension to better assess what the state budget is likely to authorize for towns.

But Republican leaders said the Democrats’ extension actually reflects their plans to reject many elements of the Democratic governor’s budget proposal.

“Is it because they’re admitting the governor’s budget doesn’t have a shot?” Fasano asked. “The answer is because they don’t like what’s going on, and they’re paralyzed.”

“This is wrong,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby said, adding the legislators should be able to resolve the next state budget before the regular session ends on June 7. “We haven’t done our job.”

Sen. Stephen T. Cassano, D-Manchester, urged approval of the measure during the debate, noting that it mandates nothing. It only gives towns an option to take more time if they need it.

Cassano, who was mayor of his community from 1991 through 2005, said he never had firm state grant amounts when he had to help adopt a local budget. “We adopted a budget, and we kept our fingers crossed,” he said. But he added that cities and towns have less direction than in most years as lawmakers grapple with a host of difficult choices.

“They are trying to adopt a budget for the entire year on guesstimates,” he said.

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