The 2017 legislative session teetered on the brink of gridlock Friday as House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz accused Republicans of unfairly dodging all tough choices amidst a huge state budget crisis.
And while Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, did not say majority House Democrats would block GOP bills, he reflected on that option as one of the few alternatives to stop Republican political posturing.
“It’s hard for me right now to go out there and … run bills that will allow people to move forward their proposals and their goals while my caucus continues — continues — to sacrifice things they care about for the greater good of the state but there’s no accountability on the other side,” the speaker said during a mid-morning press conference in his Capitol office.
He made his comments after House Democrats failed Wednesday and Thursday to take up a bill to establish tolls — something Democratic leaders said was impossible because House Republicans offered virtually no support.
Democrats hold a narrow 79-72 edge in that chamber.
The speaker said House Republicans won’t make those tough choices, not only when it comes to tolls, but also to support a tentative union concessions framework to help balance the next budget.
Yet he said GOP lawmakers ask him daily to help funnel all types of state aid to their districts
“All of the time they are cheerleading for their projects,” he said. “How is it fair to my members that we take the difficult votes that enable those projects to go forward, they vote ‘no,’ but then they are still able to go home and claim credit for their projects?”
“It’s interesting when they don’t agree with what we say, because they’re in the pockets of their political interests, then the answer is it’s (GOP) political posturing,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, responded Friday.
Democratic proposals to establish tolls and to legalize and tax marijuana “are all revenue grabs” to prop up the General Fund and avoid making cost-saving structural changes to state government, she said. “They can’t control their spending, their borrowing and their taxing.”
Republicans oppose concessions, Klarides said, because they come at a higher cost — extending the employee benefits program for five more years, to 2027. The GOP argues Connecticut can save far more than the $1.5 billion the concessions savings target by legislating stronger restrictions on wage and benefits programs now.
Aresimowicz has urged Democrats and Republicans all session to ignore election politics and make unpopular-yet-necessary fiscal choices together.
But if he’s convinced House Republicans won’t take political risks to help the state, would it lead him to abandon bipartisanship and stop running GOP bills?
“I’ve never wanted to get away from it because I believe it’s the right thing,” Aresimowicz said. “But at some point I have to protect my caucus.”
But because the Senate is split 18-18 between Democrats and Republicans, either party there effectively could shut down that chamber. If Aresimowicz were to stifle GOP bills in the House, wouldn’t that lead to gridlock at the Capitol?
“We’ll see,” he responded.
“Joe sometimes needs to remember he is the speaker of the entire House, not the Democrat Party, so it is his obligation to get people’s bills called,” Klarides said. “We represent half of the people in the state.”