House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz tried to kick off the final day of a somewhat dysfunctional 2017 General Assembly session on a positive note.
While acknowledging that severe deficit projections and a narrow partisan split limited what representatives could accomplish, the Berlin Democrat said he remains proud of both House caucuses’ efforts this session.
“We worked on a lot of issues in a bipartisan way,” he said. “The occasional flare-ups will happen. It is what it is.”
As the session wound down, those “flare-ups” prevented the House from reaching consensus on major issues, including installation of tolls, legalization of marijuana and whether to support a popular national vote for president.
In all of those cases, House Democrats and Republicans agreed to hold limited debates on bills and then table them for the year.
Both parties were hindered this year by huge projected deficits in the next two fiscal years. Analysts say finances, unless adjusted, could run as much as $2.3 billion in deficit in 2017-18 and $2.8 billion in 2018-19. Those potential shortfalls of 12 and 14 percent, respectively, are due largely to eroding state income tax receipts and surging retirement benefit costs tied to decades of under-funding.
The House and Senate also were split more evenly along party lines than at any other time in decades.
The Senate is split 18-18 between Democrats and Republicans while Democrats hold a slim 79-72 advantage in the House.
I don’t believe there was mismanagement,” the speaker said. “… There’s always going to be bills that don’t have the votes to be garnered. In the past they would have been shelved and not even discussed. Our caucus asked us — and we pledged to them — transparency and open debate, and we provided it to them.”
Aresimowicz said he remained hopeful the Senate would give final approval Wednesday to a bill that helps the pari-mutuel industry by expanding the number of available off-track betting licenses from 18 to 24.
This measure, which the House passed early Wednesday morning, is a key component of a larger compromise between both chambers to authorize a new casino in East Windsor to be run by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes.
“Today being the last day, I just want to operate in a way where we have a little more patience with each other,” Aresimowicz added. “Nobody is trying to hurt anybody else. We all got elected by our constituents to address the needs of the state, and I just want it to continue that way — and hopefully it will.”