Bipartisan CT budget talks run out of steam again

Keith M. Phaneuf / file photo

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Senate Republican leader Len Fasano talk Monday with reporters.

Sputtering bipartisan state budget talks, which hadn’t produced any unified plan over the past four months, appeared Monday to have broken down for good — around the same issues that have plagued them in recent years.

Republican legislative leaders charged Monday that their Democratic counterparts effectively ended any bipartisan talks by meeting Sunday with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — a meeting to which the GOP wasn’t invited.

But Democratic leaders have questioned openly for months whether Republicans ever would support the hard choices needed to close major deficits in the next two-year budget. And the GOP had sharp criticism for the compromise proposal Malloy, a Democrat, unveiled on Friday.

“If you don’t invite somebody to a room to have negotiations, you can’t have negotiations,” Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said during a mid-day press conference. “It seems to both of us they’re not interested in having those conversations anymore.”

“I heard about it from one of you guys,” Klarides told Capitol reporters, referring to the Sunday meeting in Malloy’s office between the governor, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, and other top-ranking Democratic lawmakers.

“If you want to make a deal with the governor, that is your prerogative, but you cannot expect us to continue these back-and-forth (talks) when you are not doing it in a way that is open and honest,” Klarides added.

Fasano and Klarides rejected the budget Malloy proposed Friday, in part because it raises tax rates on hospitals, tobacco products and real estate sales, and imposes a modest income tax hike on the middle class and working poor by curtailing tax credits.

Claude Albert /

House Speaker Joe Arecimowicz answers questions.

Malloy and Democratic legislators both had proposed raising the base sales tax rate, but confirmed Sunday they now are developing a joint plan that no longer relies on that.

GOP leaders also have said they are revising their budget proposal, but have not released it yet. Their earlier plans relied, in part, on some labor cost savings that cannot be achieved based on the union concessions plan ratified this summer.

“We were told in our bipartisan negotiations … they (Republicans) were waiting for an additional number for their budget,” Aresimowicz said Monday. “We don’t know that we’ll ever get a bipartisan budget but I’m more than willing to look at their documents.”

“No one has a monopoly on good ideas regarding the state budget,” Looney and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, wrote in a joint statement Monday. “We have said so before, and we have sat down with our Republican colleagues and incorporated their ideas into previous state budgets. That was our position in these budget talks as well; to say otherwise is disingenuous.”

Kyle Constable / file photo

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, left, holds a copy of the Senate GOP’s budget, which he says they “literally” dropped on his desk minutes earlier. Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney is at right.

The two Senate Democratic leaders added that “we have discussed numerous systemic reforms and structural changes with Republicans, and Democrats have found common ground with Republicans on about two dozen important structural reforms for which they advocated, from the makeup of binding arbitration panels to hearings on state auditor’s findings, municipal mandate relief, mandatory votes on labor contracts, the bonding cap, various state regulations, and other items.  You will see these systemic reforms and others in our budget plan.”

Fasano and Klarides said they believe Democrats won’t accept key structural changes to control state finances that GOP lawmakers want, including strong caps on spending and bonding.

Democrats counter that Republicans won’t accept any significant tax hikes to close major projected deficits in the next two-year state budget, even if those hikes would avert deep cuts to municipal aid.

Democrats and Republicans made similar arguments as bipartisan budget talks stalled in 2015 and 2016.