House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano of North Haven. Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano of North Haven. Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

Gov. Ned Lamont and his fellow Democrats in the legislature continue to take heat over taxes, borrowing, labor contracts and program cuts as they struggle to close a multi-billion-dollar deficit and craft a new state budget.

But their most vocal critics, Republicans in the House and Senate, have stayed silent on one issue. After a decade of proposing alternative budgets — in some years more than one — the minority party has offered none. 

Republicans have become, Democrats say, nothing more than budget hecklers tossing barbs from the cheap seats.

Republicans counter that they saved Democrats — and the state — from a budget crisis two years ago, and the majority has repaid them by disassembling the 2017 compromise piece-by-piece. Unsaid is how the bipartisan nature of the budget blunted its use as a wedge issue in the 2018 elections.

“The Republicans have only produced criticism rather than their own policy objectives, budget or vision for the state,” said Maribel La Luz, a spokeswoman for the governor. “It’s hard to take their complaints seriously when their alternative to the governor’s budget is a blank page.”

Lamont has proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in tax hikes, a controversial plan to shift billions of dollars in pension debt onto the next generation, and electronic tolling for the state’s highways — earning plenty of criticism in the process.

“The Republicans have only produced criticism rather than their own policy objectives, budget or vision for the state. It’s hard to take their complaints seriously when their alternative to the governor’s budget is a blank page.”

Maribel La Luz, spokeswoman for the governor 

But his plan also spares Connecticut from its fourth income tax hike in a decade, preserves municipal aid, and would leave the state with an unprecedented budget reserve to guard against the next recession.

When Lamont’s budget came out, Republicans didn’t pull their punches.

“I’m looking for a silver lining in his budget address,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “It’s very difficult to find.”

“Trying to fix the budget on the backs of the middle class is not anything any of us will ever support,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, who also quipped the budget “hurts nobody but the middle class and Main Street America in this state.” 

Three weeks ago, legislative panels adopted proposals to boost spending 2% next fiscal year, raise income taxes on wealthy households, eliminate some sales tax exemptions and impose new levies on e-cigarettes and plastic bags.

Republicans voted “no” without exception — and without trying to amend one line item or revenue proposal.

“They’ve never been respectful of our budgets in the past. All they do is complain about them. ‘It doesn’t do this. It doesn’t do that.’ All they do is take it and use it against us.”

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano

“They’ve weakened their own position,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven. And while some may argue the traditional role of the minority is to provide criticism and little else, he added, “It’s our role to point out that’s not a responsible position.”

It certainly hasn’t been the Republicans’ position for most of the past decade.

With the exception of 2013, the GOP had offered its own budget proposal every year until now. And in 2017, Republicans helped end a nine-month budget stalemate in the legislature, striking a compromise deal and bringing 74 votes — 16 in the Senate and 58 in the House — to help pass the two-year plan.

Klarides who once compared voting for a state budget packed with Democrat-sponsored tax hikes to “putting our fingerprints on the murder weapon,” said the majority has little use for the GOP “except when they need our votes.”

The bipartisan budget of 2017 promised tax cuts — starting in July or early next year — for seniors, teachers, hospitals, corporations and college graduates with student loan debt. 

Lamont has proposed canceling all of that relief. The new governor says Connecticut no longer can afford it, given that state finances — unless adjusted — are projected to run more than $3 billion in deficit over the next two fiscal years combined.

But Republicans noted the new governor and his fellow Democrats have decided Connecticut can afford raises for an array of state employee bargaining units.

The GOP also said there’s a double-standard in budget talks when it comes to labor and taxes.

Republicans often are pressed to accept the latter. But in recent years when they’ve suggested dramatically scaling back state employee benefits effective July 2027 — after the current benefits contract has expired — Democrats reject the idea outright.

And the GOP did offer a counter-proposal to one of the largest fiscal issues of the session: tolling. The Republicans say motorists could be spared tolls if Lamont and legislators would redirect hundreds of millions of dollars in annual borrowing used for schools, economic development, and other programs into highways, bridges and rail lines. Lamont has said he would consider some transitional bonding, but only tolls provide long-term stability for Connecticut’s transportation capital program.

“They’ve never been respectful of our budgets in the past,” said Fasano. “All they do is complain about them. ‘It doesn’t do this. It doesn’t do that.’ All they do is take it and use it against us.”

Democrats counter this charge is unfair for two reasons.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said this week that Democrats gladly “steal” good Republican ideas when they are offered. Democrats built Republican cost-saving proposals for Medicaid into the last biennial budget, for example.

But they also say not every Republican idea is a gem.

Deep cuts to municipal grants, social services and higher education often spur as much public backlash as tax hikes do, and both parties sometimes push the envelope to avoid all of these choices.

The GOP suggested in 2009 and in 2010 that $800 million in controversial borrowing could be avoided by selling Bradley International and Hartford-Brainard airports. Nonpartisan analysts could not confirm a projected sales price. The GOP based the idea upon a then-proposed sale of Chicago’s Midway International Airport that hadn’t been completed — and eventually was abandoned.

“In the governor’s budget address, he extended an offer to all Republicans and anyone else who might have ideas different than his own,” La Luz said. “If you have a better alternative, let me know—but the numbers must add up.”

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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11 Comments

  1. Nice try Democrats. Make no mistake- this mess is owned by your party. Try as you may to deflect, your party holds all the votes to do whatever you want. Its on you.

  2. This is rich:
    1) The Democrats run the whole shebang. Republicans I speak to, some privately, say to me, we’re not going out on a limb for the Democrats, especially when they’ve behaved imperiously in the past.
    2) Talk is made appropriately about moving costs (e.g. pension liabilities) onto future generations. But no mention is made of the unfairness to my generation. Sure, it’s a mess. But I didn’t make it. I had no say in it.
    3) A lot of us feel that we’d have adequate money to fund vital infrastructure if our pension obligations weren’t so out of whack with fiscal realities. If roads and bridges are in disrepair to the point of peril to our citizens, and Lamont knows this, then he is obliged to inform us of this, and he is obliged to make fixes immediately. Nothing else is more imperative. But if on the other hand, the hue and cry is raised only for us all to charge into a dead end, then that’s not leadership; that’s mere activity for the sake of being seen to be active.

  3. Republicans appear to have learned two lessons:
    First, producing a budget which will never be passed leaves them open to criticism without benefit. The possibility that Democrats will take an idea or two is small consolation.
    Second, the ability to be considered a (better) alternative is diminished when Republicans have endorsed the current budget. As the article recognizes:
    Republicans counter that they saved Democrats — and the state — from a budget crisis two years ago, and the majority has repaid them by disassembling the 2017 compromise piece-by-piece. Unsaid is how the bipartisan nature of the budget blunted its use as a wedge issue in the 2018 elections.
    [End quote]
    True, the Republican candidate for Governor did recognize the crisis. But the effectiveness of his argument was blunted by the many reports exaggerating his statements about eliminating the income tax.
    Which leads to a third recognition for Republicans: nuanced plans will be oversimplified by reporters in a way that makes them appear unrealistically harsh. Tolls may be defended by saying the money is needed now without observing that no money will be available from tolls for 5 years. Extending the payoffs for teachers’ pensions may be criticized as affecting people now children without observing that the current payoff schedule is impossible. But Republicans’ plans will be construed in the worst possible way.
    So the party is better off without producing an alternate budget.

    1. He didn’t say the income tax would be entirely eliminated immediately. Unless you read the newspapers.

  4. Are they delusional?

    Before 2017, “leaders” of the Democrat Party said they do not even read GOP budgets because “it has no chance of getting past the Democrat majority” so it is generally “a waste of time” to read it. For decades the GOPs called for our constitutional spending cap that would force us not to enter into stupid contracts we can’t afford, and to create pro-growth business policies like lower income and property taxes. The Democrat party clearly “own overspending” and as correctly stated in the article – the only time they listened to the GOP is when they need votes.

    Shame on Democrats mentioned in this article but the greater shame lies with those people who keep voting for them expected a different result, things are getting worse not better – wake up CT we have $100 Billion in underfunded liabilities.

  5. What is not covered is the committee hearing amendments that were basically ignored and then, any that were brought forward were being ridiculed by the committee heads. Then last year the republicans were blamed for every issue that came forward. Even the head of the democrat party used last years budget as an example of bipartisan cooperation. Then we have the head of the house say he will not let the republicans see his tolls bill. Does this generate trust by the minority party? Union Joe blames the republicans in the media to orchestrate sympathy for the democrats bills. By themselves, they sound great to the average voter. But put them altogether and it tells a different story. Taxes on medication, taxes on alcohol, taxes on licenses, taxes on medication, taxes on sugary drinks, taxes on marijuana, tolls, increase in minimum wage, increase in paid maternity leave and on and on. Then the increase in spending and the money stolen out of the transportation fund after the lock box ballot question. What the tolls are first going to be used for is the trains into NY and airport upgrades. What does that tell you about how important the bridges are? What is going to take for people to wake up and see what is very obvious?

  6. With very limited examples to the contrary the last 30 years here in CT has been dominated by Democrat majorities. Democrats and the state unions have created a unhealthy symbiotic relationship in which the needs of the state are superceded by the wants of the union.
    Republicans have not been able to break this hold on our state because Democrats simply offer unending taxpayer monies to the 3 big cities to buy their votes.
    Sorry… Dems own this debacle… Lock… Stock… and Barrel!!!

  7. Since Dems control the Legislature and refused to consider major cuts to the CT Budget the GOP sensibly remained quiet. Surely the Governor knows that raising taxes to close the Budget deficit will not reinvigorate our decade long stagnant economy. But the Legislature has other priorities than the CT economy. The Governor and Legislature produced a CT Democrat Budget.

  8. At the outset Democrats said they’d fund they would fund the CT Budget with new taxes, not by cutting the Budget. Why be surprised the GOP remained on the sidelines ?

  9. Anyone who closely followed CT politics In the last 3 to 4 decades would be hard pressed to demonstrate that if the GOP rather than the Democrats had managed CT’s affairs we’d be in much better shape. GOP Governor Weicker’s income tax opened Pandora’s Box towards unrestrained CT spending and taxation. Short of a severe State/Regional/National Recession putting in place affordable CT Budget/Taxation policies is a multi-year effort at best. Hopefully CT Democrats will see that’s in their long term interest towards reducing/restraining CT’s Budget and tax demands in order to maintain a strong longterm posture in CT.

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