Republicans win the day. Now what?

Now what?

Republicans scored a remarkable legislative victory on Friday and in the early morning hours of Saturday when they were able to capture enough Democratic votes in the Senate and House to pass their state budget proposal over the plan that had been worked out by Democratic leaders and the governor.

Three Democrats in the Senate and six in the House found the $40.7 billion two-year budget plan produced by the Republicans more attractive. It includes tough caps on appropriations and limits on borrowing. Except for a new tax on hospitals – more on that later – it largely holds the line on taxes and does not cut municipal aid or require municipalities to start contributing to the underfunded teacher pension plan, as did the Democratic alternative. Conversely, Democratic leaders were relying a variety of new and increased taxes to balance the budget, though their budget kept the income and sales taxes stable.

Credit goes to the Republican leadership for staying engaged in trying to address the state’s fiscal crisis. Having seen their proposal for labor savings rejected in favor of the concession deal Gov. Dannel P. Malloy worked out with the labor unions, and heretofore having been denied the chance to have their budget ideas brought to a vote, the safe political play would have been to hand off this mess to the Democrats. Then in 2018, Republicans could have run against the tax-increasing budget the Democrats were about to produce. It’s what we expected.

Instead Republican Senate President Len Fasano of North Haven and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, persuaded their caucuses to coalesce behind an alternative plan and, remarkably, got it adopted.

Unfortunately, the GOP’s legislative victory raises the odds the budget stalemate will drag on, with dire consequences for local schools and municipal services as Malloy makes deep cuts to keep the state operating without an approved budget. The fiscal year began July 1.

That’s because Malloy immediately announced he would veto the budget. He has valid reasons.

The budget requires decimating cuts over current spending, $75 million this fiscal year and $125 million next, for the University of Connecticut, state university system and community colleges. In a letter to the UConn community, President Susan Herbst called it “appalling” and warned it would mean closing regional campuses, eliminating “scores of majors and graduate programs” and result in devastating cuts to research programs, among other adverse changes.

The budget sent to Malloy would reduce pension payments of $119 million this fiscal year and $151 million next, repeating the sins of the past when Connecticut failed to adequately fund its pensions. It is also questionable if this can be done legally without negotiating with the unions.

It provides little special assistance for Hartford, which is on the point of bankruptcy. While Hartford got itself in this position, allowing it to fall into insolvency would hurt the state and its economy.

Malloy further contends the approved budget is unbalanced and relies on too many unrealistic savings.

At risk is a plan both Democrats and Republicans agreed on. It would raise hospital taxes to attract more federal aid to the state, a move Connecticut must make before the end of federal fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Following a Malloy veto, an obvious compromise would involve the governor agreeing to some of the tougher cuts and spending caps proposed by Republicans, with the GOP and their Democratic backers accepting modest tax hikes. If they don’t want deep cuts to higher education, Democratic leaders may have to offer up alternative savings.

Malloy and the Democrats should be prepared to do more of the giving in any give and take. Republicans won the day.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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