No one escapes blame for budget stalemate

The editorial writers at the newspaper north and west of us, The Hartford Courant, took the state legislature to task Wednesday for failing to do its job and produce a budget. The fiscal year began July 1.

The editorial pointed out school systems across Connecticut must prepare to begin the school year uncertain as to how much state aid they will receive. Fearing the worst, some districts, it noted, have cut teachers and extracurricular activities, leading to larger class sizes and fewer programs to reach kids.

Meanwhile, its editorial states, the legislature is “dealing and dickering and stalling and stammering.”

Nothing to disagree with there.

The editorial, however, generated response letters from both House Republican leader Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby and Senate Republican President Len Fasano of North Haven. In their letters the two leaders said, in so many words, “Don’t blame us.”

“Had Republicans been in charge, we would have passed a two-year budget by the end of the regular session on June 7,” wrote Klarides. “Why is it that the Courant fails to point out who is responsible for the failed budget process?”

“Republicans have proposed multiple budgets that could have been voted on that achieved all (the Courant) asked for. We’ve updated our proposals and compromised,” wrote Fasano. “But not once did The Courant ever give Republicans credit for solving the problem …”

Well, The Day has given the Republicans credit for bringing budget proposals to the table, unlike their Democratic counterparts. Senate Republicans, in particular, have taken the most straightforward approach to the matter.

Indeed, the lion’s share of the blame for the state not having a budget certainly rests with the Democrats. That party has long controlled both chambers of the legislature and held the governorship since 2011. Though its majorities are now slim — 79-72 in the House and 18-18 in the Senate, with its control there dependent on the tie-breaking power of the lieutenant governor — Democrats nonetheless remain the ruling party.

Yet as this stalemate drags on, Republicans do not escape all blame.

Those budgets the Republicans proposed depended on changes in labor rules, and resultant labor savings, which never had a political path to gain enactment. So while it may be true that “had Republicans been in charge” they would have passed such a budget, the reality is that they were not in charge and knew the labor portion of the budget they were presenting could not gain enactment.

Instead, Democrats, on a nearly straight party-line vote, adopted a negotiated labor concession deal, with projected savings of $1.6 billion over the next two years, leaving a deficit of about $3.4 billion to address. It had no Republican votes.

Republicans, in particular, objected to extending the contract that governs benefits with the state unions from the current expiration in 2022 to 2027. We get it. They did not consider the concession savings enough to do that. It provides them a great issue to use against the Democrats in the 2018 House and Senate elections.

But Republicans could well provide the votes to end the stalemate in Hartford and get a budget passed. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is open to amending some of the mandates, bidding and labor rules that make it difficult for towns and cities to find savings or to cooperate on regional solutions.

These are ideas Republicans have long embraced. It is possible a coalition of Republicans and moderate Democrats could work with the governor in adopting a budget with some of the structural change Connecticut’s GOP has long said it wanted.

But politics could well get in the way. State Republican lawmakers may conclude they finally have the Democrats on the ropes politically. Having seen their ideas for state labor savings rejected, the Republican leadership could  make the calculation that they are better off politically letting Democrats own this mess and keeping their fingerprints off a final budget that is sure to have unpopular elements.

It that’s the political calculation, fine. But if this stalemate drags on for weeks, Republicans should shelve the smug protestations that they have nothing to do with it.

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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