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Malloy Calls Leaders In For Private Bipartisan Budget Talks

Jessica Hill

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants to restart bipartisan budget talks with legislative leaders, saying Connecticut must change its ways to make the state's budget more predictable and sustainable.

It's unclear, however, whether this latest effort to come up with a plan that Democrats and Republicans can agree on will actually bear fruit.

Two weeks into the new legislative session, Democratic and Republican leaders of the General Assembly are questioning one another's commitment to righting the state's fiscal ship.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, wrote an editorial last week that accused the GOP of "fear-mongering, misinformation and bombast" about the state budget for short political gain. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, accused the majority Democrats of ignoring the "death spiral" that faces Connecticut.

"As naive as it may sound, I always try to be optimistic in the beginning," said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, who is planning to attend the closed-door meeting, anticipated to occur Tuesday. "I'm hoping that this is a first step at trying to come to a reasonable solution."

Democrats and Republicans met privately with Malloy in the fall and early winter, in an attempt to reach a bipartisan deal to address a $350 million shortfall that developed in the current $20 billion budget. Ultimately, however, the GOP could not agree to the final proposal, which cleared the General Assembly during a special session by mostly Democratic votes.

That plan, however, didn't fix the problem. A deficit re-emerged weeks later. Meanwhile, the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, is projected to have an approximate $560 million shortfall. Much larger deficits totaling about $4 billion are predicted in the following two fiscal years.

"We must change our ways if we want to move forward," Malloy said in a letter to the top six legislative leaders. "We need to make our budget more predictable, more sustainable, outcome-based and constituent-focused. I believe the sooner we engage, the easier it will be to create a more sustainable and enduring economy for the families and businesses of Connecticut."

The private talks between Malloy and the legislative leaders come at an unusual time. The General Assembly's Appropriations Committee has just begun holding public hearings and state agency presentations on Malloy's proposed $19.8 billion budget, which is $569 million less than what lawmakers originally agreed to last year when they passed a two-year $40 billion plan. Typically, the leaders and the governor meet at the end of the process, hammering out a final deal for the rank-and-file lawmakers to vote on.

Lawmakers are already being pressured to restore many cuts, especially to human services programs.

"For years we have balanced the budget on the backs of Connecticut's most vulnerable population," Candace Low told the Appropriations Committee. She is the executive director of Independence Unlimited, a nonprofit that provides services to help people with disabilities transition from institutions into the community.

"We all realize we have to cut something," she told the lawmakers. "But to eliminate these programs that are really crucial to people is really putting people in jeopardy."

Klarides said she doesn't blame Malloy for suggesting tough cuts but added that the governor can "no longer say everything is fine." Malloy has proposed an across-the-board 5.75 percent reduction to certain state agencies — a proposal that has been met with concerns from some lawmakers who question where those cuts will be made and whether he's overstepping his authority.

"We are in a very dire situation in this state," she said. "I think it's irresponsible not to look at every option."

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