State Sen. Bob Duff: Will 2017 be the year Republicans vote for a budget?
2007. 10 years ago. One decade past. The year that saw Steve Jobs announce the release of the first iPhone, U.S. Sen. John McCain run for president and the final Harry Potter book published. Seem like a long time ago? It was. 2007 was also the last time Republicans in the Connecticut Legislature voted in favor of a bipartisan, biennial state budget.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell was in office, and the vote was 134-5 in the House and 33-1 in the Senate in support of — brace yourselves — a state budget that increased General Fund spending, raised the cigarette tax and hiked dozens of business fees. Republicans also voted that year to use $613 million from the 2007 surplus on FY ’08 and ’09 budget items, and to exceed the state spending cap by $690 million.
Later in 2007, in another show of bipartisan cooperation, Republicans unanimously joined Democrats to approve $3.8 billion in state bonding — what Republicans refer to nowadays as “out-of-control borrowing and spending.”
What’s changed since 2007?
Well, now there’s a Democratic governor instead of a Republican and my friends on the other side of the aisle have their sights set on taking over the legislative and executive branches of government. The state budget — outside of their proposals attacking women, the middle class and special education — has since become the GOP’s strawman.
But if Republicans aren’t voting for bipartisan budgets, surely they must be voting on their own alternative budgets, right? Well, no, they’re not doing that either. In fact, the last time Republicans voted on one of their own alternative budget plans was six years ago, in 2011.
That year, in their alternative tax-and-spend plan for Connecticut, Republicans proposed securing the same $2 billion in labor concessions that they would later criticize Gov. Malloy for seeking, plus an additional $416 million in other labor savings, an additional 2,200 layoffs, $77 million in hiring freezes and other phantom savings. Great Republican talking points, but predominantly based on assumptions. To be fair, Republicans did propose some specific budget cuts that year, such as reducing tax relief for elderly renters and eliminating senior food vouchers.
So what can we learn from the Republican budget votes of the past? Well, two things:
One: Republicans can and will vote for more state spending, tax increases, using state surpluses for ongoing spending, and exceeding the state spending cap, but it depends on who the governor is.
Two: Republican alternative budget ideas have been built on unattainable savings estimates and contain line-item budget cuts that are offensive to state residents. That may be why the Connecticut public hasn’t seen a Republican budget come up for debate, but has been treated instead to press releases and colorful PowerPoint shows.
Nonetheless, I remain hopeful that 2017 will be the year that Republicans join their Democratic colleagues to vote for a workable, bipartisan, biennial state budget. With a 17-17 tie in the Senate and a slim Democratic majority in the House, Republicans have to take a seat at the negotiating table — seats they have left empty for years.
The governor has put forth his budget plan. The Legislature will debate that and create its own. Now the question is, will Republicans actually stay at the negotiating table (even when the going gets tough), and then deliver Republican budget votes in the House and Senate?
That is my hope. June 7, our adjournment date, is coming fast.
State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, represents the 25th District and is the Senate Majority Leader.