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Tuesday, March 20 Local

$100 million separates Democrats and Republicans

HARTFORD — After a day-long negotiation on a state holiday, legislative leaders Monday said the distance between Republicans and Democrats is now only about $100 million in a two-year, nearly $40-billion budget.

That’s substantially closer that the two sides were last week, when Democratic and Republican leaders broke away from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to discuss their differences together, before taking a possible compromise back to the governor.

But 101 days into the budget-less fiscal year Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said that he doubts a bipartisan deal can be voted upon this week, as Malloy had originally targeted last week.

“I think it’s paid off in a big way,” said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, during a joint news conference with Democrats after 5 p.m.. “I think we’ve made tremendous strides. We talked about issues and numbers. We’re certainly having good conversations.”

In a vacant Capitol, House and Senate leaders spent most of the day in the House Democratic caucus room, with staffers and non-partisan legislative researchers from the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA), seeking common ground on thorny issues including GOP proposals for spending and bonding caps; a deal for hospitals to seek tens of millions of dollars in federal Medicaid reimbursements; and funding for statewide school systems. Under the executive order that Malloy has been using since the start of the fiscal year on July 1, 85 of the state’s wealthier towns did not receiving state school aid last week under the Education Cost Sharing formula (ECS).

“The ECS formula is one of the largest formulas we put out to the municipalities,” said Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin. “It’s important to us all. It’s a balance. The OFA analysts have given us different options and we’re going to discuss those again tomorrow.”

“We certainly understand the hospital issues,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “There are issues of not having a budget in general. The town and cities are most affected at this point and we want to make sure we get the right budget done for the state of Connecticut, which means it doesn’t get rushed, but there’s a sense of urgency and that’s why we’re here today and we’ll continue to do that until we get a document that we can move forward.”

Looney, D-New Haven, said the goal is for a bipartisan deal among the four House and Senate caucuses. “At which point we’ll then be sharing that with the governor and there will be, obviously, another negotiation because we expect he will, of course, react to that, so that will take some additional time this week. So at this point we will be into next week before we’re able to vote on a final product.

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In the predawn hours of September 16, three Democrats in the Senate and five in the House agreed to a two-year, $40-billion GOP plan that Malloy vetoed. Malloy last week said that if the General Assembly can’t vote on a compromise budget by October 13, he expected the impasse to drag into November. The previous record for Connecticut to be without a budget was September 1, 2009.

“We would have done it yesterday if we could have,” Klarides told reporters. “But we’re going to just continue to plug along and work day and night to get to the point where we can come to an agreement, or come to a budget that we can move the state of Connecticut forward with.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT

Ken Dixon|State Capitol reporter/columnist Hearst Connecticut Media