HARTFORD — Legislative leaders say they have made significant progress in recent days toward a new budget agreement, and expressed confidence Tuesday one could be coming soon.
“The progress we’ve made over the last couple of days, at this time, I don’t see a way that we don’t come to an agreement,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said after a meeting that lasted much of the day. “I mean, that’s how much progress has been made.”
Leaders from the other three caucuses agreed that talks have produced significant compromise in recent days, but also said Democrats and Republicans still have more work before coming to an agreement on how to close a projected $3.5-billion deficit over the current and upcoming fiscal years.
“We are definitely making progress,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “We’ve definitely hit a lot more issues, refined the issues we initially had.”
The state remains without a budget 102 days into the fiscal year, operating instead under an executive order the Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed on June 30.
The legislature did adopt a Republican-crafted budget on Sept. 15, with support from eight Democrats, but Malloy vetoed the spending plan at the end of the month.
Legislative leaders said Tuesday that have since found a lot of common ground between the Republican budget and the deal Democrats had intended to bring to a vote Sept. 15.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said all of the legislative leaders agree that a bipartisan budget deal is best for Connecticut, and they are all committed to “stay in there (negotiations) until you come to a natural conclusion, one way or another.”
Lawmakers said Tuesday they have made progress on an Education Cost Sharing Grant formula, as well as a definition for a spending cap and other structural changes. They acknowledged other sticking points, including changes to pension benefits after 2027 and increased contributions from teachers for their retirement system, remain in flux.
“That’s what this is about, right — trying to figure out what your priorities are, and what you can agree to and what you can’t,” Klarides said.
Fasano said the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis is working to determine who far apart the two sides remain — leaders said Monday it appeared they had narrowed the gap to roughly $100 million.
The legislative leaders will meet again Wednesday for negotiations, and Aresimowicz expressed hope that they will soon have a deal that they could then bring to Malloy. Lawmakers have cut Malloy out of conversations over the last few days.
Aresimowicz credited Malloy with getting the two parties back to the table after Democrats decided to reach a deal with him, instead of Republicans, leading up to the Sept. 15 vote. He said lawmakers have been able to make more progress once they kept him out of talks, though, and going back to him will create an “additional layer of negotiations.”