Some residents blame partisan divide for state budget stalemate

Some residents blame partisan divide for state budget stalemate


Legislative leaders emerged from a meeting with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Friday, declaring intention to work through the weekend on a new budget deal.

Lawmakers, who declined to talk with the press after the meeting, issued a joint statement saying they made progress toward a compromise.

“Today was a positive meeting with very serious negotiations and productive discussion,” the statement said. “We are making progress and plan to continue efforts to work together.”

The ongoing stalemate is the longest in state history and means Connecticut is the last state in the country without a budget. Residents are concerned that partisan divides have gotten in the way of an agreement.

“I think it comes down from the top — people are just not working together,” said Vince Lambri, of Burlington, while at the Southington Apple Harvest Festival.

The public has long had a negative view of Congress as a whole — a Gallup poll last month found the legislative body has an 80-percent disapproval rating, and hasn’t had an approval rating above 40 percent since 2005. Partisan bickering is often cited as a reason for disapproval. Some area residents this week expressed concern that the same party-line divides are becoming stronger in Connecticut, preventing a budget compromise in a legislature that is evenly divided between the two parties.

“I would probably say we’ve had that problem for a while,” said Tom Caliendo, owner of Tom’s Place in South Meriden.

Legislative leaders have talked since the beginning of the year about the need for a bipartisan budget compromise, but relationships hav been frequently strained, most recently after the House didn’t consider overriding Malloy’s veto of a Republican-crafted budget on Monday. After the session, both sides accused the other of playing politics.

Leaders from both sides also said they have a solution to undo cuts under Malloy’s executive order. Republicans say Democrats can accept the GOP budget and amend it to their liking, while Democrats suggested adopting $850-million in new revenue that appears in each proposal to restore municipal aid.

Malloy has raised concerns that scheduling conflicts during the second half of this month means that the legislature needs to adopt an agreement by Oct. 13 on how to close a projected $3.5-billion deficit to avoid extending the stalemate into November.

A spokeswoman issued a statement saying Friday’s meetings were “encouraging,” and that Malloy is “hopeful” that Democrats and Republicans are making progress.

“Time is of the essence and a compromise must be reached in the very near future,” the spokeswoman, Kelly Donnelly, said. “Should a balanced agreement not be reached, surely, it is the people of our state who will suffer the most.”

The Record-Journal talked with 20 people at locations in Wallingford, Southington, in Meriden, to gauge their reactions to the budget impasse. The two common themes were a concern about partisan divides, and a desire for Malloy and the two parties to overcome those differences and reach an agreement.

“I don’t think blaming anyone serves a purpose, so I’m kind of frustrated with the process,” Susan Huizenga, of Wallingford, said in a phone interview.

Finding a path to a budget proved just as difficult among the general public as it is for lawmakers, though, as area residents disagreed on what needs to happen for a budget deal to occur.

Huizenga, for a example, was critical of the Republican budget, but said the more important thing is for lawmakers to overcome their political differences.

Some, like Deborah Fernandez, of New Haven, were more vocal, saying lawmakers should put off pushing for some of their major policy initiatives until after a budget deal is reached. “I think they just need to put their differences aside, reach a compromise,” she said while walking along West Main Street in Meriden.

Radamas Matos, of Meriden, agreed.

“They should put the partisan, all that, aside, and say ‘here we are, this is what we’ve got to do,’” he said while walking his dog at Hubbard Park in Meriden.

Others were critical of one party or the other. Mike Wrona, of Meriden, was one of a handful of area residents who said the budget stalemate is the result of Democrats unwillingness to make changes.

“Democrats are going to have to make some concessions,” he said while having lunch at Tom’s Place. “You can’t keep taxing the people.”

Lambri was among those, meanwhile, who say cuts can’t be the only solution. He agreed that the state can’t endure another tax increase, but suggested legalized marijuana or other new revenue streams could stabilize the budget.

“I think it’s only logical,” he said. “The current revenue streams are insufficient — I mean, that’s just math.”

Lambri said he’s worried elected officials are disconnected from their constituents and are more focused on appeasing their contributors.

“The worst problem is money in politics, because politicians are now beholden to donors, big donors, and they don’t really care what people think,” he said.

Area residents also expressed concern that this same partisan divide continues to prevent Congress from addressing critical issues.

“This is the worst it’s ever been,” Wrona said. He voice criticism for both parties, but said Democrats shoulder more of the blame for failing to cross party lines. He was particularly critical of U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and other gun-control advocates for rushing to call for stricter gun laws after Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Javier Aponte, of Meriden, blamed President Donald Trump for the partisan divide, saying he engages in distracting rhetoric at times. He specifically chastised Trump about commenting on National Football League Players kneeling during the national anthem at a time when officials in Puerto Rico were asking for help in the island’s recovery from Hurricane Maria.

“Don’t worry about them (NFL players), worry about things going on in Puerto Rico, Mexico,” he said while walking down West Main Street.

Regardless of the reason, Caliendo said he doesn’t see things getting any better. “I think the divide is getting worse,” he said. 203-317-2266 Twitter: @reporter_savino

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