State’s $20-billion budget stalemate frustrates Frey
“It’s really rather pathetic. Here we are mid-July and not only no budget, but no budget in sight yet,” said State Rep John Frey. “There’s been nothing scheduled. There’s no serious talk going on between the parties.”
Speaking on July 19, Frey bemoaned the lack of discussion between “any of the four caucuses” in the legislature — Democrats and Republicans in both House and Senate — or the governor.
Frey, who is part of the House Republicans’ leadership as minority whip, expressed frustration with the Speaker of the House and other Democratic leaders.
“They said we were going to have budget by the time we adjourned. We didn’t,” he said
“The session ended June 6 and all through the course of April and May the speaker said we’ll have a budget by adjournment date. That didn’t happen.”
That may have been ambitious, he admits.
“Session adjournment date, very few times have we voted on a budget by then,” Frey said.
“He said we’ll have it by June 30, end of the fiscal years. In my time, usually by June 30 we do have a budget. That didn’t happen.
“The speaker said we’d be called in July 18, the day after the unions voted on their concession package. Today’s the 19th, We didn’t vote yesterday. We didn’t meet,” Frey said.
“It’s inexcusable. Here we are going on mid summer, and there’s no end in sight right now.” Republicans in state House of Representatives have, at least, put forward a complete plan,” he said.
“The House Republicans have a budget that been fully vetted and scored by the Office of Fiscal Analysis.. The Democrats have only put out bullet points, not a line by line budget,” Frey said. “So, it’s frustrating.
“We’d like to have vote on our budget, or the Democratic Senate budget,” he said.
“I think the Republican House budget would pass. There are enough moderate Democrats to join with House Republicans — it would pass. I think the speaker knows that ...
“The Speaker of the House is not allowing any vote — there are votes out there, maybe not ones he favors.”
The differences between the different versions of the budget are hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.
“A couple of hundred million — in a $20-billion budget, it’s not a lot,” Frey said. “I’d say the spread is about $300 million.”
Among the key differences is taxation.
“The House Republican budget had no tax increases,” Frey said.
“The Democratic House budget had the sales tax going from 6.35% to 6.99%, plus a 1% ‘municipal option’ tax. And there’s talk that — more than just idle chatter — it may include tolls. And it may include legalizing marijuana — not because of a policy to legalize marijuana, but for the revenue.”
Frey has opposed legalizing recreational marijuana use. He said he accepts that it might be legitimate policy discussion, but not as part of a budget.
“Instead of having a debate on the merits of legalizing recreational marijuana or not, it would be for the revenue it would generate — which is the wrong reason to approve that.”
Frey criticized the agreement Gov. Dannel Malloy reached with state employee unions.
“The unions voted to agree to a concession package, which the governor negotiated,” Frey said.
“It doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“They give three ‘furlough days’ this year, and a three-year wage freeze — that’s the biggest area of concessions,” he said. “But they still only pay a $5 co-pay for prescriptions, $10 co-pay for a doctor visit, 2% contribution to their pension.”
Pay for overtime hours will still be counted toward pension calculations, he added.
“A four-year job guarantee, a four-year no-layoff provision. The first three years is ‘no pay increase’ but year four is a guaranteed pay increase.
“Nobody in the private sector has any of those. Nobody had a job guarantee,” Frey said.
“I talk to people in town all the time. They’re making less than they made 10 years ago.”
Once, people working for the state made less than people in similar private sector jobs, but they had union benefits like generous health care plans and strong job protections.
Today public workers have the protections and benefits, and higher pay as well, according to Frey.
“It used to be the benefits and job security made these public jobs attractive,” he said. “Now, the salaries are almost 20% higher,” he said.
“The time is now to make structural changes, and it involves state employees,” he said. “State employees now make more than similar jobs in the private sector.”
Teacher pension cost
One thing Frey says he absolutely would not support is a budget that asks municipalities to take on a share of the state’s teacher pension obligations. RIdgefield’s share of the 30% contribution in Gov. Malloys’ budget proposals has been projected as costing the town about $4.4 million a year.
“For me, line in the sand is zero contribution from the town to the state teachers retirement fund,” Frey said. “That was not negotiated by the towns, I think it would be on frail legal footing.”
But that plan — put forward some months back by Gov. Malloy — is not in any of the budget proposals discussed by the legislature’s various caucuses.
“It is in the governor’s budget,” Frey said.
“It would be the camel’s nose under the tent and I would support that budget.”
The state may be able to bumble along without a budget for a while, but not for too long.
“If we continue, when the next payments for municipalities are due, the state’s not going to have the cash to pay them,” he said. “Big payments to towns for school aid and other things — when they come, we’re not going to have the money if there’s no budget.”
Will a budget get done by then?
“I hope so,” Frey said. “I’m prepared to go tomorrow to vote.”
The state has been operating by executive order, under budget guidelines put forward by Gov. Malloy.
“I don’t think we should be allowed to do that,” Frey said. “New Jersey and Maine, they didn’t have budgets and their governments shut down.”