HARTFORD – As state Democrats and Republicans prepare for the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2017 Regular Session, bipartisanship is at the forefront of importance.
With Republicans picking up three seats in the Senate in November’s election, the chamber is split even with 18 seats a piece for each party. An even split in the chamber means Democrat Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman is the tiebreaking vote in the Senate.
The split Senate is the first in Connecticut in more than 100 years, and party leaders needed to discuss a bipartisan way to split power in the chamber.
Sen. Martin Looney, a Democrat and GOP Sen. Len Fasano announced Dec. 22 that they reached an agreement to cooperatively manage the Connecticut State Senate over the next two years.
“It was critical that Democrats and Republicans work together to reach a fair compromise to ensure that the Senate is able to conduct its business and move Connecticut forward,” Looney said via a press release.
Fasano echoed his colleague’s sentiments of compromise.
“This agreement sets a historic precedent for lawmakers to work together, no matter which party holds the Office of Lieutenant Governor, and respect a relationship of equal power as decided by Connecticut voters,” Fasano said.
As part of the compromise, there will be an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on legislative committees and each committee will be led by a Democratic and Republican Senate co-chair.
Wyman said she expects bipartisanship to remain a focus for the Senate entering 2017.
“While it is historic to have a Senate evenly controlled by Democrats and Republicans, a vast majority of the work we do is bipartisan; I expect that will continue. I’m pleased that Senators Looney and Fasano reached an agreement. We’re all united in the goal to keep moving Connecticut forward,” Wyman said.
The GOP gained seats in the House, too. The Democrats retained control of the 151-seat House by a slim majority of 79 seats to 72 seats after the GOP picked up eight seats in November’s election. The 72 GOP-controlled seats will be the most occupied by Republicans since the party controlled the chamber in 1986.
The budget is the biggest issue at hand going into 2017. Connecticut had a budget deficit of $170.4 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, and projections suggest that deficit will become worse in the coming years.
The Office of Policy Management released a report in November that estimated Connecticut has a $67.7 million shortfall in the General Fund for Fiscal Year 2017. Furthermore, the report cited the fixed cost growth for Fiscal Year 2018 exceeds revenue growth in the General Fund by nearly $1.3 billion.
Results from the Office of Fiscal Analysis’ November report showed a similar budget-related outlook. Reductions in non-fixed costs of $1.2 billion are necessary in Fiscal Year 2018 to balance General Fund expenditures with consensus revenue projections, according to the report.
Fasano said he thinks the General Assembly must act quickly to address budget concerns.
“We need to take the first 30 days of the new year to stop the bleeding in the current fiscal year’s budget. Then, we need to address the looming pain in the 2018-2019 biennial budget, which is suffering from projected deficits of over $1 billion each year,” the senator said.
Fasano added that budget decisions should be made with the future in mind, “We have to think ahead and stop creating budgets for elections just to get by over the next two years. We have to budget for generations,” he said.
Connecticut remains a “state government trifecta,” where one party controls all the branches of state government, because of Wyman’s tiebreaking vote in the Senate.
Skyler Frazer can be reached at 860-801-5087 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.