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Rowland Optimistic On Budget Deal



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Rowland Optimistic On Budget Deal

By Matthew Daly

Associated Press

HARTFORD –– Gov. John G. Rowland said this week he is “cautiously optimistic” that he and top lawmakers can reach a deal to address a growing budget deficit before a special session begins November 13.

“The devil is always in the details, but we’ve got a good two weeks to work at it,” Rowland said after meeting with legislative leaders at the Capitol.

No deal was reached this week, but Rowland and lawmakers from both parties emerged confident the scheduled four-day session would produce a budget deal. Rowland called the special session last week, saying immediate action was needed to address a deficit now estimated at about $300 million.

But even as officials accentuated the positive, partisan differences remained. Democrats stressed that much of the problem could be solved by borrowing for projects now slated to be paid for in cash, while Republicans called for spending cuts.

“I’ve said everything is on the table, but if we’re just going to borrow money and not cut any spending, that’s not acceptable,” the Republican governor said.

House Speaker Moira Lyons, D-Stamford, agreed that some spending cuts were necessary, but said, “It would be inappropriate to tighten our belts so tight that we cut the blood supply.”

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin Sullivan, D-West Hartford, stressed that lawmakers have a variety of options, from issuing bonds to cutting programs and seeking more federal aid.

“We know what the choices are. [Rowland’s] office knows what the choices are, and that’s what we’ll focus on,” Sullivan said.

The GOP was skeptical of Democratic plans to borrow for school construction and open space, rather than pay cash as currently planned.

Borrowing “should not be one of the first options,” said Senate Minority Leader Louis DeLuca, R-Woodbury. “By using a credit card ... that’s not cutting spending.”

DeLuca said he preferred a plan that emphasized “intelligent reductions.”

He and other Republicans stressed that the projected deficit amounts to just 2.3 percent of the overall $13 billion state budget. They also repeated Rowland’s assertion last week that no agency will get less money in the current fiscal year than it got in the previous year.

But Democrats, who initially were skeptical of the need for a special session at all, said the recent economic downturn was no reason to slash important programs.

Lyons, Sullivan, and other Democrats have repeatedly criticized budget cuts Rowland proposed earlier this month, particularly his plans to trim a transportation initiative favored by Lyons and a mental health proposal pushed by Sullivan.

Those initiatives remain top priorities, Democrats said, and can be paid for in large part by redirecting more than $130 million from last year’s budget surplus.

That money is now slated for school construction and purchase of open space, but Democrats said the projects would better be paid for through bonding, especially since interest rates have declined along with the economy.

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