The governor gave her annual budget address today, and by all accounts, it was a bit skimpy on specifics. Steve and I squeezed the local delegation for their thoughts and came up with this story for Thursday's Bristol Press (www.BristolPress.com):
BRISTOL – If there’s one thing lawmakers and Gov. Jodi Rell agreed on Wednesday, it was the need to set politics aside and work together for the benefit for Connecticut.
Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat, said he agrees with Rell, whom he called “a nice lady,” about the need for everyone to work together to get the state's books in order.
“Enough of this finger-pointing and name-calling,” Colapietro said. He said he sees signs that the legislature and governor may do a better job of working together this year.
“Everybody's gotten beat up so much” for all the problems this year that they are more willing to sit down and cut a deal now, Colapietro said.
“It’s obvious it’s going to take a lot of hard work on both sides,” said Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat, who said it is not a time to play games, but to do what’s right for everyone in the state. “If there was ever a time to put politics aside, this is it.”
Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose district includes Bristol, said it felt different at the Capitol on Wednesday. This could be the year for bi-partisan effort, he said.
“Big decisions and difficult decisions of how to literally restructure state government cannot be made by one party or the other, nor should they be,” said Hamzy. “Everyone acknowledges the problems, but there’s very little follow through on doing something about it. I hope this year’s different.”
Rell’s budget does not specifically mention Bristol, its schools or courthouse. The only reference to Bristol is in a list of every town’s municipal aid.
“She really didn’t say that much,” said Nicastro, who said he received three thick budget and economic reports only after the governor completed her speech.
“It's just everybody's wish list,” said Colapietro, whose district includes Bristol, Plymouth and Plainville.
Hamzy said the speech contained few specifics and the only surprise to him was the governor’s proposal to establish a commission to look into streamlining government.
“I don’t think we really need a commission,” said Hamzy. He said that’s what the General Assembly is for.
“You establish a commission to pass the buck,” said Hamzy, unless it is created to deal with an unusual issue that is unfamiliar to most lawmakers, such as stem cells.
Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat, said it’s going to be a difficult session because of the ongoing budget crisis.
“In a year like this, I don’t know how much is going to be in it for anybody,” said Wright. “We’re going to be having to tell people no. We’re going to have to cut programs. It’s tough to do, but we have to do it.”
Worse than raising taxes, said Wright, is cutting programs.
“You think it’s tough to vote for a tax increase? Try voting for a spending cut,” said Wright, who said he is always “flooded” with mail and email when a program is threatened or cut.
Colapietro said the simple reality is that everyone who comes in can make a good case for more funding.
“We just don't have the money for everybody,” said Colapietro. “That's the hard part.”
Hamzy said Connecticut lawmakers are “looking at a whole bunch of red ink.”
New legislation would have to be passed in order to close the Bristol courthouse, Wright said. He said he’s not sure where things stand with efforts to close it.