A tentative deal to close a looming $365 million state budget deficit — the sort of topic that typically fuels blustery debates and commands attention at the Capitol — was agreed to quietly by legislative leaders and the governor's office in a negotiating session Friday night into early Saturday morning.
Details were unavailable on where the budget trims would occur. One source said certain budget accounts were subjected to "sweeps" of funds that could be applied to the deficit instead of their original purpose.
The deal, to relieve what had been described as a budget "crisis," went virtually unnoticed after Friday morning's tragedy in Newtown, where 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, killed himself; earlier, he had shot his mother to death at thehome they shared a few miles from the school.
The agreement would put the budget back into balance for the fiscal year that ends next June 30, though it still needs to be approved by the Democratic and Republican caucuses of the House and Senate. After that, legislation implementing the budget cuts would go to a special session of the General Assembly, scheduled for Wednesday.
High-level sources from both the Democratic legislative majority and Republican minority, talking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Sunday that the deficit-mitigation talks had resulted in a deal among the leaders or their proxies. Now, the leaders will have to sell the cuts to members of their caucuses in the next day or two.
"We're good to go," said one source.
"We've reached a very tentative deal," said another.
Although there had been speculation that Wednesday's special session would be called off in the aftermath of Friday's tragedy, the sources said that as of Sunday night, it was still on.
Estimates of the state's budget deficit have ballooned from a projected $60 million, as of Nov. 1, to $365 million in mid-November, and finally an estimate of at least $415 million early this month by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo.
"Projected state spending above budgeted levels, and the slow pace of national economic recovery, are impeding the state's ability to bring the budget into balance," Lembo told Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in his latest monthly letter outlining the state's financial condition.
Malloy's budget office has been sticking with its mid-November estimate of $365 million for purposes of addressing the budget gap.
The deficit has grown largely because of higher-than-expected spending for Medicaid health care expenses for low-income people and slower-than-expected tax collections, officials say.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun