A conservative group and several Republican lawmakers is filing a legal challenge to the newly adopted state budget, alleging that its assumption of $2 billion of yet-to-be-determined savings violates the Connecticut constitution.
"In 1992 the people of Connecticut overwhelmingly voted for [a] balanced budget amendment as a protection against the kind of shenanigans and abuse we saw this week at the state capitol,'' said Tom Scott, a former lawmaker who founded the Roger Sherman Liberty Center, the conservative think tank behind the lawsuit.
The budget, approved by the state House and Senate earlier this week and signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday is "a dirty deal...a raw deal,'' Scott said.
Colleen Flanagan, spokeswoman for the Malloy administration, expressed confidence that the spending package would withstand the legal challenge.
"We researched the matter when the Republicans made this claim,'' she said in an email. "We've reviewed the matter and are confident that it is fully compliant with the Connecticut constitution and that the courts and won't interfere with the duly adopted budget of the State of Connecticut.''
It is not unusual for the legislature to pass budgets with millions of dollars in unspecified spending cuts, known lapses, which are left to the governor's discretion. But Scott and other critics say the size and scope of this year's lapses set it apart.
"Budgets that are passed here should not be out of balance,''Scott said at a press briefing this afternoon outlining the lawsuit. "While we've had gimmicks in the past, we've never had a budget that was $2 billion out of whack.''
The group asserts that leaving it up to the governor and his staff to make the $2 billion in assumed cuts built into the budget violates the state Constitution. "Legislators who took an oath to uphold the Constitution also have their rights being violated and, by extension the people they represent, because were deferring to unelected bureaucrats to make policy to the tune of $2 billion,'' Scott said.
State Sen. Len Suzio, a Republican from Meriden, noted that, as a freshman, this is the first time he's had the chance to take a stand. "I'm a brand new face up here...so I haven't yet been jaded by the process,'' he said.
Suzio notes that he has a background in accounting and finance--"I know a real budget when I see one and this is no real budget. It's a phony budget dressed up in gimmicks.''
The reliance on such gimmickry is all the more troubling because Malloy pledged to submit an honest budget, Suzio said. "This is a governor who promised to swear off gimmicks in the budget. He's employing the biggest gimmick ever used... in Connecticut."
Suzio and state Rep. Christopher Coutu, a Republican from Norwich, are both plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which is expected to be filed today in Hartford Superior Court.
Scott said more legislators, as well as state employees and small business owners, will join the lawsuit early next week. Suzio said he expects the entire Republican caucus in the state Senate to sign on as plaintiffs.