Budget shortfall balloons to nearly $400 million

Senate Democrats say it's time to shake things up and called for open budget negotiations. (WFSB)

Senate Democrats say because Connecticut is facing such "dire circumstances," state budget negotiations should be held in public and not behind closed doors, as is the tradition.

Monday's suggestion by Democratic leadership comes as budget offices for the General Assembly and governor are expected to release state revenue estimates both agree upon. Those figures showed a large decline in personal income tax collections.

"A large number is dependent on high earners," said Gov. Dannel Malloy. "So much so that 1 percent of the population pays about 30 percent of the income tax revenue. That is going to create some pretty big swings."

This year the shortfall is nearly $400 million. Next year, it's close to $600 million. The year after that, it's well over $800 million.

Malloy said the state has been taxing the wealthy for so long that some may be making fewer investments or calling it quits and moving to other states.

Connecticut also has an aging population. Many seniors are on fixed incomes and pay less in taxes.

The state also has many financial institutions, such as hedge funds. They took a real beating during the recession.

Whatever the factors may be, state Republicans are calling the latest numbers devastating.

"Based on these numbers, we are facing more than a $4 billion deficit over the next two years," said Rep. Themis Klarides, minority leader. "How could you think that by two large tax increases, hurting non-profits, hurting hospitals, businesses large and small -- this is where we are."

The numbers only add more pressure to getting an agreement done.

Senate Pres. Martin Looney of New Haven says the idea of opening negotiations to public scrutiny and airing them on the Connecticut Network is not about the legislature's close partisan makeup.

"We think it's time to try something new and try to get to a better consensus result," Looney said.

The Democrats' plan would broadcast budget negotiations on the state network that covers government hearings and meetings.

"The people of Connecticut have every right to know who wants something in the budget, who wants something out and how we agree on it," said Sen. Kathy Osten, who represents Baltic.

"I will meet anywhere, anytime, any place because we have nothing to hide and we have a vision for the state," Klarides said.

Klarides said public negotiations are OK with her, but the GOP leader in the state senate questions whether it's a good idea to invite the whole world into negotiations.

Sen. Len Fasano said he feels it's a gimmick from Democrats to who have failed to come up with their own budget to fix the budget problems.

"The state is in a difficult time and all they want to do is play rhetoric," Fasano said. "Enough is enough. Let's get to work."

There are an equal number of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate while Democrats have a seven-vote advantage in the House of Representatives.

Looney says the time has come for a dramatic change.

Malloy said transparency is key, but he didn't quite say if he supported the idea.

He invited Republican and Democratic leaders to meet with him on Tuesday afternoon.

Copyright 2017 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.