By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Republican members of the Connecticut General Assembly have a sense of power they haven’t felt for years, if ever.
After November’s election, the GOP won enough seats to create the first Senate with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans since 1893. And in the House of Representatives, Republicans pared the Democrats’ majority to just six votes from a recent high of 77 in 2009. It was originally seven, but one Democrat resigned this week to take another job.
“The whole thing feels different. The tone from certain people is different, the conciliatory tone versus the aggressive tone,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “Because in this business numbers matter.”
Those numbers will likely have an impact on the public policies that make their way out of the state Capitol this year, whether it’s taxes, the minimum wage, jobs or how best to address the state’s continued budget deficit problems. North Haven Sen. Len Fasano, the Republican co-leader of the Senate, said the new numbers means everyone’s ideas will now be up for consideration.
“Before, those doors were closed and you couldn’t get your ideas on the table because they had a one-party-rule system. Now they actually have to listen and see if using our ideas makes sense,” said Fasano, adding how he hopes to help “move this state in a different direction.”
Joe Brennan, president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said he believes more Republicans in a traditionally Democratic-heavy General Assembly will stymie efforts of some Democrats who perennially propose policies like mandatory paid family medical leave or a higher minimum wage _ bills CBIA and other groups have claimed will hurt business and the state’s reputation as a business-friendly state.
“I think with the makeup in the legislature, it’s going to be challenging getting that type of legislature through,” he said.
Brennan hopes the new partisan makeup will lead to policies that ultimately encourage companies to grow jobs. The Association pushed that message in the last election. It marked the first time the nonpartisan organization had made independent expenditures in legislative races, supporting mostly Republicans. Of the 14 candidates the organization supported, 10 won.
“I feel the message was heard by voters in the districts,” he said.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, a Democrat, is hoping to persuade lawmakers this session to take a new look at municipal funding in order to help large cities like his, which faces a $22.6 million deficit. Bronin said he’s not deterred by the larger number of Republicans in the legislature, many of whom represent smaller communities. He thinks the message can resonate with the GOP.
“We are all in this together and I don’t think economic growth is a partisan issue,” he said. “I believe that putting our employment centers, meaning our cities, on a stable path is critical to growth.”
Democrats have acknowledged more cooperation will be necessary in the coming months, especially given the estimated $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion deficit projected in the new fiscal year beginning July 1.
In the Senate, both parties will have to work together to decide which bills come up for a vote. Also, there will now be Democratic and Republican Senate chairmen and vice chairman running legislative committees. While Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman can break a tie vote in the Senate, giving her party a powerful edge, she said she hopes to be rarely called upon to cast that vote.
“Democrat or Republican, in this chamber, we come together to work for the people of Connecticut and for the better future of our children and our grandchildren,” she said Wednesday, opening day of the session. “I’d like us to start this term focused on unity, not division.”