Connecticut Senate Split: Who’s in Charge Now?

Connecticut’s State Senate is evenly split between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party for the first time in over a hundred years. Since the 1893-4 biennium, there has been no question regarding which party held the majority in either chamber. As both this single precedent and the Rules of the General Assembly fail to detail how to solve this split, both parties now must reach an agreement on how to fill positions that are normally decided by the majority. Neither the state constitution nor the Senate rules specifically address how to delegate leadership if the chamber is evenly split.

History of Split Chambers in Connecticut

According to the 1893 state register and manual, the split Senate chose Frederick W. Holden, a senator from the Democratic Party, as president pro tempore. It is worth noting that Senator Holden shared his party affiliation with then-Governor Luzon Morris and Lieutenant Governor Ernest Cady. The Democratic Party had controlled the Senate during the preceding biennium; however, the Republican Party had held power for the ten years before that and would regain control for the twelve years following the split.

The 1893 document details the organization of the General Assembly, stating that after the Senate is first called to order by the Secretary of State, the Senate Clerk “calls upon the Senators to ballot for a President, pro tempore.” This suggests that the leadership of the 1893-4 split Senate was chosen by a simple majority vote.

Constitutional Provisions

The procedure outlined in the 1893 register is in accordance with the state constitution, which simply states that the “senate shall choose a president pro tempore, clerk and other officers.”

The constitution also dictates that, should the senate be equally divided, the Lieutenant Governor may “give the casting vote” (Article IV, Section XIII). She is also granted the right to debate. This suggests that, should all members of the Senate in the Republican Party vote for one president pro tempore candidate while all members of the Senate in the Democratic Party vote for another, Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman (D) would have the deciding vote.

2016 Election Results

Connecticut’s Democratic Party went into the election with a 21-15 majority in the State Senate. With both a Democratic and a Republican incumbent retiring this year, the Republicans managed to gain a contested seat, as well as unseat two incumbents. Because of this, the final Senate is evenly divided, at 18-18. The Democratic Party has controlled both legislative chambers as well as the governorship for the past six years.

2017 Regular Session

Prior to the election, Governor Daniel Malloy (D) likely intended to join the Clinton Administration in Washington, D.C. However, with Donald Trump as the President-Elect, Malloy now returns his focus to Connecticut, where he faces a substantial financial deficit, estimated by some to be more than $1.3 billion. In the two year budget proposal due in February 2017, Malloy may consider tax changes to make the state’s business climate more competitive. He has indicated that he will make “adjustments” to the budget in response to changes in revenue resulting from proposed tax modifications on businesses.

Malloy is also expected to face a higher-than-anticipated state pension obligation, which has already resulted in significantly cutting the state workforce. As a result, labor unions made Malloy and his supporters persona non grata and sat on their hands during the recent general election. With threats to raise taxes still looming, Senate Leader Len Fasano (R) likened Malloy’s policies to “tar” that the state of Connecticut is now “stuck in.” That said, Malloy does not support bringing back legislators in December to tackle the deficit immediately, despite the recent one day special session called to keep Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in the state. When the 2017 Regular Session convenes on January 4th, Malloy can expect it to be even more difficult than 2016. Many legislators are already cautious of their own involvement in the Governor’s 2017 budget proposal, as it will probably rely heavily on tax increases or more state personnel cuts.

What’s Next?

After this year’s elections, Democrats hold a narrow 79-72 majority in the State House of Representatives. It is important to note that this is the largest GOP caucus since the 1985-86 terms and will be the smallest Democratic majority in the history of the chamber. Democrats formally endorsed House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D) to become the next Speaker of the House. Republicans selected Representative Themis Klarides (R) for her second term as minority leader.

Power shifts in the Senate make the leadership choices less immediately apparent. Senator Len Fasano (R) will likely remain the leader of the Senate Republican Caucus. It remains unclear as to how Senate leadership will be decided; it is also unclear whether leadership of the Senate Democratic Caucus will lie with the current Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D) or with current Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney (D).

From a public policy standpoint, look for the Democrats to borrow from the GOP platform and adopt pro-business policy positions that set job creation and economic growth as priorities for the upcoming session. This will be a necessary break from what seems to be a never ending cycle of spending cuts and to keep an ever-expanding Republican minority happy.