Andrew Shukovsky, a Norwalk Community College student majoring in journalism, sat down with State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) recently for an interview. Here is a transcript:
Shukovsky: All right. So what specific role did you have in the negotiations for this budget?
Duff: Well as majority leader, I was one of the six to eight people in the room for the last few months, negotiating the budget, and working to get to a compromise that the majority of the legislators would agree to and the governor would sign.
Shukovsky: Okay. Can you give us a sense of what the discussions were like? What the back-and-forth negotiations were like?
Duff: Okay, well I’m really proud of the role that I played in having this become a bipartisan budget. I think it’s easy to have a bipartisan budget when there’s a surplus and everybody can kind of divvy up the extra money. It’s very difficult to get to a surplus when… I mean to get to a bipartisan budget agreement when there’s a deficit, especially the kind of deficit we had this year, when you have to agree on the types of cuts and the types of tough decisions that we had to make. So I think in general, I’m proud of the fact that we were able to do that. The Republicans hadn’t voted for a budget in ten years, and this was arguably one of the most difficult budgets we faced. So… a lot of give-and-take, a lot of back-and-forth, some decisions that not all of us are pleased with, but in the spirit of compromise you do that, and we just needed to move the state forward and have a budget.
Shukovsky: Alright. Um… How do you personally feel about the budget plan that was passed?
Duff: Well I voted for it. I helped negotiate it, so I support it, and you know there are things in there I don’t like, things in there I don’t agree with I would’ve changed. If it were my decision alone I would have made some different decisions for sure. But again, in the spirit of compromise, in the spirit of trying to get the majority of a hundred and eighty-seven legislators to agree on something, and also one that the governor would support, it was necessary to make various compromises. But all in all, I think it’s a good budget, one that will move the state forward and pays its obligations, especially in our pensions, but will also continue our investments in areas that are important to the state.
Shukovsky: All right… as far as you know, how do you think the budget plan will affect the colleges of Connecticut?
Duff: Yeah, certainly it’s going to be a little tough for higher education, but as Democrats, we fought very hard to reverse the cuts that were in the Republican budget that the governor vetoed. It was very important for us to restore a good chunk of funding that had been cut in their budget, especially for places like Norwalk Community College, or Housatonic Community College, and UCONN. One of the best areas that we can make investments in right now in the state of Connecticut is in higher education. We have lots of jobs that are opening up here, but people need to have a good education. We have one of the most talented and the most highly educated work forces in the nation. We need to continue to push forward in that direction and we need to support that. So while I’m not pleased with any cuts to higher education, knowing our physical challenges, I think everybody understood there will be cuts. But there’s also, on the table right now for the board of higher education, board regents, to reorganize some things and that will save money as well. We want to make sure that whatever we do we minimize any impacts to students and their ability to obtain a high-quality degree from the state of Connecticut.
Shukovsky: All right. As Senate Majority Leader, do you have any plans to obtain more education cost sharing funding for Norwalk?
Duff: Well that was a huge victory for me in the budget this year, was finally having an educational funding reform in place for the first time in twenty years. That was something I had been fighting for for over a year now. Ever since the CCJEF v. Rell decision came down, I use that as a platform to have education fund reform and said many times, publicly and privately, that I would not support a budget that did not have education funding reform. So I think that that is, for us, for the long term, for the state of Connecticut, having a formula that actually helps our cities, helps students who are English language learners, helps students who are on free and reduced lunch, helps students who are in poverty, will go a long ways to make sure we have the most highly educated and best workforce in the nation long-term. And actually having a formula we can count on I think is extremely important because that had not been the case for a very very long time.
Shukovsky: All right. You heard straight from State Senator Bob Duff. I’m Andrew Shukovsky.