- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - With just three weeks remaining in this year’s General Assembly session, top Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday they’re optimistic much of their work will be finished in time, including a compromise with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on a new two-year budget.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said he also is hopeful a revised bill that could allow new tribal satellite casinos will be ready for a vote next week.

“I think that we’re very close to bringing something to the floor,” said the Norwalk senator. The legislation will “probably be more of a two-step process,” Duff said, acknowledging there are outstanding issues regarding the complicated proposal to allow the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to open possibly three casinos.

“This issue may be decided over multiple sessions,” he said.

Under the state constitution, the legislature must adjourn on June 3. There have been rumblings at the state Capitol that lawmakers might not have enough time to settle some major issues by then, possibly requiring a special session to finish their work. Malloy raised that possibility when asked about closed-door budget negotiations that began Monday between the Democratic governor and Democratic lawmakers.

“I’m hopeful we can conclude it before June 3. What’s important is that we get the right package, as opposed to when it’s gotten,” Malloy said. “So, if we need to go into a special session, we’re certainly prepared to do that.”

But House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said he believes lawmakers should adjourn on time. He was confident an agreement could be reached with Malloy, even though the governor and the Democrat-controlled budget-writing committees have differed greatly on spending levels and taxes.

“I think there’s a genuine desire on everyone’s part to come together and to put together a package that we can all agree on,” Sharkey said.

“We’re a big tent,” he said of the Democrats. “We have a lot of disagreements about a lot of things. But in the end, we pull together and do what’s right for the people of Connecticut.”

The legislature’s Republican minority leaders sent a letter to Malloy on Wednesday, offering to help him sustain a veto from a potential override, should he decide to veto the Democrats’ proposed tax increases, including new sales taxes on services ranging from veterinary to accounting. Malloy has been critical of the proposed increases.

“We would like to work together to ensure that the Democrats’ budget in its current form does not move forward,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides.

Sharkey was less optimistic about the casino bill, warning that lawmakers must be cautious because the federal government is considering changes to tribal recognition rules. Anything the legislature does this session “could put us in a difficult position” if other tribes are recognized and want to open casinos, he said.

Sharkey said he also believes the legislature needs to consider the financial impact the new tribal casinos could have on existing pari-mutuel venues. Sportech Venues Inc. runs 15 facilities across the state and a telephone betting service, employing a total of almost 400 people.

“I think we have to be mindful of those existing facilities because they employ a whole lot of Connecticut residents in them,” he said.

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