Sunday, February 11, 2007

Plaudits For Jodi: Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Jodi’s New Friends

Gov. Jodi Rell’s budget address – the one in which she surrenders all the silver in the Republican Party cabinet to Democrats – was received differently in different parts of the political barracks.

Asked about the Governor Rell’s budget address by host Colin McEnroe on his radio talk show, Hartford Courant columnist and failed gubernatorial candidate Bill Curry said, “I thought it was great. I thought it was the best speech I ever heard her give. I think that it’s the second time that she’s taken a great Democratic trophy and put it on herself. This is a woman with a collector’s eye for Democratic issues. The first one was campaign finance reform, now property taxes… My reaction to her calling for this much change in the worst public policy we have – kudos… What she said today went far beyond my expectations.”

President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams was astonished. “It kind of blew our minds, when we heard the rumor at the end of the day yesterday. It’s not what we expected at all – to see a Republican governor come out with a budget, big spending initiatives. It’s unlike a budget that any Republican governor in my memory has come out with.”

John DeStefano, who ran against Rell as governor and was thumped after having laid out in painfully specific detail his Big Plan for the state, was pleasantly blindsided. The DeStefano Plan involved a hike in taxes to pay for Utopia, gobs of money for education, and the promise of a millionaire’s tax so the common folk would not flee Connecticut for, say, South Carolina, a state that is in the process of throwing off its own income tax incubus. Referring to Rell’s budget address, leftist radio talk show host Colin McEnroe asked DeStefano, “Did you see yesterday coming?”

DeStefano answered, “Nope, pleasant surprise. I gotta tell you I didn’t see it coming both in terms of the willingness to grab an issue like education and just like push it out there, and frankly to do something no Democrat’s done: putting the income tax on the table. Whether you agree with her or not, give her credit for putting it on the table, and for blowing past the cap… In the general direction the governor went, she got it right.”

DeStefano agreed with McEnroe that Rell had effectively repositioned herself to the left of Jim Amann and the New Haven mayor wondered where the Rell defection would leave Republicans: “If you’re a Republican there in the chamber, I don’t know where that leaves you. I mean, frankly it leaves you nowhere…Maybe it says more about where Connecticut is right now, where our politics in the state are right now and that we’ve gone to a very different place, where fairly progressive policies say, 'Look it’s smart to invest in our kids; it’s smart to invest in transit.' You know, the vocabulary has changed in Connecticut.”

Will The Middle Hold?

As usual, Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer provided the most trenchant analysis of the governor’s speech. In his regular column – pretty much worth the price of the whole newspaper – Powell strips away the grosser pretensions.

In blowing away the cap while insisting that it should remain the cornerstone of Connecticut’s fiscal policy, Rell has exposed her devious side.

“And thus the governor's credibility, having been earned painstakingly after the resignation of her corrupt predecessor, began to crumble. Like her predecessor once removed, Lowell P. Weicker Jr., father of the state income tax, Rell quickly capitulated to the government class without a fight."

The decision to evade the constitutional cap on spending that legislators inserted at the time the income tax debate was raging – mostly in order to pull the wool over the eyes of the booboisie – is, on the face of it, unconstitutional, Powell says.

“For, in the first place, while the spending limit amendment in the state Constitution is a bit fuzzy, it does not allow exceptions for "targeted" spending. Rather, exceeding the limit is allowed only upon declaration of "an emergency" or "extraordinary circumstances." Of course there is no "emergency" and nothing "extraordinary" about school spending. As even the governor acknowledged, school spending is an old issue that has been and will be faced every year; it is not war, terrorist attack, or insurrection. "Emergency" does not mean merely "tiresome."

“Second, the amendment does not care about particulars of spending; it applies to total spending, to restrain everything.

“And third, proposing to bust the spending cap to aid education even as she warned the legislature against busting the cap for anything else, the governor proclaimed a double standard, which is always the worst blow to public confidence. That is, the governor said busting the cap would be OK for her purposes but not for anyone else's.

“Rell's immediate predecessor went to jail because he thought himself above the law. The law Rell is violating is not criminal but this distinction may not prevent the public from realizing that it has been duped again -- and so soon!

“The spending limit amendment, enacted in 1992 to mollify voters for the state income tax that was passed the previous year, meant to reconnect state government's standard of living with that of the taxpayers. The amendment tied the growth in spending to the growth in personal income in the state. Lately, under the weight of ever more pervasive and yet less effectual government, personal income has stagnated along with population. Anticipating that, the amendment requires that any hardship for the public must be matched by economy in government. But for years now government has responded to the public's hardship not by getting more value for taxes but by moving expenses outside the jurisdiction of the spending cap and by exempting more expenses from ordinary democratic review, turning them into "fixed costs," costs that can't be touched, just accepted and paid without discussion. This is contempt for the public, democracy, and the Constitution, contempt in which Governor Rell now has heartily joined, as if it could be camouflaged by the young students she planted as props on the floor of the House during her budget address.”


Liberating the Right

The Right in Connecticut – which has no voice in the mainstream media and whose message cannot reach the “vital center” in the state, placid and positioned in the center of the political church, all waiting quietly for the sermon to end – has been in open rebellion against the governor for some time. They view Lisa Moody as Rell’s Rovian brain and point to her disposition to make private deals with Democrats while she was a political force to be reckoned with in Vernon as an indication that Rell's administration has passed it’s Rubicon. The Rell budget will liberate conservatives and libertarians from any suspicion that this governor and her enablers in the Republican Party can advance Republican Party interests.

The Right has now adopted a Archimedian view of politics. Archimedes, it will be recalled, was celebrated for having said, “Give me a place outside the world where I can place my lever, and I will move the world.” Nothing useful or edifying can be done from within Republican Party precincts.

“On a practical level,” one conservative told me, “there’s much work to be done. Republicans and Democrats should be encouraged to write letters not to their newspapers, which are a lost cause, but to both the Republican and Democratic Party central committees, requesting them to remove their names from all mailing lists used to generate funds for the parties. Why should we pay a Republican Party to advance the interests of the Democratic Party? That money should be spent to purchase the services of a top-notch constitutional lawyer – NOT RICHARD BLUMENTHAL – to challenge Rell and the Democrats for having UNCONSTITUTIONALLY busted the cap.”

It’s a beginning.
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