Thursday, March 08, 2007

Enabling Spending: Rell’s Budget and the Decline of the Connecticut GOP

It was fairly obvious soon after Governor Jodi Rell delivered her budget address that Democrats, who now enjoy a veto proof majority in the legislature, were less than pleased with it. Their appreciation of the governor’s ideological drift in a progressive direction – she surprised members of her own party by proposing a tax hike to pay for new education proposals – was voluble and sustained. Following the address, it was difficult to find a Democrat who was not effusive in his compliments.

Republicans, on the other hand, were stunned into an uneasy silence.

Into the bi-partisan Garden of Eden created by Rell’s surprising capitulation, now slither several snakes. The Democrats are having second and even third thoughts about the Rell budget plan.

It was not viewed as a propitious sign when Speaker of the House Jim Amann tossed Rell’s budget plan in the wastebasket, suppressing a sigh as he did so. The speaker several times has suggested that, in matters of the budget, the light bulb in the governor’s attic is sputtering.

After Republicans recovered from the shock and awe of Rell’s mini war on GOP orthodoxy, they listened politely to Chris Healy, the new Republican Party Chairman, who sought in several venues to sooth their fears, and Rell dispatched her new business advocate, former U.S. Congressman Rob Simmons, to chat up the Rell budget plan to Connecticut’s shrinking business sector.

Simmons now faces the unenviable task of persuading business people that a plan considered reckless by fiscal conservatives such as Amann and several unblinkered Republican legislators will be good for business.

Healy, appearing at a gathering of conservatives in West Hartford, told the group that he had worked on Bill Buckley’s campaign against liberal Republican Mayor John Lindsey of New York in the mid sixties. Buckley lost that campaign but went on to found the modern conservative movement. Drawing on his campaign experiences, Buckley a decade later wrote the book “Four Reforms", the fourth chapter of which, “Education: Towards Non-Coerced Education,” begins with the line, “Of all the dreams of American liberalism, the dream that featured education – as the solvent of universal equality, harmony and prosperity – was the most rudely shattered in the postwar decades,” not a Rellian sentiment.

Simmons – responsible in his new position, according to one news report, for “informing businesses about various public and private assistance programs, technical help, job training, state services and financial assistance that are available in the state” -- has not yet arranged to deliver a talk on the precise relationship between tax and spending increases to the Yankee Institute, a libertarian/conservative watchdog group. Good thing too, because the Institute has just released “Fiscal Flapdoodle”, a devastating analysis of Rell’s budget plan that punctures several governmental “myths” and probes the real time consequences of the spending mania that seized Connecticut government after former Governor Lowell Weicker favored the state with an income tax.

Among the myths exploded in the study are two that Healy did not mention to the West Hartford Conservative Congress:

“Myth One: Higher spending will improve the quality of education in Connecticut.

“Reality Check: There is no evidence to support this claim, and the Rell administration is ignoring education-choice alternatives that promise better schools at a lower cost to taxpayers.

“Myth Two: Hiking Connecticut's income tax will enable the governor and legislators to provide property-tax relief.

“Reality Check: Since the adoption of the income tax in 1991 did not provide relief, raising its rate in the hope of providing a break for overburdened local taxpayers is naïve.”

On a much different track, Democrats are dissatisfied with the Rell plan not because it appropriates unnecessary money for a metastasizing unionized education empire but because it lacks the precision and progressivity offered by Rell’s Democrat gubernatorial opponent, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.

Democrats are still hopeful they can overspend and force millionaires to pick up the tab. Rell’s thoughtless acceptance of the need for increased spending will spur them on.
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