Sunday, May 11, 2008

Connecticut’s Budget And Dystopias Elsewhere

It is, perhaps, too complimentary to call them Utopians, they ought rather to be called dys-topians, or caco-topians. What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favor is too bad to be practicable" – John Stuart Mill

Gov. Jodi Rell this year conspired with the Democrat leadership in the legislature to shut down a promising Republican alternative budget.

There’s something old and something new in all this. In times past, other Republican governors have joined the Democrat leadership and blissfully ignored objections coming from the loyal opposition. Former Governor John Rowland was notorious for beating up on the loyal opposition within his own party to bring in expensive Democrat crafted budgets. And former senator and governor Lowell Weicker, the father of Connecticut’s income tax, had been practicing the art of subtly and not so subtly undermining the efforts of his party ever since he emerged mewling from the political crib.

This tendency among Republican and putative Republican governors to conspire with liberal legislative leaders to form a budget over the muted objections of an increasingly irrelevant Republican Party is the governing template that has guided the state through the last three gubernatorial administrations.

This year, owing to a stubborn resistance among some courageous Republican leaders, the template has forced the usual cowards to step in front of the curtain.

Among the phrases Rell, her chief of staff Lisa Moody and Democrat leaders do not want to see in stories concerning the budget are these: “Democrats ignored boos from big city Democratic mayors… Rell ruthlessly undercut legislative Republicans, who offered their own budget… The governor and the Democrats are accentuating the positive, using similar and mutually beneficial talking points about fiscal responsibility… a surplus once projected at $200 million turned into a burgeoning deficit… Republicans, who hold fewer than one third of the 187 House and Senate seats, quickly pounced on the plan as the do nothing’ budget… Rather than give the Republicans that chance to put the Democrats on the defensive, Rell seemed more intent on making sure her own deal with the Democrats was not threatened…”

These phrases occurred not in an opinion column but in a news story written by the chief political correspondent of a major Connecticut newspaper. The phrases italicized are the kinds of bits and pieces one sometimes sees in successful campaign advertisements, and they certainly will resonate with the majority of hard pressed Connecticut taxpayers who, unlike Rell and the Democrats, do not have the luxury of confronting gaps in their own household budget by running away from their painful responsibilities.

Even partisan positive commentary on the failed legislative session was dispiriting. Looking for the silver lining in the gathering storm clouds, Courant columnist, former counselor to ex-President Bill Clinton and twice nominee for governor on the Democrat ticket Bill Curry, everyman’s progressive, wrote that the Rell-Democrat combine managed to produce a global warming measure that gives the state the power “to curb consumption in areas ranging from transportation to home appliances to building design. The goal is to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by mid century.”

Connecticut is one of five states to pass such legislation in the hopes of ameliorating distopias elsewhere. The bill will jack up prices, increase the cost of government, prevent new businesses from migrating to Connecticut, exile businesses that cannot maintain their profit line by assuming increasing costs, give a competitive edge to companies outside Connecticut and do little or nothing to reduce global warming – which, as Al Gore never ties of reminding us, is an airborne phenomena on a par with pollens that cause runny noses. Global warming is not susceptible to small scale legislative solutions that will drive the modern itch to settle problems through technical means back into a prehistoric cave.

But never mind all these imperfections: Connecticut, through this legislation, will declare resoundingly that it is in the vanguard of those who care about the environment – though certainly not the budgetary environment or the economic environment or the reckless spending environment, dystopias all closer to home.

The elephant in the room is overspending and over taxation: Everyone knows it and, until Republican elephants recently began hooting, everyone has been studiously ignoring it.

Can the killer ads be long in coming?
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