Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Reaction to Rell’s Budget Address

The day after Governor Jodi Rell delivered her budget address to the legislature and the state, the reviews began drifting in.

Quasi-socialist mayor of New Haven John DeStefano thought, "It was very powerful. It touched a lot of the right bases."

Other Democrats said the plan was under funded by some $3 billion. Majority Leader Martin Looney of New Haven said, "It's another partial deficit-mitigation plan, rather than a comprehensive budget, and John Geragosian of New Britain said, “It punts to the legislature the politically hard work. It is a partial effort, but it is not a serious effort."

Don Williams, President Pro Tem of the senate, sniffed at the plan and cautioned that it may not meet the fairness test. "As we go forward in the coming days and hours and hold the budget up to the light, it's got to pass the fairness test”said Williams, a canned response. Among Democrats, “fairness” is unrelated to equity; it is simply a command barked at the dogs to bite the leg of a millionaire.

Republicans were in an ebullient mood. Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy gushed, “"I'm thrilled with this, to be honest. I can sell this. I can defend this any day. And there is no tax increase across the board, which is also a home run."

Even fiscally conservative Republicans who previously had locked horns with Rell on matters of principle and strategy dusted off their compliments. House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero of Norwalk said, "She is a regular, down-to-earth person. That's always been her strength." And Senate Minority Leader John McKinney of Fairfield managed to squeeze in a reference to President Barack Obama, now playing FDR in the Washington beltway.

Not an ideologue, Rell’s aversion to tax increases, McKinney said was based on economics -- not politics: "I don't think that is a Republican idea any longer. President Obama stands before the nation and says, 'We should not be raising taxes at this time.' So it doesn't make sense that it's good for President Obama and not good for Gov. Rell."

There were some rumblings on the conservative-libertarian Right as well. Lew Andrews, the Executive Director of the Yankee Institute, thought Rell had missed a golden opportunity to readjust the political playing field and make significant reforms adopted in other states that “could produce dramatic savings -- paying high school students to graduate early, identifying waste in Medicaid, using work-release programs to produce prison reform -- which she completely neglects. Instead, she [intends] to spend millions on a Connecticut version of Roosevelt's discredited WPA make-work program. This is a plan that puts already comfortable public employees ahead of distressed taxpayers.”

Recognizing rightly that every state mandate is a tax on municipalities, municipal officers were pleased that Rell’s plan eliminated some costly mandates, a quick and sure way to provide relief to over stressed town governments.

Cost saving measures within the executive department outlined in the governor’s plan include a more than cosmetic remake of departments.

All in all, not bad for a governor who does not have hanging about her the ivy that caresses the walls of Yale or Harvard. It will take the Brights some time to put the plan under a microscope and explode it.

And there is an unanswered question: In the past, under the direction of the governor’s chief aide Lisa Moody, Rell has been content to use her proposals as bargaining chips in huddles behind closed doors with Democrat leaders, and she had emerged from these claustrophobic mini-conferences with the gold fillings missing from her teeth.

It is not enough to propose measures; the governor must be willing to publicly campaign for her program. Abigail Adams, who once called Thomas Jefferson on the carpet for allowing others to defame her husband, would understand. The way ahead is full of battles, and there are some who believe Rell hasn’t the stomach to press her budget on the legislature by using her bully pulpit to rally support for her ideas.
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