The last time Gov. Jodi Rell attempted to placate unappeasable Democrats in the state legislature, the lads and ladies handed the obliging governor her head on a platter, and then began to chide her for having been inattentive to the state’s chronic problems.
Political observers liken it to witnessing a conversation between an arsonist and a fire chief in which the arsonist accuses the chief of responding too slowly to a fire he has set.
Republican governors in Connecticut have tended to negotiate with legislative Democrats for an assortment of reasons. Chief executives want to get the state’s business done; and to accomplish this purpose, it is necessary to give a little to get a little.
In the good old days, when party bosses ruled with iron fists, the negotiations occurred, usually out of public view, in smoke filled rooms. Presently, Democratic and Republican strategies are hammered out in smokeless caucus rooms. Budget compromises occur in closed meetings attended by the governor, the titular head of the Republican Party, Democratic legislative leaders and, if necessary, Republican legislative leaders.
During the last budget set-to between legislative Democratic leaders -- Speaker of the House Chris Dovovan and President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams -- and the governor, the two antagonists produced a budget that was about half a billion dollars short. The short budget included a new progressive feature to the income tax the governor said she had opposed, the total depletion of the state’s rainy day fund and spending decreases so slight they hardly registered on the “save our state” meter.
The governor had previously negotiated with state workers contracts that made it impossible for her to effectively trim spending when the wolf was howling at the door. She hoped to be able further to trim spending by using her line item veto but, alas, having permitted the budget to become law without signing it, she was unable to accomplish her purpose.
All the while, leaders in the Republican Party were offering a stiff resistance to the spending plans. Democrats, who wielded a veto proof majority in the legislature, ignored their protestations and – no pun intended – had their way with the governor, referred to routinely and contemptuously by former Speaker of the House Jim Amann as “Snow White.”
A new day is now upon us. This time around, the state is staring at a $3 billion dollar deficit for the coming fiscal year. Speaker of the House Chris Dovovan and President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams have proposed addressing the deficit by cutting spending far less than necessary. And Rell’s proposal, according to the Journal Inquirer, cuts about one tenth of one percent.
Rell, still in a compromising mode – after all that buffeting, too -- has sought to appease their voracious appetites by borrowing $1.5 billion and enticing gamblers to contribute to payment of the debt through a new gambling operation.
Even though Rell had numerous times in the past been had by the clever Speaker and the even cleverer President Pro Tem of the senate, the governor, before negotiations have begun, yet again has offered these two half a loaf and a peace pipe.
The betting among budget hawks is that Democrats soon will have about ten percent less than the whole loaf. And for the last time, Rell will have been had. The governor has announced she does not intend to run for another term. Those who thought she might not go gentle into that good night will be disappointed once again. The weakness of her negotiating posture and her willingness to lie unresisting in the fox’s mouth make her a dead rather than a lame duck.
Other members of her party are passing around a “Common Sense Commitment to Connecticut” whose signatories pledge to: Spend no more than you make; reduce spending; avoid assessing new taxes; borrow only what you can pay back; cap bonding levels resulting in a debt service to no more than 10% of the annual budget; limit borrowing only to public works projects; review state programs every two years and eliminate those that are non-performing while extending performing programs two years; consolidate services; focus on core programs; and – always a favorite of good government proponents (caps original) – “IF IT’S NOT BROKEN, DON’T FIX IT. BUT IF IT’S NOT WORKING, GET RID OF IT.”
It sounds like the beginning of a workable plan. However, the plans of mice and men, especially in legislatures, depend upon numbers, governors who are not disposed to sell the state to the highest bidder and politicians who have considerably more courage than the crew now running and ruining the state.