Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Loyal Opposition

You cannot be a loyal opposition unless you are opposed to the reigning power – in Connecticut’s one party state, a General Assembly and a gubernatorial office dominated by Democrats – and are, at the same time, loyal to something other than the present regime. When Republicans in the General Assembly were frozen out of budget negotiations last fiscal year by a “notice me” governor and a Democratic legislature dominated by a single party, the Valley Forge experience forced them to become, perhaps for the first time in several decades, an authentic loyal opposition.

Republican leaders in the state Senate on February 17 published their priorities for the 2012 legislative session. Pointing out the legislature’s constitutional requirement to devote the session in even years to budgetary matters, the Republicans outlined three major goals:

•Strict adherence to the state’s constitutional spending cap;
•No new taxes; and
•No spending increases.
Highlights of the Republican proposals included:

Balancing the Budget
•No tax or spending increases and strict adherence to the constitutional spending cap
•Review of all 2011 Malloy tax hikes
•Require consensus expenditure projections, just as consensus revenues are provided
•Reduce pension liabilities through real pension reform
•Enhance fraud detection in social service programs

Economic Development and Job Creation
•Regulatory reform: moratorium on new regulations, expedited permitting, cost/benefit analysis of existing regulations
•Targeted tax relief: tax incentives for companies who purchase commercial property in CT; repeal the corporate tax surcharge; expand Learn Here Live Here; create a small business reinvestment account
•Increase the dispensing fee for independent pharmacies and eliminate the mail-order requirement in SEBAC
•Cap the gas tax
•Fund the underground storage tank program

Education Reform
•Reform teacher tenure to bring greater accountability into the classroom
•Greater resources for charter schools
•Reject the proposed mandatory regionalization that would force up to 31 small towns with fewer than 1,000 elementary school students to merge with other districts that face losing state aid.

Transparency and Accountability
•Redirect Busway resources elsewhere
•Require DOC to report outcomes related to Early Release of Prisoners
•Reconstitute the watchdog agencies

General Government Reform
•Improve response to natural disasters: centralize coordination of government efforts; performance standards for utilities; require utilities to train municipal employees in how to identify live wires
•Establish Privatization Planning Committee to develop a plan to privatize direct-care.
No one can possibly mistake the directional signals strikingly apparent in the Republican release for a Democratic Party campaign document. One imagines union supported Malloyalists choking on the last mentioned “General Government Reform” measure that privatizes rather than unionizes direct care services. Should Senate President Donald Williams be obliged to swallow that big pill, it would take a Heimlich Maneuver administered by the entire membership of SEBAC to remove it from his throat. Recently, Governor Dannel Malloy made the unionization of private day care workers more likely through executive fiat.

The loyal opposition was offering in the document released to major news outlets a laundry list of Republican Party desiderata. The response from Malloyalists was instantaneous. Mr. Malloy’s chief numbers cruncher in the Office of Policy Management said that Republicans, who for months had been arguing that Democratic budget numbers were partly fictional, had got their budget figures wrong.

It was left to Sen. President Donald Williams to offer a political assessment. Mr. Williams said that the budget process under Mr. Malloy and former Governor Jodi Rell were “like night and day.” He said the economy was improving, and that Democrats in the General Assembly at the end of the fiscal year would turn in a budget that was balanced. And, no stranger to irony and comedy, Mr. Williams said, according to a piece in CTNewsJunkie, he found it comical that Republicans now “’want to be the Bad News Bears’ when two years ago they ‘aided and abetted Rell’s $2 billion deficiency.’ Williams is referring to the mistake Rell made when she released a budget that closed a $6 billion gap, after having admitted it was $8 billion.”

One fancies that the Democrats have found their whipping post in previous pragmatic Republican governors – who, of course, had been forced by superior numbers the Democrats were able to marshal in the General Assembly to accommodate the ruling legislative regime presided over by Big Spenders such as Mr. Williams and union allied Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, now busily running for the U.S. Senate in the 5th District. Mr. Williams and Mr. Malloy have found their George W. Bush in Mrs. Rell and Mr. Rowland. As President Pro Tem of the Senate, Mr. Williams surely realizes that legislators are constitutionally responsible for final budgets.

It is true that Mrs. Rell made mistakes, as did former Governor John Rowland. But for the greater part of the time the two previous Republican governors, as well as former “Maverick” Governor Lowell Weicker, were busy accommodating Mr. Williams, Mr. Donovan and their predecessors. Those accommodations have led ineluctably to an enfeebled Republican Party and Connecticut’s present one party state.

The goals outlined by Republicans this fiscal year suggest that leaders in the party may have learned from history that those who do not learn from history will be doomed to repeat the errors of the past.
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