For General Assembly Democrats determined to frustrate Governor Dannel Malloy’s education reform plan, the most recent projected budget deficits came just in time. Ben Barnes, Mr. Malloy’s money cruncher at the Office of Policy Management (OPM), and Comptroller Kevin Lembo, after dickering over the red figures, have agreed that the budget is in deficit by about $200 million; the real deficit is probably closer top $300 million.
Mr. Malloy’s education reform plan includes features that have not earned him many friends among teachers, union officials and Jonathan Pelto.
The Malloy plan calls for additional spending on high performing charter schools, financing that in a shrinking economy progressive Democrats in the General Assembly yoked at the knees to union interests insist might better be spent padding the salaries of unionized public school workers. The governor’s reform initiative also seeks to connect hiring and firing to pedagogical performance; and, in the process attempting to facilitate improvement in low performing schools, the governor has touched and been jolted by the usual electrically charged third rail of Connecticut politics – teacher tenure. Mr. Malloy’s ambition to tie tenure to job performance has made hairs stand up on the necks of union vote-dependent Democrats in the General Assembly.
Legislation gate keepers within the relevant committees were determined to ditch the Malloy education reforms as untimely and expensive.
During the unlamented administrations of former Republican Governors Jodi Rell and John Rowland, Democratic committee chairmen in the General Assembly successfully resisted efforts on the part of “firewall” governors to limit spending. With the ascendancy of Mr. Malloy, the first Democratic governor in more than 20 years, chronic spenders in the legislature hoped that taxes would be increased, thus removing from progressive Democrats in the General Assembly a bothersome pressure to reduce spending. They were not disappointed: Mr. Malloy astonished even former Maverick Governor Lowell Weicker, father of state income tax, by levying on recession ravaged nutmeggers the largest tax increase in state history.
“Mine’s bigger than yours,” Mr. Malloy easily could have boasted to Mr. Weicker. Where in heaven’s name, Mr. Weicker wondered a couple of years passed, did all the surpluses generated by his income tax go?
As it happened, neither Mr. Weicker nor Mr. Rowland nor Mrs. Rell were fully functioning firewalls. Had the gubernatorial firewalls prevented spending, the bottom line of Connecticut’s budget would not have increased threefold since the last pre-income tax budget of former Governor William O’Neill. It became the fashion during the post-O’Neill period for left of center political commentators and politicians in the state to lament that Connecticut was not suffering from a spending addiction; the state, it was agreed by all, had a “revenue problem.” That fashion has not gone out of style in the Malloy administration which, to put the matter plainly, is not interested in spending cuts that bleed.
Waiting-for-Godot progressive Democrats still believe the tide they have lowered by means of punishing regulations and high taxes will lift their boats – at some magical moment in the future. Mr. Barns attributes the current deficit to lower than usual tax receipts, most certainly the result of the diminishing returns all the governor’s men should attribute to high taxes, burdensome regulations and improvident spending. Mr. Malloy, with a bow to previous sleight of hand governors he has vigorously spanked in the past, proposed this year to patch the most recent deficit by shifting funds. Asked to defend the administration’s latest budget shifting gimmickry, the governor – Wait for it! – described the state’s plunge into economic idiocy as “basically a revenue problem” certain to disappear when the state's economic fortunes improve, sometime after the governor is out-rigged with a magic wand.
Mr. Malloy has been no more successful than his predecessors in controlling spending. But he may well be the first Democratic governor in living memory to have been rebuked by a spending addicted Democratic General Assembly for having proposed educational spending increases that are untimely and expensive.
Not to dash any utopian dreams, but it would be rash to suppose that this objection by tax devouring progressives in the General Assembly signals a disposition among dominant Democrats to cut spending. It is merely a convenient cloaking device utilized by committee leaders to abort educational reforms that impact union interests leading Democrats in the General Assembly have sworn to defend with their political lives, their sacred honor and our money – for votes.