The split between Connecticut’s two major parties is most dramatic on the question of spending.
Governor Dannel Malloy took a pledge early in his administration, after he had imposed upon the state the largest tax increase in its history, reminiscent of a pledge made by former President H.W. Bush: No new tax increases. Internal pressures were such during the Bush administration that the president reneged on his pledge.
The pressures are always there, especially in tax prone Connecticut. It was the fashion during the administration of Republican Maverick turned Independent Lowell Weicker to regard deficits as revenue rather than spending problems; and, of course, the solution to a revenue problem is to boost revenue.
This misperception – always encouraged by politicians uncomfortable with spending cuts – had tripled the bottom line of Connecticut’s budgets within the space of three governors. Focused on revenue boosts, Mr. Weicker and succeeding Republican Governors John Rowland and Jodi Rell rarely were put in the uncomfortable position of having to disappoint powerful union interests. Spending inched inexorably up.
When Mr. Malloy was installed as governor, it was generally supposed that the spending tap would be turned wide open. The so called “firewalls,” Republican governors who had offered a mild resistance to spending increases, were gone: Laissez les bons temps rouler, as they say during Marti Gras in New Orleans that precedes an abstemious Lent .
Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, impatient with the snail’s pace progress of a self-proclaimed progressive governor, have now proposed changes in the Malloy budget that increase spending by 10 percent. There is every reason to believe that Democrats stuck on stupid are still in a “let the good times roll” frame of mind.
And why not? Moderate Republican office holders in Connecticut have been washed away by the onrushing progressive high tide. Consider the number of Republican moderates who have fallen in recent years under the boots of the progressive hordes in Connecticut. Within Connecticut’s all Democratic U.S. Congressional delegation alone, three moderate Republicans – Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons and Chris Shays, the last moderate Republican in New England before he surrendered his seat to current Democratic U.S. Representative Jim Himes -- had been replaced by ambitious progressives. Mr. Malloy and his Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman proudly march cheek by jowl with striking union workers, and no one winces. The largest tax increase in Connecticut history was accompanied with a union deal that assured salary and benefit increases to state workers of 3 percent nine years out, an arrangement at first rejected by union representatives, which rejection was characterized by Edith Prague, a longtime supporter of Connecticut unions, as a form of unthinking madness.
Despite a stalled economy, the progressive parade in Connecticut marches merrily and heedlessly on. Occasional disputes with leaders in the opposition party are imperiously brushed aside by Democrats who outnumber Republicans in the state by a commanding two to one majority. The difference in sheer numbers relieves Democrats of the necessity of quibbling over crucial economic points imperfectly grasped by an easily distractible media in the grip of an economic vise that has considerably reduced its own numbers.
What all this really means is that Mr. Malloy has now become Connecticut’s spending “firewall.” And the governor is surrounded by progressive Democrats quite certain that more spending will hasten the arrival of better times, a philosophy of governance to which Mr. Malloy also subscribes. On matters upon which there are some discernible differences between Mr. Malloy and the Democrat dominated General Assembly – say, education reform – Mr. Malloy’s programs have been refined by progressive leaders in the legislature. Both President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams and Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey have had a good deal of practice in curbing the modest ambitions of past Republican governors, and there is no reason to suppose they will not employ their talents to frustrate a governor who proves to be insufficiently progressive on matters they consider ideologically important – like, to fetch for one example, ramping up the progressive income tax on Connecticut Gold Coast millionaires.
While Mr. Malloy has said he is averse to tax increases, he has moved steadily in the direction of increasing state revenue through a series of measures – borrowing money to pay off budget expenses, reneging on a gentleman’s agreement with “bad” energy producers to liquidate a “temporary” tax on the production of electricity, boosting the notorious gross receipt tax on gasoline, and short-sheeting hospitals, to cite but four examples – that most charitably may be described as revenue enhancers.
All eyes in the General Assembly are fastened on the governor. Given an inch, progressive legislators have now demanded a yard – a ten percent increase in spending. It is precisely incremental increasing in spending of this kind that has tripled the bottom line of Connecticut budgets since the imposition of the state income tax in 1991, a short two decades ago. Progressives in the General Assembly are betting that while the governor’s no tax increase spirit is willing, his progressive Democratic flesh is weak. Because taxing and spending are inextricably connected, the easiest way to drive up taxes by 10 percent is to increasespending by 10 percent. And the red ink, in progressive strategy, is little more than an inducement to impose a steeper progressive tax on greedy hedge fund managers living the life in Fairfield County.