Friday, June 07, 2013

And Now, the Campaign

Almost immediately after Governor Dannel Malloy and Democrats in the General Assembly had put their budget to bed, a Hartford paper noted that however much lipstick Democrats put on the budget porker it was in many important respects still a pig.

Another media resource noted that while the governor had indicated he had been faithful to his earlier promise to hold the line on taxes – but not, tellingly, on spending – the new budget, Mr. Malloy’s second, placed new limits on tax credits, extended expiring taxes, boosted the gasoline tax 4 cents per gallon, drained from the transportation fund $120 million collected at the pumps during the last two years, depositing the money targeted for transportation needs into the general fund, resorted to $550 million worth of fund raids to plug holes in the budget, borrowed about two thirds of the $1.2 billion necessary to convert to a GAAP accounting system and shifted a little more than $6 billion of Medicaid spending from a constitutional capped budget so as to draw down an otherwise embarrassing deficit. 

And so the budget session ended -- in magic tricks of a kind once derided by Mr. Malloy and the Malloyalists.

On to the campaign.

The first campaign pitch of the season was delivered by Mr. Malloy at the close of the session. The closing session of the General Assembly usually ends with a love fest among incumbent legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, who fetch from it bragging rights useful to them in upcoming campaigns.

This year was different, frostier some have noted. Those who pay for the legislative bills may want to applaud the last day of the legislative session. Mark Twain, were he alive – and even dead he is livelier than most people in Connecticut who write about politicians – certainly would have reason to rejoice. It was Twain who said “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

On the last day of the legislative session, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that Connecticut had come in dead last among the 50 states in economic growth, a measure of the combined total of goods, services and salaries, the state’s equivalent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Connecticut’s Gross State Product (GSP) fell by 1 percent in both 2011 and 2012, the only state in the nation that had experienced such a dip as well as a painful downward revision from last year’s estimate of 2 percent growth.

Democrats pronounced their budget plan a success and loudly patted themselves on the back, brushing aside a report from the state’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis that had projected, only moments after the General Assembly adjourned, a $712 million gap in the first year of Connecticut’s new budget. Mr. Malloy, whose budgets have consistently been short by hundreds of millions of dollars, pointed out that the economy was not static but dynamic: “They're predicting deficits assuming that all conditions remain the same. I think what we've shown fairly broadly in this administration is that conditions don't remain the same. We're eliminating waste. We have numbers built in the budget that in fact do that."

Ah yes -- the numbers.

Comptroller Kevin Lembo this year submitted to the General Assembly a bill that would throw windows open on the numbers and expose to public view the hundreds of millions of dollars the state spends every year in economic assistance and tax credits putatively designed to promote economic development and job growth. His legislation, the Comptroller said, “would have established key transparency and open government measures related to these dollars.” Although Mr. Lembo’s sunshine bill survived the House, it died from inattention on the floor of the Senate, crushed by the forces of darkness in the General Assembly that prefer a gloaming in which numbers might more efficiently be fudged. Mr. Lembo, it should be mentioned, is the only Democrat in state government whose numbers have been consistently correct.

When legislative gate keepers Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams and Majority Leader Martin Looney were asked why they didn't call the bill for a vote, “Williams and Looney,” Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant reported, “mentioned a number of factors, including time, lack of an urgent need, and what they characterized as only lukewarm support by the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.”

When politicians find they cannot control the course of events, they more strenuously seek to control the flow of information, the better to create politically palatable fictional narratives – sometimes called campaigns. In a state in which competing parties have been neutered, fictional campaign talking points are rarely effectively rebutted by a somnolent politically compromised media. Some few reporters in the state stand out as exceptions that prove this rule, but there are far too few of them.   

The state Republican Party enjoyed two brief bright moments of bipartisan conviviality a short time ago when Republican votes were needed to pass a gun restriction law. The two parties came together a second time when Mr. Malloy needed Republican assistance in plugging an ever recurring hole in his first budget during a special session. After this bright dot of bipartisan sunshine, both the governor and Democratic legislative leaders, brought down the now familiar iron curtain when, for the second time, Republicans were shooed out of the room during budget negotiations.

The doleful Bureau of Economic Analysis report is more than a report; it is a marker of the state’s destiny. And the state’s swollen budget is also a directional marker. Budget wise, the state has returned to 1991, the date at which a state income tax was implemented to put Connecticut on a firm and permanent economic footing. Because spending has tripled since that auspicious date, the foundation has given way. The state is progressing backwards. Our destiny points downward, the usual direction of a one party operation. Darkness, secrecy, shady backroom dealings and the politics of the shadows has always followed in the uncontested rut of the one party state.
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