Monday, June 01, 2015

The Final Straws

Connecticut’s budget, though not yet set in stone was hammered out Sunday, on the last Day of May, following a closed door meeting between Governor Dannel Malloy and Democratic General Assembly leaders Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey. A handshake between the three on the budget signals strongly there will be no veto. Republicans, as usual, were crowded out of the deliberations by Mr. Malloy, the new Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. In a one-party progressive state, bi-party inclusion is a political mistake.

As everyone expected, the Malloy-Sharkey-Looney budget is long on spending and short on savings. SEBAC, the state union conglomerate that negotiated union contracts with Mr. Malloy when he first became governor, still owes Connecticut about $253 million in prospective savings, past due since 2012-2013. Owing to a lawsuit settled with SEBAC by Attorney General George Jepsen, state unions are due to receive a settlement worth  $100 to $125 million dollars, $40 million in direct payments and the balance in time off. In addition to his accomplishments as a post-Dick Blumenthal Attorney General, Mr. Jepsen was a past Democratic Party Chairman. He started his law career as staff council for the UBC Local 210 carpenters’ union and for ten years negotiated contracts for wages and benefits and advocated for different bidding practices.

The kinds of gimmicks often heartily condemned by Mr. Malloy when on the campaign trail, the most glaringly unethical of which involves the evisceration of Connecticut’s spending cap, are nestled in Connecticut’s progressive General Assembly like warm and comfortable bedbugs in a mattress. With precious few exceptions, hearty objections by Connecticut’s somnolent media to obvious gimmicks are rare. In a Sunday editorial, The Bristol Press urged its readers, “It’s our responsibility to let our legislators know how we feel. With the vote just hours away, it’s time for each one of us to make the call to our representative with one message: No new taxes.” It is extremely doubtful that the voice of the people aroused by the editorial could have penetrated the iron curtain behind which political deciders met on Sunday to seal the state’s fate.

Progressive Democrats in the General Assembly, pinched by the constitutional spending cap – which was initially attached to the Lowell Weicker income tax as a sop for quavering legislators -- this year removed pension payments, a massive chunk of the budget, from the cap’s protective umbrella, thus providing room for spending-addicted legislators to pump up spending. Constitutional laws in Connecticut are to be obeyed by everyone but lawmakers. Mr. Malloy, it should be mentioned, was wafted into office on often iterated complaints that his predecessors, both intolerably crafty Republicans, resorted to budget gimmickry. During Malloy’s tenure as Governor, we all were given to understand, gimmickry itself was to be given the bum’s rush; deliberations among Malloyalists were to be open and transparent; budgets were to be balanced; the cleansing light of publicity was to wash over dank, back room deliberations and government once again was to become honest, pure and guileless.

“There won’t be a deficit and there won’t be tax increases,” Mr. Malloy said last September during a gubernatorial debate. “I’m taking that pledge when I couldn’t take it before because this is a budget that I own and I’m willing to own it because I know we can balance it just as we have in the past.”

The budget submitted to the General Assembly by Mr. Malloy was not in balance, and the present budget certainly does include massive revenue increases. The Governor’s current budget is a sealed-from-public-view backroom production, and neither Mr. Malloy, Mr. Looney nor Mr. Sharkey are honest, pure of heart or without guile. Mr. Looney alone, who has spent more than twenty years in the state’s sausage-making factory, has more guile in his blood than a Borgia Pope.

Following the closed door meeting that very possibly gave final shape to the budget – and Connecticut’s sorrowful destiny for many a decade to come – one reporter noted that Mr. Sharkey “breezed past reporters” on his way to some important assignation, perhaps a trip to the men’s room, there to weep over his treachery. Of the two Democratic leaders in the state’s progressive General Assembly, Mr. Sharkey and Mr. Looney, Mr. Sharkey was thought to be the less progressive, more practical business-oriented politician, Mr. Looney being Connecticut’s version of Eugene Debs.

Ha! And ha! Among progressives, there is only one shade of grey.

The recent Democrat fashioned budget represents a final victory for old-guard progressives in Connecticut. Mr. Weicker’s so called “flat income tax” has now been progressivized. In addition, the current budget contains a retroactive tax bite of $750 million on both businesses and individuals, an amount that is the second largest in state history, the first largest being Mr. Malloy’s broad-based tax increases in his first budget.
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