Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Democrats And The New Economy

The broad outlines of a Democratic Party campaign strategy begin to appear on the horizon. As may be expected, the strategy is a witch’s brew that includes artful attempts to escape any responsibility for inept policy decisions and awkward attempts to shuck off the disastrous consequences of poor policy on past opposing party predecessors who, fortunately, are now out of business and silent as tombs.

Ducking responsibility is a cagey business involving at least four steps: 1) Decline to accept ownership of the pressing problem; 2) trace the origin of the problem to your predecessor ONLY if he is a member of the opposing party; 3) assert that the roots of the problem are beyond your reach -- i.e. declining revenues in Connecticut are an outgrowth of the national recession, and there is very little we can do about it; 4) transfer ownership of the problem to inept members of the opposing party.

All four steps were on public display in a Channel 3, Face The State interview Dennis House conducted with current head of Connecticut’s Democratic Party Nick Balletto.

“You know, Mr. House observed, “the Republicans have been saying —Listen, it’s our time. We need to be taking over the state government, because the Democrats were not doing a good job. They’ve controlled the state legislature for a long time. When the voters go to the polls in November to vote for the state Reps and the state lawmakers, what is the argument that Democrats should retain control over the state legislature?”

Chairman Balletto: “It’s pretty clear. The Governor and the state legislature are cleaning up a mess of twenty years of quasi-Republican and Republican Governors. This just didn’t happen overnight. The Governor is making, and the legislators are making, tough decisions to fix the problems of this state that weren’t created by them – that they inherited. And they’re going to spend time to make those tough decisions. It’s going to be tough.”

The “quasi-Republican” was, of course, former Governor Lowell Weicker, father of Connecticut’s income tax, who ran as an independista in 1991. The term is well deserved: Mr. Weicker’s liberal Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) rating during his last year in office as a “Republican” Senator was 20 points higher than that of Chris Dodd.

Mr. House wanted to knot the thread so it wouldn’t slip through the needle’s eye: “Who specifically is to blame for the current economic situation (in Connecticut)?”

Mr. Balletto: “I think many past administrations, and people not paying attention in funding pensions and other obligations by the state. But clearly, you look at it – I’m a tax accountant and I practice, but I’ve seen my practice – sales tax is down across the board. Revenue streams are down. The casino revenue coming into the state has dropped drastically. You see that in the papers reported constantly. And with that, there’s no control of that. The governor or no one else can control that. And you really can’t count on revenue, and as revenue decreases, there’s not much you can do. You have to adjust for it.”

House: “Is it the Rell administration, the Rowland administration, Weicker?”

Balleto:  “I think It’s a combination of all.”

House: “So, it’s back all the way to Governor Weicker?”

Balletto: “Oh absolutely!”

Then, dangling a noose before Mr. Balletto’s nose, Mr. House pressed on: “What about before that, Governor O’Neill?”

Balletto: “Ah, I was a young kid back then. I don’t know. I’ve paid attention for the last twenty years or so, and so I’m not sure beyond that.”

House: “So the problems began with Governor Rowland, Governor Weicker.”

Balletto: “Certainly twenty years of the Republican administration.”

Mr. Balletto touched all four bases on his way home. The heroic opposition on the part of Democratic governors Ella Grasso and Bill O’Neill to an income tax is not part of Mr. Balletto’s living memory. Indeed, anything that may have happened before 1991 -- when the income tax passed through a largely Democratic General Assembly, pushed out of the birth canal by Bill Cibes, who ran for governor on a pro-income tax plank and was soundly defeated, but later opened a second act as quasi-Republican Governor Weicker’s Office of Policy Management guru – belongs to a past lost in obscurity. The last time Republicans commanded one of the two Houses of the General Assembly was many moons ago, when Mr. Balletto was “a young kid” playing with his slide rule in preparation for a career in accounting.

Within Mr. Balletto’s living memory, from 1992-2016, the Democratic Party dominated the state Senate for 23 years; Republicans were in the majority for only two years. Republicans last controlled the House in 1996. Excluding quasi-Republican Weicker, the Republican Party occupied the chief executive office twice, during the reigns of Governors John Rowland and Jodi Rell, neither of whom were able to control spending, which increased threefold. While governors propose budgets, the General Assembly ultimately is responsible for receipts and expenditures. Republican Party participation in forming budgets ended abruptly when Dannel Malloy, author of the largest and second largest tax increases in state history, became the first Democratic governor since Mr. O’Neill left office. Mr. Malloy and the Democratic dominated General Assembly refused to allow Republican access to budget negotiations.

All this is living history for many voters in Connecticut. And Democrats, responsible for the long Winter of Connecticut’s discontent – nationally, Progressive President Barack Obama’s policies are responsible for the malingering Great Recession -- are understandably worried that voters, whose memories are more inclusive than Mr. Balletto’s,  just might conclude that Democrats are to blame for Connecticut’s current economic and political malaise. 
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