Governor Dannel Malloy’s brief flirtation with Republican leaders in the Democrat dominated General Assembly is now officially over. The engagement ring has been repossessed, and we are back to square one; or, as Yogi Berry might put it, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Shortly after Mr. Malloy agreed to accept the most recent budget presented to him by chastened leaders in the General Assembly, Republican House Minority Leader Themis Klarides expressed her dismay in a Facebook posting: “Despite what they claim, the final budget proposed by the Democrat majority does not include real structural changes necessary to change the course of business in Connecticut. It simply sets us up for tax increases after the elections in November.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Republican Minority Leader Len Fasano. As usual, Republicans were cut out of the final budget negotiations between Mr. Malloy and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly; in addition, the Malloy-Sharkey-Looney budget was secured secreted in a lockbox, apparently to prevent the public from participating in their democracy. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and President of the Senate Martin Looney have both been, during the entire Malloy administration, the keepers of state budget secrets.
“Why do they continue not to let the public know what they are doing? This is business as usual,” Mr. Fasano noted in a Facebook posting six days after Mr. Malloy and Democratic leaders announced agreement on the tentative budget, once again elbowing Republicans from the negotiating table.
Republicans had earlier shown their cards: the Ace of Spades in the Republican deck was, and is, a structural reform that would, for the first time in decades, offer a permanent fix to repetitive deficits.
Mr. Fasano was also skittish about this year’s final implementer bill. Implementer bills in Connecticut have in the past been the Pandora boxes of deceptive legislators. Strictly speaking, the implementer bill is, as the title of the legislation indicates, a facilitating instrument that provides necessary definitions and support that implement bills previously vetted in public hearings.
By way of example, necessary definitions implementing the Constitutional cap on spending that accompanied the Lowell Weicker Income Tax Bill were never provided; the absence of the definitions were cited a quarter of a century later by Attorney General George Jepsen, who determined that the Constitutional Cap, minus the necessary definitions, was inoperative. His predecessor, Attorney General Dick Blumenthal winked at the missing definitions and determined the cap was operative as a statute rather than a Constitutional provision. Because of Mr. Blumenthal’s wink and the negligence of the General Assembly that failed to provide implementing definitions way back in 1991, the state of Connecticut no longer has a cap on spending. The laggard General Assembly may someday get around to passing a legitimate Constitutional Cap – which was, legislators do not wish to be reminded, the sine qua non that assured passage of the income tax bill -- but the Democratic dominated legislature, still struggling with a deficit sinkhole, is otherwise occupied for the moment in passing a partisan, badly patched budget that may, legislators hope, be a passable ticket-to-ride during the upcoming election season. We cannot too often be reminded that Lincoln had in view powerful Machiavellian politicians when he said it was possible to “fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time...”
In a one-party state, public hearings, dispensed when provisions are artfully tucked into implementer bills, are more than a nuisance. What is the point in having a one-party state, if you are not prepared to abuse the public trust by short-circuiting public exposure? Tucked into the lard of implementer bills – hundreds of pages long introduced at the last moment of the legislative process that cannot be read by those called upon to vote for the measures secreted in its pages – are all sorts of extraneous goodies, many of which are included to obtain legislative assent to a budget.
It takes two ears to hear, two eyes to see, two feet to walk, and two side of a brain to think. For his entire administration, Mr. Malloy and the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly have stumbled along with one ear, one eye, one foot, usually in its mouth, and half a brain. It’s time in Connecticut to open government to Republican voices and even – dare I say it, in deep blue-do-do Connecticut – to throttled conservative voices. Deja vue all over again won’t cut it.