Thursday, February 16, 2017

Malloy Through The Looking Glass

After Alice falls through the rabbit hole, she finds herself in an alternate universe in which right is left and up is down, a distorted mirror image of life in the real world. Along the way, she encounters the heartless Queen of Hearts who says to her, “First the verdict, then the trial.” She also meets Humpty Dumpty, who uses words variously to mean A and NOT-A, prompting this dialogue:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things.’"
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master — that’s all."

 In Connecticut’s alternate universe, trials – some unbearable – follow verdicts: first the budget, then the union negotiations.

And words mean pretty much what powerful politicians think they mean by them. The elimination of tax credits are not referred to in polite company as tax increases. Why? Because Malloy had vowed, following the imposition of two massive tax increases, that there will be no more burdensome encumbrances. Yet, if a tax has been forgiven in year one and re-imposed in year two, the tax payer has suffered a tax increase. When the state withdraws tax relief from town A and shifts the funds retained from town A to town B, town A has suffered a tax increase – unless town A, unlike the state, is able to wring the loss of state funds from its employees by means of spending reductions. 

Malloy was the first Democrat elected governor in more than a quarter century. Following his ascension to the office during the Obama sweep, Democrats commanded all the heights of state government, the governor’s office, both houses of the General Assembly, all the constitutional offices and every position in Connecticut’s U.S Delegation. Facing a deficit, Malloy submitted to the General Assembly a budget that imposed on Connecticut tax payers the largest tax increase in state history. Some years later, confronted with another large deficit of his own making, he imposed on already burdened tax payers the second largest tax increases in state history. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he rested, godlike, on the seventh day, having vowed – no more tax increases.

Malloy had decided very early on who was to be master. Republicans played no part in union negotiations that substantially changed his already approved first budget. And Malloy’s first budget, substantially altered after union contract negotiations, was not resubmitted to the General Assembly -- so that Democratic legislators who had conferred on Malloy plenary powers might be spared their constitutional responsibility to approve every dollar spent. Malloy had signaled to legislators in his party that they need not approve the changes that increased spending costs; he would, the governor strongly hinted, take the bullet for them. To no one’s surprise, costs increased, foreshadowing future deficits, benefits and salaries for state employee unions were not adversely affected, and Republicans had been effectively neutered.

This time around, Malloy and the Democrats in the General Assembly, facing an anticipated $3.6 billion biennial deficit – funny how they keep happening --  have decided to pass along state employee pension costs to future taxpayers, cut tax relief to so-called wealthy towns on a promise the savings will be distributed to Connecticut municipalities, cities chiefly, that have not been able to balance their own budgets, and continue to make announcements that savings will be realized from give-backs from cosseted unions. Approximately 130 municipalities will have state support reduced under Malloy’s plan, and the reductions are permanent, not temporary or self-elapsing.

Republicans in the General Assembly are pushing back hard against an Alice in Wonderland view of reality. The state Senate, tied between Republicans and Democrats 18-18, has two leaders on opposite sides of the political barricades, one of whom, Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Len Fasano, responded to Malloy’s attempt to escape reality this way: “Governor Malloy’s budget lacks a clear sense of direction or vision for the state of Connecticut. Once again we see a plan that will balance the budget on the backs of working and middle-class families while shifting problems onto others. Let’s be clear about what this budget includes each year: over $200 million in annual tax increases on low and middle-income families, over $400 million in new property tax burdens, potentially 4,200 state employee layoffs and $570 million in expenses pushed onto our children’s credit card thanks to the governor’s pension deal. I don’t see this budget creating stability. I see it creating chaos.”

No one trusts the governor – not unions, not taxpayers, not future Connecticut residents yet unborn who already owe the state millions to pay for costs present legislators are unwilling to cut, not Republicans who consistently have been shown the door when budgets are discussed, and not even Humpty Dumpty, who put the matter of political power plainly when he said, “The question is: which is to be master, that’s all.”

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