There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet…
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea – T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
In 20 months, reporters in the state will be referring to “former Governor Dannel Malloy.” On Thursday, Mr. Malloy announced he would be passing the gubernatorial baton to some other deserving Democrat, so he hopes. In the last few years, Republicans have made inroads into Connecticut’s one-party state. The State Senate is now evenly split between the two parties, and Democratic hegemony in the General Assembly has had one of its wings clipped.
Remorse and melancholy usually hang over announcements of this kind like winding shrouds, after which the usual crowd begins to calculate the pluses and minuses of the leave-taking: The King is dead, long live the King; or, as Louie Armstrong use to sing, “Life goes on without ya.”
Mr. Malloy, it is said, was choked with emotion “several times in a 35-minute press conference.”
Though now a lame duck governor whose political clout will therefore be much diminished, Mr. Malloy vowed to devote his remaining time in office “to continue implementing my administration’s vision for a more sustainable and vibrant Connecticut economy.” This will be difficult for him now that he has announced he will remove his hand from the governing tiller. All the underlying forces – some of which are demons of good government – will be set loose. Malloy’s bargaining power with state unions will be diminished; the Democratic Party machine will be left to its own devises; the party fissure between Old Guard Democratic moderates and ambitious progressives will widen; and real political power within the Democratic Party will pass, until the gubernatorial election is concluded, from a lame duck governor to Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, one of which, Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, is employed by a union.
Addressing a room packed with staffers, legislators and lobbyists, Mr. Malloy promised, “I will focus all my attention and energy. I will use all of my political capital from now through the end of 2018 to continue implementing my administration’s vision… I’ve been doing that for a while. I know that Connecticut must continue to change and grow and strive for a more perfect tomorrow – that we must continue to focus on the long-game.”
It is not through want of energy in the executive that Connecticut is blowing bubbles from beneath the waves. During his first term in office, Mr. Malloy energetically imposed upon his state the largest tax increase in its history, followed by the second largest tax increase in state history, followed by a stunning realization: while state revenue was increasing by leaps, deficits were increasing by bounds. Eventually, the realization slowly made its way past Ben Barnes, the state’s number cruncher, to Mr. Malloy’s ears. The state, Mr. Barnes advised, must get used to deficits for some time to come.
Why so? Because state deficit obligations are caused by spending increases, excessive borrowing to avoid tax increases, the pilfering over the years of dedicated funds to off-set red ink in state budgets and – no small matter – uncontrolled increases in untouchable “fix costs.” Over the years, the cowardly General Assembly had simply surrendered its fiduciary responsibilities by moving discretionary spending into the “fixed cost” pot.
Connecticut’s constitutional cap on spending, dangled before the General Assembly during the administration of then Governor Lowell Weicker to gain legislative votes for an income tax, Attorney General George Jepsen found, belatedly, about a quarter century after the income tax had passed, was inoperative and unconstitutional. In the process of supplying new definitions that would make the cap constitutional, Democrats hit on a brilliant idea: why not move large chunks of spending outside the new cap and thereby relieve the pressure on the Democrat dominated General Assembly to cap spending? Progressives in Connecticut, never weary of finding new ways of drawing water from stones, have proposed 1) re-instituting tolls, which cannot be placed, according to federal law, only on the borders of a state 2) putting the progressive tax bite on hedge funds, Connecticut’s last undamaged source of tax revenue, and 3) instituting a tax in destitute cities such as Hartford that would be imposed on employees who travel across city lines to work. Such are the visions – nightmares some will call them – of the Malloy-Aresimowicz-President Pro Tempore Martin Looney administration.
When Connecticut’s last Republican Governor, Jodi Rell, threw in the gubernatorial towel, she moved her prime residence to Florida, whose tax bite is endurable. Betting is on that soon to be former Governor Dannel Malloy will move, upon his retirement, to a less punishing state than progressive Connecticut. Connecticut Governors, more fleet footed than other residents who do not have wings on their feet, have the luxury of moving away from their visions.