The Democrat’s bonding proposal is understandable only as a campaign strategy.
Speaker of the House Jim Amann argues that Rell need not veto the Democrat bonding plan, busting with unaffordable but delicious goodies, because the governor is authorized by “tradition” to exercise what amounts to a line item veto. If the governor does not like a specific line item in the bonding package, it cannot be passed into law without her approval.
This tradition enables Democrats to front load bond packages with earmarks that will keep Democrat legislators in line, and it has the additional advantage of making the governor appear to be less than caring when she nixes the window dressing funds proposed by generous and compassionate Democrats.
In the best of all possible worlds, bonding would be reserved for capital projects that benefit the whole state, since the interest on bonding is paid by state rather than municipal taxpayers. But, somewhere along the line, the rational boundaries of bonding expanded to include municipal projects, and it was all downhill from there.
Governors, mostly Republicans, used bonding to persuade legislative leaders, mostly Democrats, to soften their hard core positions on bills. Legislators, mostly Democrat, used bonding to whip their troops in line to support bills favored by leaders in the House and Senate. Hey, you want that bridge to nowhere in East Podunck? Okay, you got it – provided you vote in favor of a stinker of a bill that might just put you in Dutch with your constituents; no vote, no bridge. Made an offer of this kind, even legislators of steely purpose and incorruptible principles might be swayed by fatal second thoughts. All state Houses are frat-houses presided over by harried house-mothers attempting, sometimes successfully, to keep the boys and girls from burning down the place. Parceling out goodies is one of Amann’s many benevolent whips.
When Gov. Jodi Rell vetoed the Democrat’s $3.2 billion general-obligation bond package rather than submit to a political process that closely resembles earmarking, she not only violated an honored tradition that for years has kept the legislature in Democrat hands; she lubricated the rhetoric that drives the tradition.
Rell claimed the bond package was larded with special projects requested by legislators, mostly Democrats. Her charge was answered in a major newspaper by Amann. The bond package, Amann pointed out, was little more than a legislative wish list, essentially a campaign document. The wish list could not be actualized unless the bond commission, controlled by the governor, assented to it.
It was like reading the private diary of a porcine young boy with two stomachs who was attempting to convince his mom that she should let him loose in a candy store with her credit card because the proprietor could always exercise his option to refuse to sell him sweets if he bought too much.
Rell’s veto put in Limbo about $1.4 billion in borrowing dedicated primarily for transportation and clean water projects, and this gave Democrats an opportunity to sharpen their campaign rhetoric.
“If the governor is serious about reducing the debt she helped create,” Amann wrote in his op-ed piece, “let her tell the public which town’s school construction, bridge and road repairs, flood control or sewage treatment projects need to be put off.” Amann then asserted that the “targeted community investments” Democrats had included in their bonding package, a slender $145 million, represented “less than 5% of the total bond package.
The claim that rejected bond proposals are negligible when measured against the whole package now threatens to become as traditional as the similar claim that budget cuts are negligible when measured against gargantuan budgets. That claim has helped increase the state’s budget from a pre-income tax bottom line of $7.5 billion to it’s present $16.5 billion within little more than a decade. Bonding packages have increased during the same time period by a similar amount.
Amann often has billed himself as a “fiscal conservative,” a private tradition now overcome by an irresistible itch to increase both the budget and bonding. With fiscal conservatives like Amann at the helm of the House, who needs reckless spenders?