Friday, February 26, 2010

The Malloy Box

Dan Malloy, the former Mayor of Stamford presently exploring a run for governor on the Democratic ticket, appeared before a group of Rotarians in Westport at the end of February and was asked how he might apply his mayoralty experience as governor.

Exploratory candidates have to be careful in answering such questions. Should the candidate slip and fall into a recognizable gubernatorial campaign mode, he would risk losing a great deal of money. Campaign contributors are permitted to give more money to those “exploring” a candidacy for public office in Connecticut than they might give to declared gubernatorial candidates.

Prompted by a questioner how he might turn his mayoral experiences to use as governor, Malloy answered, “The root of the trouble in stumbling Connecticut is a divided legislature incapable of producing a good government. We have to recognize that a divided legislature cannot produce good government."

Malloy added that the Democratic Party, though dominant, was unwilling to do heavy-lifting and the Republican Party was “paralyzed." He continued, “"I say shame on both the Democrats and the Republicans in the legislature.”

Just a quibble: If the state legislature is dominated by Democrats, in what sense can it be said to be “divided?” Any Democratic legislative majority can easily thwart the opposition of the minority party and end ineffective opposition with a snap of the fingers. As a matter of fact, the “division” presented by “paralyzed” Republicans in the legislature had little effect on budgetary outcomes during the last fiscal year. For the most part, on every issue of importance to Democrats in the legislature, the dominant party simply rolled over paralyzed Republicans.

To be sure, Republicans, sometimes in concert with the Republican governor, did put up an ineffective resistance. But the substance, size, shape, texture and color of the budget should be watermarked “made in the Democratic caucus.”

Could it not be possible that Malloy meant to say: “Look, if Connecticut citizens would reduce the token Republican opposition in the legislature to zero and then in their wisdom elect a Democratic governor, we easily could rid ourselves of both a “paralyzed” Republican minority in the legislature and this crippling “division” in the state that has prevented us from adequately addressing the crushing weight of pension liabilities, not to mention a $3 to $4 billion hole in future budgets?”

The answer to that question is “no.”

Malloy could not have said such things to the Rotarians in Westport without running afoul of people whose business it is to keep “explorers” on the straight and narrow path that may or may not lead to the gubernatorial office. The "explorer" option is a box that allows Malloy to accumulate more funds for a gubernatorial run while, at the same time, preventing him from responding to any hard questions -- both a blessing and a curse.

The truth is that Connecticut is not so much “paralyzed” as it is broke, out of options that would raise sufficient revenue through increased taxes alone, the preferred option in the past for Democrats, and dominated by Democrats in the legislature that have shown themselves to be indifferent to real bi-partisan solutions that would settle a recurring, long term problem – which is this: The state has spent its way into penury. Connecticut’s dilemma is the same as our national dilemma on a smaller and, one hopes, more manageable scale.

The state’s problems are those associated with a one party governmental apparatus at the beck and call of special interest groups that, for all practical purposes, are the real authors of state budgets. The bulk of the state’s budget is devoted to untouchable dedicated funding. And Connecticut will not be free to chart its own course in the swelling seas ahead unless those funds are brought once again under the democratic thumb of a free and economically responsible legislature.

No Democrat or Republican in the state running for governor, announced or in an exploratory mode, has yet touched this third rail of our discontent.


Marie Devine said...

cWe are going the wrong way. Our employment lifestyle is causing our national and world problems. We can turn to a garden paradise lifestyle and solve the problems at the same time. It is the only sustainable development.

Until we are willing to release a lifestyle of debt, interest, insurance and seeking riches and honors that God warned against, we will not have politicians who can solve the problems.

The garden paradise solves problems we have been fighting many years, including pollution to our air, land, water and food making us diseased, energy crisis, war, immigration, reoccurring financial crises, social programs for young and old, climate change fears and the high cost of government, military and medical needs. Leviticus 26 shows God’s promise that HE will send terror and 4 x 7 curses UNTIL we choose to follow Him in truth. That is the good news; the curses can stop.

Roy Occhiogrosso said...

Provocative, as always. By way of explanation, what Dan meant when he said the Legislature is “divided” is that Democratic and Republican legislators can’t seem to agree on anything. Much as is the case in Congress. That has a lot less to do with the numbers in each party as it does with the inability or unwillingness, depending upon how you view it, of legislative leaders to try and forge solutions that have less to do with politics and ideology than they do with policy. When I first got to the Legislature in 1992, and through my third tour of duty there (which ended in 2001), most of the budgets that got done were bipartisan in nature, as were most of the big bills that got passed. That’s not to say the budgets were great, or the public policy perfect, but it did seem as if the parties worked together a lot more often, and better, than they do now. More recently, that almost never seems to happen. Instead, you get bills and/or budgets passed with almost no Republican support that end up being negotiated between Rell and the Dem legislative leaders. So, to the extent Democrats have “rolled” over Republicans, it’s hardly one-party rule, given the Republican Governor.

As for what to do to get Connecticut’s fiscal house in order, that’s clearly the #1 question facing all candidates. You say that Malloy wasn’t specific in addressing that question in his announcement. Fair point, but I’d point you to the campaign website – where a document outlining his thoughts and experiences on a host of issues (including budget and taxes) can be found. I’d argue there’s a lot of substance and specificity there – certainly more than has been put out by any of the other candidates. And more will come as the campaign progresses and more people are paying attention.

You say: Connecticut’s problems are those associated with a one party governmental apparatus at the beck and call of special interest groups that, for all practical purposes, are the real authors of state budgets. I think Malloy would tell you he disagrees. Connecticut’s real problem is that for at least the past 16 years we’ve had two governors who had no real clue as to how to manage state government.

To that, I say Malloy’s the only candidate in either party who has a demonstrated, successful track record in actually managing and running a large government bureaucracy. Here’s a statistic that might surprise you: Stamford had fewer municipal employees on his last day as Mayor than it did on his first day as Mayor. And the services delivered by the bureaucracy improved during that time. Who else in this race can make a claim even close to that? I think it’s a pretty impressive statistic.

What I think that demonstrates is an ability to understand, manage, and deliver. And an ability to negotiate, year after year, with labor in a way that is smart. That’s not to suggest his track record is perfect, or that mistakes weren’t made. It isn’t, and they were. But it is to suggest that of all the candidates who are seeking to be Governor, Malloy is the only one who can claim that he has already done – and done well – what the next Governor will have to do: manage the state bureaucracy in a smart, fiscally prudent way.

You also say: But now that Malloy has announced his candidacy, he should feel free to embrace real solutions to real problems without looking warily over his shoulder at campaign finance ethicists.

To that, I say: I agree. You should go to this website and read about his views on the issues. You certainly won’t agree with some of them, or maybe even a lot of them. But I hope you’ll agree that he has a solid grasp of the issues, an impressive track record on each of them, and some interesting ideas for what needs to happen at the state level.

Thanks for reading this if you’ve made it this far! I read everything you write, and appreciate the time and energy you clearly put in to sharing your views with the people of this state.

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