Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Current Crisis, October Soundings, A Self Interview

Q: You believe the state of Connecticut is in crisis.

A: Yes, and I’m not alone. There are two crises; the state itself, by which I mean its people and businesses, is in crisis; and state government, sometimes mistaken for the state, also is in crisis. To a certain extent, the first crisis is driven by the second.

Q: These two are not the same?

A: They are never the same. Lincoln spoke of a government of, by and for the people, but if you pause over that formulation and think about it, you will discover the two are not the same. In a perfect representative system, differences between the two are slight; state government and the larger, real state are close cousins. But that can never be the case in a republic in which government operates by force. This is the present condition in Connecticut, and the state has been in this mode for a long while. We have had single party government in the General Assembly, Connecticut’s lawmaking body, for almost half a century. When the founders of the nation tired of single party government, they threw it off. When Dannel Malloy, Connecticut’s King George, first occupied the governorship, he effectively served eviction notices on Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly, the body constitutionally invested with budget making authority. Republicans had played no role in forming budgets during the entire Malloy administration – until now. That is a long time for a near majority in a representative assembly to spend in the wilderness.

Q: What changed?

A: The power position of the Democrat Party in state government. Republicans have achieved power parity in the Senate, and they are very close in the House. The last time the GOP in Connecticut controlled both houses of the General Assembly was in 1984, when President Ronald Reagan swept Connecticut. Of course, the first Republican budget to have passed in the General Assembly in decades had now been vetoed by the lame-duck governor. But a political Rubicon had been crossed.

Q: What accounts for the shift in power in state government?

A: The gap between Democrat state government and the larger state, Lincoln’s people, has grown. A majority of people in the state may now regard Democrats as a force set over and against them. In a state in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a two to one majority, the passage of a Republican budget in the still dominant Democrat General Assembly was a near miracle. But the Democrat power base in the General Assembly has been eroding for a long time. Their heads wandering in vaporous clouds of glory, Democrats have chosen to power through these difficult times, certain that strategies successful for them in the past will see them through.

Q: Are they wrong?

A: They are wrong. Political templates have shifted. Democrats are now the victims of their past successes.

Q: Explain.

A: As a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1964, which found that seats in Connecticut’s House had been improperly apportioned according to town boundaries rather than population, voting power shifted from suburban areas, largely Republican, to cities, traditional Democrat power bases. Following a constitutional convention in 1965 that downsized the House from 294 seats to 177 and apportioned seats according to population, Democrats controlled the House with a 117- 60 majority. Previously Republicans had controlled the House with a 183-111 majority.

This change effectively gave cities, rust–belt centers of old-time Democrat power politics, a court ordered edge over suburbs. Although Democrats gained majority status in the state legislature, in the intervening period from 1966 on, both parties have lost voters; while registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state by a two to one margin, independents slightly outnumber Democrats. At the same time, the ability of political parties to raise money and pass along contributions to party favored candidates has been eroded by entrenched politicians and hyper-ethical campaign reform groups.

We now have a campaign finance system that favors incumbents, who effectively have become their own political parties; and incumbents are allied with campaign PACS that are supposed to be politically non-allied. This means that once any Democratic incumbent politician has achieved office in Connecticut, he or she may hold it until the devils carry him or her off to Hell.  Republicans have a much harder time of it. Under these circumstances, the passage of a Republican budget is astonishing. And it points to a change in what V. I. Lenin used to call “the correlation of forces.”

Q: Favoring Republicans?

A: Possibly. The Republicans have staked their ground in the upcoming elections. They have made a serious effort to recover small “r” republican government from special interest groups. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that SEBAC, a union group that negotiated contracts with Governor Dannel Malloy, is responsible for shaping the as yet non-existent Democrat budget.

Because the Democrat dominated General Assembly was not able to present a timely budget before the General Assembly adjourned in June, Malloy, still negotiating with SEBAC, was invested with plenary powers. When Democrats still had not presented a budget by September, a Republican budget was affirmed by the General Assembly and promptly vetoed by the lame-duck Malloy, who then was able to govern the state through executive orders.

Every mayor and town manager in Connecticut regards Malloy’s complete withdrawal of state provided education funds from 28 municipalities as a draconian measure, a textbook example of weaponized politics.

Following Malloy’s veto of the Republican budget, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns Betsy Gara summed up available options: “’Our members have been saying they have three choices, none of them good.’”

They were, according to a report in CTMirror, “Draining budget reserves; laying off workers; and issuing supplemental property tax bills.”

“I think that you’re looking at everything from students losing the teacher they started the school year with to public safety concerns, further downgrading of bond ratings and — in some cases — issuing supplemental tax bills, which is only going to drive more people and businesses out of the state,” said Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. “And some of these are catastrophic choices that are not far around the corner.”

This is the default position of the Democrat Party in the absence of the GOP budget the governor vetoed.

Q: And the cities?

A: Consider the plight of Hartford, Connecticut’s Capital city, now on the verge of bankruptcy.  Hartford is a microcosm of the larger state. Both Hartford and the state of Connecticut have been Democratic Party hegemonies for a half century. In a rational universe, parties in power would not be able to blame parties out of power for their own political failings. Whatever is wrong in Hartford would be on Democrats, whatever is wrong in the state would be on Democrats, since they have been the ruling party in both cases. But politics is not a rational theatre, and those who are supposed to drop the truth on our plates every morning, Connecticut’s timid media, are themselves part of the ruling hegemony. When the usual editorial writer in Connecticut views himself every morning in the mirror, he sees Malloy and the two Democratic leaders in the General Assembly, Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz and Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, smiling at him benevolently, and whispering “Good job, keep it up.” Taken all in all, editorial matter in the state falls far short of the much touted and valiant journalistic mandate: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Democrats have ruined Connecticut – are editorial writers uncomfortable with the usual Democratic hegemony?

Q: Are they?

A: They are not.

After The Veto Override – The Deluge

Q: Republicans in the General Assembly may not be able to marshal enough votes to override Governor Dannel Malloy’s veto of Republican budget. The Republican budget was passed because of Democrat defections in the House and Senate. An override of the veto required many more defections, and they weren’t there – not a surprise to what you’ve called, somewhat sneeringly, “Connecticut’s timid media.” What now?

A: In the immediate future, Malloy will be running the state through executive edict. Did anyone think we were rid of royal government when the last colonial governor of the state was replaced after 1776? He’s back; the king is dead, long live the king.  Malloy’s dicta, formulated long ago as part and parcel of the Democrats political strategy, have been designed to bludgeon individual legislators into voting for what Democrats will be pleased to call a compromise budget. The ruling Democratic hegemony loves compromise, always defined as unwavering submission to hegemonic Democrat rule. Democrats really did think they had slain the dragon, by which I mean effective Republican resistance, when the SEBAC agreement had been signed by Malloy and union honchos, whom I have called elsewhere Connecticut’s fourth branch of government.

Q: Why was the SEBAC agreement politically important?

A: It was a reaffirmation of government by contract. Republicans, in a perfect political world, would switch from contract to statute the means legislators used to set union salaries and benefits. After a brief hiatus, the SEBAC agreement preserved incremental gains achieved by unions over the years affecting salaries and benefits for state workers, a voting block Democrats need to retain office. And it binds with contractual hoops of steel, and far beyond the term of the present lame-duck governor, all future reformist governors and legislators. Democrats wanted to hardwire these special interest elements into any budget affirmed by the General Assembly; that is why Democrats had not produced a budget. They still have not produced a budget, four months after the General Assembly closed up shop in June.

Q: What did Republicans fail to do that might have convinced a sufficient number of Democrats to override the Governor’s veto?

A: Republicans offered the only budget presented to the General Assembly that would mitigate the damage done by Malloy’s executive-orders. Just prior to the canceled override vote, Representative Gail Lavielle offered a correct and objective analysis: “Today, in the House veto session, your state representatives have 2 choices: the bipartisan budget that passed, or the governor's executive order. Here they are. There is no alternative on the table. For our district, the choice is clear. It's between 1) no tax increases, protection for school funding and community nonprofits, and municipal aid that will prevent towns' depletion of reserves; or 2) draconian cuts now and exposure in a subsequent budget to pushing off hundreds of millions of dollars of the state's teachers' pension obligations onto towns. If 29 majority legislators do not join us in an override today, CT will remain the only state without a budget. This is a budget emergency.” That was an accurate and fair assessment. So, appeals to sweet reason were unpersuasive.

The Minority leader in the State Senate, Len Fasano, is convinced that some of the measures taken by Malloy are illegal, and he has sought an opinion from Attorney General George Jepsen, who was for a time Chairman of the State Democratic Party. On August 18, Fasano wrote to Jepsen: “Since the governor has now vetoed the legislature’s budget, it is imperative that lawmakers know whether or not his executive order is in fact legal, or if these changes violate statutory mandates which would require legislative approval,” Fasano wrote. “I believe it is extremely important that you respond to this outstanding request prior to a veto override session taking place so lawmakers have all the relevant information prior to deciding whether to allow the governor’s veto to stand, which will lead to his executive order remaining in effect.”

There were three gubernatorial actions undertaken by Malloy that, Fasano wrote, were not legally authorized: 1) unilaterally reducing Excess Cost grants for state aid for special education; 2) withholding funding mandated by the Municipal Revenue Sharing Program without legislative approval, and; 3) using an executive order to adjust the motor vehicle mill rate tax cap.

On the day of the override vote, Jepsen's verdict came down. Jepsen was unable to detect "the precise constitutional limits of the governor's authority” when a legislature has not affirmed a timely budget. Fasano had pressed Jepsen to shed light on Malloy’s authority “in the absence of a state budget, to withhold municipal revenue sharing grants without legislative approval” and “whether the governor was within constitutional bounds to change the motor vehicle mill rate tax cap from 37 mills to 32.”

Jepsen’s response was comparable to answers received from the Oracle at Delphi: “The governor's approach may be a reasonable and prudent policy decision and one that the legislature might make under the circumstances. However it does not appear to be an option that the statute on its face authorizes the governor to make on his own.”

Concerning the fraudulent boost in Mill rates, a Harford paper reported, “By selecting the 37 mill rate, as opposed to pro-rating the 32 mill rate based on the state's lack of funds, some cities and towns will receive grants while others with motor vehicle tax rates above 32 mills may receive none. ‘A court could conclude that this is not an outcome that the statute permits,’ Jepsen wrote.”

Republicans have hardly been hiding their light under a bushel basket; they did produce a budget that passed the General Assembly, later vetoed by the Governor. There was a Republican will and a Republican way, but the numbers were wanting. In the near future, the state is likely to see a slew of suits challenging this or that ruinous executive order.

Q: And some of this will, may we suppose, be useful in upcoming political campaigns?

A: Of course. The whole budget fiasco has been politicized by Democrats. Why should politics stop at the water’s edge of political campaigns? Why shouldn’t Democrats be made to answer in public campaigns why they had not produced a budget while Connecticut burned?

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