Dean Pagani has an interesting post up (also published in the Hartford Business Journal) about the failure of the state leadership to really remake government as they had suggested they might, and the failure to get anywhere near any hard choices.
Even the scandal-plagued legislature of Massachusetts is making hard choices, raising the sales tax up over 6% last month (the unpopular Gov. Patrick is threatening to veto the increase unless the legislature sends him ethics and spending reforms, even though the tax increase was passed by veto-proof majorities in both chambers). As difficult as this will be, Massachusetts has actually faced up to the problem to a certain extent. That state is still facing huge deficits, and is trying to enact spending cuts and possible further tax increases, but they at least are trying. Connecticut is not.
A lot of the blame should and does lay at the feet of the Democrats. Instead of really working to pass an actual budget, the Democratic leadership wasted basically the entire session quibbling with the governor about just how large the deficit actually was. Democrats do hold supermajorities in both chambers, though they rarely act like it due to the fractious nature of the caucus.
However, Pagani also has harsh words for the governor.
The failure to make wholesale change began when both parties decided to approach this year’s budget process the way it’s always done. Governor M. Jodi Rell decided against putting an unassailable budget plan on the table that truly re-ordered priorities, in favor of one that is politically appealing to the mass of Connecticut voters with no time to pay attention to the detail.
Putting a real plan on the table would have forced Democrats into a debate based on the merits. Republicans would have been fighting for a visionary view of state government while Democrats would have been forced to defend the special interests standing in the way of change.
But that conversation never happened. Instead, the governor proposed a budget that had no chance of passing, refused to budge on the size of the deficit, and has engaged in her usual pattern of mild nagging followed by the unveiling of last minute surprise proposals. That may have worked now and then back in 2005, but right now we need more.
Neither side made hard choices. Neither side seemed willing. Rell has held a frankly unrealistic line against raising any taxes, while both Democrats and Republicans seem to stand for whatever benefits their districts instead of what benefits the state as a whole (the current fiasco over Rell’s proposed closing of Wright Tech is a good example–the entire Stamford delegation has made it their number one priority). The lack of any clear, consistent and overarching vision for state government from either party or from the governor (who may still be evolving) means that legislators are left pursing their own narrow or parochial interests rather than what’s in everyone’s interest. What that meant is that we didn’t get a budget, but we got that great shellfish commission bill.
The upcoming special session will hopefully not be another exercise in avoiding the difficult choices. It’s probably far too late to try and remake state government, but maybe our leaders can find a way for Connecticut to limp along until next year, when we can go through it all again.