Gov. Rell Pushes the Easy Button

Connecticut has some great ways to get out of making decisions. For example, the part in the constitution that allows a bill to become law if the governor just doesn’t bother to sign it after a certain length of time passes (the constitution was obviously written in part by legislators). In essence, the constitution allows the executive to take no responsibility whatsoever for a bill.

Gov. Rell has decided today to do just that. She will allow the recently-passed budget to become law without her signature, ending a months-long budget standoff with a mild whimper.

The governor was faced with a difficult choice, to be sure. The Democrats’ budget was not quite what she wanted, but it was close enough that the public would see little real difference. Signing it would enrage Republicans. Vetoing it would lead to annoyed Democrats and yet another round of exhausting negotiations coupled with the continuation of the unbelievably ham-handed PR campaign on the part of both parties.

And so, the governor took the only option that would allow her to avoid the pitfalls of signing or vetoing: doing nothing.

Allowing the budget to go into effect without her approval sends a few important messages. The first is that the governor still does not like the budget, but that her opinion doesn’t matter in the end.

The second message is that the governor’s tough talk about reshaping government, holding the line on taxes and playing tough with the Democrats were really just words. In the end, though there was an epic stalemate for a while, it was Jodi Rell who blinked.

Conservatives will argue that she should have held the line. If you remember, Gov. Lowell Weicker vetoed budget after budget before the legislature finally passed the income tax. Weicker realized an essential truth about the legislature: it is lazy, easily distracted and likes going home. Jodi Rell is an alumna of the legislature, however, and while she has often been able to outwit its molasses-slow leadership, she obviously wasn’t willing to wait around (or have the state wait around) to find out what would happen if she became the brick wall Weicker was.

Politically, this non-decision hurts the governor. She’s going to have a hard time explaining to other Republicans why she backed away from tough talk on taxes, especially when the GOP base has worked itself into a frothing frenzy on the issue nationally. She also seems like she’s not really in charge, like she’s abdicated responsibility for one of the most important things the legislature and governor do.

This raises all sorts of questions for next year. Can she run and win? Will Republicans support her? I suspect many voters will still like her (there’s precious little that’s concrete to attack), but a more decisive opponent may be able to find cracks in her armor.

And, the biggest question of all, is this the action of someone ready to leave public life? Or the canny action of a politician playing to the center in advance of an election fight?

The third message her actions today send, and it’s a bit more positive, is that Jodi Rell really is the adult in the room–sort of. The state needs a budget. The Republicans, both in the legislature and as a state party, are a small and ineffective minority who can’t help her. The budget had been moved to the right probably as far as it was going to go without another two months of grueling negotiations. Towns need state grants, agencies need funding. The Democratic leadership did little beyond bluster, and seemed to need the prodding of the governor to get anything done.

But adults make hard decisions. If the right thing to do here was to let an imperfect budget stand, then the governor should have signed it.

Instead, she pushed the easy button.

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17 responses to “Gov. Rell Pushes the Easy Button

  1. Scoop… OT, but please read Arianna’s latest:

    Is it me, or is Geithner starting to sound more and more like “Baghdad Bob,” the absurdist Iraqi Information Minister who predicted that U.S. forces were going to surrender even as American tanks were rolling down the street outside his press conference?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/has-obamas-handling-of-th_b_273341.html

    …and tell me if you still believe that Obama and the Dem Congress are on the right track with financial regulatory reform. Also, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim discusses Tim Johnson’s support of 1000% annual interest lenders… just something to consider before Dodd jumps to HELP.

  2. You get to the point at the end with the third message. For better or worse, and I can go either way depending on the issue, right now in CT, the Republicans are a “small and ineffective minority.” If she wants to run again, I really don’t think this will be a big deal with our comatose electorate. Many exogenous factors will be in play between now and then.

  3. The Answer is : “The canny action of a politician playing to the center in advance of an election fight”

    I think she should have vetoed it but here’s the thing:

    The economy will determine appropriations. Should tax revenues increase the borrowing or rainy day fund draw down can be mitigated. If there is a shortfall it’s a safe bet ‘no new taxes’ will be the mantra.

    If Jody doesn’t run it’s because of SustiNet and a weak outlook for GOP State Senators. She needs a few more to be veto proof and oppose funding for that program. Deep down she may not want to oppose health care reform.

    The strange thing is the Democrats are thinking the GOP is *forever* marginalized here in CT without really looking at the national polls. Some Democrats need to get out more. The Lawlor fringe made some real enemies this session.

    It was only weeks ago the Democrats were talking about government reofrm and computer kiosks to replace the DMV. As is usual its the voters that lose as government bloat was approved without any real attempts at adopting a continuous improvement program and adopting some measures of program effectiveness based on outcomes.

  4. GC –
    First, you say Gov. Rell is an adult, and then you say the difficult adult thing to do was sign the budget. She didn’t sign the budget, she didn’t make the hard decision, therefore, how can she be the adult in the room?

    And with such an ineffective opposition, I just don’t see how anything – anything – can ever hurt this Governor.

    Peace,
    KK

  5. ken krayeske said:
    “with such an ineffective opposition, I just don’t see how anything – anything – can ever hurt this Governor.”

    You’re catching on.

    Thicker Teflon ® coating than anyone in politics ever in history.

  6. I cannot agree with the assertion that Ms. Rell was “the adult in the room”. She is the governor of the state, and the Democrats clearly were unable to garner the two-thirds vote to override her veto. So she held the power to either hold out for the budget she wanted, or to negotiate a budget acceptable to her, no matter how long that took. For Ms. Rell to simply permit the budget to go into effect without her signature suggests that she was too bored to play governor anymore, or that she thought the job had become too hard. In any event, for Ms. Rell to refuse to endorse the state’s budget with her signature after months of wrangling, discussion, and bitter negotiations is astonishing. In effect, she has said that she refuses to take responsibility for the most important part of her job as governor- creating a budget that funds the government of Connecticut for which she is the highest elected official.

    Her refusal to take responsibility for the budget by affixing her signature to it seems to further a pattern of her detachment from governing. She rarely met with Democratic leaders to negotiate the budget during the months that it was in dispute. Ms. Rell seems to maintain a highly relaxed official schedule. And it is odd that Ms. Rell now refuses to sign a budget that includes painful cuts, apparently because the cuts are too shallow, just two years (?) after proposing a 10% increase in taxes to fund greater educational spending.

    Whether one supports Governor Rell or not, her refusal to sign this budget is a most curious decision.

  7. Holy Crap! Did Thomas Hooker just say something I agree with? That is commentary by itself!

  8. Hooker is as wrong in this thread as others have been elsewhere.

    Again, let me ask: What more was Rell going to get? Why drag the process out further if the Senate Dems were finally closing ranks and the House Dems were so fat, dumb and happy they could play Solitaire on the House floor?

    And if the budget was not going to get any better, why should Rell give the Democrats the political CYA they so desperately craved by signing it?

    Where is the boldness of spirit that had Speaker Union Label all but frothing at the mouth as he proclaimed a week or so ago that “the people here (Democrats) don’t want to cause that pain”?

    Their alternative to pain (e.g., living within reduced means like real people do) was taxes, taxes, phony accounting, demanding spending increases and backing off them slightly (which they could then call a “cut”) and some more taxes, plus increased fees and — oh yeah — taxes.

    It’s their budget. They have held countless dog & pony news conferences, joined noisy union protests, welcomed hired-gun street theater troupes and spouted gallons of sanctimonious tripe to get it. And now they wonder why Rell won’t sing a rousing chorus of Kumbayah at the finish line?

  9. I was surprised at two of the ‘line item vetoes’. Americorps provides recent college graduates an opportunity to teach in inner cities and rural areas that need motivated teachers. This isn’t a good thing???
    Senior Slips, Trips, and Falls may lead to expensive hip replacements, loss of mobility and independence for the senior. Teaching seniors how to prevent falls and minimize the ‘injury’ if a fall occurs is also a very laudable project. It will save $$$ by prevention. This isn’t a good thing?
    Not according to Governor Rell.

  10. Lots of things are good things, including Americorps and unbroken hips — and controlling spending in the face of an $8.7 billion budget deficit and reducing tax bills and honoring agreements and Democrat legislators, just for once in their miserable, sniveling, it’s-all-Monopoly-money-to-us lives, saying no to somebody, somewhere, about something.

  11. RedFive – what did the governor have to lose by vetoing the bill? Her base of support would have cheered her on, and she would’ve forced the Dems to either play ball with her, or pass their own heinous budget.

    She should’ve been out in front everyday, hanging this budget debacle around the necks of the party in overwhelming majority. What did they need her for anyway? They certainly have the numbers to pass their own budget without need for bipartisanship.

    How dysfunctional is a party, who, upon reaching veto-proof majorities still can’t perform the most basic function of their office; that is, drawing up a passable state budget?

    This was a defining moment of leadership. Instead, we get a cop-out. As likeable as the governor is personally, her ability to persevere in the face of overwhelming opposition, a vital quality for an opposition candidate in this state of Connecticut, has been shown lacking. Not a good result from the de facto head of the Republican Party in this state.

    Would I vote for her again? Depends on who else is running, and what kind of crazy leftist gets the Dem nomination.

  12. CarGuy, Al (from previous thread – no point in double posting):

    Guys, in many senses I agree with you and I share your frustration that all of Connecticut has this stinker of a budget hung around its neck.

    But I just can’t agree that not signing the bill is equal to a cop-out, or — as Al said — there was more to be gained by simply saying no. Why? Because of the second of my two questions: Would it be worth the protracted disruption to people and programs?

    I think we all can agree there was little to no chance of significant further movement by the Democrats. Rell herself said something to the effect that the Democrats could not be persuaded or forced or embarrassed into doing the right thing.

    But apart from the effects of the continued uncertainty on social safety net programs (and whatever one may think of the direness of that issue), there were undeniable effects starting to be felt on things like school construction reimbursements, town aid for roads, state aid for education and other major expenses. I think Rell felt these effects, on balance, could not justify a veto.

    But she would not be forced into providing them the air cover they wanted, either. (The Democrats have tried time and again, over the years, to “corner” Jodi Rell and proven — every time — to be as inept as they are spineless.)

    Not signing the bill was simply the best of a very bad trio of options. If nothing else, it reinforces the old notion, “Be careful what you ask for.” Democrats asked for it — demanded it, really. Now they have it — and welcome to it. Time to take some pride in ownership.

  13. Red noted, “Again, let me ask: What more was Rell going to get? Why drag the process out further if the Senate Dems were finally closing ranks…?”

    If that was the best Governor Rell believed she could get, then she should have shaken hands with the opposition, agreed to the budget, and signed it. Governing is all about compromise. This is certainly not the budget that the Democrats wanted. Cutting millions from Medicaid for health care for hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Nutmeggers is not what Democrats would call fair.

    Yet Governor Rell’s pouty refusal to sign the budget is also confusing, because even on final passage the budget did not garner a veto-proof majority. So had Ms. Rell believed that it was a bad budget and that it violated her fiscal principles, she most certainly could have held out longer.

    Sometimes it takes courage to compromise with the other side and admit that this is as far as both sides are going to go. That seems to have been the case here, especially after the bill mandating that the non-partisan OFA’s economic forecasts had to be used as the basis for budgeting eliminated Ms. Rell’s dodge that her budget was actually balanced without any additional tax revenues.

    Ms. Rell should have taken responsibility for this budget by signing it. She was the one responsible for the negotiations, she’s the governor, and it was her call to either accept the budget or veto it. So to hide under the table and pretend as though she is in no way responsible for this compromise measure is not only inexplicable, but peevish as well.

    I think Governor Rell might indeed be signaling that she’s had enough with running the state of Connecticut. Refusing to sign a budget certainly isn’t the way a candidate for reelection wants to begin a campaign season.

  14. “And if the budget was not going to get any better, why should Rell give the Democrats the political CYA they so desperately craved by signing it?”

    And why should she try to protect the citizens of the state from massive tax increases and state businesses from being told again to close their doors and take their jobs with them? That speech she gave to the state in January rings incredibly hollow now.

    Her principles? Gone. The Dems are still crowing about theirs.

    “Not signing the bill was simply the best of a very bad trio of options. If nothing else, it reinforces the old notion, “Be careful what you ask for.” Democrats asked for it — demanded it, really. Now they have it — and welcome to it. Time to take some pride in ownership.”

    Are you F’in kidding me?!!!

    That’s a pathetic defense of a ‘leader.’ She said the citizens couldn’t afford this, had the power to stop it and let it go through. Time to take pride in ownership?! She’s the governor, who could have prevented it, SHE owns this too!

    Thought we’d have to wait until late night to get our usual Pro-Guv blast from a galaxy far, far away. Just another half-witted scruffy-looking nerf-herder…

  15. Redfive,

    I certainly can appreciate your point of view but simply put……….IMHO your trying to give someone who has failed to do the most important part of her job at the most critical moment far too much credit.

    Let me be clear I typically vote Republican far more than Democrat and did in fact vote for Rell last election. But honestly how could I now justify doing that again?

    Respectfully put I suggest you open your eyes………..This budget debacle is so one sided we are already seeing posts here from Democrats wondering why Rell didn’t veto this budget just to protect the Democrats from their own “success”.

    Well she should have vetoed it, but not because she was concerned about protecting them, from their obvious irresponsibility,but because by vetoing it she would clearly show she was more concerned about the future of this state than they are.

    Do you honestly think any Democrat running for office next year will not remind us how the bigger mess the state is in then because of this budget is all the fault of Rell ( and because of party connections the Republicans) because she didn’t veto a bad budget? Instead of leading and vetoing a bad budget she chose to just get out of the way by allowing it to go into law without her signature.

    A year from now do you really think many voters will rememeber if the Democrats could or could not have overridden her veto? And the obvious defense for the Democrats will be to quickly to point out they didn’t need to try in the first place because she allowed this mess to become law on her own. The budget the Democrats gave her to decide only becomes law if she decides to allow it to. She is the Governor she has decided to allow that to happen when it does it then becomes her budget signature or not..

    Make no mistake as long as the voters of this state are content to keep their heads in the sand Democrats will flourish. But if the Republicans in this state are to regain some semblance of significance then when the time comes and they have the chance to lead that is what they must do…….. Rell should have just stayed in bed yesterday we all would be better off.

  16. I’m usually critical of Rell for not having a strong ideology in many things. However, her effective choices in this case are vetoing or not vetoing. She made the decision not to veto. Signing is, in the end, irrelevant: with or without her signature, the bill is going to happen.

    If there had continued to be no budget, who would have been hurt more: Rell or the legislators? I know that the local towns would have been hurt without the grants and such, and the town selectmen and mayors would have blamed Hartford, and thus probably Rell because she’s the ultimate head.

    Rell could have extended the stand-off I guess, but I doubt the legislature would cave. With such a divided government (“Republican” governor and supermajority control by Democrats of both houses), what do the people of Connecticut really want.

    Now, let me just throw out another question, just for fun. Had John DeStefano been elected, with this same crowd in the legislature, what would or budget look like?

  17. Who’s scruffy-lookin’?

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