(Updated) “I don’t want to hear any more pejoratives about the income tax and Lowell Weicker,” Lowell Weicker, 79, said Thursday in his opening remarks at a meeting of local elected officials in Cromwell. “And I’ll tell you why – because everybody’s had about 19 years to repeal it.”
But that’s just what Weicker received Thursday as he pulled into the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell. A handful of protesters, mostly associated with the Tea Party movement, greeted Weicker with signs that read, “Weicker Go Home,” and “We Already Know What Lowell Weicker Would Do.”
“I’m protesting the very existence of Lowell Weicker,” Joe Markley of Southington said as he stood on the sidewalk at the entrance to the hotel. Markley said he was inspired to protest Weicker’s appearance Thursday by the combination of the income tax and the fact that Weicker said he wouldn’t implement one when he was campaigning for governor back in 1990.
Weicker, who is known for his bluntness, didn’t address Thursday’s protesters specifically, but made some remarks about the Tea Party movement in general. The Tea Party movement’s performance on health care alone was “despicable,” Weicker said. He said I have no problem with independent points of view, but “you can do it in a civil way. I have seen very little that’s civil coming out of the Tea Party.”
“To say that they’re nuts doesn’t cover it at all,” Weicker said. “The way they present themselves right now is just plain scary.”
Tom Dudchik, who worked for Weicker previously and drove him to the event Thursday, said he waved to the protesters as he pulled into the hotel parking lot. The four protesters paled in comparison to the 40,000 that Weicker greeted in August 1991 after passage of the income tax.
Weicker was invited to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities annual meeting Thursday to discuss the state’s budget deficit, which is estimated to be $3.37 billion in fiscal year 2012 with similar deficits in consecutive years.
“The tab has come due again,” Weicker said.
Click the play arrow above to watch Weicker talk about whether taxes or revenue enhancements should be part of the solution.
When Weicker took office in January 1991 he faced a $1 billion deficit. In order to address that deficit, in addition to instituting an income tax the state lowered the sales tax, reduced the capital gains and dividend taxes (a move Weicker admitted was to entice lawmakers from Fairfield County to vote for the income tax), lowered business taxes, and cut spending by $1 billion. He said most people forget he negotiated the first contract with the state’s two Indian gaming casinos, which allows the state to share in the slot revenue.
“Now 19 years later . . . we find ourselves in an intolerable fiscal condition,” Weicker said.
He said the fact that the state borrow about $950 million this year and will borrow another $950 million next fiscal year to cover its operating costs is “insane fiscal practice.”
However, he added that there “aren’t anymore easy alternatives.”
So what would Lowell do?
“Cut spending, and I mean big time,” Weicker said. “And we’ve got to stop bonding, and I mean just about bring it to an end.”
And we have to “pay as you go, whatever that entails,” Weicker concluded. So if you wanted to preserve a state-funded program as a legislator, under Weicker’s rules you would need to figure out how to pay for it.
He said the spending cuts need to be made across the board and no programs should be spared.
“It’s going to be a very cold shower for a very drunk state,” Weicker said. “We can’t fake it anymore.”
When asked about what specific spending cuts he would make or if there were any tax increases he would propose, he said it’s going to come down to the basics.
“If you really want it bad enough you’re going to have to pay for it,” Weicker said. “I don’t have any specific suggestions for general tax increases.”
He said at the moment he’s emphasizing spending cuts.
He said in 1991 when he helped devise the budget, his theory was that spending cuts had to be fair and everybody had to take them – even the elderly and disabled.
What is it going to take to get there?
A Republican first selectman of Greenwich, congressman and U.S. Senator, Weicker was elected to the governor’s office as an independent. A one-term governor himself, Weicker said it’s possible if next governor does the right thing he also will only serve one term.
Weicker used the question as an opening to explain why he didn’t seek another term as governor, and it’s not because he didn’t think he could get re-elected after the income tax.
“I was really looking forward of running again…but I couldn’t afford to be governor anymore,” Weicker said.
He said if he were running again, which he’s not, he’d be running against his own party. He said independent candidates play the role of the “honest broker in the election process,” and he would love to see more independents running for state office.
Asked which candidate he may be supporting in their run for governor, Weicker said it’s public knowledge he held a fundraiser for Ned Lamont last Sunday. However, he refused to get into a discussion about the candidates, including Linda McMahon, who he worked with as a member of the World Wrestling Entertainment board.
As for U. S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who succeeded him in the U.S. Senate, Weicker said even though the two are independents, he didn’t wait until his party defeated him to become an independent.
“I really just don’t think he’s an independent,“ Weicker said. “I think he’s for Joe Lieberman.”
Asked about Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her legacy, Weicker said, “Oh boy, I think that she’s obviously very popular in the state. Maybe it’s because she didn’t do much.”
“But I don’t want that to be really a legacy. A governor should be an activist and I just don’t, I didn’t see that in the Rell administration. Do I think she’s a nice lady? I certainly do.”
“I’m not here to go ahead and point fingers at individuals, as much as the offices they hold, and the results those offices produce,” Weicker said. “And yes a governor has to be strong. And yes a legislature has to be conscious of what it’s doing in terms of its spending.”
But it’s not just the public officials, it’s the public who has been sitting on the sidelines “sopping up all the good and not saying no,” Weicker concluded as he wrapped up his speech.