The task of crafting a budget that balances the gaping $3.5 billion deficit without dramatic tax hikes or unpopular spending cuts is a challenging task for Governor Dannel P. Malloy and his team. But not only must they come up with a way to balance the budget, they must also devise a strategy for getting it passed into law by a Connecticut General Assembly that has shown little stomach for hard decisions in the past.
Governor Malloy tipped his hand a bit to the one possible strategy this week as he talked for the first time about the need for significant cost-saving concessions from the state employees and their powerful labor unions.
Any viewer of Law & Order knows the routine. One cop plays the tough-as-nails interrogator, being loud and aggressive, and showing the subject exactly who the boss is. His or her partner, however, gets to be the good cop, acting like a friend and protector. When it works (as it usually does on TV), it produces the result that the police wanted all along.
Being cognizant of the reality that Democratic leaders in the State House and Senate are going to do pretty much what they always do anyway, Malloy may be wise to use the Democratic Legislative leaders as the budgetary bad cops while he plays the pragmatic good cop, proposing reductions and reorganizational measures that will streamline the bureaucracy along with some tax hikes and concessions from labor.
Legislative Democrats are unlikely to break with their long tradition of catering to the panoply of narrow special interest groups, avoiding as many hard choices as possible, and ultimately “balancing” the budget with many of the gimmicks they’ve used in the past. They’ll be shocked, shocked! when their overly-sanguine budget forecasts don’t materialize and they are forced to find some other revenue stream to securitize to make the numbers work.
Malloy, for his part, will look like his fellow Governors in the region and across the country; a bunch of hard-nosed realists who are pained but unbowed by the challenges they face. He, like his counterparts, will reap the public relations rewards from that posture.
Of course, if there is irony to the situation it exists in that many legislators will happily see themselves as the good cops in the situation, getting aid and support to those who need it most despite the draconian efforts of the Governor and legislative Republicans.
With the economy still in the doldrums, and too many citizens feeling very insecure about their financial future, the stage is set for a truly historic budget battle. Over the coming weeks and months, the Governor and members of the General Assembly will spar over how to affect change and deliver government services in a less costly manner. The strategies they employ and the success with which they are implemented will play a key role in determining what the ultimate outcome is.
Heath W. Fahle served as the Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party from 2007-2009. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com