As thousands of Connecticut residents undoubtedly race to finish their taxes, energetic subsets of their fellow Nutmeggers have been and continue to be engaged in civic activism that is changing the nature of the debate over taxation and spending in the Constitution State.
Over the course of a remarkable 17 town hall meetings, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has engaged the people of this state in a way unlike any in recent memory. One can’t help but note the contrast between Mr. Malloy and former Governor M. Jodi Rell, who never seemed to turn her popularity with people into engagement with them. In any event, though Gov. Malloy’s eight weeks of town hall meetings broke little new ground in terms of rhetoric, they have spurred at least one policy change to his budget. He announced this week that rather than eliminating the $500 property tax credit, he will reduce it to $300 instead.
The meetings were notable, however, for the citizens that they engaged. Hundreds of residents lined up and asked questions of the governor on education policy, health care, taxes, and more.
The Tea Party groups that have emerged over the last two years have played a significant role as well. In the February 22 special elections that were viewed as a litmus test of Malloy’s budget proposal, state Sen. Len Suzio won a surprisingly strong victory in the traditionally Democratic district which includes Middletown, Meriden, Cheshire, and Middlefield. On Friday, the Tea Party groups turned out hundreds of people for their annual tax day rally, demanding lower taxes and more sensible spending policies.
At the federal level, the usual debate about taxes and spending used to be framed and debated with much of the same old rhetoric, with conservatives fretting about the high levels of spending and taxation while liberals demanding greater efforts to combat perceived social injustices.
Until recently, however, this debate always seemed to end with higher levels of spending, one way or another. With the burst of citizen concern about deficits and the federal debt, though, the discussion in Washington has palpably changed. Barely two weeks after Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan unveiled his “Path to Prosperity” budget that describes $5.8 trillion in spending reductions, President Barack Obama gave a speech this week outlining $4 trillion worth of cuts and tax increases. Though stark in their differences, the two plans represent a vastly changed conversation from the recent past.
Increasing amounts of citizen activism are a healthy sign for democracy, both here in Connecticut and at the federal level. Engagement, greater interest in the crafting of public policy, and community involvement hold society together and make it stronger. The members of the Tea Party and the hundreds of citizens that turned up at Gov. Malloy’s town hall meetings have earned their praise.
Heath W. Fahle served as executive director of the Connecticut Republican Party from 2007-2009. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com