In a burst of efficiency, the Finance and Appropriations Committees both approved a tax and spending package that Democrats and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy agreed to this week. The plan raises income, gas, real estate, hotel and other taxes, while cutting spending a bit less than the governor originally wanted. It looks like the state is on track to avoid a protracted budget showdown. Of course, there are still plenty of unanswered questions, like what will happen to the $2 billion in union concessions the budget deal relies on.
But, for now at least, there is progress on the budget. Who are the potential winners and losers?
Gov. Malloy – Connecticut’s rookie governor looks poised to win a major victory. The budget deal isn’t all that different from his original proposal, and the basic principles underpinning it are the same. When was the last time that a Connecticut governor proposed a budget and had it enacted relatively intact? For this state, that’s a big deal. Malloy is going to remain unpopular with voters for the foreseeable future, because the budget does raise taxes. This makes him an easy political target. But he should be able to take some pride in setting out a vision for the state, and following through. The big question mark for Malloy is what happens with state employee unions, though. Union concessions would probably be a victory for Malloy; mass layoffs or a restart to the budget process would not.
Democrats – Given the dismal track record of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly during the last two years of the Rell Administration, the fact that a budget deal is not only possible but early is refreshing. Democrats also seem remarkably united on this. There are certainly dissenters, and there will likely be plenty of Democrats who will vote against the final budget, but for a party that has had precious little unity this is a step forward.
Republicans – “When one party gets everything it wants that’s not the best outcome for the state,” said Sen. Andrew Roraback (R-Goshen) on the passage of the tax and spending plans. Roraback has to be incredibly frustrated. Voters punished both incumbents and Democrats during the last election cycle, but Republicans barely gained ground in the General Assembly, and couldn’t win a single statewide race or congressional seat for the first time in decades. Worse, in special elections held just after Malloy announced his budget, Republicans won only two of nine contested special election seats; an area in which they have previously done very well. Their budget, released as an afterthought earlier this week, has been roundly ignored. They’re right to complain that no one is listening to them in Hartford, because no one is. The big question for the party remains how to return to some kind of electoral relevance despite a registration disadvantage and a national party that is deeply unpopular in Connecticut. After Nixon resigned, one Republican Town Committee proposed renaming the party in order to get more votes. Maybe they should look into that.
Unions – So, say you’re a state employee union negotiating with the governor over his proposed $2 billion in concessions over two years, and then this happens. Now what? The options are suddenly a lot worse. They could either give in and let the governor extract the concessions, which labor leaders are understandably not thrilled about, or they could accept a smaller concession or nothing at all, which could lead to massive layoffs. Sure, anything could happen and union action might force the budget to fail, but then unions would get the blame from all sides. It’s hard to see how the budget deal doesn’t make the negotiations a lot more difficult for union leaders.
Connecticut’s Economy – There’s been a lot of talk about how the budget will either a) utterly destroy or b) not do too much damage to Connecticut’s already fragile economy. Republicans are convinced that the state is even more doomed than it already was, while Democrats think their budget helps protect the middle class. There are plenty of theories about what will happen. If and when the budget passes, we’ll finally get to find out… maybe.