Former Gov. John G. Rowland told a group fans and friends at the Hartford Club Wednesday that he knows he’s no longer an elected official because people aren’t afraid to tell him he’s put on a few pounds and he’s no longer allowed to pick up a 10 foot putt on the golf course and call it a “gimme.”
“I chalked up the turnout today to morbid curiosity,” Rowland quipped during his opening remarks at the lunch which was a fundraiser for the Yankee Institute. The crowd grumbled and declined to admit they were driven to the event to see the former governor whose fall from grace, including a brief stint in prison, was well-publicized.
Many said they were driven to the event because Rowland still has a tremendous grasp of the state budget and politics.
For three hours every afternoon Rowland shares his view of the budget and the state’s finances on “Church and State,“ the WTIC radio program that he co-hosts with Pastor Will Marotti. It’s no surprise the commentary tends to be conservative and generally contains a hefty amount of criticism of Democrats, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who is sometimes a guest on the program.
Unlike his earlier speaking engagements focused on his “sense of entitlement” and the “arrogance of power” and talks about how his faith guided him through trying times, Rowland’s remarks Wednesday focused on state finances.
“I have a pretty good idea of how the budget thing really works and how the concession thing works. That’s what it’s about,“ Rowland said following the event. “The uniqueness is having the experience.“
Rowland entertained the crowd of more than 100 people for a half hour with his take on the state’s decision to raise taxes and borrow money for capital infrastructure projects like the “Magic Bus.”
For those who may not listen to his show, Rowland explained that the “Magic Bus” is the 9.6 mile New Britain to Hartford bus rapid transit way that the state will borrow about $100 million dollars to build. That money will be matched by $460 million in federal funds.
“How many of you are going to get out of your car to get on the ‘Magic Bus’?“ Rowland said. “Who wants to give up the car? That car is freedom. But the feds, Obama, and a lot of other governor’s have bought into this, we’re going to build stuff.”
He said the state has been unable to tell him how many people are going to ride this bus, but he finally got the bus driver who currently drives that route call into the radio show and tell him only 2,400 people currently ride the bus.
“By the way these people are already in buses going to Hartford, so this is going to take them out of existing buses and put them in the ‘Magic Bus’,” said Rowland. The crowd chuckled.
He equated the decision by the state to borrow money in order to get federal funds to the Charlie Brown comic strip. He said the federal government is Lucy holding the football getting ready to pull it away from Charlie Brown. He said if the feds fail to match the funds and the state has already borrowed the money then everyone loses.
He said the state would be better off going to union halls and writing their friends out $100,000 checks. He claimed the goal of these construction projects is to give union workers jobs.
He said other states are cutting taxes and spending and limiting collective bargaining rights, while the state of Connecticut seems to be doing the opposite.
“The city of New Haven run by John DeStefano—not exactly a WTIC listener, a very liberal mayor—is privatizing janitorial services,” Rowland said. “How much do you think he’s saving just privatizing janitorial services? $7 million.”
“When you have Andrew Cuomo and John DeStefano holding the line on the political power of unions, what are we missing?” Rowland said. “While other states are pandering to businesses we’re pandering to unions.”
Malloy often criticizes Rowland for being the one to ink a 20 year deal with the unions back in 1997. Malloy has said locking the state into a contract for that long is part of the reason the salaries and benefits are unsustainable.
As for the $1.6 billion concession package for state employees, Rowland believes the silence is deafening.
He said people continue to ask him what works and doesn’t work, but “all you need to know is one thing, do you hear the state employees screaming bloody murder?”
He said former Gov. Lowell Weicker cut maybe $200 million in the union concession package, he got maybe $200 million out of the early retirement incentive he offered, and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell got maybe $200 million. Unions and Rell believe the two year package negotiated in 2009 saved the state $750 million.
“There’s no question in my mind that pandering to the unions is going to have consequences,” Rowland said.
Rowland, who is now the development director for the Waterbury Chamber of Commerce, said he wonders how many pension checks the state of Connecticut is sending to Florida where state and federal employees go to retire and live like kings off $50,000 a year.
He says he hears from callers everyday who say they’re leaving the state.
But Rowland himself decided to stay.
Fergus Cullen, executive director of the Yankee Institute, who worked on Rowland’s 1994 and 1998 campaigns, said he gives Rowland a lot of credit for deciding to continue to live and work in Connecticut. He could have moved to Florida or Virginia and reinvent himself there, but he decided to stay in the state and face his critics every day, Cullen said.
Click here for Rick Green’s take on what seems to be Rowland’s return to the political stage.