The legislative session is over at last, and every different faction and interest is spinning its achievements or failures to suit their own needs. So who emerges in good shape from the session, and who should be hanging their heads in shame?
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy – New governors often have productive first sessions (even Jodi Rell did; remember campaign finance reform?) and Malloy is no exception. Foremost among his many achievements is the budget agreement and concessions package, which presents an alternative blueprint for states looking to avoid the steep cuts and union-bashing that have become so prominent this year. Malloy saw many other pieces of his legislative agenda enacted, from the massive expansion of the UConn Health Center to the “First Five” economic incentives program to a slate of progressive bills. Love him or hate him (and a lot of Connecticut residents seem to hate him right now) Malloy has already put his own distinctive stamp on the state.
Legislative Democrats – The General Assembly earned a reputation for indecisiveness and lethargy during the later Rell years, but this year it managed to have one of its most productive sessions in memory. A huge number of difficult, significant bills passed. New stars like Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield emerged. The budget not only passed, but was done well in advance. It really helped that the governor and the legislature were on the same page in many cases, instead of being at odds. Democrats should be careful, however, lest the perception of them shift too far from “inert” to “activist.” They’re already facing increased anger and frustration at tax increases in their districts, though the public ire isn’t anything like the income tax furor of the early 1990s.
Liberals – The New York Times called the session one of the most liberal in memory, and they’re absolutely right. Liberals won major victories on paid sick days, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, marijuana decriminalization and civil rights legislation, among other things. In a single session they’ve managed to actually accomplish a significant portion of the liberal legislative agenda of the past five years. Liberals can also finally point to a budget balancing model that doesn’t rely on slashing services and state employees while protecting the wealthy.
Speaker Christopher Donovan – Donovan now has a record of legislative accomplishment that he can use to excite the Democratic base in the slowly-forming 5th district congressional race. Of course, this session also gives Republicans plenty of ammunition to use against him.
Vulnerable Populations – Undocumented immigrants, transgender people, domestic violence victims and workers at risk of losing their jobs if they got sick all found support in the legislature this session. Democrats can be proud of their record helping people who need it most.
Legislative Republicans – The day after the session ended, House Minority Leader Larry Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney took to the microphones to accuse Democrats of being far too liberal and not bothering to consult with the still-tiny GOP minority. Republicans, however, offered few useful ideas of their own and seemed to spend the session trying to talk bills to death with endless doomed amendments and filibusters. Their only real contribution to the discussion over the budget was the same tired too-conservative-for-Connecticut “cut taxes, slash services and soak the unions” dogma we’ve seen since the Rowland years. The Republicans have not emerged as a credible opposition to Malloy, and they have only themselves to blame.
Fans of Fiscal Accountability – My biggest gripes are the postponement of GAAP implementation, and the apparently difficult-to-verify budget numbers. The governor promised us gimmick-free budgets, and we don’t quite have them yet. It isn’t as bad as the budget trickery we saw during the Rell years, but I’d hoped for better.
State Employee Unions – No matter how the ratification votes go, the unions will emerge less powerful than ever before. Even if the vote should fail and a special session is needed, they probably won’t get a better deal and the public will be outraged.
Education Reform Advocates – Next year, if it doesn’t get put on the back burner again.
The Economy – No, I’m not buying the line that giving workers a few days off when they’re sick will ruin the economy. But the promised focus on jobs never really materialized beyond the UConn Health Center upgrades and the “First Five” program. Gov. Malloy all but admitted this during his end-of-session speech by calling for a special session focused on jobs for the fall. It’s telling that the response in the chamber was groans.
Who do you think the winners and losers were?
Susan Bigelow is the former owner of Connecticut Local Politics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.