The headline from yesterday’s CT News Junkie told the tale: CT’s Budget Goes From Bad To Worse — though it might have been more accurate to say the state budget went from bad to worse to much worse.
When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office in January 2011, he faced a fiscal crisis featuring a $3.6 billion deficit that demanded decisive action. So he brought the state employee labor unions to the table and got some modest concessions. So sure was Malloy that the labor pact would do the trick that he foolishly agreed to the unions’ stipulation that there would be no additional layoffs for four years after the agreement was signed.
Then he rammed through, with the cheerful consent of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, a tax increase of $1.8 billion, the second largest in state history — similar in scope to the tax package pushed through by former Gov. Lowell Weicker, who 20 years ago strong-armed the legislature into enacting the state’s first income tax. Our fiscal problems would be solved, we were told, because of Malloy’s vision of “shared sacrifice.”
Several months ago his budget chief, Ben Barnes, told us a shortfall of $52 million was possible. This week he revised that estimate up to $365 million. Now we are told a deficit of $1.1 billion is projected for fiscal year 2014, with another gap of nearly $1 billion the following year.
How could this be, you ask? For starters, the economy just plain stinks, so revenue estimates are far lower than anticipated. And, despite Malloy’s best efforts to incentivize corporations to relocate to Connecticut or stay here, the state’s unemployment rate continues to be unacceptably high at 8.9 percent — well above the national rate. As has been the case for at least 20 years, Connecticut continues to be a rotten place in which to do business, and evidently no amount of bribery will change that.
I’d say this latest fiscal development is the nail in the coffin for Malloy’s already slim hopes for re-election in 2014. Just when it looked like his dismal approval ratings were starting to inch up, Malloy faces a fiscal cliff of his own. He has all but ruled out another tax increase, but his hands are tied by a status-quo labor agreement that prohibits layoffs for the foreseeable future.
For obvious reasons, state workers and the teachers unions — both key Democratic constituencies — can’t stand Malloy. Republicans never had any use for him. There is no one left to offend that his chief henchman, Roy Occhiogrosso, hasn’t already offended. And there are big deficits and ugly choices as far as the eye can see. Stick a fork in him. He’s done.
Re-taking the 5th!
When the history books are written, it goes without saying that the elections of 2012 will go down as a dreadful time for state and national Republicans on multiple levels.
Yet many prognosticators, yours truly included, had presumed the one bright spot would be in the 5th Congressional District, where popular moderate state Sen. Andrew Roraback was running against one-term former Democratic state Rep. Elizabeth Esty.
But it was not to be. The Esty campaign and its operatives did a phenomenal job of getting out the vote in the district’s cities — traditional Democratic strongholds — while Roraback carried most of the small towns that comprise his Senate district.
From Roraback’s perspective, there was only one problem with that trend. If Esty wins big in the cities, then Roraback must win just as big in places like Salisbury and New Milford. Instead, he lost Salisbury, a town that had previously sent him back to Hartford by wide margins, 983-793, and won by less than five percentage points in New Milford.
I was live tweeting from Roraback headquarters Backstage at the Warner in Torrington when returns from the cities started to come in last Tuesday night. After Roraback spokesman Brian Mattiello announced the results from Waterbury, the crowd’s enthusiasm waned. When the tallies came in from New Britain and Meriden, where Roraback was a virtual stranger, a sense of deflation spread across the normally boisterous pub.
When all was said and done, Roraback lost 51-49 percent. The nine-term state legislator did not rule out another run — and with good reason. As the Journal Register’s award-winning 5th District blog has pointed out, the stars will not be perfectly aligned for Esty in 2014. She won’t have President Obama’s coattails and, thankfully, there will be no Senate race featuring a certain manifestly unqualified Republican who has proved to be a drag on the GOP ticket.
And if history is any guide, there could be some rough justice in the offing. When Esty first ran in 2008 for her seat in the state House of Representatives, she beat Republican Alfred Adinolfi 51-49 percent. When she ran for re-election two years later, she lost to Adinolfi by the same margin.
Do I see a pattern here?
Terry Cowgill blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com, is the editor of ctessentialpolitics.com and was an award-winning editor and senior writer for The Lakeville Journal Company. He can be found on Twitter @terrycowgill.