State Comptroller Kevin Lembo released the latest state government budget figures this week which showed Connecticut’s ledger with $415 million in the red. That figure, $415 million, will be the target of much debate in the coming weeks as the governor and legislators search for enough cash to balance the budget. It should also be seen, however, as the opportunity cost of refusing to reform state government before, rather than during, a crisis.
During the 2010 campaign for governor, then-candidate Dan Malloy took the tough-guy line on taxes and spending. During the NBC Connecticut debate on October 26, 2010, for example, Mr. Malloy said, “I want to be very clear. We’re not raising taxes. That’s the last thing we will do.” It was neither the first nor the last time Mr. Malloy made the statement, yet it should have been recognized for its duplicity at the time.
Few imagined that “the last thing we will do” would arrive so quickly. Gov. Malloy’s 2011 budget address rhetoric held the same ring as the campaign rhetoric, but the words were quite different: “First we downsized government. Then we cut spending. Then we identified what we need to ask state employees to do. Only when those three processes were complete did we begin to look at revenue.”
In this light, it should be discordant to hear the governor pledge that the current deficit would be solved only with spending cuts. Having resorted to tax increases at the end of the last crisis, there should not be anything left to cut now.
If the governor cut everywhere last time, how is there still room to cut? Either he was not being truthful in 2011 or he is not being forthright now.
Salt was poured into the state’s financial wound this week by the revelations that former Board of Regents President Robert Kennedy lived a life of luxury during his short stint on the public payroll.
The thousands of regular people who cautiously divide personal and business expenses, and err on the side of the personal rather than the business, are chagrined to see a person employed by the state to the tune of nearly a half million dollars per annum passing on an $0.80 toll charge and $400 coffee to the business account.
The problem in both cases is Mr. Malloy’s defining weakness as a leader: excluding education policy, his bold rhetoric belies a lack of interest in changing the status quo. All of the theatrical chest beating he does about how much better he is at being governor than Jodi Rell or John Rowland doesn’t obscure the fact that the status quo is sufficient for Dan Malloy. That’s because the status quo is Dannel in charge — and he likes that a lot.
Connecticut needs leaders that are willing to talk about real reform and actually push to deliver on it before the next crisis starts so that it can be avoided. Pension reform, energy reform, health care reform, tax reform, education reform, bonding reform — all of these and more lay waiting for a leader with the will to implement change.
Who will rise to the challenge?
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com.