It’s been a pretty intense week all around, what with the primary and the looming end of the legislative session, so Democrats can almost be forgiven for turning in a budget that was late and poorly thought out. Almost.
We’re at a weird point right now. Republicans, up until Thursday afternoon, were the only party actually negotiating with the governor over the budget, and they’ve put forward several of their own proposals to that effect. Their latest was released Monday, and it does some very tough but understandable things like eliminating the public financing of campaigns, implementing a hard wage freeze, upping non-union health care costs, and delaying the transfer of money into the special transportation fund in order to close the gap.
The GOP budget wasn’t perfect by any means — none of the proposals have been — but at least it existed. This is something that can be negotiated with and against, and it’s a counterpoint to the governor’s own proposal, which has come under fire for drastic cuts to mental health services, education, and more.
Republicans didn’t have to do anything. They could have sat on the sidelines and jeered while the state sank into the swamp. That they are negotiating in apparent good faith is refreshing, and a sign of how deep our crisis has become.
But on Thursday, legislative Democrats also released a budget. They’d actually released a budget previous to this one, but it didn’t actually close the entire deficit. The budget they released on Thursday did manage that, but it had several massive problems.
First, it relied on businesses volunteering to give up $60 million in tax credits, in exchange for even better ones later on. Secondly, it assumed the attorney general would magic up $39 million more in settlements. All of this is one-time revenue that does nothing to actually solve the constant budget gaps we’re dealing with.
In short, it’s the same old nonsense that got us into this mess. The governor all but rolled his eyes. Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Malloy, said that the governor had “serious concerns” about their budget, namely that “it relies on hundreds of millions of dollars in one-time revenues and unrealistic savings targets.”
By contrast, Puglia thanked Republicans when they delivered their budget Monday, and said that, despite some concerns, “this budget shares key elements with the governor’s budget.”
I am having a hard time understanding the behavior of legislative Democrats this session. First they don’t seem to be able to get their act together, then they accuse the governor of making a political hit list out of his budget, and then this tardy, half-baked budget plan submitted at the last second. The amount of paranoia and petulance is staggering.
At least negotiations can start now. But given how well things have gone so far, I don’t have much hope of anything worthwhile getting hammered out by the end of the session.
The politics of this are bizarre. A huge rift has opened between Democratic leadership in the legislature, especially House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, and the Democratic governor. Liberal Democrats have attacked the governor over his proposed cuts.
Presidential primary politics got mixed into this somehow when Sen. Bernie Sanders called out Malloy, a Hillary Clinton supporter, at rallies in Hartford and New Haven over his budget plans. Malloy is also the head of the Democratic Governors Association, which plays a big role during election years, so had Sanders not been all but obliterated in the Acela Primary on Tuesday, which essentially ended any hope he had of winning the nomination, that may have been a mistake.
It still underscores the wide, wide chasm opening up between different parts of the Democratic Party in Connecticut. Dems can usually keep their liberal and moderate wings together, but anything can happen in a crisis like this one.
Republicans are playing the part of government-in-waiting very well by submitting reasonable, detailed proposals, even while they and their party members vote for the very personification of unreasonable and lacking detail — Donald Trump. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides even opened up a rally for him, despite having criticized him in the past.
So it’s been a trying sort of week. The budget is still not finalized, Democrats continue to both drag their feet and then do the same old thing they’ve always done to everyone’s consternation and confusion, and the session is heading toward yet another ignominious close.
Democratic leadership in the legislature has never looked weaker. Connecticut is facing an unprecedented crisis, the defining one of our time, and they have yet to really rise to meet the challenge. Let’s hope they do so soon, for all our sakes.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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