This session, this brutal, awful, disheartening session, finally wheezed to an anticlimactic close Wednesday night. There were loads of losers, but did anyone actually win?
Let’s start with the few bright spots. First, Themis Klarides, Len Fasano, and the Republican leadership in the legislature actually did pretty well for themselves. They submitted budget proposals on time, they did their work, and they provided a real alternative to the agonizing back and forth between the governor and the Democratic leadership. The embarrassing failure of the Democratic legislature to actually bring the budget agreement they’d hammered out with the governor to a vote just makes the comparison that much more stark.
Of course being a decent opposition is not nearly as difficult as governing, and Connecticut Republicans continue to plunge off the deep end with their support of despicable demagogue Donald Trump. But in a year where politics has ranged from absurd to depressing to downright dangerous, Republican sensibility and moderation on the budget was a welcome respite.
Another winner is the lobbyists of car dealerships and General Motors who managed to block a bill that would have allowed Tesla to sell its incredibly cool electric cars here. Lobbyist claims about safety and jobs were laughable at best, but they were able to stir up enough doubt in the tiny reptile brains of legislators that not even Tesla’s admittedly dubious last-minute promise of a distribution center could save the bill.
There were some decent bills passed, like one that would help people whose foundations are crumbling out from under them, and another that would make the infuriatingly opaque UConn Foundation a bit more transparent.
So much for the winners.
The losers are almost too many to count, but there are a few standouts. Democratic leaders, specifically House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, have come out of the session looking like a bunch of disorganized, disoriented, and disingenuous oafs. They always seemed unequal to the task of closing a yawning deficit without raising taxes, and when they finally did bite the bullet at the last minute to come to a compromise solution with Gov. Malloy, they couldn’t bring themselves to call it to a vote. We’ll endure a special session because of their incompetence.
The Democratic Party is another marquee loser. This budget mess has exposed all the fault lines that have been festering for years, and made Dems look less like a party than a really dysfunctional family. It’s been amazing to watch so many Democrats back away from state employee unions as the hammer fell, for instance.
As for the unions, they weren’t able to do much beyond protest as hundreds and hundreds of state workers lost their jobs. The unions’ alternative, raising taxes on the rich, never had any traction in a legislature spooked by the loss of GE loss and a looming election year. They could have offered to open up pensions and benefits again, but didn’t.
State workers themselves lost out big time, not only because of the jobs lost but because the ones who are left will have to work harder and longer in a miserable environment. The government won’t work very well, and they’re going to take the blame for what was really not their fault to begin with. They didn’t negotiate or approve the contracts that helped make the deficit worse, they didn’t approve tons of spending we couldn’t afford, and they didn’t tank the economy so bad we still haven’t recovered almost eight years later, but they’ll pay.
The cuts don’t just fall on state workers, of course. A lot of the state’s most vulnerable will suffer as funding for mental health services and so much else gets slashed.
And that brings me to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The governor has been hard-nosed and ruthless, but at what cost? He’s alienated so many in his party that it’s sometimes hard to remember that he’s supposed to be on the same team as Democrats in the legislature. He was panned by doomed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders when he swung through the state prior to his primary loss to Hillary Clinton, which is a rocky start to Malloy’s campaign season as the head of the Democratic Governors Association. At this point Malloy could leave office as deeply disliked by everyone as Lowell P. Weicker was, and that’s saying something.
Lastly, the people of Connecticut lost out this session. That feels trite to say, but one thing I felt we all sorely lacked was better leadership at the Capitol, and now the cuts will impact all of our lives.
I just pray that next year we don’t find ourselves back in the exact same spot.
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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