The two-decade-long era of total Democratic dominance of the legislature came to a close Friday, when three Democratic state senators crossed party lines to vote for the Republican budget. And then, early Saturday morning, five Democrats crossed the line to pass the GOP budget in the House, 77-73.
It’s about time, and Democratic leaders have no one to blame but themselves.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Democratic leaders thought they had the votes to pass a deeply flawed budget they’d negotiated with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. But three moderates — Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, and Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford — blew everything out of the water.
With their help, the Republican budget passed out of the Senate, setting up an extraordinary debate in the House where everyone’s roles were reversed. Republicans played the part of the majority, governing party defending their own budget, while most — but not all — Democrats played the opposition and picked it apart.
There were come-to-Jesus moments scattered throughout, though, where some Democrats seemed completely aware of the hole they were in.
“I hate this amendment. I hate our amendment. I hate the governor’s bill. And I think most of us feel that way,” said State Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, on her way to voting for the GOP budget. “But this is where we are, because there is not enough money.”
Sometimes, when people are fed up, when they’re faced with bad choices, they take a gamble on change.
And let’s be clear, the budget the Democrats had proposed was bad.
That Democratic budget, which was finally released on Friday just hours before a vote was scheduled, would have been a very mixed bag of new tax increases, dubious spending decisions, and offloading responsibility.
There would have been tax hikes on cellphones, hotels, and second homes. About half of teacher retirement contributions would have been offloaded to towns. A popular $200 tax credit for homeowners would have been cut to $100 — and only then for homeowners over age 65 or with dependents. An unelected body would have been able to stick electronic tolls on the highways. Democrats also managed to sneak in $115 million for renovations to the XL Center, because throwing money we don’t have at sports facilities is just something we do now, apparently.
They didn’t include certain reforms moderate Democrats had wanted, which was one of the reasons they abandoned it in the Senate and the House. And, worse, the budget fixed nothing: it would have led to a $1.4 billion deficit for 2020, a $2 billion deficit for 2021, and a $2.7 deficit for 2022.
The process was a mess. It didn’t just drag on forever, heedless of the damage not having a budget was doing to the state, but far too much of it happened it secret. Members didn’t even see the actual text until hours before the vote.
It’s fitting that, after such a miserable year, this rotten Democratic budget went down in flames. Moderates sent their message loud and clear — no more. Enough is enough.
When that budget failed and the Republican one succeeded, it was like walking out of a hot, stuffy room into the brisk, fresh air of fall.
Now, the GOP budget is abysmal. It’s full of contradictions, it’s often cruel, it doesn’t balance, and it also has massive out-year deficits. It makes huge cuts to higher education, and guts plenty of necessary programs, including the Citizen’s Election Program. It’s going to be painful and ugly, should the governor decide to sign it.
But it’s a change. It’s a wake-up call. It forces the legislature to do things differently. It’s not a great change, to be sure, but it’s not like we had any good choices left to us.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has vowed to veto the budget passed by the legislature, and I have no doubt he’ll do so. Here’s what needs to happen then.
There are two weeks left before October 1st, when the draconian cuts of the governor’s executive order go into effect. There must be urgency. The budget that has been passed this weekend can be fixed, and the governor must compromise with the legislature to make that budget more acceptable.
And then Democratic leaders in the House and Senate need to take a good hard look in the mirror and decide whether they can effectively lead the legislature any longer. If not, they should heed the call of change, and step down.
For now, though, it’s enough for me to know that change is possible. Here’s to the future.
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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