HARTFORD, CT — The two major party candidates for governor wasted no time outlining the proxy war that would be fought over the next 78 days.
The Democratic candidate, Ned Lamont, will be tied to outgoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, while the Republican candidate, Bob Stefanowski, will be tied to Republican President Donald Trump.
This was evident in their first tweets about each other in which Lamont called Stefanowski, “Bob Trumpowski” and Stefanowski called Lamont, “Ned Malloy.”
Malloy’s two income tax increases in 2011 and 2015 didn’t produce the revenue Connecticut needed to help it climb out of its economic malaise following the Great Recession of 2007-09. And aside from the tax cuts, Malloy reduced the Executive Branch by about 5,000 employees, or 9.5 percent, including a 28 percent reduction in management positions, and shrank the number of state agencies from 81 to 58. But eliminating structural deficits from the budget has proven to be extremely difficult.
“The state’s private sector has fully recovered from the recession and is at 109.7 percent of the private sector jobs lost,” the Department of Labor reported last week. The government sector, which includes the two casinos, drags down the overall number of jobs recovered since the recession to 86.1 percent.
Regardless, Republicans point to the tax hikes as a failure because the state’s growth has lagged the region.
“Democrats in Connecticut doubled down on Governor Dan Malloy’s failed policies that have been disastrous for the state’s economy and for those who call Connecticut home,” Republican National Committee Spokesperson Ellie Hockenbury said last week. “In Ned Lamont, Democrats have thrown their support behind a candidate who proudly speaks of raising their taxes and supporting single-payer health care — regardless of the $32 trillion price tag. Voters have had enough of the Democrats’ destructive policies and will finally have someone who will fight for them when they elect Bob Stefanowski this November.”
Lamont has expressed interest in single-payer healthcare, but has not made it part of his platform. Proponents of a single-payer system were disappointed when Malloy failed to embrace the idea in 2011 when he took office. But Malloy was dealing with a $6.7 billion deficit and a depleted Rainy Day Fund.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party was rejoicing in Trump’s endorsement of Stefanowski on Twitter because it fits their narrative that he’s a Trump surrogate.
“Bob Stefanowski has proved himself Trump enough to be the gubernatorial nominee for Connecticut Republicans. And much like President Trump, Bob Stefanowski is peddling promises on a pie-in-the-sky tax plan that would only benefit the wealthy while forcing the middle class to pick up the tab,” Christina Polizzi, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Democratic Party, said last week. “He’s even embraced the failed trickle-down policies of the last decade. Our state needs realistic solutions to the problems we face today, not hyperbole and empty promises.”
Stefanowski has said he would eliminate the income tax — which on an annual basis accounts for revenues totalling about $9.7 billion in a $20 billion budget — over the the next eight years and “rip the costs out of state government.”
Whoever the next governor is, he won’t be able to lay off any state employees for the first two years based on the labor agreement inked in 2017. Personnel costs account for 40 percent of the state budget. Another 40 percent is debt service, Medicaid, and municipal aid, including education funding. About three percent goes to public colleges and 13 percent goes to community-based social services.
Stefanowski has not said where he plans to cut spending, only that he would use “zero-based budgeting,” which doesn’t necessarily change any of the above percentages by any large margin.
Connecticut’s budget problems stem largely from the failure of Republican governors and Democrat-controlled General Assemblies to fund the pension obligations of state employees and teachers. Despite facing huge deficits, the Malloy administration made the actuarially required payments into the state employee pension funds in an effort to tread water on those obligations rather than continue to fall behind.
But don’t expect that to be a Republican or Democratic talking point.
It doesn’t actually matter how Connecticut got into this fiscal mess. All that matters is that voters are going to be prompted to blame Malloy for it, or to believe that Stefanowski is a proxy for Trump.
“Bob Stefanowski has proven he’s not capable of being a leader and as Governor he would be nothing but a rubber stamp for Trump’s agenda,” Polizzi said.
Republican Party Chairman JR Romano said “Democrats think they can sneak in Ned Lamont, Susan Bysiewicz and the rest of their tax-hiking, big-spending, out-of-touch liberals for Dan Malloy’s third term.”
Unfortunately, the budget and its history are more complicated than any of the campaigns would have voters believe.
Christine Stuart is Editor-in-Chief of CTNewsJunkie.