Don Pesci: Two roads diverge widely in the Nutmeg State

-- Photo by Global Jet The ever-expanding main campus of the University of Connecticut, in Storrs.

-- Photo by Global Jet

The ever-expanding main campus of the University of Connecticut, in Storrs.

“When the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him” -- Napoleon

That the Connecticut compromise budget is predominantly a Democrat production should come as a surprise to no one. Weighing gains and losses in the scales, the left in Connecticut, best represented by House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, a union employee, has prevailed over its opponents.

The state’s capital,  Hartford, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, will receive a bailout from state taxpayers, at best a temporary solution to long-brewing, unresolved problems centering on the city’s hegemonic political structure, and a virtual guarantee that the city’s political shakers and movers will be bellying up to the bailout bar again in the not too distant future. University of Connecticut funding, cut in the Republican budget that had passed both Houses of the General Assembly, has been restored. Major changes in employee pensions, a prominent feature in the Republican budget, were dropped – but not, Republicans remind us, as a campaign issue.

Democrats yielded on shifting teacher pension costs to municipalities, a major feature of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s rule by executive order regime. Republicans did succeed in imposing a cap on state spending as well as limits on the bonding of long-term capital projects, though they would be wise to make certain that proper enabling legislation is attached to the measures.  Some months ago,  state Atty. Gen.  George Jepsen advised that the constitutional cap on spending, a feature of the Gov. Lowell Weicker income-tax measure, was unconstitutional because the General Assembly had never supplied definitions necessary to enable the bill.

Taxes, a litmus test issue for Republicans, will be increasing – again. Malloy, the outgoing Democratic governor has now, with the concurrence of the dominant Democratic General Assembly, raised taxes three times. The lame-duck governor is the author and inspiration of the largest and second largest tax increases in state history, one of the reasons his approval rating is in the tank.

In a pot calling the kettle black political strategy, much will be made by Democrats in upcoming campaigns of Republican duplicity on the matter, although it will be obvious to all that Republicans yielded to a superior political force wielded by Democrats. Not sweet reason -- Democrats were never interested in palavering with Republicans on budget matters -- but superior force and numbers wielded by Democrats shaped the final budget product.   

Malloy’s reaction to the compromise budget was, some think, bitter – possibly because he was excluded from deliberations on what many hope may be the final budget product in Connecticut – but perfectly in keeping with his overbearing nature. General Assembly members wanted a budget they could live with; which is to say, they wanted a budget they could campaign on. Malloy, who bade goodbye to future campaigns months ago, need no longer struggle to run on his lamentable record in office. Had he chosen to run again, he doubtless would have sunk the re-election prospects of his fellow Democrats.

The compromise budget – such as it is – should be considered a prelude to the upcoming 2018 elections.

Most savvy Democrats instinctively understand they need to put some distance between non-lame duck Democrat legislators and Malloy, Connecticut’s self-immolating governor. And it is this perception that has made them amenable to compromise, even as it has raised Malloy’s hackles.

If Malloy does veto the compromise budget, “the bad” will be on Democrats. If the budget in its current form is not vetoed or passes as a result of a successful veto override, both Republicans and Democrats will be able to run in the upcoming elections as pragmatic compromisers.

In the seemingly endless prelude to the budget, both parties had staked out positions on the economy and society that are widely divergent, the cause, some commentators have said, of the long budget standoff. With the passage at last of a compromise budget, divergence between both parties will increase rather than diminish – because this divergence is rooted in two competing and opposite visions of government.

Never in Connecticut history has it been more true that the destination of the state will depend on the road taken as determined by upcoming elections, which is simply a way of saying that votes will determine Connecticut’s now precarious future. And this time there will be no retreat from the road that will, in Robert Frost’s formulation, “make all the difference.” 

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based journalist.