Where to put the pain?
Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed sharply different ideas last week on who will suffer – and in what way – as they try to close the enormous budget deficit facing Connecticut state government this year and in years ahead.
The governor last week recommended cutting more than $700 million in state aid to municipalities, among other things, along with additional reductions in spending on the social services safety net. He also has issued notices to state employees in anticipation of another wave of layoffs. On the other hand, he wants more money directed to the state’s poorest cities.
Malloy’s fellow Democrats in the legislature also advocate imposing deep cuts on municipal aid, and also recommend more reductions in funding for higher education. Additionally, they advocate legalizing (and taxing) recreational marijuana and authorizing construction of a new casino. Thursday, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said the state cannot afford to give teachers the third tax cut they were scheduled to receive this year.
Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate could not immediately agree on the best approach politically to the budget problem, but Wednesday released proposals that at least agreed that state employees should make $650 million in concessions beyond what the governor is asking for.
If lawmakers don’t agree on much, it seems the Wall Street rating agencies do. Three downgraded the state’s credit rating in four business days. The downgrade could have a negative impact on job growth and future employment.
It might be some consolation for those who will be feeling the budgetary pain that the distracting political drama in Washington, D.C., was unabated with the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the Russia probe. The action, urged by Sen. Richard Blumenthal and others, followed reports that President Donald Trump gave classified intelligence information to Russian diplomats and had asked former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
Blumenthal called Trump’s request of Comey “obstruction of justice.”
For his part, Trump soldiered on, so to speak, telling the newest graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy that, “No politician in history … has been treated worse or more unfairly;” then interviewing former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman as the replacement for Comey, whom he fired a week ago. (Thursday Trump said Lieberman is his favorite candidate so far, but by Friday the “Joementum” had slowed.)
The President later tweeted that Mueller’s appointment was part of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” It was standard Trump style – something State Rep. Kevin Skulczcyck says his blunt and frequent tweets, which include calling for a state law to castrate of sex offenders, have in common with the chief executive.
Other news out of Washington was more routine, if that term still applies: U.S. Senate Republicans were busy developing their own concept for an Obamacare replacement – one that might include eliminating abortion coverage for millions of American women who have it now.
The political turmoil around the health insurance issue has caused the two remaining companies in Connecticut’s exchange to consider leaving it in 2018, so Access Health CT extended its decision-making deadline. Connecticut’s Sens. Chris Murphy and Blumenthal blame the problem on Trump’s “sabotage.”
Back at the State Capitol in Hartford, issues are coming to a head as the scheduled end of the legislative session approaches. High among them is the contentious question of whether to change the competitive environment for the Millstone Nuclear Power Station.
The governor says he’s neutral on that issue, but weighed in heavily in favor of the Foxwoods Resorts and the Mohegan Sun to operate the state’s third casino – if there is going to be one.
Some issues will get no vote, but still are arousing passionate debate. In the wake of a fatal shooting by Bridgeport police, one group of Democrats are pushing a bill to increase oversight and accountability of police. Another bill, vetoed by Malloy last year, got quick and unanimous action this time around.
State aid for undocumented college students also is hanging in the balance.
One bit of happy news in a state where the governor concedes there’s not much to be happy about: homeless is down 13 percent this year — the third year of decline.
Meanwhile, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim learned he probably would have an uphill fight in a gubernatorial run. The State Elections Commission has ruled preliminarily that his conviction for public corruption disqualifies him for public financing.