A normal week of vitriol, controversy and waiting for a budget

It was seven days of controversy and vitriol for the President of the United States — a normal week, in other words. It was business as usual in Connecticut, too — in search of a budget agreement.

There appeared to be budget progress — with an asterisk.

Wednesday, state legislators announced they had a framework for a bipartisan budget deal and only needed to work out some key details, including the distribution of municipal aid. They expect to vote later this week on a plan that reportedly raises taxes on smokers and the working poor while boosting pension contributions for teachers.

The legislators got as far as they did after Republicans gave up on a plan to cut state pension benefits in 2027 and claim the savings now.  Just as well, since Gov. Dannel Malloy was probably going to veto it anyway, saying such a move was not only likely to be contested in court, but also made no mathematical sense. Only a day before he had offered the fourth variant of his own budget plan – this one leaner than the three before.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CTMirror.org

The media await an update on the budget negotiations.

Whether there is actually consensus on the budget, however, remains to be seen, since Democratic and Republican lawmakers have different outlooks on that question. One item new to the discussion is the elimination of property taxes on motor vehicles. Teachers may not be too thrilled with another element of the plan: paying another 1 percent of their salaries toward their pension fund.

There is plenty of unhappiness to go around. The tentative state budget deal would strip as much as $175 million from clean energy funds and raid a program lauded for leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars in private investments.

Malloy provided the asterisk on Friday, saying he hasn’t seen enough of a plan in writing to determine whether he approves of it. It is not clear whether the legislature has enough votes to make its measure veto-proof.

Number crunchers at Moody’s Investors Service, meanwhile, were saying that Connecticut’s failure to adopt a budget will threaten the credit ratings of nearly one third its cities and towns. Hartford, of course, is on the verge of bankruptcy and will have to restructure its debt in order to earn financial help from the state.

Kyle Constable / CTMirror.org

CSCU President Mark Ojakian, right, addresses a crowd at a Board of Regents meeting. Board Chair Matt Fleury looks on.

The head of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system has been crunching numbers, too, and has come up with a money-saving plan to consolidate 12 community colleges into one mega-college with more than 50,000 students.

(Connecticut’s colleges will need to save some money if the proposed budget is approved as written. It cuts higher education by about $79 million, but spares financial aid from reductions.)

The state’s solar power industry would be crunching numbers, but is apparently so angry with the state’s proposed change in solar policy that the crunching is more like gnashing.

Down in Washington, D.C., where teeth-gnashing seems to have become a daily ritual, President Donald Trump ricocheted from one controversy to the next.

Earlier this month he had issued an executive order endangering some financial underpinnings of the Affordable Care Act, but then last Tuesday endorsed bipartisan Congressional efforts to prevent the damage to the program his executive order would have caused. No matter, because Wednesday he reversed himself again.

Trump also was taking heat for his conduct toward the families of military members killed in action and for claiming, falsely, that earlier presidents had not made condolence calls to grieving military families. The issue got even uglier when Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, and U.S. Rep. Federica Wilson got involved.

On the plus side for the president, the GOP’s major tax cut outline cleared the U.S. Senate.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, meanwhile, was being grilled by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal and others about whether he had been contacted in connection with Robert Mueller’s investigation of collusion with the Russian government during the last election campaign. Sessions said he hadn’t.

Looking forward to the next national election, Connecticut’s Democratic candidates — especially U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy — are raising a lot more money than their Republican opposition.

In state politics, Middletown Mayor and gubernatorial hopeful Dan Drew parted ways with his political strategist. It was Drew’s effort to right his campaign following complaints that he improperly solicited donations from city employees.

About Paul Stern
Paul Stern

Paul has more than 40 years of reporting and editing experience at newspapers in New Jersey, Florida and Connecticut. He worked 22 years at the Hartford Courant in various editing roles including as deputy state editor, assistant editor of Northeast Magazine, and as an associate editor at Courant.com. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers in 1972; and, in 2010, completed a training program in culinary arts at Manchester Community College.