The state of the union is strong, President Donald Trump announced last Tuesday; but in Connecticut there was considerable debate about that. Late in the week, the turmoil in Washington over the GOP’s FBI memo was a prime example.
The big issue of the week here was the state’s transportation network – or more precisely, the lack of money to repair or improve it.
In his speech on Tuesday, Trump called for a $200 billion federal investment to leverage $1.5 trillion in private investment in American infrastructure. But U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy were deeply skeptical that his “vague” plan for a private-public partnership would work or even be affordable.
Neither they nor the rest of the Connecticut congressional delegation were convinced that Trump’s talk of unity and bipartisanship was anything more than, in Murphy’s words, picking at “every political scab in existence.”
Murphy and Blumenthal are in the Senate minority, of course, but because of the close balance of power were able to help scuttle a bill that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans here are squaring off on how to pay for the infrastructure improvements they both seem to agree are necessary if the state is to rebuild its economy. A dozen Democratic legislators are pushing for highway tolls, and so is Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who also wants to phase in a seven-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase.
(The state’s gasoline taxes, by the way, are no longer the nation’s highest but are ranked ninth nationally by the American Petroleum Institute.)
Connecticut’s budget problems, of course, are not getting any better even as Malloy’s administration prepares another proposal to restructure the projected surge in the cost of a state retirement and benefit system that has been underfunded for decades. Earlier in the week Malloy asked his department heads to send him their suggestions on how to further cut current state spending, but few ideas were forthcoming.
The one item Malloy vetoed earlier this year in order to save money – the legislature’s restoration of the Medicare Savings Program it previously cut — was overridden by lawmakers 131 to 4 in the House and 30 to 1 in the state Senate.
This week he will propose budget adjustments taking one more shot at balancing the state’s books.
The issue of school funding promises to be an ongoing legislative issue now that the State Supreme Court has decided against revisiting its ruling that Connecticut’s spending on education meets constitutional standards.
Money is the lifeblood of politics, of course, and there is plenty of it flowing. MGM Resorts International, for example, spent $3.8 million on lobbying in Connecticut last year, more than three times any other interest group, in its attempt to block development of a tribal casino in East Windsor.
Dominion Energy, meanwhile, owner of the Millstone nuclear power station, has not yet demonstrated to state officials that it is in need of financial support in the form of more favorable rules for selling its power.
The state’s congressional delegates seem to be having few campaign fund-raising problems, a recent report shows. With the exception of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, they are all far ahead of their Republican challengers.
Himes, by the way, was in the thick of the ugly dispute between parties over the release of a classified FBI memo that even the agency said should not be released. It alleges that the FBI used politically biased information to obtain a warrant to wiretap a Trump campaign official. Blumenthal called the memo’s release “politically weaponizing law enforcement and intelligence systems” that could cause “irreparable harm to America’s security – all to shield Trump.”
After the disputed document’s release on Friday, the all-Democratic Connecticut delegation was uniformly and harshly critical of the move — as were some Republicans, including Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans can hold sway over Mother Nature, though, whose flu epidemic already has taken 52 lives in Connecticut, including one child. The flu season will not be abating soon, so it is probably good that the state’s community health centers got an extension of funding from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.