Knocking Gov. Dannel Malloy down is a big part of the tentative compromise state budget assembled this week by the General Assembly’s Democratic and Republican leaders. Not only did the leaders not involve the governor in their negotiations; they also said they negotiated better without the governor.
Further, announcing the compromise, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said legislative leaders were aiming to win support from two-thirds of the members of the House and the Senate - that is, enough to pass the budget over the governor’s veto. Hours earlier the House Democratic majority leader, Rep. Matt Ritter of Hartford, had dismissed the governor’s latest budget proposal almost as peremptorily as the Republican leaders had, saying legislators already knew the governor’s priorities well.
In effect, the House speaker and majority leader, members of the governor’s own party, signified that even the Democratic leaders didn’t care that much what the governor thinks.
Of course if the Democratic and Republican legislative caucuses are unenthusiastic about the compromise budget, they may force their leaders to care what the governor thinks. Without a two-thirds majority in each house, any budget will need the governor’s signature. But the state’s legislative leaders may not have been as openly hostile to a governor of their own party since Democratic legislators revolted against Gov. John Dempsey over budget issues in 1969.
This unfriendliness seems both personal and political.
Malloy has described himself as a porcupine, not a teddy bear. His threats to eviscerate school aid to suburbs appall suburban Democratic legislators. And since the governor is unpopular and not running for re-election, Democrats who plan to seek another term want to separate themselves from him as much as Republicans want to tie them to him.
But Connecticut’s financial decline would challenge even the most skilled and cuddly politician, and since the state’s Democratic Party is most obliged to its largest constituency, government employees, a Democratic governor has little freedom of action. In a Democratic administration, the compensation and contentment of government employees inevitably take priority over everything else. That’s why government employee unions get inviolable contracts while help for even the most innocent needy is always dispensable.
So why would the Republican leaders, who long have been proclaiming their opposition to raising taxes, go along with the tax increases in the compromise budget?
Presumably, first, because the budget is a compromise and avoids the bigger tax increases most Democratic legislators and the governor have wanted; and, second, because the budget averts the governor’s elimination of school aid to towns represented by Republican legislators and thus averts property tax increases there. When only friends are listening, Republican legislators may argue that the tax increases will fall disproportionately on Democratic constituencies.
Meanwhile, when only friends are listening, Democratic legislators may argue that tax increases on Democrats are better than no tax increases at all and that with tens of millions of dollars of extra state aid for Hartford, they have made the rest of the state pay for the city’s new minor-league baseball stadium, though it was undertaken even as the city was insolvent and hurtling toward bankruptcy.
For Democrats around the state, the big Democratic pluralities provided by the city in state elections can rationalize almost anything.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.