Back in September Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont broadcast a TV commercial proclaiming, “We’ve been failed by a generation of politicians. ... Change starts now.”
But this week the new governor confirmed that he is incorporating most of the administration of his discredited predecessor, Dannel Malloy, as his own, with more than a dozen Malloy officials either to be reappointed as agency heads or move from one top job to another. Additionally, five Democratic state legislators recently re-elected will decline their new terms to take executive posts in the new administration, dramatically boosting their pensions. Lamont also has engineered the replacement of the Democratic state chairman, Nick Balletto, with Malloy’s lieutenant governor, Nancy Wyman.
That is, September and “change” were then, staffing an administration is now, and Lamont is doing only what anyone could have expected - that as a relative outsider in a party without any leaders who were willing to risk their safe offices to clean up Malloy’s mess, he would, if elected, have to draw heavily on the current regime, and most of its members would be happy to remain in cushy jobs.
Besides, though Malloy was indifferent to incompetence and corruption, his administration was not much less able administratively than its recent predecessors. While Malloy dissembled and misused state and party funds, he wasn’t felonious about it, and the big failings of his administration were not of personnel but of policy. If maintaining the status quo is the objective, a Malloy holdover may serve Lamont as well as anyone else. As long as hardly anyone in state government can be fired and political inertia prohibits changing policies, agency heads will never matter much.
So does the new governor want to change policy at all?
During his campaign and the preparation of his administration Lamont endorsed or smiled upon nearly every liberal objective - a higher minimum wage, free college, more free medical care, paid family leave, property tax relief, another ineffectual rewriting of the municipal school aid formula, and so forth. He has assured all the grasping Democratic constituencies that he has no ideas of his own and wouldn’t dare question their premises.
But simultaneously Lamont has been incoherent about how to finance that liberal agenda, thus making his endorsement worthless.
Though the new governor faces a projected state budget deficit of $2 billion to $4 billion as well as underfunded state pension liabilities near $80 billion, Lamont’s most recent pledges, contradicting his original positions, preclude higher taxes. Those gaps in funding will have to be covered before any liberal dreams can be realized, and just filling the urgent budget gaps will require big spending cuts or tax increases.
While ruling out tax increases, Lamont has identified no options for big spending cuts. Any cuts would outrage his party.
In this respect Lamont comes to Connecticut’s highest office pretty much as the Republican he defeated, the roundly ridiculed ignoramus Bob Stefanowski, would have come - pledged to cut taxes without ever having specified or even contemplated offsetting cuts in spending. The winning formula in the campaign proved to be Lamont’s ambivalence and self-contradiction about taxes. Since most voters don’t want to make budget choices either, Lamont’s incoherence on state government’s finances beat Stefanowski’s incredibility.
Lamont takes the oath today but will say nothing meaningful until he is forced to offer a budget a month hence. Until then his party can dream on.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.