OP-ED | Malloy’s Budget Strategy: Divide And Offend
By now the phenomenon has become as regular as Old Faithful. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announces a controversial plan in a much-publicized speech. Partisans on the left and right fall all over themselves to denounce it. The governor offends not only his natural enemies but his base as well. In the end, he gets half a loaf. Rinse and repeat.
Malloy’s ill-fated attempt at education reform (“Show up for four years and tenure is yours”) and the modest concessions he struck with state employee unions to deal with Connecticut’s fiscal crisis come to mind as examples in which he stepped on the toes of natural enemies and allies alike.
Yet with his 2013 budget proposal, Malloy has not only succeeded in offending the partisans. He has left independents such as yours truly scratching their heads in disbelief. I expected better from a governor who vowed to clear Hartford of the smoke-and-mirrors approach to budgeting that has prevailed in state government since I moved here almost 30 years ago.
Conservatives and Republicans will object to just about anything Malloy proposes, so it’s no surprise that his budget has been branded by Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, himself a likely candidate for governor in 2014, as “the most disingenuous and dishonest budget I’ve ever seen.” Nor is it shocking that conservative columnist Don Pesci would opine that Malloy’s “good intentions are the stones that pave the road to economic hell.”
It also is just as predictable that lefties such as the disaffected Jonathan Pelto, who has long advocated for higher taxes on the rich, would slam the Malloy budget as “stunningly irresponsible.” Ditto Democratic New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, a former gubernatorial rival who likened the plan to Alice In Wonderland.
There were other dissenters, however, whom one might expect to be more supportive of the governor. In an editorial, the centrist Norwich Bulletin said it was “deeply disappointed in his budget proposal, a two-year spending plan that relies too heavily on shifting of funds from one account to another, and the massive amounts of borrowing.” Moderate Democratic strategist Patrick Scully suggested the plan is “a gimmick-filled mess” that “includes some moves that Malloy railed against when he campaigned for the top office back in 2010.” Left-of-center Courant columnist Colin McEnroe bemoaned the credit-card approach and quipped that “the proposal is the equivalent of the guy in the bar who insists on picking up everybody’s tab for the night, even though all of his friends know he’s broke.”
At best, Malloy’s proposed spending package is either ill conceived or yet another divisive proposal that will anger everyone, leaving the governor with a shrinking number of allies as he considers a run for re-election in 2014. At worst, it’s a deceitful plan that will face bipartisan rejection when exposed to the light of day.
Malloy’s plan to eliminate the car tax that municipalities exact on their residents not only angered mayors and first selectmen, who wondered how they would recover the lost revenue, but now consider what we learned this week courtesy of the Republican American:
Malloy has correctly labeled the car tax regressive and unfair since poorer towns typically have higher mill rates than wealthier enclaves such as Greenwich and Salisbury. But the Office of Policy and Management estimates the elimination of the car tax will, by its second year, net the state $21 million in extra revenue because most vehicle owners will no longer be able to claim a credit on their state income tax returns.
So the elimination of the car tax generates revenue for the state but takes it away from the towns, all the while honoring Malloy’s promise not to raise taxes? Beyond state employee unions and the spending class in Hartford, who could possibly like that move? Not Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham, who called it “a high-five — and then a punch in the gut.”
The list of other things not to like in Malloy’s budget is too lengthy to comment on. But suffice it to say that, notwithstanding his recent bump in approval ratings to 54 percent, Malloy’s budget debacle sort of reminds me of the late Christopher Hitchens’ book on Bill Clinton, No One Left To Lie To. Except in the governor’s case, there is no one left to offend.