OP-ED | Dems Take the Safe Road
After all that, after an election in which Connecticut’s legislative Democrats were supposed to get wiped out but were saved by the gross political incompetence of the president, after a miraculous second chance to put the state on the right path, we get a list of legislative priorities that’s weaker tea than Lipton mixed with dishwater.
Oh well. I guess some things don’t change.
On Monday, Democrats held a press conference to announce a list of “priorities” for the upcoming legislative session, and I don’t know what I expected out of something like that. Maybe I hope for too much. Maybe I’m just misreading the need for the legislature to grasp the present moment and lead. Maybe I’m too cynical and fatalistic for my own good.
Or maybe they’re playing it safe.
The priorities are, in no particular order: a $15 minimum wage, paid family/medical leave, affordable prescription drug legislation of some nebulous sort, job training legislation, skills training for students, some sort of environmental legislation that might be similar to the “Green New Deal” proposed by Democrats in Washington, small business initiatives, and a constitutional amendment to allow early voting.
These are issues Democrats campaigned on, for sure, and some of them, like prescription drug price relief and environmental legislation, are badly needed. Others, like convoluted paid medical/family leave proposal that would have workers pay into a fund of some sort, seem half-baked.
The minimum wage increase is one of these things that feels like a good idea but has all sorts of unintended consequences. Economists still don’t fully understand how minimum wage increases affect the economy and labor market. Some studies suggest that workers can have more pay without too much disruption to the economy, while others suggest that higher wages lead to job losses and higher prices. Maybe one or the other is right. Maybe it’s a wash. But minimum wage hikes aren’t a cure-all.
Early voting would be great, and we should do it. But I doubt we’ll be able to vote on it before 2022, if then. The amendment process can take a long time.
As for the rest, I feel like it’s a list of vague, generic priorities that Democrats will struggle to bring to a vote before the session ends. I base this on the fact that the legislature never gets anything done on time.
There’s a lot conspicuously absent from this list of priorities, including anything at all having to do with the deficit. It’s still there, believe it or not, looming over everyone like Godzilla just before he lets the fire breath rip. Don’t let talk of increased revenues lull you into thinking that we’re not about to get immolated.
The hard work of balancing the budget will likely fall to Gov. Ned Lamont, who gets to dole out the nasty-tasting medicine during his budget speech later this month. He’ll get the blame for all the unpopular stuff, while the legislature can sit back and complain.
I’m not surprised that there’s nothing about tolls here. There should be, we need them, but nobody wants to take the lead on what’s going to be a deeply unpopular issue.
There’s also nothing about marijuana legalization. I distinctly remember a lot of chatter about that before the session, and there is a bill with quite a lot of high-profile sponsors out there, but it doesn’t seem to be a priority at the moment.
There’s also no sign of a controversial proposal to regionalize smaller school districts. This is too bad, because we need to take a serious look at district consolidation. Of course, I think district consolidation should go a lot further than combining rural towns with fewer than 40,000 people in them. If we really want to help close the education gap between rich and poor towns, let’s put them in the same district! Imagine a consolidated district including Hartford, West Hartford, Bloomfield, and Simsbury, where students could attend any of the schools in the district. How different would that be?
But that’s not on the priority list, either. The priority list is the safe stuff, relatively speaking. It’s what’s been in the works for a long time.
It’s probably too much to ask that the legislature, which moves slowly and is resistant to outside stimuli, respond to the current moment or, heaven help us, actually lead us into the future.
But oh, how I wish they would.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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