More than a year remains in his term, but some political observers have concluded that Governor Malloy is already effectively finished.
One of those observers, Hearst Connecticut newspapers columnist Jim Cameron, writes: “Our governor is a lame duck. Because he has announced he’s not running for re-election, he has the political clout of a used teabag. ... Nobody cares about him or his ideas any longer. Legislative leaders declared him ‘irrelevant’ during the budget negotiations, ignoring his ideas and then handing him a billion-dollar problem” - a budget that wasn’t balanced and needed severe cutting. “Lawmakers didn’t have the guts to order the cuts themselves. They made Malloy do it so he would take the blame, not them. So when the governor cut municipal aid, social services, and education, our lawmakers feigned shock and anger.”
But that’s exactly why the governor is not irrelevant, especially in the face of a General Assembly that is so feckless. On top of its chickening out on a lot of the cutting, the legislature’s great “bipartisan compromise” budget is already projected to be $200 million in deficit. Meanwhile the state’s economy is weakening, not strengthening. Not only does the legislature want to defer serious budget decisions to the governor, but circumstances - declining tax revenue and worsening social disintegration - may push Malloy himself to reconsider some policy premises.
There is talk that Connecticut will need a great leader for its next governor. But increasingly Connecticut needs a great leader in its current governor.
After all, because of budget stresses, financial support for some innocent needy people is being reduced sharply – last week’s clamor was over medical care for the elderly poor - even as state bonding and grants continue to be approved for inessential projects as if everything in state government is normal. The governor controls the bonding and grant agendas.
While shootings and murders are daily occurrences in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Waterbury, this week the governor sent a dozen Spanish-speaking state troopers to help keep order in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. It was a political gesture as much as a humane one, meant to impress Connecticut’s residents of Puerto Rican descent, but most of them live in those same crime-ridden cities. How impressed should they really be?
Even some Democratic legislators whose votes a few months ago provided the narrow margin of approval for the new state employee union contract are having trouble defending it as social services keep getting cut. Connecticut shouldn’t have to wait for the next governor to tell the unions that the contract must be renegotiated as another budget deficit builds and the state’s economy sinks. (Indeed, dismissing concerns about the new contract’s long duration, some Democrats assured the state that the contract could always be reopened earlier if necessary.)
Besides, is there any point short of nuclear war at which the governor would reconsider the desirability of social promotion in Connecticut’s primary schools, a policy that predictably enough sends most graduates into the world without the education they need to compete?
And would it require nuclear war for the governor to notice that state welfare policy produces dependence rather than self-sufficiency?
No, the worse the new budget deficit gets, the more relevant the governor can become, even with just a year to go.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.