If this is what they call a “honeymoon,” the marriage is going to be ugly. Gov.-elect Dan Malloy and Lt. Gov.-elect Nancy Wyman dropped in on state legislative Republicans this week and before the well wishes and pledges of working together were even out of their mouths (on each side), Republicans were making it clear that they plan to be relevant and will take a tough stand on new taxes as a way to close to massive budget deficit.
The bipartisan dance after an election is always entertaining but in this case it might be better to just drop the pretense and get on with it. Malloy and Wyman each deserve credit for trying to start out on the right foot. And Republican leaders state Sen. John McKinney and state Rep. Larry Cafero get props for being receptive—that happens when you’ve spent the last six years out on the tree branch only to have fellow Republican Gov. Jodi Rell saw it off.
McKinney and Cafero have made it clear they will dig in and resist any new taxes. “If the problem is $3.5 billion and there’s a $3 billion tax increase on the table, as there was in past budget proposals, the answer is there probably won’t be any Republican support for that,” McKinney told the Hartford Courant’s Capitol Watch blog. Cafero had a similar response “If I had to guess right now, and it [a tax increase] was put before us right now—none,” Cafero said. Smart starting negotiating positions.
Both McKinney and Cafero are smart, effective (when their caucus numbers permit) and veteran lawmakers. They know full well that there is no way to balance the budget without new revenue unless they devastate state services, completely gut current union contracts and pass the buck to cities and towns in the form of huge property tax increases. They also know Malloy won’t permit that and that he doesn’t actually need Republicans votes to pass what he wants.
The GOP leadership’s goal (although they won’t say it) is to minimize the “damage”—keep tax increases to the very minimum while substantially cutting spending and getting givebacks from labor.
The elephant in the room is Malloy’s commitment to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. When he talked about it in the campaign, people’s eyes rightly glazed over. But using GAAP will make balancing the budget all that much more difficult because it won’t permit the smoke and mirrors that were the hallmark of recent budgets (including those I was a part of explaining to the public).
But for now, Malloy’s top guy Roy Occhiogrosso got it exactly right. “I think there is a general sense that Dan and Nancy have that the problems are so severe that the old way of doing politics just isn’t going to work,” he said. “Dan and Nancy are committed to working with whoever wants to work with them. … I think they hope to find common ground more often than not.” Fair enough. But once Malloy and Wyman drop the “elect” from their titles and the legislative session starts next year, it will be interesting to see how all sides react.