2010 BUDGET BALANCED; 2011, 2012 LOOM IN FRONT LARGE

The state House of Representatives—Democrats and Republicans alike—sang a chorus of Kum Bye Ya yesterday and voted 147 to 1 to pass measures to (nearly) balance the state’s current budget, filling a nearly $350 million hole. There are no tax increases in the plan and hunting and fishing licensing fees were reduced. That money was made up by increasing fines handed out by the DMV. A good trade.

Enjoy it now because the good will end soon as the legislature and the governor now have to deal with a 2011 deficit of $700 million and $3 billion in 2012. Governor Rell said, “It is vital for all of us to continue to work together to surmount the remaining fiscal hurdles.”

The Shad does not want to be a blogging (wet) blanket but the good will in the legislature and with the governor will end as soon as they start coming up with ways to address the next two years.

For instance, Democrats have proposed a hospital tax, an increase in the estate tax,and securitizing (selling off future revenue streams for money up front—usually for pennies on the dollar) a fee on electric bills. Republicans are repeating the tired mantra that no new revenue is needed, that everything can be done with spending cuts. Think back to when the governor brought in her own fiscal expert who said a combination of both cuts and revenue is needed to meaningfully address the problem.

The was very little contentious debate last night. Perhaps the House members were paying attention to the governor’s other priority of the day.
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“American Idol: Gov. Jodi Rell Wants Connecticut Residents To Vote For Middlebury’s Katie Stevens Tonight,” blared the headline in the Hartford Courant’s Capitol Watch blog (dedicated to politics). Then The Shad saw “Gov. Rell urges Conn. residents to vote—for ‘Idol’ contestant Katie Stevens,” in the Courant’s Sound Check blog (about entertainment and music). This was a joke, right?

Eric Danton, the author of Sound Check, quoted from a news release e-mailed from the governor’s office. “‘Katie’s performances on the national stage have made us all so proud to call her one of Connecticut’s own,’ Rell said. ‘So, tonight, I am urging state residents to show their support for Katie over and over and over again. Put that number on speed dial and call in for Katie.’” The request came as the state House toiled on how to best handle a $350 million budget shortfall this year.

The strange thing about the governor urging people to vote for Katie on American Idol is that the news release Danton quotes from is nowhere to be found on the governor’s website. Maybe someone in the gov’s office realized a TV show doesn’t quite rank with flood damage relief, a multibillion budget deficit and other issues.
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In a move that simply invites creativity in mischief, the University of Connecticut has purchased six life-sized cut-outs of school President Michael Hogan to be placed around the Storrs campus during special events and holidays. The cost? $3500. The money came from the school’s operating fund which includes tuition fees.

A school spokesman says it’s part of an effort to “strengthen the connection” between students, faculty and staff and the administration.” That is certainly an admirable goal. But doesn’t the administration remember they just raised tuition while the president’s office was undergoing renovation and buying expensive furniture? It all resulted in student protests. The feeling on the part of students and some faculty that the school has misplaced priorities when it comes to spending tuition money has not simply “blown over.”

Remember when you were a kid (for The Shad that was basically yesterday) and you took a black magic marker to a picture and drew mustaches, black-eyes and missing teeth? That will be the least of what students will likely do to these cut outs. Could you resist the temptation?