CLOCK IS TICKING ON LEGISLATIVE SESSION; NO BUDGET IN SIGHT

A week from Wednesday brings the end of the 2010 legislative session but the chance of the work being done with a budget in place is zero. That noise you hear is the special session(s) coming our way.

The Democrats and the Rell administration are miles apart on solving the budget deficit of $700 million for 2011 and $3 billion—with a “b”—for 2012. If Rell thinks she can do it without new revenue, she’s dreaming. And if the Democrats think they can do it without near-draconian cuts, they are similarly snoozing. The key of course, is to find a balance.

The Democrats should push the increase in the estate tax and consider increasing the sales tax a bit and keep or better yet, expand the exemptions for those who really need it. They had their bite at the income tax apple and another increase there won’t be tolerated, especially in an election year. They also should consider the governor’s idea of Keno and securitize (sell off) the revenue stream for an upfront payment. Securitizing is a desperate measure but these are desperate times. They can work out the details with the tribes running the casinos. Meanwhile, forget the hospital tax and the securitizing the charge on electric bills. And they’ve already slapped around the important commissions and agencies that directly serve the people of the state. Leave them alone.

The chance for a protracted fight with each side digging in, is very real and very possible as we saw last summer (and into the fall) in the last budget battle. Throw in the fact that the entire General Assembly faces an election in November and it’s possible that neither side moves anytime soon. Both the legislature and the administration blew their chance for new revenue by rejecting tolls on the highways (when all the state around us have them).

The wild card in all of this is that it’s crystal clear the Democrats who enjoy healthy majorities in both chambers are not only not on the same page, they aren’t even reading the same book. First there was the public letter to their own leadership earlier this month from “moderate” Democrats asking for movement in the process (they couldn’t walk down the hall and ask for a meeting?). Then last week, there was the deal with the judiciary being blown up by Senate President Don Williams just as it was being celebrated by House Judiciary committee Mike Lawlor; it’s obvious the Dems are in disarray. That’s not to say Williams isn’t right on the issue. The budget should be done as a whole, not branch by branch. If Rell’s judicial nominees have to wait, so be it. But the fact that Williams and Lawlor didn’t talk to each other is not good for the process.

This is a key week for the state’s future.

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At what point are we all going to wise up and ditch this idea for a New Britain-to-Hartford busway in favor of developing passenger rail? The $570 million busway project has divided politicians, business leaders and opinion shapers in remarkable ways.

Yes, we’ve already spent millions on the busway and it’s expected that a federal grant of $220 million for the project will come through soon but neither is a reason to keep after building a roadway we will be stuck with forever and most importantly, nobody will ride.

This is purely observational, anecdotal and without scientific backing, but as far as The Shad is concerned, no one rides a bus unless they have no other choice. A train is a different story. People will get out of their cars and onto a train, taking traffic off I-84—the main reason for mass transportation. Pursuing the busway is the epitome of throwing good money after bad.

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Jim Vicevich is back as host of the midday show on WTIC-AM radio after a couple of weeks of fill-in hosts. A contract dispute kept Vicevich off the air temporarily. Apparently the ’80s called and wanted their guest hosts back.