Fernandez’s “Keno Strategy” Against Harp Won’t Work

New Haven mayoral candidate Henry Fernandez is desperate to tie the newly legalized gambling game keno directly to rival Toni Harp—the operative word being “desperate.” Both Democrats are vying to succeed outgoing Mayor John DeStefano who is retiring. In a nutshell, state Sen. Harp is an experienced, bright, hard-working, New Haven-loving candidate who is the obvious choice to lead the city. Fernandez is grasping at straws to smear Harp and the only thing he has come up with is the “keno strategy.” New Haven voters are smarter than to be duped by Fernandez.

Fernandez’s attempt to lay keno at Harp’s doorstep shows a dangerous ignorance of the state legislative process. Knowledge about the system is essential to being mayor of a big city like New Haven and Fernandez clearly doesn’t have it.

The real story is that a gaping hole appeared in the state budget when grassroots opposition sunk Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal for an energy auction when the spending plan was being finalized. There were several options to fill the shortfall: Raise taxes (cigarettes, income, sales and others), cut vital services to most vulnerable citizens of the state or legalize a gambling game that already exists in all Connecticut’s bordering states and the Native American Indian casinos in the state. Legislative leaders chose the gambling solution given that the state already has a robust gaming industry.

Here’s what Fernandez doesn’t understand—it’s the senate president, speaker of the house and governor who have the final say on the budget and what is in or out. Leaders chose the best of the bad options available. Yes, Sen. Harp was in the room and has some influence in such matters as the chairman of the legislature’s appropriations committee but she doesn’t have the final say. In any event, she too sided with the gaming option because she didn’t think cutting important services to the people of the state was a viable option and the governor was dead-set against burdening taxpayers with another tax increase after absorbing the largest tax increase in state history in 2010.

Fernandez is quick to criticize the decision to go with keno but he doesn’t say how he would have plugged the budget hole. Would he have cut social services? Does he think he has the juice to convince the governor to raise taxes?

Legislative leaders, with the exception of Senate Majority Leader Marty Looney of New Haven, have done a very poor job of explaining why they chose keno to produce the needed revenue to balance the budget (assuming that it is balanced but that’s another story for another time). Fernandez is right that keno is not a great thing in and of itself and will bring about some problems. But nothing compared to the problems that cutting crucial services would bring. Being a leader, whether it’s in the state legislature or the mayor’s office, is about making tough choices. Sen. Harp has shown she has what it takes to make those difficult choices. Fernandez has been relegated to naively sniping from the sidelines.