Conn. Democratic Lawmakers Unhappy with Leadership Proposals

As Democratic and Republicans leaders huddle with Malloy administration officials to try to solve the state’s budget mess, there is growing dissatisfaction among rank and file Democrats with the proposals being discussed. At the top of the list is the state’s landmark clean elections program which allows for publicly financed campaign. Democratic leaders have proposed to “suspend” it for one year.

A number of lawmakers contacted by The Hanging Shad says the $11.7 million saved by suspending the program is not worth suspending the program. They point to a number of corporate tax breaks also included in the Democrats’ plan as areas that should be revisited.

Among those unhappy with their own leaders’ proposals are a number of young Democratic legislators who earlier this week sent a letter to their leadership protesting the axing of the clean elections fund.

Speaking out is state Rep. Matthew Lesser, who along with state Sen. Mae Flexer and state Reps. Sean Scanlon and David Arconti, is seen as a rising star in the Democratic ranks. Lesser goes so far as to say House Democrats might reject a final budget-fixing plan if it contains an elimination–even for one year–of clean elections. “When the voice of the [House Dems] caucus is heard, it will be clear we don’t support this.” Several other House Democrats shared this view.

Conn. Rep. Matthew Lesser (D-Middletown)
Conn. Rep. Matthew Lesser (D-Middletown)

Lesser also says eliminating clean elections even for one year is a step backward. “It’s bad for democracy and could be a return to the ‘pay to play’ days of John Rowland.” Rowland is the Connecticut governor who went to prison for corruption. The clean elections system was passed in the wake of the Rowland mess.

Related to the clean elections suspension is a number of corporate tax breaks being proposed by Democratic leaders. “The cost of the tax cuts for corporations pretty much lines up with the cost of the clean elections program,” Lesser. He is also is not happy with the further breaks for big business. “They have not been vetted by the caucus. They never had a public hearing. Now we are seeing a backlash from [House] members and a backlash from advocates.”

All of this dissent by Lesser, a number of his House colleagues and some members of the Senate is exacerbated by what appears to be a slick move by the Malloy administration to include a sweetener for General Electric in the budget passed in June. The Hartford Courant’s business reporter Dan Haar explains.

It’s not clear what kind of end product the budget talks will produced. That’s a concern for Lesser. “Are we going to have a plan that is supported by a solid majority of Democrats or is it going to be something cobbled together to get some Democrats and some Republican votes?” he asked.