Monday, June 13, 2005

Legislative Session Wrapup

Yes, I know. There's a special session still waiting, but I think we can put that in, well, a special category.

So how did the legislature do this year? Naturally, the miserable failure of campaign finance reform is looming large in our minds right now, and in most other sessions a failure of that magnitude would doom the entire session. But this General Assembly accomplished so much else of note that it's very difficult to dismiss them out of hand. Let's take a quick look back and see what was accomplished:

Some Notable Accomplishments

Civil Unions

Probably the most important bill from a national standpoint. Connecticut is the fourth state to recognize some sort of legal arrangement for same-sex couples, and the first to do so without being compelled by the judiciary. Following pressure from Catholic groups and the governor, a legal "definition of marriage" as being between a man and a woman was placed into the bill despite AG Blumenthal's assurances that the bill would not, in fact, make gay marriage legal.

It was a huge step forward, socially, and it passed without too much of a fuss. Not bad at all.

Minimum Wage Increase

This was a sensible and pragmatic move by the legislature, and (again) it came with the full blessing of the governor. A lot of fiscal conservatives feel that the minimum wage hike will hurt businesses, but I haven't seen any data to back that up from previous hikes. If someone can show me that the negative effect on jobs and the small businesses is greater than the positive effect on poor families, I'll reconsider my stand on the minimum wage, but for now I think it's going to help much more than it will hurt.

The Budget

Here's something where everyone gets a little something, and no one gets everything they want. Great! The budget increased aid to cities and towns, funded HUSKY and taxed the rich a bit more (but didn't include the millionaire's tax). It came in mostly under the spending cap. It left some issues poorly addressed, like Fairfield County's transportation problems, and it really didn't fix the troubles in nursing homes. But it's a lot better than the last couple of budgets, that's for sure.

Notable Failures

Campaign Finance Reform

This was the governor's number one priority, and it failed. It may come back in the special session... but if it doesn't, we've lost a golden opportunity to overhaul the system.


No gas tax=no big transportation plan... I-95 is still a parking lot.

No FOI on email

A bill passed late in the session (with about a minute to go) exempted legislators' email from FOI requests. That by itself doesn't seem fishy... but the way it was done, at the end of the session... that's fishy. The governor vetoed it.

It was an acrimonious session, full of partisan rancor and cross-Capitol sneering, but by and large the legislature accomplished more than it failed to accomplish.


Gov. Rell: She defined herself as a tough moderate who could get things done. Not a bad image for someone facing a mob of Democrats who want her job next year. Despite all the controversy, Rell emerged from the session barely scratched. Yes, she did alienate some of the hard right and the social conservatives, and yes, those on the extreme left will never trust a Republican... but she's going to find a lot of support from just about everybody else.

Democrats: The Democrats in the GA got a lot of their agenda enacted, for once. Good for them! Can't hurt, going into an election year. The leadership, now...

Connecticut's Image: Hey, it really couldn't get any worse. Better to be known for civil unions than John Rowland.


Republicans: By bypassing the GOP caucus to negotiate directly with the Democratic leadership, Governor Rell showed us just how unimportant the tiny GOP minority is, and how fragile the state Republican Party has become. There's a good chance that the Republicans won't pick up more than a few seats next year (if any), and lose two of three Congressional races (Simmons and Shays are some of the most vulnerable Republicans in Congress). If they're really unlucky, they'll lose Jodi Rell, too. But let's face it: the GOP isn't going to have a majority in the General Assembly for the foreseeable future. Maybe they should think about why that is.

Democratic Leadership: Speaker James Amann really looked like an idiot during the budget fight, and he looked even worse when he kept campaign finance reform off the special session agenda. Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, who refused to compromise or even meet with Amann or Rell more than once or twice in the final days of the session, is getting a lot of the blame for campaign finance reform's failure. Both were played by Rell at some point during the session. Neither endeared himself to the public.

So that's it, at least for now. Feel free to add your own ideas about who the winners and losers were this session, and what you think is important that I left off this list.

13 comments: said...

You can find a pretty good summary of both (or rather all) sides of the debate here.

As for whether the increase in unemployment is "worth more" than the benefit of the increased wage to those who benefit from minimum wage laws, that's a throughly normative question that really doesn't have any good answer, esp. where the proposed increases in minimum wage are so small.

Ebpie said...

I agree with the overall analysis of this session. While many were left wanting, no one walked away completely empty handed (the glaring exception being conservative Republicans). Rell is in excellent position to announce her candidacy for 2006. She has really come across as a moderate and pragmatic Republican who can get things done. I haven't seen any polls recently on her approval ratings, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are still in the mid 60's. If the state GOP ever gets it's act together and gets close to the Governor then it is possible they could gain a few seats in both chambers. Simmons and Shays will face tough opponents, but if the sub base stays and Tom Delay keeps out of the news they will probably get re-elected.

Anonymous said...

Very good analysis of the session. But I would also add Sen. John McKinney to the winners list. Lou DeLuca has been so marginalized that he may decide to leave next year, giving McKinney the leadership post he clearly seems to want.

Also, your 2004 State Representative map is incorrect. The 2nd district (Bethel, Danbury & Redding) is represented by a Republican.

Overall you have a great site. Glad I stumbled across it.

stomv said...

Connecticut Dems provided a pretty good example of what a blue state can accomplish in spite of the current national political climate.

CT acted progressively on civil rights and liberties, on economics and labor, on taxation, and even helped fund the pensions a bit more.

And it accomplished all of this "under the radar" of national politics. It never acted radically, and its policies will lead to demonstratable benefits to constituents.

It was a far better legislative session than average, that's for damned sure. The Dems should be proud, and hopefully will share some of their strategy with the national Dem party.

Genghis Conn said...


About the map--you're right! Check out this election result, which is really interesting and actually fooled me when I created the map. Basically, a cross-endorsement won Bielawa the election. I'll have to change the map pronto. Good catch.


I keep waiting for another Q-poll, which they tend to issue every two months or so. I figure they were waiting for the end of the session. I wouldn't be surprised to see mid to high 60s for Rell, though.

I have a feeling that Republicans may gain back a seat or two that they lost in 2004 thanks to the Kerry effect. It's questionable whether Rell would have coattails, considering how different she is from most legislative Republicans.

I disagree on Simmons and Shays, though. Simmons ran on protecting the sub base, which he failed to do. Courtney is going to hammer him on it, and the district will probably change hands. It's one of those crisis moments that can nullify an incumbent's advantage. Shays's district is trending Democratic (see his district's map), which means that he'll be hard-pressed, and I'd say his chances are about 50-50 right about now.


I think the key is what you said, that the legislature "never acted radically." Much of what was accomplished was made possible through compromise, which has become a dirty word in Washington. But Democrats do have reasons to be proud, even if their leadership isn't all that great. Civil unions, stem cell research, higher wages and better health care are nothing to sneeze at.

Ed said...

Great site. I'm always trying to find good CT political blogs.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that the Legislature has not acted on Blumenthal's effort to sue over "NCLB".

With local school boards now entering the debate, how long will Rell's State Board of Education maintain a netual position or will these local boards force local legislators to reconsider.

Quinn said...

Pretty good analysis, though I think the failure of campaign finance reform at the very end of the session will seriously hurt the Democrats. If this was an election year, it would be very bad news indeed for them. Since its not, they will be able to distance themselves from that failure and point out the good things about the 2005 session in 2006. But 2006 matters more.

Theoretically, minimum wage increases beyond a certain point, which CT passed long ago, hurt poor families more than they help. This is because most businesses have most of their costs in labor. If the cost of labor goes up, those businesses will hire less labor. More people will be unemployed. This effect occurs regardless of the size of the wage increase, though it is increased by a greater increase. This is because of the psychological impact on the business owner that the very fact that a minimum wage increase occured. They'll be less willing to plan to hire, despite what they can afford.

In this case, however, I would say the corporate tax hike will effect businesses and thus the unemployment rate more significantly than the puny minimum wage hike. How Democrats can talk about job creation on the one hand and raise business taxes on the other I'll never know. Job-creation doesn't come from rhetoric, it comes from business management decisions, which are based on how much money is in the bank.

stomv said...

In this case, however, I would say the corporate tax hike will effect businesses and thus the unemployment rate more significantly than the puny minimum wage hike. How Democrats can talk about job creation on the one hand and raise business taxes on the other I'll never know. Job-creation doesn't come from rhetoric, it comes from business management decisions, which are based on how much money is in the bank.

Job creation comes from lots of things. One is responding to market demands -- if people have more money, they demand more stuff and services. Another part of job creation comes from efficiencies in a local market: an IT rich work force, for example. Job creation can come from gov't directly and indirectly: the Groton sub base.

Since job creation comes from so many different sources and is impacted by so many different kinds of policy, I don't understand why you implicitly insist that the correlation is high. It very well may not be -- and it is certainly the case that job creation can come with an increase in business tax in specific instances.

smalltowndem said...


Thanks for the great summary. I really value this informative website.

Genghis Conn said...


Thanks for the comment. I actually started this site to be a resource for Connecticut politics (a librarian impulse, I guess), so I'm glad you find it informative.

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