Today both the House and the Senate passed a compromise budget that pleases both Democrats, who get aid for towns, tax increases on wealthy citizens and wider health care coverage under HUSKY, as well as Governor Rell, who headed off the millionaire's tax and, with the exemptions for nursing homes she originally proposed, fit the budget neatly under the state spending cap.
But Republicans in the General Assembly are furious at the budget. Only one senator, John Kissel of Enfield, voted for it. Kissel, whose margin of victory in 2004 (under 2%) was the smallest of any state senator, said that what mattered most was "...the increase in state aid the bill offered to several municipalities in my district and throughout the state." (AP) Other Republicans were less kind:
Senate Republicans took issue with the planned two-year corporate tax surcharge in the budget - 20 percent and 15 percent for the next two income years. They also complain that only $76 million of the estimated $700 million surplus is deposited into the state's Rainy Day Fund.
"...The problem is, we have a $700 million or $637 million surplus that is supposed to pay down debt. What are we doing with it? We are spending just about every last dime on ongoing expenses," [said Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury].
"[Nursing home owners] are imploring me not to support this budget," said Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen. "Rather than a life raft, this may be the ball and chain that drags them under water."
Republicans said they were not allowed to fully participate in the budget negotiations, and criticized the budget for including $18 million for undefined "contingency needs." (AP)
The last quote is the heart of the matter. The Republican Party was shut out of the negotiations between the Democrats and the Republican governor. When John Rowland was governor, this was not the case, especially since many of them held the same political views as he did.
But now, moderate Republican Jodi Rell is governor, and times are different. This governor is willing to compromise in order to move forward, and her actions over the past six months have shown her to have much more in common with the Democrats than with her own party. For example, she signed bills allowing civil unions and stem-cell research, and has proposed public funding of state campaigns, all things that the Republicans have vehemently opposed. Campaign finance reform is the exception, but only because in it Republicans sense a way out of their present funk.
In essence, no one needs the small Republican minority any more. They play little role in the legislature except to complain loudly about the things the Democrats and the governor are doing without their input.
The problem with the Republican Party in Connecticut isn't that it's ideologically out of step with most citizens, although in many cases it certainly is. The Republican Party right now is a stubborn, stagnant institution that has for a decade been living off the fact that the governor of the state is a member of their party while consistently bleeding seats and high-level state positions. Now that the governor is willing to work with Democrats instead of exacerbating partisan tensions by siding with a small minority, Republicans find themselves irrelevant.
How can they fix this? Well, for one, social conservatism has only a small foothold in this state, and has been mostly tapped out politically. Besides, social conservatism wasn't what drove the Republicans of the days of Prescott Bush, but fiscal conservatism. If Republicans drop the social conservatives like the porcupines they are and concentrate on smaller, smarter government, they may yet get some traction. Jodi Rell's mix of fiscal pragmatism and social tolerance seems to be working for her, at least for now. Republicans would do well to follow her lead to the middle of the social divide, instead of sitting stubbornly on the right with and grumbling about their lack of influence.
Not that I expect this to happen, of course. One consistent trait of Connecticut's state Republican Party is its remarkable lack of understanding of state politics, which means that Democrats will dominate the state for the forseeable future.
"Legislature Approves New Two-Year Budget." Associated Press 7 June 2005.