Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Republicans: Irrelevant?

Budget Passes

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.

Source
"Legislature Approves New Two-Year Budget." Associated Press 7 June 2005.

6 comments:

Ebpie said...

I don't think Republicans in the legislature have anything to gain by just going along with Rell and her new Democratic friends. Granted they have little influence over anything, but the influence they do have will surely vanish if they tag along nicely with whatever Rell says. While many may disagree with the CT GOP, at least at this point they are providing a real alternative. I agree with the argument that they should moderate themselves on things like stem cell research and civil unions, but on taxes and spending they should continue to hold the line against increases in either. We are one of the highest taxed states in the Union. Perhaps one of the reasons people are fleeing south is because no one can afford to live here anymore. If millions of people in this state can live within a set budget, why can't our government?

Genghis Conn said...

ebpie,

We can't have a functioning government without increases in taxes. Our infrastructure is outmoded, our schools are sliding into decay, towns and cities are broke and the neediest among us need health care. We can't fix these things without raising taxes to pay for them. We can, however, be wise and fair in the way that we decide to raise taxes, and I think this budget by and large was.

If Republicans can become reasonable voices of fiscal and social moderation instead of stubborn and out of touch social and fiscal conservatives, they will provide a viable alternative to Democrats. Again, I don't see this happening any time soon.

Ebpie said...

Genghis,

I agree that a lot needs to be done in CT, especially when it comes to transportation and health care. That being said, however, taking people's money away from them (whether you think it is fair or not) should not always be the first option considered by the Legislature. Taxes and spending in CT have increased at a rate triple that of inflation. We are the highest taxed state per capita. CT is second only to Alaska in young people leaving. CT has been ranked as one of the worst states to start a business. The constitutionally mandated state spending cap (approved by 81% of voters and called a "suggestion" by House Democrats) has been broken three years in a row. Anyone who thinks that these facts are not interconnected is ignoring reality. I had so much hope last summer that Rell would put her foot down and restore some fiscal responsibility, sadly that doesn't seem to be the case. I doubt Destefano or Bysewiecz would do any better. I don't know where Malloy comes down on this, but I read his letter on saving the Groton sub base and really liked it. I'd be interested to know in what he has to say about the budget.

stomv said...

Some data on the tax game:

Average total state and local tax burden, by state.

Sure, CT is 12th (13th if you include DC). But, look at the numbers -- .4% higher than average. Frankly, that doesn't seem to me to be a large burden, considering that Connecticut schools are far better than those in most states.

Frankly, I just don't think the .4% above average is the reason that "no one can afford to live here anymore." Housing costs are the major problem, not taxation. CT needs to figure out how to create more affordable housing without destroying the character of its towns -- no easy task.

MikeCT said...

We have high taxes per capita because we have a lot of wealthy people. Taxes are an investment in a civil and productive society. Without quality schools, roads, and health care, no one will want to live here - something CBIA won't acknowledge. In the wealthiest state in the country, we can afford to do better than we are. Even with a millionaire's tax, wealthy residents would come out way ahead because of the Bush tax cuts.

Additional info (PDF report) on where CT stands on state taxes and spending relative to other states:

* In 2002, The Connecticut Economy ranked CT the 2nd most frugal state in the nation (second only to New Hampshire).

CT is
* 47th (i.e. 4th lowest) in state and local spending as a percentage of personal income
* 49th (i.e. second lowest) in total state and local spending on education as a share of
total personal income

* Since the mid-1990s, Connecticut’s growth in state spending has been less than the 50-state average, and far less than in prior years.


Taxes:
* On state and local government revenues as a percentage of total state personal income – CT is 5th to last among states.

* On the trend in total state and local business tax burden – CT is one of just 3 states where total business taxes have declined recently.

* On overall state and local business tax burden – CT ranks in the bottom 10 of all states on 3 of 4 measures of business tax burden.

* Connecticut’s tax rates are competitive with and in some cases markedly below those of other states, including states in our region.

Genghis Conn said...

stomv and MikeCT,

Very informative information, thanks for posting it!

On a personal note, both my wife and I live in Connecticut and work in Massachusetts. Up until last year, I worked in Connecticut. My income taxes were significantly lower in CT than in MA, because of rules in CT designed to help people with a low income, such as not taxing the first $10,000 (I believe) of one's income. Given the choice, I'd rather work in CT than MA for that reason (also, CT's tax forms are far, far easier to fill out and understand).