Two reasons why: first, Rowland got out of jail. Whenever he's in the news, people remember how glad they are to be rid of him. Rell got a similar bounce last April when Rowland was sentenced.
Second, people may be reacting to her proposal to eliminate the car tax. It isn't a well-liked tax (if there is such a thing), and while Democrats and some municipal leaders fret and fume about it, the general public seems pretty happy with the idea.
As the election year progresses, it's looking more and more likely that Rell's numbers combined with her actions will translate into an overwhelming electoral victory. Not even a fundraising scandal has been able to bring down Rell's popularity.
Opposition for its own sake
This can lead Democrats to a difficult place, in which they acquire strange bedfellows. Witness House Speaker Jim Amman speaking about the proposed repeal of the car tax in Cromwell yesterday:
Noting his strong opposition as a young legislator to a similar proposal by Democratic state Sen. James Maloney of Danbury in 1994, Amann said his views have not changed. Maloney's plan was signed into law by then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., but was repealed the next year after John G. Rowland succeeded Weicker.
"This is Gov. Rell's resurrection of the Maloney baloney tax," Amann said, using a term popularized by Rowland when he pushed for repeal. (Keating)
Okay, then. "Maloney baloney tax?" Technically, it was more of a Maloney baloney tax ax, right? It's also unclear how a plan that would refund to towns 100% of the money that they should have received from the car tax would lose towns money. I'm not sure that even the towns know what will happen if the tax is repealed, at this point.
Worse, Democrats are starting to look like hypocrites, because they're the ones who have been pushing for property tax reform. A better plan--or even a mildly acceptable alternative--has not been forthcoming from the majority. Rell has been very good at co-opting the issues of her opposition and making them her own. Bill Clinton knew how to do this, also--and it drove Republicans just as crazy.
So all Democrats can do at this moment is oppose the plan on dozens of different, unsteady grounfs, and side with jittery municipal officals who are concerned about losing control over one of their revenue streams. This is a lousy position to reform property taxes from.
The sad fact of the matter is that property tax reform will necessarily be a painful thing. There is no way to alleviate property taxes--and municipalities' over-reliance on them--without infringing on local control. Whether that infringement comes in the form of Gov. Rell's modest tax reshuffling, regionalization of services or some sort of other state tax increase depends on how serious the legislature is about getting the job done.
Right now the Democratic leadership doesn't seem serious about property tax reform at all, while Gov. Rell does. It doesn't matter whether the tax is actually some sort of giveaway to the rich (it isn't) or that it doesn't really do anything to help out towns (it won't); what matters is that once again, she's managed to look like a bold, pragmatic reformer while the legislative leadership seems about as proactive as sand turtles.
Is it any wonder, then, why Rell is so popular?
Keating, Christopher. "Amann Takes Aim At Rell's Tax Plan." Hartford Courant 15 February, 2006.
Poll. SurveyUSA Approval Ratings for All 50 Governors as of 2/14/06. Conducted by SurveyUSA Feb. 10-13, 2006.