Never have so many wasted so much time with such little result, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill.
That describes the lamentable session of the 2009 General Assembly, which expired Wednesday at midnight. It died without agreement between lawmakers and Gov. M. Jodi Rell on the most important item by far on the agenda: a state budget for the next two years.
Each side has pronounced the state to be in the worst fiscal crisis — falling revenues, yawning deficits — in its history. Yet progress on a budget agreement has proceeded at a snail's pace since the session's opening gavel some five months ago. Paralysis has been the pathetic response to crisis.
Legislative leaders and Mrs. Rell alike have contributed to the impasse — with an edge, if you can call it that, to lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. The majority party couldn't even pass its own budget before the session ended. Such a budget almost certainly would have been vetoed by the governor, but it could have served as a starting point in post-session negotiations well in advance of where the parties stand now.
Highs and lows
The session had a few noteworthy high points:
• The legislature at long last approved sweeping reform of the state's antiquated probate court system. Reform will consolidate and improve services and put the probate system on firmer financial footings.
• Connecticut's death penalty was repealed by courageous votes of the House and Senate. Unfortunately, Mrs. Rell vetoed the repeal bill on Friday. Her veto will likely stand.
• The state's beleaguered dairy farming industry will be shored up by a special fund created by the legislature.
• Lawmakers passed a common-sense law requiring U.S. Senate vacancies to be filled by special election rather than gubernatorial appointment.
• An enterprise zone was created at Bradley International Airport in an effort to create jobs.
But the legislature dithered and failed to pass other common-sense bills. One would have banned open containers of alcoholic beverages in automobiles. Another would have permitted citizens to both register and vote on Election Day. A third made it easier for qualified professionals who make mid-career shifts to the teaching ranks to be certified. Now those bills will be taken out with the trash.
Both sides unreasonable
The lack of a budget agreement was by far the session's biggest failure and will be its hallmark. By session's end, Mrs. Rell and legislators were still nearly a billion dollars apart on the size of the projected deficit that must be overcome. The Democrats still want to raise taxes too much and the governor, unrealistically, opposes any tax increases. They agree on some spending cuts, but not enough to close the deal. Each side has placed the highest priority on trying to fix blame on the other for unpopular but necessary budget-balancing measures.
That will have to change.
Mrs. Rell refused to give the traditional session-closing remarks, in a show of her displeasure at the budget impasse, but then noted: "It is time to turn the page, to move forward with commitment and resolve to work together to deliver to the people of this state a budget that will meet their needs."
The alarm bell is ringing.
Are our elected leaders — legislators and governor — so lacking in powers of persuasion, vision, confidence and concern for the good of the state that they are unable to find common ground? Can't Mrs. Rell and the Democratic leaders — Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams and House Speaker Chris Donovan — break their respective fixations on short-term political gain and work together in a spirit of compromise?
The elements of a deal are already on the table. For heaven's sake, just pass a budget.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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