On November 8, 2010 Democrat Dan Malloy heard what he had wanted to hear from his Republican gubernatorial rival, Tom Foley, a concession speech.
Governor-elect Malloy is facing a budgetary challenge of epic proportions. In 1991, then Governor Lowell P. Weicker faced a $1 billion deficit. That challenge resulted in the state income tax. Malloy faces a deficit climbing to $4 billion.
Last year New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie faced similar budgetary challenges. Contrary to all the “talk” of tea party Republicans, Christie has walked the talk and made tough and unpopular decisions. Republicans across the country, so impressed with this clarity of leadership, are calling for the Falstaff-like New Jersey leader to run for president.
Unlike former Governor Sarah Palin, Christie won’t quit and is smart enough to know his popularity won’t last with the decisions he has and will need to make.
In the beginning Christie was praised for taking on the teachers unions, canceling large public works projects and not backing down to hecklers at rallies from New Jersey to California.
Poll numbers and support for Christie’s “austerity” campaign were originally positive. Now that the cuts are beginning to bleed, the numbers are getting shaky. Christie remains unbowed. The Governor of New Jersey knows that there is a difference between leadership and popularity.
Connecticut is a great state with world-class universities, major corporations and some of the wealthiest and smartest people in the country. These attributes, combined with a diversity of cultures and history is a canvas on which Dan Malloy can become the Democrat’s Chris Christie and much more.
Although some scribes are claiming that Governor Malloy’s early hires are turning his administration into Governor Bill O’Neill 2.0, that analysis is too simplistic.
Malloy has stated categorically that the state is moving to GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). This move could make the fiscal challenges facing the new governor even greater. In interviews since his razor thin victory Malloy has been up front about telling the “progressive” legislature that he is fiscally far more conservative. He will need to be.
Malloy realizes that we cannot tax our way back to economic viability.
The problem with the state of Connecticut is not a revenue problem it is spending. Malloy knows that the only way to get control of the state finances is to first control spending. He will need to go to the state unions and talk about bringing pay and benefits more in line with the private sector.
Malloy could insulate himself and legislature from the tough decisions by appointing a deficit reduction commission similar to President Obama’s. It is clear the political will to make such choices does not exist in the legislature.
Or the first Democratic Governor in over 20 years can keep playing hocus pocus with the budget dollars, raise fees here and there and keep praying for that big economic turnaround that will increase tax revenues enough that hard cuts will not need to be made. That path, so well traveled and worn, by past Republican governors and Democratic legislatures promises to provide Governor-elect Malloy a legacy of ruin.
The choice before Malloy is clear. Does he want to be a leader or popular? Early indications lean toward the new governor placing the State of Connecticut ahead of himself.
Ben Davol is a veteran of numerous local, state and federal campaigns for both Republican and Democratic candidates. He is now a freelance writer and a registered independent.