So much for boldness and risk-taking. The just-ended 2007 session of the General Assembly took off amid soaring expectations but landed just short of a fizzle.
You'd think it would be otherwise with the state swimming in an unanticipated surplus of nearly $1 billion and counting, the Democrats wielding a veto-proof majority and the Republican governor pledging to make history with what she termed a budget for generations.
But a lot of sweat produced little progress. When the final gavel banged, the hopes of February had turned to disappointment and rancor. The session ended without agreement on the fundamental tool - the biennial budget - leaving many grand ideas either dead or in limbo, and leaving it to a special session to pick up the pieces.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislative leaders, who seemed poised to make some real headway on long-standing priorities such as more state aid for education, expanded health care and property tax reform, instead squabbled like kindergartners over crayons.
They even jockeyed for position over who was first to call the special session. This is not leadership.
Until a budget is approved, it's hard to say which promises will be kept. The governor has threatened to veto a $390 million health care package passed at the eleventh hour. She should sign it, or at least agree to needed increases in Medicaid reimbursement to doctors, dentists, nursing homes and expansion of the Husky program. These represent vital steps toward universal access to care.
A bright light was a landmark energy package that is strong on protection of the environment, conservation and energy efficiency. It won't reduce utility bills just yet, but it represents saner long-term policy. Money to help poor people pay their electric bills and for energy conservation programs, vetoed by Mrs. Rell for constitutional reasons, should be put in the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Unbelievably, contract reform, a high priority since the demise of the Rowland administration, will have to wait for another day. Hard-won agreement between the governor and the legislature was finally at hand, but the House version of the bill died at the deadline.
Some progress was made in the area of smart growth, with substantive measures passed to encourage development in town centers and transit corridors. However, a bid to place 16- and 17-year-olds under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts was left hanging until the budget is resolved. Don't let this one slip away.
There's room for redemption on both sides. The Democrats should give up on raising taxes only on the wealthy to fund their budget; it's a bad idea. Mrs. Rell is equally unrealistic, insisting she can have her $3.4 billion education plan with no income tax increase at all. The Democrats didn't help their credibility by trying to slip in a last-minute proposal to hike the corporate tax, an ill-advised move, especially without hearings.
Mrs. Rell and Democratic leaders spent too much time in the final days sniping at one another - a major reason for the failure to accomplish a substantial chunk of their stated goals. Had they canned the rhetoric and simply put their heads together in earnest, they might have crafted a deal that we could all be proud of.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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