Two good men [Manchester Journal Inquirer]

August 11, 2011

Article as it appeared in the Manchester Journal Inquirer on August 10, 2011

John McKinney is the minority leader of the Connecticut Senate. Larry Cafero is the Republican leader of the Connecticut House. If the national leaders of their party were more like them, the country would be in better shape.

If Gov. Dannel Malloy thought more like them, and included then in his deliberations, the state would have a brighter future.

In an era in which moderate Republicans seem to have gone underground, these two men worry as much about the environment, education, and housing as they do budgets. They are traditional Republicans who think the first order of government is its own fiscal soundness, and the second is to stay out of the way of people who drive the economy and create jobs. But they are also Connecticut Republicans in that they care about issues like clean air, clean water, open space, and mass transit.

Both men are lawyers and both have been active in local school reform in their towns of Norwalk (Cafero) and Fairfield (McKinney). McKinney also is involved in a homeless shelter. And both men have been staunch supporters of the state child advocate and her very inexpensive crusade to save the lives of endangered kids.

Indeed, you could make a good case that the two GOP leaders are more progressive than Malloy, especially on two key issues: Taxes and small business. Both men decry ending the tax exemption for clothing and footwear because it hits the working class hard. Both are stunned at the governor’s indifference to small business owners. Under Malloy’s new tax code, say Cafero and McKinney, some small businesses must pay three-quarters worth of retroactive tax— onerous by any definition.

It might not surprise you to know that these two gentlemen put out budget figures considerably lower than Malloy’s. But most people don’t know that they put out a line-by-line alternative budget.

They think they had a couple dozen good ideas — indeed a few that were no-brainers. But the governor and his budget director let Cafero and McKinney know they were not interested. That surprised both Republicans because Malloy began his term by asking, publicly and privately, for their help.

“Don’t back me into a corner,” Malloy said. “Work with me.”

Cafero and McKinney said they would, both because they wanted to be politically relevant and because, as Cafero puts it, “We live here, our kids are here, we love this state. We want the governor to succeed.” (Are you listening, Mitch McConnell?)

In the end, the governor took not a single one of their suggestions and engaged in no negotiation for GOP votes. He didn’t need them, at least numerically.

And Cafero and McKinney feel the governor put the state in a corner:

  • Overall state spending went up, not down.
  • Taxes increased hugely, especially on the middle class.
  • The state’s unfunded liabilities, chiefly pensions, were not dealt with.
  • Overtime for state employees has gone essentially untouched and the governor has guaranteed that health benefits will not be in any way limited.
  • And state employees have also been guaranteed another four years of no layoffs if they take the governor’s so-called concessions deal. That’s the kind of deal, Cafero and McKinney point out, that Malloy derided when made by his predecessors. That’s the kind of deal Andrew Cuomo did not make. Cuomo is a Democrat but Cafero and McKinney like what he’s done in New York.

Cafero and McKinney find Malloy’s performance so far to be a shocking embrace of the status quo.