Governor Jodi Rell, after months of back and forth barbs with Democratic leaders in the legislature, has gotten down to regular, behind-closed-doors negotiations about a budget deal.
As Christine Stuart of ctnewsjunkie.com reports, those talks are "inching along," but might become a daily occurance until a compromise is met.
One driving force? An arbitrary August 22nd deadline, imposed in 1991 by then-Governor Lowell Weicker. He was able to pass the state's first income tax budget that year...by that date. The current group hopes to sneak in under the deadline, or at least beat Pennsylvania to the finish line. They're the only other state that doesn't currently have a budget, and it's starting to screw with town services there. (By the way, as Chris Keating reports on his Capitol Watch blog, there are unintended consequences of dragged-out budget talks for towns in Connecticut, too.)
The Connecticut hangup is, like in 1991, the income tax - but this time it's about whether to raise the rate for those making $500,000 or more. That's the biggest part of the Democrats plan, and something Rell opposes. She thinks more cuts need to come first, and worries about high-income earners leaving the state.
But our budget wizard, Keith Phaneuf of the Journal Inquirer, shows a booming "millionaire's club" in the state - made rich in recent years by Bush administration tax cuts. Many economists, and a recent Quinnipiac poll show that it's unlikely we'd see a great Southern migration of millionaires, even if taxes go up.
That said, our current fiscal woes are clearly blamed in part on the loss of tax revenue from these very same rich folks, many of whom got hit hard by the recession, and the collapse of the financial services industry in Fairfield County. Rell's budget chief Bob Genuario told us last week that's why he thinks income tax is "less stable" than other types of taxes, like those he's proposed on cigarettes.
So, okay, it's an idealogical budget fight...we got that, and at least now everyone's talking. What's my concern?
In the middle of this crisis, which is squeezing towns, service providers, the elderly and the sick, we get this story from Jon Lender of the Courant. He reports on a meeting called by the Governor's press aides with the public information officers (PIOs) who work for the various state agencies. From Lender's column, here's the email sent by gubernatorial press officer Donna Tommelleo:
We would like to have a brief get-together here at the Capitol at 10 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 10 with our PIO colleagues to take stock of how we're all doing during this protracted budget season and to see how we can all better help each other and brainstorm on a few things, including all issues budget related, i.e. how the media is playing — or not playing the issues.
It seems that no matter how much all of us provide to balance their story, far too many reporters [especially TV] are not using it and instead training their cameras on the well-orchestrated rallies and protests and barely giving our side a mention.
The story goes on to say that in the meeting, several media members were called out for inappropriate questioning of Governor Rell - specifically questions about her dutiful attendance to ceremonial photo ops while the budget stalemate continues. Lender finds it "astonishing" that this message is being sent - some might call it "shocking."
But to some of us close to the situation, trying to get listeners information about what's happening, it's no real surprise.
This week, for instance, Anna Sale, WNPR's excellent Captiol Region Reporter has been repeatedly denied an opportunity to sit with the Governor for 5-10 minutes to discuss the budget and the income tax for a story this week on National Public Radio. No reason has been given for the denial, but Lender's story shines a light on a possibility: Rell's office doesn't like media that ask difficult questions they don't see coming. The result? A national audience is denied a chance to hear the Governor defend her positions against some fairly sharp criticism.
Anna was told that she could have attended some of the many staged media events, where Governor Rell would happily answer budget questions as part of a larger media availability. But, if I'm reading the message right from the Governor's press office, any off-script questions about the income tax or leadership might draw a sharp rebuke...maybe even another PIO summit meeting!
Here's what's strange: As someone who's heard a lot of politicians, I'll say that Governor Rell has no problem getting her point across. She's clear, firm, sticks by her guns and is obviously very likeable. She is not someone who should be hiding, or coddled. She's a great politician, with a clear point of view. Why on earth wouldn't she want to get that message out to the nation?
This trend has been chronicled in a story by Andy Bromage in the Advocate. Where We Live has tried repeatedly over our three-plus year history to get the Governor to sit and talk with us and take listener calls. She's the only statewide elected official, or congressional delegate, or candidate for any of the above offices, to refuse to do so. Joe Lieberman took calls from listeners. Joe Lieberman!
To be fair, she has come on as a guest - but for short segments, with no listener interaction. And, it's not like she doesn't reach out to local media. Rell is a regular guest on WCCC's morning show with Sebastian. I'd kinda hoped to put up a link to one of their interviews, but he doesn't have any available. He does, however, have a link to his sports picks, and a link to the top-10 nude scenes of all time! (You can find that link yourself.)