Whenever I write a crabby column – like this one — knocking a Democratic politician (and I do that more often than I get credit for), I’m always flustered by the way a group of chronic soreheads closes ranks around me and claims me — temporarily — as one of their own. The problem is exacerbated today because the headline is maybe just a demi-scintilla crankier than I actually meant the column to be. And then the influential Dudchik site boiled that down to “McEnroe bails on Malloy.”
No he doesn’t.
I want to be able to criticize Malloy when it seems meet and right. I’m not his water-carrier, bag-man, corner boy, etc. But in the last analysis, I’m supportive of what he’s trying to do. I had an opportunity to explain that this morning when I got an email from somebody named Jessica W. (I’m not going to bother to fix her typos, because I’m too lazy):
I read your article on Dan Malloy’s budget. I think it’s great someone is asking these questions and writing some articles. However this situation is extremely serious and more needs to be done immediately. We must demand dan Malloy gives us a complete copy of our budget before anything goes further. We might need to organize a group of people to demand the budget. Would you be interested in doing that? I would like to organize a group and then we could merge them. the more people the better. Also are you aware of the Connecticut Constitution? Sacred Heart university recently began printing it in book form and it’s very nice to have a hard copy. I seriously think we should look into impeaching Dan Malloy because he’s lying all over the place and money is disappearing from the budget. No one in the state of Ct approves of him taking out more loans. And as far as this recent snow storm goes, I honestly see considerably less state
and town plows on the road – why?? this is rediculous, sure we have a little more snow then usuaul but the amount of snow doesnt corilate with just how poor of a job was done to clear our roads. this was a serious safty concern. Im seeing things ive never seen happen in this state before.
OK, that’s Jessica’s email. Here’s my answer:
Look, I’m not crazy about the way this budget was presented, but I can’t go any of those other places.
To your first point, budget-making is a fairly transparent (if unnecessarily complicated) process. As it moves along, you will be able to see, if you choose, every last little detail…until the very last minute. In fact, the true budget subterfuge is committed — every time — by the legislature, in the form of implementers. That will come in May. [Author's note: Re-reading Jessica's email, it seems to me she may not understand that Malloy's budget proposal is not a budget but essentially the first move in a long chess match.]
Money is not disappearing from the budget. It’s moving around a lot. It always does. That’s the unnecessarily confusing part. The first budget I covered was in 1979. It was an Ella Grasso budget. It was often pretty hard to figure out, back then, what was going on. The process is always a bit of a scramble. Malloy’s budgets are not more confusing or deceptive than those of Grasso, O’Neill, Weicker, Rowland or Rell. The problem is, they’re not that much less confusing and deceptive either. [Author's note: It's kind of a disservice to lump them all together like that. My point is: It has never been a number on the right column and a number on the left. It's always a mishmash that's pretty hard for the average person to follow.]
In defense of Malloy, he inherited a mess. When he took over, the gap between the money coming in and the money being spent was $3.7 billion. That was the handiwork of other people, not Malloy. He had to try to fix that. I have not loved every thing he’s tried, but most of his proposals represent good faith efforts to solve problems he did not invent.
Lastly, you can count on me to crusade against any attempt to impeach him, not that there is even a shred of a cause to do this.
Malloy has ushered in a new era of openness and has made some pretty serious stabs at good government after 16 years of very bad and often deeply corrupt government. During the Rowland years, virtually every level and every department of state government was compromised in some way, and the first, second and third response to any questions from the outside was stonewalling. Rell’s intentions were better, but she was unsuccessful in reversing the institutional attitudes created by Rowland and his henchmen. She also found high ethical standards to be inconvenient. (You may recall she appointed her own in-house director of ethics and then sent her to Siberia when it became a nuisance to have someone sitting there making people follow the rules.)
Here’s how I see Malloy: he’s far more honest than Rowland and far more hard-working than Rell. His basic goal is a functioning state government, and he’s willing to do some pretty hard (and unpopular) things to get there. But he’s not perfect. And he’s also a politician. And no politician — except President Bartlett on “The West Wing” — can really bring him or herself to tell all the constituencies the bitterest of the bitter truths.
So even the best of them will always disappoint a little.