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Legislators, Rell fail us

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

This phrase, variously attributed to Joseph P. Kennedy (1888-1969) and to football player and coach Knute Rockne (1888-1931), is something we’d all like to imagine as applying to ourselves. Nobody wants to be seen as running for cover as soon as a challenge arises in life.

Fortitude in the face of adversity is something voters expect from themselves and from their elected officials. In Connecticut this budget season, however, neither the Democratic-controlled Legislature nor the governor’s office come out looking particularly good. They never seem to have “got going” for their constituents’ best interests in these tough economic times.

For example, Jon Lender, The Hartford Courant’s  investigative reporter for government and politics, wrote last Sunday about the reimbursement for commuting mileage, as well as tax exemption of that same mileage under certain circumstances, given to the state’s judges and worker’s compensation commissioners. Lender detailed the path that $930,000 took as what can really seem like gratuitous perks for already highly paid state employees.

When Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office was so insistent that cost cutting should take the place of tax increases, why wouldn’t this sort of line item have been scrutinized, rather than, say, the funding for Lifestar helicopter ambulance services? Could it be that the pencils sharpened by the governor’s office tended to glide above those lines that represented the greatest insider political influence? Rell’s negotiations with state employees left some real money on the table that could have been pulled back to bring the budget to a quicker and more equitable resolution, and Lender’s investigation has delineated a good chunk of such money.

Between the Legislature’s inability to achieve timely cooperative cost-cutting and the governor’s reluctance to build revenue through taxes or to make any significant impact in reductions in benefits (such as the commuting mileage reimbursement Lender targeted) or numbers of the more-than 50,000 state employee base, this has not been a budget year in which anyone can take pride. Businesses and employees throughout the state have tightened their belts to try to make it through this devastating recession. Many businesses have closed and state unemployment is the highest it’s been in decades, yet those in Hartford still could not find and agree on the tough solutions that might have resulted in a better and quicker outcome for the state. The Connecticut electorate needs to remember the approach of those in charge during this budgetary fiasco, and vote accordingly when these same officials are running for re-election.

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