Look at the accompanying photograph. The old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In this case, add millions of new tax dollars to that statement and you get a snapshot of what happened during the bipartisan budget negotiations. Based on body language alone, if Detectives Briscoe and Green (Law and Order reference) were in an interview room with two sets of suspects, it’s easy to tell that Senator Len Fasano and Minority Leader Themis Klarides would have their faces pressed against a dingy wall while they were being handcuffed and read their rights. On the other hand, Speaker Joe Aresimowicz was smiling like the proverbial Cheshire cat. And who could blame him? For in that moment, it’s certain he was thinking he just retained his speakership. He most likely would have lost it when he could not cajole his caucus into a budget vote for nearly six months. Not to mention he won his district by less than 500 votes. So giddy was the speaker, you knew he wouldn’t be able to bite his tongue when he finally was alone with a reporter. More on that later…
Both sides tried to deflect questions on specifics during the Wednesday afternoon presser. They gave scant details, but when pressed for the obvious question of whether the parties had agreed on additional taxes, neither party budged. Deferring to the old standby line, “We need to discuss this with our respective caucuses.” But body language being what it is, anyone remotely familiar with the budget fiasco that has played out over the last several months, knew the republicans had once again knelt before the alter of tax and spend liberalism.
Speaker Aresimowicz also let slip that the democrats were still trying to placate Governor Malloy when he said, “A lot of time we went in the governor’s original direction.” A reporter asked Aresimowicz if Hartford had been saved. He deferred to Rep. Matt Ritter who stated, “Yes. The city of Hartford will be on a brighter path once we get this budget passed.” No word whether or not any sort of fiscal responsibility was attached to what amounts to a bailout of failed policies. The answer he gave was one that taxpayers would assume means more money to spend on overpriced stadiums, and buses to shuttle suburban millennials for their “urban” experience.
Although many questions asked of the negotiators were met with the caucus response, unsurprisingly, media outlets across the state came up with several more details overnight. As the Connecticut Mirror reports:
Republican leaders have agreed to raise taxes as part of the bipartisan budget framework announced Wednesday, sources say, with several of the levies hitting what typically are seen as Democratic constituencies: public school teachers, the working poor and smokers. The tax on teachers is meant to offset the loss of revenue caused by rejection of a proposal by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to have cities and towns begin contributing to the underfunded pension system for public school teachers, a cost now borne by teachers and the state.
The source of the leak can only be from the democratic leadership. Only democrats would consider an investment in their own pensions a tax. A contribution to their already generous benefits that pay interest. Based on the fact the speaker has poorly reigned over this session, and was overly gregarious during the press conference, points to him being the most likely candidate as the Mirror reported, “Sources close to the state budget talks.” Any parent can see the similarities in Aresimowicz’ reaction to that of potty training their toddler. “Look mommy I peed in the toilet like a big boy.”
The press conference ended with one of the most awkward handshakes ever witnessed. As Rep. Klarides was making a hasty retreat, a reporter asked for the obligatory handshake between the parties. Klarides turned to face the Speaker who once again was less than humble and wore a broad smile on his face, while the GOP representative looked as though she would rather be anywhere but there. An even worse optic was provided by Sen. Cathy Osten who was positioned between the two, and appeared to be acting as the officiant at an arranged marriage.
Besides the specific details to come, it still remains to be seen whether the republican caucus and voters across the state loosely fit the handcuffs on GOP leadership or if they squeeze them tight to the point of cutting off their circulation. One can’t help but wonder how many of the republican representatives will also sign the confession.
Photos courtesy of screenshots from WFSB video