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Malloy simulates action, GOP simulates opposition

Governor Malloy’s strategy for re-election seems to be to pretend that Connecticut’s economy is improving so much that he can plaster the state with spending proposals and tax rebates — the supposedly popular things that were done by his predecessors in previous election years and brought state government to the desperate financial condition they bequeathed him.

But Connecticut’s mood is so sour because economic recovery here is only pretense, and there may be some political risk in telling people who are struggling that they are really doing well.

Also pretense is the budget surplus the governor touts. Even a Democratic state senator, Stonington’s Andrew Maynard, acknowledged the other day that the surplus is largely a matter of the $560 million borrowed by state government in October in the name of complying with generally accepted accounting principles. “There is no surplus,” Maynard said. There is even less surplus if the long neglect of the state pension fund is counted.

Meanwhile, despite the governor’s boosterism, bipartisan estimates project that state taxes won’t produce enough revenue to cover current spending levels in the next two years — that deficits are ahead.

The governor’s ideas are not all bad. Indeed, he would put more of the supposed surplus into the reserve and pension funds than leaders of the Republican minority would. But he does not believe that any of Connecticut’s policy premises are profoundly mistaken. He will support more of the same — in some cases much more — and will charge off in a dozen more pursuits that will simulate action without producing change.

Meanwhile the strategy of the Republican candidates for governor figures that the state’s continuing economic decline and Malloy’s unpopularity will be enough to defeat him. The Republicans have no more to say than the governor about mistaken premises and policies.

For example, the Republican nominee from four years ago, former Ambassador Tom Foley, says he’ll freeze discretionary spending and try to reduce the sales tax a little, though mandatory spending alone drives the state budget up every year. Foley does not explain how a sales tax cut is to be financed, and the meek hope of a little reduction in the sales tax is not likely to persuade anyone that state government’s direction will be changed.

No, Republicans will continue in the same direction, just not quite as fast.

But while there will be more pretense in the state budget, at least there will be no more in campaign financing in Connecticut, as the Democrats, sensing their vulnerability, squeeze political contributions from nearly everyone with a selfish financial stake in state government — contractors, utilities, applicants for government funding, and so forth, “public financing” exclusively for the political establishment.

The humiliation here can be shared among Democrats but much falls on former state Sen. Donald DeFronzo of New Britain and former state Rep. Chris Caruso of Bridgeport, who wrote the reform legislation when they chaired the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee.

The other day the Journal Inquirer sought comment from them about the party’s betrayal of campaign finance reform. Both refused to discuss the issue, DeFronzo having become the Malloy administration’s commissioner of administrative services and Caruso an employee of the state Labor Department.

Reform is nice in principle but a patronage job pays the bills.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.