Readers, I’m going to loan you the first two books from the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Can you have it back to me by tomorrow morning?
What’s that, you say? You don’t have time to read two page-turning sensations in 24 hours? Well, too bad – no Christian for you.
That’s essentially what happened in Hartford last week, as the Connecticut House of Representatives met in a special session to approve two jam-packed budget implementation bills. Minority Republicans claimed they had no stake in drafting the legislation and no time to review the final products, which incorporated 100-plus bills – some of which failed during regular session – into more than 600 total pages of dense legalese.
Not exactly flashlight-under-the-covers reading.
Republican leaders challenged Democrats – or anyone, for that matter – to step forward and describe the bills’ contents. House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, noted that our legislators didn’t really know what passed following last month’s adjournment, resulting in the special session. Democrats also noted that Republicans had ample time to dissect their contents.
I feel so much better about this now, don’t you?
But wait – that’s not all! In an ironic twist, House Speaker Chris Donovan got a not-so-friendly call from the FBI last week informing him that his campaign finance manager allegedly diverted contributions illegally. The FBI arrested Robert Braddock Jr. for conspiring to kill legislation that would have eliminated a new tax on roll-your-own smoke shops.
Donovan told the New York Times, “no one ever made a deal with me as a quid pro quo.”
Even better, the state decided to retaliate against the city of Bridgeport following a State Supreme Court ruling that its takeover of Bridgeport’s Board of Education, conducted without public comment, was illegal. The new bill states that the city of Bridgeport won’t get a $3.5 million state loan unless the state has a say in selecting Bridgeport’s new Superintendent of Schools.
I think Senate Minority leader John McKinney said it best:
“Instead of being the most transparent administration, maybe it should be ‘we’re-going-to-do-it-because-we-can administration.’”
Here is why these issues matter: in the smoke shop case, one store owner estimates that she will lose 80 percent of her customers. And while there are only 15 home-rolling stores in Connecticut that translates to 140 jobs.
Few – especially fiscal conservatives – would argue that greater taxation equals greater prosperity. And while attempting to kill bad legislation through legitimate means is admirable and part of the Democratic process, taking illegal contributions to do so is not.
The end result? Legislators don’t want to help the smoke shop owners for fear of being tainted by the FBI investigation. Representative John Piscopo, R-Thomaston suggested that the House remove the language from the bill, ask for public comment and discuss it during the next session. After all, how much revenue does the state really get from 15 smoke shops?
Tough noogies, said Representative Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford. Owners who invest in a business whose tax laws are up for discussion in the state Capitol “enter that business at [their] own risk,” she said.
Fair enough, but shady back-room dealings, party-line voting and retaliatory action against a voter-approved board of education spells trouble for Nutmeggers.
In related news, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed what would have been the strongest campaign finance reform law in the country. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows: both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association opposed the bill, which they said would trample our private right of association as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
One can only hope that our legislators try again. We have only begun to discover what lies in Hartford’s late-night antics.