Ken Dixon: Balance of power teeters on see-saw

January 7, 2018 GMT

Here we come, waddling out of 2017 and right into the new year’s first major dump.

Speaking of dumps, Connecticut’s bedraggled, “part-time” General Assembly will be back in the Capitol on Monday, with their duct tape and dreams, trying to solve the latest crisis in the never-ending saga.

Yep, they got caught offending a voter group of more than 100,000 elderly participants in the Medicare Savings Program. It’s tough nickel-and-diming your way through a $5-billion deficit in a $20-billion annual budget, so lawmakers — approving a proposal by the governor — cut income limits by half.

When the state Department of Social Services sent letters describing the new income requirements that would take effect Jan. 1, the criticism of legislative leaders was strong.

Gov. Dan Malloy’s DSS bought them some time, extending the old income levels through June.

In the Capitol’s new bipartisan landscape, with Republicans actually taking responsibility instead of pointing fingers at Democrats, political expediency called for them to act.

Malloy, making a sensible but more-challenging request, wants them to tackle the bigger issue of a projected $220-million deficit in the budget that runs through June 30.

But let’s take bipartisan baby steps.

So, on Monday state lawmakers will shake and bake their way to restoring $54 million in the current budget to help about 161,000 people in all (the governor’s budget office estimates) to pay for Medicare Part B premiums and out-of-pocket costs.

They’ll also find $130 million to keep the income levels in the next biennium. This will all swirl around in the crucible of a big election year.

Malloy, the Democratic lame duck, won’t go gently into that political night. It’s legacy-building time and he’s essentially become a party unto himself, pouring water — or gasoline — as the occasions may require, on various legislative schemes, during a year that will be remembered as a turning point in Connecticut history.

On Friday, he tried to deflate lawmakers.

“This isn’t a long bill, and yet it embodies of all the bad practices that have imperiled Connecticut’s state budget for decades,” Malloy said Friday. “In terms of budget gimmickry, it shoots the moon: wishful thinking, pushing problems off into the future, and shoddy math — most egregiously in the form of double-counting savings in our already underfunded teachers’ pension system.”

Republicans haven’t enjoyed a majority in the state House or Senate since before John Rowland, the good-time Charlie of state politics now lingering in his second federal-prison stint, won the governor’s race in a three-way contest back in 1994.

That GOP control of the state Senate lasted only two years.

Now, Republicans are as close to grabbing back the executive and legislative branches as they have in 30 years or longer. The current flat-footed 18-18 tie in the Senate, with Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman as the Democratic hammer who broke about 14 tie votes last year, is fragile at best.

The 79-72 Democratic lead in the House is a bit of a reach for the GOP this fall, but every day House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby doesn’t make a move toward running for governor, brings her closer to becoming the first female Republican Speaker of the House.

And nothing is easier, or more true, than Republican charges that Malloy and his Democratic enablers enacted the state’s two largest tax hikes since the 1991 income tax. Forget the billions in state employee givebacks. Forget the investments in the state’s under-funded pensions. Taxpayers, taxpayers, taxpayers have such short attention spans and the only people who watch the gubernatorial debates, where such nuance will be aired, are the Democrat and Republican bases.

For whatever reasons, maybe he’s not soft and cuddly enough, Malloy has an approval rate of under 25 percent. Rowland was a very likable pol, a young up-and-coming congressman, a schmoozer, an entitled crook who doled out an unnecessary $56 million contract for a juvenile prison that is headed for closure.

Democrats with some sense of scope hope that President Donald Trump hangs on, without starting a nuclear war, because he can definitely become an issue in the 2018 elections.

And if Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim doesn’t become their candidate, forcing voter apathy and a 20-percent party turnout, they can play their Trump card into possibly maintaining control of state government.

Some history: In 1957, at the height of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower’s two terms, the GOP controlled the Connecticut House of Representatives by 249 to 30.

In 1967, after the state’s Constitutional Convention of 1965, while Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson enjoyed post-JFK popularity, Democrats took control 117-60.

In 1973 and ’74, at the zenith of Richard M. Nixon’s imperial presidency and his “Silent Majority,” Republicans were back to a 93-58 edge in the House. After Watergate and Nixon’s resignation, Democrats held a 118-33 majority.

Finally, during the sweet spot of the Ronald Reagan administration, 1985-86, House Republicans held a 85-66 majority. Little did they know that it would be their last for more than three decades.

The House GOP finally reached their low ebb, a 37-114 minority, during 2009-2010, President Barack Obama’s first term.

Yep, there’s a lot at stake in 2018.

Ken Dixon can be reached in the Capitol at 860-549-4670 or at kdixon@ctpost.com. See twitter.com/KenDixonCT. His Facebook address is kendixonct.hearst.