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Dorky dad lays down house rules

February 21, 2019

Damn you, Ned Lamont. I was one-third of the way through the writing of a perfectly good column making fun of you, and then you gave that whole hopey, changey, sugary drinky, tolly, plastic baggy, vapey budget speech.

It was a good speech, devoid of majesty and reeking of political neighborliness. I never thought I would write these words, but Lamont has twice now demonstrated an ability to make the room smaller, as they say in entertainment.

“Anybody here from Stonington? Yes? You guys? I thought so. You smell like scallops, but in a good way.”

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OK, he didn’t say that, but he said that kind of thing. A budget address is always delivered to a chamber full of sulking, sighing, yawning, tweeting, texting, grumpy cats who can’t wait for the governor to stop talking so they can go have a cigarette in a litter box or something.

The idea that you could maybe get those cats to like you a little, using dad jokes and appeals to basic fairness, is downright radical.

But he had us at “crickets.” Lamont was explaining his “debt diet,” which will drastically limit the use of bonded debt to pay for, you know, stuff. When it comes to debt diets, Ned is going to find out that legislators are the equivalent of stress eaters.

If Senator X is having a bad day, maybe he’d feel better if his town got $1.4 million for a delightful new recreation area including a state-of-the-art playscape in the shape of Senator X’s head. Yes, that would be nice.

The playground will be inserted on some future bonding commission calendar.

This arrangement then allows the governor’s staff to have certain conversations with Senator X when they want him to do other things, such as approve state funding for flying monkey research by Jackson Labs in the secret steam tunnels of Farmington. (This is happening, by the way.)

Staff member: “Who’s a good boy? Who’s gonna vote for the monkeys?”

Senator X droops head and looks at his shoes.

Staff member: “Who wants a fort that looks like him? Who? Who wants to play Frisbee in his own special town park?”

Senator X smiles and pants excitedly.

This is often how things get done, but Lamont claims to be shutting that system down. And when he came to the part in his speech where he gazed upon them and said: ix-nay on the ork-pay, the room did get quiet.

“Note to self: crickets,” the governor quipped.

He really is dad, right? And we’re high school juniors.

Visitor from Mississippi, “Your governor is so cute! He’s so funny!”

Us: “Noooooo! He’s such a dork! He’s so embarrassing!”

Visitor from Mississippi (wistfully): “Our governor is an electric chair.”

The rebellion began before the speech ended. Republican lawmakers arrived in the chamber with enormous, colonoscopy-prep sized plastic cups emblazoned with names like BIG STUPID KIDNEYBUSTER, an act of William Wallace-level defiance against Lamont’s proposed tax on sweetened drinks. “They may take our lives. But they will never take our Pina Colada Slurpees!”

The problem: if you didn’t have the context, they just looked like morons who didn’t know any better. Also, a lot of them forgot and left the garish cups in the chamber for the next session, a peppy, zesty 148-hour debate on public defender salaries.

And when the speech ended, the battle was truly joined, as every affected entity (or its lobbyist) rushed onto the field of play to announce its hostility toward “new taxes” which were often more accurately the disappearance of some unwarranted tax exemption they had worked hard to acquire.

Even accountants would lose their sales and use tax exemption! And they were angry. From their statement: “You’re entering a world of pain, pain being, to the best of the responsible party’s knowledge and belief, an entity’s expected level of discomfort arising from results of operations, and changes in financial position. See Schedule P.”

Ned gave an amiable speech, but is it a good budget? It’s hard to tell, and it may not matter. So many things would have to go right for it to survive into May in any kind of recognizable form. And that many things never do go right at the Capitol.

And it would be wrong to let Ned skate on some of the missteps leading up to this speech. He campaigned on a very restrictive vision of tolls — out-of-state big trucks only. Preferably real dirty ones! When word got out in the last few days that his budget would instead contain tolls for all of us, all hell broke loose. So Wednesday’s budget put tolls into a quantum state in which they could go either way. Tolls-for-everybody generates, unsurprisingly, many hundreds of millions more in revenue.

I’m not a big fan of this technique, which is based on Ned’s childhood memories of visiting J. Press clothiers with his dad. That nice Mr. Armando at the necktie counter would hold up various combinations. “So with the navy blue suit, does Monsieur prefer the burgundy print or the yellow paisley?”

“I’m not sure, Mr. Armando. Hold each one up against the fabric again.”

Pick one tie, Ned. There’s work to do. Anyway, Mr. Armando moved to Florida.

Colin McEnroe’s column appears every Sunday, his newsletter comes out every Thursday and you can hear his radio show every weekday on WNPR 90.5. Email him at colin@ctpublic.org. Sign up for his newsletter at http://bit.ly/colinmcenroe.