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‘Circus of con artists’ in Hartford

March 23, 2019

The eye of the hurricane is the first floor of the Legislative Office Building.

From here, standing on the marble, under the soaring atrium, you get a 360-degree view of what’s masquerading for government here in the first weeks of the Lamont era. Yes, the clean, modern architecture belies what’s going on in the hubbub around you.

It’s a circus of con artists; under-informed, self-important elected officials; citizen activists of varying degrees of righteousness, attitude and aggression; and nonpartisan staff who have to turn gobbledygook ideas into legalese that may — but likely may not — become law before the legislative chariots turn into pumpkins at 12:01 a.m. June 6.

The escalator to the second floor, broken for weeks now, is a symbol that all is not as it should be, under the gaze of the stylized, gold sculptural eagle statue that dominates the atrium.

The savvy veteran legislative leaders are mostly keeping their own counsel. They know the big thing, as it has been for most of the years since the Great Recession — ask David Lehman, Gov. Ned Lamont’s candidate for economic commissioner — is the state’s nagging $1.5-billion budget deficit. Almost everything else is social engineering with a big honking dollar sign.

At this point, it’s not looking too good for any of Lamont’s signature bills: tolls, retail cannabis, the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave. It’s going to take big leaps by the newly regained Democratic majorities, who face thorny issues that could threaten their relative comfort. “I just got elected and you want me to vote for tolls and weed?”

Maybe family leave has the best chance, taking a fraction of people’s pay to put into essentially a savings account.

Remember that plan to persuade suburban school districts to consolidate and save money? I don’t either. But I do recall some vague screaming from places such Darien (median house cost $1.4 million; population 96-percent white) and Wilton ($700,000; 95.5 percent white) when Lamont floated the idea of regionalization. That little stick quickly turned into a carrot, stuck in Lamont’s ear.

The one thing he can control, maybe the only thing, is the monthly agenda of the State Bond Commission, where he wants to reduce spending by $600 million.

Virtually everything else, including the upcoming multi-billion-dollar teacher-pension liability that he wants to spread out over the next 30 years — hello first graders! — is subject to legislative approval.

Over by the public entrance, enough “No Tolls” types to populate a very small basketball team are confronting every Democrat heading into a closed-door caucus on this thorniest of issues. Nothing like a veiled threat from five people with little “No Tolls” signs to get a lawmaker wondering why they told the town committee back home that sure, they’d run for a vacant House seat.

It turns out that the tolling bills approved by the Transportation Committee are little more than vehicles — do not pardon the bad pun — to meet the committee deadline. It’s still all up for negotiations, although the charge of six cents a mile seems close enough.

I’m thinking of those poor souls who clog the parkways and interstates during the unrelenting morning and afternoon commuter rushes.

I’m imagining the crawl in the parkway’s no-exit zone of Fairfield and Westport; the conga line from the Fairfield rest area on I-95 heading to Stamford; the bumper-to-bumper from Bethel to Danbury; the North Haven or Branford to New Haven shuffle.

At some point, hitting up drivers $6 a day to get stranded in traffic became a good idea.

Elsewhere on the marble, in the stream of humanity, lobbyists wearing their required ID badges loll in the eddies, waiting like trout for lawmakers to float by. It may not quite be that predatory, because the average senator or rep might know a little about a lot of bills. Lobbyists know a lot about seemingly little bills. Someday I’ll figure out when lobbyists are happiest: when they kill a bill or when their legislation gets approved.

The nearby cafeteria is a combination lobbyist office and high schoolesque hangout, where if you’re looking for someone, chances are they’ll show up between noon and 2, though the days of Gov. Dan Malloy sitting for a public salad seem, sadly, over.

There’s nary a progressive in sight. It seems like things are very safe for the monied classes in 2019 Connecticut, even as the new governor, shortly after discovering the restroom in his office, decided that taxing things that haven’t been taxed — such as haircuts, lawyer fees and digital downloads — still fits his definition of not raising taxes.

Ken Dixon, political editor and columnist, can be reached at 203-842-2547 or at kdixon@ctpost.com. Visit him at twitter.com/KenDixonCT and on Facebook at kendixonct.hearst.