Interviewed at length last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy seemed more in command of the details of public policy than any of his predecessors going back 40 years, as well as candid, confident, and willing to argue. And yet halfway through his term, conditions in Connecticut are not improving and the governor, a Democrat, is beginning to alienate elements of his party.
The governor's new budget proposal moves state financing away from general municipal purposes and into municipal schools, infuriating mayors. It slashes support for hospitals on the doubtful premise that they may recover the money from the federal government someday, as if that will help now. It reduces state support for nursing homes too.
Meanwhile the governor would lavish another $1.5 billion on the University of Connecticut on the premise that getting more science and engineering graduates will revive the state's economy, as if such jobs aren't already being exported from the state, as if the graduates couldn't follow them, and as if the four lesser state universities and 12 community colleges aren't getting resentful.
The governor realizes the necessity of preschool and more vigorous schooling generally for neglected children, but his modest initiatives there - a thousand state-funded placements for preschool and state takeover of two dozen or so poor-performing municipal schools - are to be dwarfed by the UConn project. Since everyone will go to elementary, middle, and high school but not everyone will go to college, the problems of lower education are far more compelling.
Of course Connecticut has been raising spending on municipal education for 30 years without improving anything but the compensation of educators, so why should more money make a difference now? The governor says greater accountability will make the difference, as with tougher evaluation of teachers.
But in 1984, upon the demand of the teacher unions, the General Assembly amended the Freedom of Information Act to exempt teacher evaluations from disclosure, alone among evaluations of Connecticut's public employees. Public education in Connecticut then was essentially privatized. And far from proposing to make education public again, the governor keeps trying to weaken the Freedom of Information Commission.
As long as teacher evaluations remain secret, there can be no validation of claims of accountability in public education. Indeed, in the absence of disclosure, the prerequisite of accountability, the governor's transferring funds from general municipal purposes to municipal schools, where it may be used mostly for raises for teachers, may seem like political compensation for his controversial remark a year ago that to earn tenure teachers have to do little more than "show up." The governor surely may want them to keep showing up - at the polls in next year's election for governor and to keep voting Democratic despite his brief lapse into political incorrectness.
Meanwhile, last week the governor upset some legislators and other participants in the gun-control debate by offering some proposals and declining to wait for the recommendations of his own study committee and one appointed by the General Assembly. He said he thought those committees were moving too slowly, though barely two months had passed since the school massacre in Newtown and though the state police report on the massacre is months away from completion itself.
More probably the governor wanted to be able to offer his own thinking upon Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Connecticut to agitate for more gun laws. But the governor's proposals were only those commonly being offered - universal background checks, smaller gun magazines, etc. - their enactment would have had no bearing on what happened in Newtown, and they don't preclude action by the legislature. Thus the indignation about the governor's proposals was more of a political stunt than the proposals themselves.