The Republican leadership in the state legislature lost credibility with its decision not to present an alternative to the budget submitted by the governor and now under debate by the Democratic majority in the General Assembly.
For the past several years Republicans, long in the minority in both the House and Senate, have submitted their own spending plan. These proposals have often centered on privatizing human services, consolidations, staff cuts, and changes in tax policy. Those reviewing those alternative budgets could expect to find some creative math, but neither party is guilt free on that count.
Having a proposal of their own gave Republicans a ready response to the inevitable question, "Well, what would you do?" Failing to outline what they would do undermines the GOP's criticism of the spending plans of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his fellow Democrats in the legislature.
Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, suggested that again proposing their own budget would be an effort in futility, given that Democrats criticized, dismissed and ignored the GOP's prior alternative spending plans. The House minority leader, Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, told the Connecticut Mirror that Democrats are looking for a scapegoat to divert attention from their own failures, and a Republican budget proposal would give them one.
Sen. McKinney also said in the same interview that Republicans cannot fix the budget as they would want because of restrictions imposed by the Democratic majority, including mandated raises and no layoff promises.
But the real target for an alternative budget is the public, not the majority party. It provides the chance for the minority party to outline its fiscal priorities. Republicans would not have to accept all restrictions set by the majority; perhaps, for example, basing an alternative plan on the expectation of renegotiating labor contracts. The GOP leadership's excuses for not showing what their budget would look like ring hollow.
The state is approaching a gubernatorial election year in 2014. Both Sen. McKinney and Rep. Cafero are considered potential challengers to Gov. Malloy. Voters will demand answers from candidates as to how they will assure the state's long-term fiscal health. "I didn't create the problem" will not be an acceptable answer.