‘Rats’ Ride the ‘Implementer’; and Presto-Change-O: Equity!

What a mockery of democracy has been made by the Democratic majority in the General Assembly with its legislation “implementing” the new state budget. While the budget itself turned out to be bipartisan, drawing many votes from the Republican minority because it threw lots of federal emergency money around without raising taxes, the “implementer” is a partisan ram job.

Worse than its partisanship, the “implementer” is practically a second legislative session stuffed into a single bill, going far beyond the technical language needed to put the budget into effect. The “implementer” incorporates legislative proposals that never got public hearings and debate.

Not all these provisions may be “rats” — that is, provisions that could not have survived the light of day and so were enacted in secrecy. But all the provisions represent the commandeering of the legislature by the leaders of the Democratic majority, the House speaker, Senate president, and their deputies. Thus they have demolished their pose of pursuing the public interest. Only they know what garbage will be deciphered in the “implementer” in coming weeks, when democracy can only stew in humiliation.

A good example of the “implementer” racket is the provision inserted at the behest of state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, to prohibit towns whose schools use Indian mascots from receiving state financial aid drawn from the tribute of Indian casinos. While trivial, the issue is within the legislature’s provenance. But it also has caused enough controversy to deserve public hearing and debate, which the Democratic leaders have prevented.

Just as bad, since money is fungible, there was no reason to link the school mascots to Indian casino tribute except to enable Osten to pander again to the two casino tribes in her district and remind them of how much she enjoys being their tool.

Far better than “abracadabra” and “presto-change-o,” the great magic word of Connecticut Democrats is now “equity,” since it purports to turn any sort of political patronage into social justice. But defining “equity” caused a debilitating argument among the Democrats this week as they struggled to enact legislation that would not just legalize marijuana but also transform it into a big patronage business.

Should the law construe “equity” as rewarding just particular people — former drug offenders and impoverished neighborhoods? Or should it also give something to people with political connections, lobbyists, and investment capital? The Democrats couldn’t agree, and Governor Lamont was so committed to his version of “equity” that he threatened to veto a different version.

The premise of turning marijuana into government patronage is that decades of the drug’s criminalization disproportionately harmed members of minority groups and their neighborhoods and that they should be compensated now. As usual, the Democratic premise of “reform” is mistaken.

For it wasn’t marijuana and the “war on drugs” that ravaged minorities and cities. No, it was plain old poverty — the lack of parenting, education, and job skills — that made the contraband drug trade so tempting to the poor.

Awarding marijuana-dealing licenses to a few former drug offenders won’t relieve anyone’s poverty except maybe their own. But these licenses will facilitate more intoxication and addiction among the already demoralized.

And the “war on drugs,” stupid as it has been, didn’t compel anyone to get involved with drugs. Indeed, many people long have considered drug criminalization stupid but obeyed the law anyway out of respect for society. Thus the law-abiding forfeited their chances to get rich as many drug dealers did.

So where is the “equity” for the law-abiding?

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WHERE’S THE SAVINGS? Congratulations to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which, Governor Lamont announced this week, now has made so many of its functions accessible on the internet that more people are renewing their driver’s licenses online than in person at department branch offices.

But the governor did not say, and no one seems to have asked, whether this new efficiency will enable reducing the department’s staffing and expense. or whether state government has just invented efficiency without any economy at all. If so, no congratulations there.

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Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

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