Democrats in Connecticut won big gains on Election Day and consolidated their hold of local, state and federal positions, promising a fix for the state’s moribund economy. But now, Democrats are asserting much different priorities, with a chaotic series of damaging proposals baffling even by Hartford standards.
In just a few weeks, Democrats proposed and sponsored legislation that would force school districts to consolidate according to various, unknown metrics; prohibit municipalities’ purchase or use of turf fields; impose numerous new taxes and tolls; and create taxpayer-funded medical leave.
One incredible example of this reckless mode of governing is a bill proposed by Democrat Reps. Josh Elliott of Hamden, David Michel of Stamford and Jack Hennessey of Bridgeport and Sen. Alexandra Bergstein of Greenwich to “prohibit towns and the state from purchasing and using artificial turf.”
And so, with the flick a pen, these legislators paralyzed untold planned and anticipated turf projects around the state, created a hash of town budgeting and funding calendars and created intractable messes for local planning and zoning boards. If the representatives considered these issues, there’s no such indication in the bill or in their public statements.
The turf bill is straightforward and discrete compared to the now-infamous one sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, one of the highest-ranking legislators in the state, to force smaller towns to consolidate their high-performing school districts in ways state bureaucrats might see fit at some later date.
Looney’s bill was initially filed with a mistake that triggered forced consolidation based upon school populations of 40,000 or fewer (rather than town population, as intended). Setting that aside, the bill prompted furious condemnation, in particular in towns where high-performing schools are the No. 1 reason people buy houses there and why many businesses open offices there.
Looney’s proposal created an immediate, confused mess for local accountability, curriculum, budgets, taxes, facilities, special education, educational outcomes and housing markets throughout the state that already are severely hurting. It prompted a chorus of homeowners, realtors, school board members, town board members, town planners and others to take the unusual step of casting aside ideological differences to organize and voice what looks to be sustained opposition.
Democrats’ reply to opposition has been a cynical study in misdirection. Sen. Looney’s auto-response emails have said his bill “requests that the education committee create a study on the impact of regionalizing smaller Connecticut school districts.” Democrats seem to expect communities in their crosshairs to take their word for it that the bills do not mean what they say.
Looney’s fellow New Haven Democrat, Rep. Roland Lemar, sneered at opponents of forced regionalization at the Jan. 28 meeting, saying it is a “shame” that towns other than those he represents would express “distress” over forced regionalization. “We have to have conversations that are hard and challenging,” he added.
Another Democrat on the education committee, Michelle Cook of Torrington, took things a step further: “If regionalism is what we have to do to make education in the state of Connecticut work, then we need to figure out how to make that work,” she said.
For his part, Connecticut’s newly elected Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont has only fanned the flames. The governor issued a 180-degree reversal of his campaign promise not to support tolls on cars. As a result, a fresh question on the minds of many in Connecticut is whether the governor’s flip-flop told us more about him than any statement on forced regionalization.
There is no reason to study forced regionalization in Connecticut, because it is a bad idea. We may as well study the use of asbestos as a dinner table condiment. But as long as Democrats carry on “conversations” about their bad ideas, Connecticut will be paying the price.