Getting Specter’s Vote: Promise Him More Earmarks

The pundits are making much of Senator Arlen Specter’s defection to Democrats as proof that a “moderate” Republican can’t survive in the GOP; that it puts the Senate Democrats on the verge of that 60-vote threshold needed to cut off debate and move legislation if the cagey Specter goes along. Politically, it clears the way for Specter to skip out on a difficult if not impossible primary. Unlike Connecticut where the “independent” Joe Lieberman put himself on the November ballot after losing the Democratic primary in 2006, Pennsylvania has a sore loser law that would probibit Specter from running on a third line.

Despite all the national implications and the rightward drift of Republicans, don’t look for Specter to mimic Lieberman’s self-serving pleas for bipartisanship. Specter’s calculated move has a lot more to do with “bringing home the bacon” via Congressional earmarks — something he is a master of in his role as ranking member of the Appropriations Committee. A recent Washington Post story “If ‘Earmark’ is a dirty word, Pennsylvanians must be blushing” confirms how prolific Specter is at federal largess. A free ride with the Democrats could put Specter in the majority and add clout to his ability to underwrite his annual wish list from back home. Small wonder Specter didn’t leave the Republican caucus earlier over John McCain’s hammering away at earmarks, be they good or bad pork.

If Harry Reid really needs a vote from Specter, he already knows the way forward will be to serve up a few more earmarks for the newest member of the Democratic caucus.

Not What Everyone Wants To Hear From CCSU Campus 10 Years after Columbine

“Gun fight at CCSU” blares today’s front-page headline in the New Britain Herald.

The story by Jennifer Abel reports on CCSU’s Riflery and Marksmanship Club joining a national “Empty Holster Protest” that advocates for the right of students to bear arms on the campus. The protest springs from a national group calling itself “Students for Concealed Carry on Campus”.

The student club’s president, Sara Adler, said she didn’t know why the national group picked April 20th to launch a campaign for students to be allowed to pack a revolver for personal protection. “They didn’t choose last week because it was the anniversary of Virginia Tech,” said Ms. Adler, referring to the deadliest school shootings in history. Timing must be everything. Instead, the arms on campus protest was launched on the 10th anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. There was no official reaction from CCSU about the protest.

The good news is that CCSU is likely to remain a gun free zone and the Riflery and Marksmanship Club are taking their protest to a shooting range off campus Saturday.

Stewart’s double standard on state budget priorities

Mayor Tim Stewart has lashed out at New Britain’s all Democratic legislative delegation for reductions in local aid made in a Democratic state budget plan presented last week.

Stewart, facing the prospect of higher property taxes in a bad economy, delivered a “broadside” that takes aim at State Rep. John Geragosian (D-25), the House appropriations Chair, and the entire delegation for a proposed reduction in state aid from casino revenue.

Gambling dollars, originally sold as a means of supporting education, have become another component of state aid to cities and towns since a portion of income from the slots started coming in the early 1990s. The casino revenue is another form of payments in lieu of taxes since the two tribes with casinos are considered sovereign under federal law.

In a statement released this week Stewart takes issue with a reduction in gambling aid in a Democratic plan that addresses a confirmed $2.7 billion shortfall in Rell’s original budget proposal presented last February. “Stewart said he was extremely disappointed upon learning the proposal would mean a reduction of $865,000 in state funding for the city,” according to the Herald’s coverage.

Stewart’s complaint, however, rings hollow when you compare his response to the Democratic budget plan with his effusive praise of Governor Rell’s budget. In a joint statement last month Stewart and Bridgeport’s Democratic mayor, Bill Finch, praised Rell’s budget for not reducing allocations for schools under the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.

What Stewart and Finch forgot to mention was that most other forms of state aid to their cities was cut by substantial amounts in Rell’s proposed budget. With her balance sheet more than $2 billion out of whack, you would think Rell could have preserved other forms of local aid. Rell, for example, reduced PILOT funds (payments in lieu of taxes for CCSU, hospitals and state agency property) by $1.6 million. Overall, Rell’s numbers give New Britain 2.2% less by reducing PILOT, casino, capital improvement and town aid for roads, not to mention elimination of state services that benefit city residents.

The Mayor conveniently ignores the features of Rell’s plan that would severely compromise New Britain’s ability to deliver essential services. And Stewart, a Republican, has shown no inclination to ask his Republican Governor to work for a fairer deal for the city.

The Democratic legislative delegation remains a favorite target of Stewart’s derisive comments and partisan charges. It’s a refrain all too familiar for Stewart who has sniped at legislators in prior years. For all of Stewart’s years in office, the delegation and Legislature took on Rell and significantly upped state aid to the city when the economy was better and state revenues weren’t dropping off a cliff. Stewart has been the chief political beneficiary of using state aid to hold the line on property taxes thanks to the lawmakers he is so quick to criticize.

A comparison of Rell’s proposed budgets and those adopted through the Legislature has a consistent outcome: state aid amounts would have been a lot worse for New Britain had Governor Rell prevailed in the last state budget. And they would be a lot worse for New Britain this year if Tim Stewart’s friend in the corner office of the State Capitol has her way.

The reality of this budget cycle, as one state lawmaker put it, is that the Governor and Legislature have “to pick their poison” to balance the budget and maintain services. Stewart’s “blame game” tactics are predictable. But given the severity of the budget crisis, it would be a good time for the mayor to set aside partisan sniping and work cooperatively with the delegation. Time is running short as the city and state face a June deadline to adopt budgets for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.