Former governor Weicker blasts Rell, Conn. Legislature

Says leadership has overspent

Former governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr. spoke to East Haddam selectwoman Melissa Ziobron at yesterday’s conference. Former governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr. spoke to East Haddam selectwoman Melissa Ziobron at yesterday’s conference. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)
By Susan Haigh
Associated Press / June 18, 2010

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CROMWELL, Conn. — The easy choices for balancing Connecticut’s budget are gone, and the next governor will have to make huge spending cuts, end borrowing, and renegotiate contracts with state employees, former governor Lowell P. Weicker Jr. said yesterday.

Weicker, the outspoken former independent governor known for presiding over the state’s last financial crisis 19 years ago and ushering in its unpopular personal income tax, said the state can no longer continue its “insane fiscal practices,’’ such as borrowing money to pay for daily expenses and spending beyond its means.

“It’s going to be a very cold shower for a very drunk state,’’ Weicker told local government leaders who gathered for the annual meeting of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. “And that is what is necessary, and you know it and I know it.’’

“We can’t fake it anymore,’’ the former governor added.

Weicker said the state’s next governor might serve only one term because budget decisions are so politically difficult. He did not seek a second term.

Budget deficits of $3.8 billion and $3.7 billion are predicted for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. And economists say those predictions assume Connecticut will have healthy job growth and a 9 percent jump in personal income growth as the economy recovers.

When Weicker took office in 1991, the state faced a $1 billion deficit. However, he and state lawmakers had options for closing the gap, such as imposing the personal income tax and reaching a deal with the federally recognized Mashantucket Pequot Tribe to receive a portion of their casino’s slot machine revenues.

Appearing to still smart from the criticism directed at him over the income tax, he said yesterday that many opponents forget that other steps were taken that year to address fiscal woes, including lowering the state sales and business taxes; eliminating the capital gains, dividend, and interest tax; cutting state spending by $1 billion; and reducing borrowing.

“I don’t want to hear any more pejoratives about the income tax and Lowell Weicker, and I’ll tell you why,’’ he said. “Because everybody’s had 19 years to repeal it, 19 years to repeal it. It hasn’t been repealed, but it has certainly been spent.’’

Weicker, 79, who uses a cane and lives in Old Lyme, is supporting Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, a Democrat, in the governor’s race. He had little positive to say about the current General Assembly or Governor M. Jodi Rell, a Republican, who is retiring. Weicker served in the US Senate as a Republican but said he has remained an independent since he was governor.

Weicker referred to Rell as “disinterested’’ and the Democratic legislators, who control the General Assembly with a veto-proof majority, as “sauced up on spending and borrowing.’’

When asked about Rell’s legacy, Weicker had mixed reviews.

“She obviously is very popular in the state,’’ he said. “Maybe it’s because she didn’t do much, but I don’t want that to be really a legacy. A governor should be an activist, and I just don’t, I didn’t see that in the Rell administration.’’

Weicker said Rell “ducked’’ on exercising leadership in a crisis.

Rich Harris, a spokesman for Rell, took issue with Weicker’s criticism. “He seems to be out of the loop. He has missed Governor Rell’s persistent efforts over the last two years to cut state spending, fight tax increases, and reduce borrowing.’’

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