“Connecticut is California without the weather,” goes a relatively new quip making the rounds.
Lately it appears the small state suffers from a big identity crisis. Some point to the social policy passed during the last legislative session as evidence of Connecticut’s tilt to the left. And some point to the fiscal situation as proof positive the Nutmeg State shares much with the Golden State.
So is Connecticut really California without the weather? Capitol DisPatch set out to analyze the aside.
“There’s something to that. Connecticut has been clearly evolving. It’s almost counterculture people who have come to power here,” said Prof. Gary Rose, Chair of Politics and Government at Sacred Heart University. “When you talk about paid sick leave, civil unions, marijuana, that used to be a West Coast thing. But now it seems Connecticut has been absorbed into the liberal fold. The state has changed from being a swing state. It voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984.”
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state House and Democrats hold all Connecticut’s Congressional seats, both in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.
Of course, the weather part of the jibe refers to southern California, where temperatures average in the 70s.
Connecticut is less constant when it comes to weather. According to the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration, NOAA, the warmest temperature on record is 106 degrees, recorded in Danbury on July 15, 1995. The coldest belongs to Falls Village, which registered 32-below-zero on February 16, 1943.
But when state Rep. Chris Perone, a Democrat representing Norwalk in the 137th House District, thinks about climate, it’s got nothing to do with temperature.
“We’re breaking new ground as a microcosm,” Perone said. “We’re not so much California but we have an upstate-downstate thing going on. It tends to be more progressive upstate.”
This past session that progressiveness introduced decriminalization of marijuana, transgender rights, and good behavior credits for convicted criminals.
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, a Democrat representing Stonington and Groton in the 18th Senate District, said “it's a clever phrase, but I don't think it's runs true.”
Citing that the state was one of the first for integration, and the landmark case Griswold v. Connecticut, 1965, which increased reproductive rights for women and originated in Connecticut, Maynard said, “there’s a long history of progressive thought in Connecticut, we should be proud of that.”
“I will say Connecticut has moved far liberal and moved far more to the left,” state Rep. Lile Gibbons, a Republican representing Greenwich in the 150th House District, said.
Precisely, said State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, a Republican representing Greenwich, New Canaan and Stamford in the 36th Senate District.
“It’s the kind of legislation that gets states into trouble,” Frantz said. “Often when you break the mold that created the best country known to mankind – if you get too far away from that mold – you are in trouble.”
“If liberal is the same as fairness than I vote for liberal,” said state Rep. James Crawford, a Democrat representing Clinton in the 35th House District.
“There are sources and factions at work that are trying to split the country down class lines,” Crawford said. “The folks who will benefit from paid sick days are in the low to low-middle class. The right to get sick is as human as it gets.”
Frantz said decriminalizing marijuana, transgender rights and the passage of gay marriage illustrate this kind of mold breaking. The second-term senator said he would have preferred Connecticut to leave it at civil unions, calling that a “terrific solution to the age-old question of how to avoid discrimination.”
State Rep. William Tong, a Democrat representing Stamford and New Canaan in the 147th House District and candidate for U.S. Senate, sees it differently.
“I view Connecticut as its own state with a very clear identity – a wonderful place to raise a family; a community of hardworking people; and a place ready to be a leader in the economy of tomorrow,” Tong said. “During the current recession, many states have run into budget problems and some, sadly, have attempted to balance budgets on the backs of our working men and women.”
For Fred Carstensen, UConn’s Director for Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, comparing the two states is like comparing apples and oranges.
“I don’t see the analogy at all,” Carstensen said. “Connecticut doesn’t have a super majority to make tax increases, it doesn’t have split party rule. It doesn’t have the kind of referendum and recall structure that can make life so difficult there. I don’t see it at all.”
“The reason California is where it is, is because they have that practice (ballot initiative), said Maynard. “People can make very emotional votes on tax issues, Connecticut at least has the ability to throw the brakes on.”
Yet regarding the financial situation, most legislators agree Connecticut stands on a precipice. Moody’s recently lowered the outlook for state’s bond rating to negative from stable.
“You’ve got industry assets but it’s like taking a Ferrari engine and scattering the parts across an empty airplane hangar. If you focus, you could build a good engine,” Perone said. “But that hasn’t happened in a long time.”
The General Assembly passed as a means to carve a research and development corridor in the state. It also passed as a means to attract and keep young people in the state. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also told legislators to prepare for a special session on jobs come autumn.
Yet, it isn’t just jobs or lack of them that prompts the Connecticut-California comparison. It’s the debt.
“In terms of the debt, yeah, we've managed over time to accumulate an amount of bonded indebtedness,” said Maynard. “We could do a helluva lot better on holding back on additional indebtedness but I think people should be careful what they ask for.”
Maynard said the majority of the state’s indebtedness comes from public school construction and if the state didn’t subsidize those projects, the taxpayers in those towns would have to take on the full responsibility.
Right now California has a $10 billion debt, compared with Connecticut’s $1.6 billion debt, Frantz said. Put another way, California’s debt is $270 per person compared with Connecticut has $471 per capita in Connecticut.
“We are the single-most indebted people. We are in worse shape than California,” Frantz said.
Connecticut also exceeds California in numbers when it comes to its respective state house.
California has 120 legislators for 37,253,956 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That breaks down to 40 state senators and 80 assembly members. Connecticut has 187 legislators for 3,574,097 people according to the US Census Bureau. That breaks down to 36 state senators and 151 state representatives.
“There are too many people in the legislature here, in both the House and the Senate,” Frantz said, adding that it’s expensive to run and California runs much more cheaply.
“People are very pro-government here which is ironic since the license plate says Constitution State – which implies limited government,” Rose said. “Connecticut as California – it’s apropos.”