“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 counter culture people who have come to power here," said Prof. Gary Rose, chairman of the politics and government department 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.”
Then a blue front moved across the state and changed the political forecast. Democrats continue to outnumber Republicans in the state house and Democrats hold all of Connecticut’s Congressional seats, both in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate.
The weather part of the jibe refers to southern California, where temperatures average in the 70s. However, a little to the east lies the hottest spot in the Western Hemisphere – Death Valley, where the average 24-hour daily temperature in July is 101 F.
Connecticut is less constant when it comes to weather. According to the National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration, NOAA, the warmest temperature on record is 106 F, recorded in Danbury on July 15, 1995. The coldest temperature belongs to Falls Village, which registered -32 F on Feb. 16, 1943.
But when state Rep. Vincent Candelora, a Republican representing East Haven, North Branford and Wallingford in the 86th House District, thinks about climate, it’s got nothing to do with temperature.
This past session that progressiveness translated into decriminalization of marijuana, transgender bill of rights, and good behavior credits for convicted criminals.
“Historically California goes in one direction and the country goes in another,” Candelora said “That’s why people feel that way, that we are going against the national trend.”
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.”
Frantz said decriminalizing marijuana, transgender, and the passage of gay marriage illustrates 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 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, or the White Oak and the Redwood.
“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.”
Yet regarding the financial situation, most legislators agree Connecticut stands on a precipice. Moody’s recently lowered the outlook for the state’s bond rating from stable to negative.
The General Assembly passed Bioscience Connecticut as a means to carve a research and development corridor in the state. It also passed “Learn Here, Live Here” 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.
Aside from paid sick leave and historic tax increases, Candelora said the state must deal with the unions if it’s to regain financial footing.
“I think the unions have a strong presence in Hartford but we’re a long way away from Wisconsin,” Candelora said. “We’re not anywhere near Wisconsin but we should be reforming collective bargaining.”
Yet, it isn’t just jobs or lack of them that prompts the Connecticut-California comparison. It’s the debt.
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 to Connecticut's $471 per capita.
“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 3,574,09 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That breaks down to 36 state senators and 151 state representatives.
“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 a propos.”