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Fire hose of COVID-19 money could drown Connecticut Republicans

Count me among the vast majority of Americans who approve of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Sure, it may overshoot the mark with too much money. But that's so much better than the underwhelming Obama-era stimulus, which failed to lift us quickly out of the Great Recession.

I would certainly rather see the government spend so much money to reduce child poverty and help struggling, unemployed Americans recover from the pandemic than give Trump-era tax cuts to the rich.

Still, my old gray-speckled eyebrows shot up when I first saw the amount of money that is going to flow into official Connecticut coffers, not just the state budget but every single municipality.

I've never seen anything like it. The numbers are staggering.

New London, for instance, now living on a $93 million annual budget, is slated to receive $21.8 million, just one chunk of the $250 million coming to eastern Connecticut municipalities.

The relief bill is going to juice up the state budget by some $2.6 billion, in the neighborhood of 10% of overall annual state spending.

Do any of us have doubts that Connecticut politicians will have a problem spending the money?

Don't expect red states to refund any of it, even though not a single Republican in Congress voted for it. Blue states, too, will spend every dollar.

Here in Connecticut, I see that the money will exacerbate the post-Trump problems of Connecticut Republicans, who are already unable to cope with the fact that so many state residents never bought into the big Trump lie that the election was stolen from him.

The struggle of Connecticut Republicans to pretend that what happens in Washington doesn't matter here will be even harder now that Washington, run by Democrats, is pushing so much money at us.

Sure, Republicans here will complain it is wasteful spending. But that's a little like the challenge of telling your kids not to enjoy the ice cream cones that grandpa just put in their hands.

Of course, the size of the relief bill was a political calculation for Democrats, who hope that voters will remember all those direct checks, the unemployment relief and tax credits and municipal aid the next time they go to the polls.

In Connecticut, that means Democrats will be able to sidestep some of the worst election-year tradeoffs usually made between making and keeping promises to constituents and holding fiscal watchdogs at bay.

All that's left to do is lick those ice cream cones.

Democrats in the General Assembly have already laid down a marker for Gov. Ned Lamont, warning that they are going to need lots of room at the trough, too, when the federal slop lands.

Thanks very much, governor, for managing lockdowns and establishing vaccine pipelines, legislators have suggested, but we'll take it from here, now that the big money is arriving.

It all works its way down, too, into town and city governments.

New London Mayor Michael Passero, who just a short while ago was groveling for hundreds of thousands of dollars to compensate for missing tax revenue for renovations to State Pier, will instead get a $21.8 million windfall.

After he finishes sprinkling all that money around, like other municipal leaders, he should be sufficiently vaccinated for any political challenge in the near future.

Meanwhile, as Democrats engage in a spending feast, Connecticut Republicans will have to defend the support of insurrection by so many leaders of their party while they continue to try to assert that what happens in Washington doesn't matter here.

Telling us to not enjoy the ice cream is not going to cut it.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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