Despite facing a legislative inquiry into his conduct, Gov. John G. Rowland gave little indication of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his administration in his annual State of the State address Wednesday afternoon.
Keeping his promise not to mention the investigations, Rowland — who entered the legislative chambers to light applause — focused his attention on his “points of pride” during his tenure as governor as well as his budget outlook for the next year. The governor said he was optimistic about the state’s fiscal situation for the first time in several years, pledging not to increase the state’s income tax or cut aid for cities and towns.
“Together, we have guided this state through difficult times,” Rowland said. “We have turned the corner.”
Speaking before several senators and state representatives who have called for his impeachment, Rowland focused his attention on the adversity he said Connecticut had overcome — including an economic downturn and the threat of terrorism — rather than his personal troubles. The State House created a Select Committee of Inquiry two weeks ago to investigate corruption allegations surrounding Rowland, a move that could potentially lead to the three-term Republican’s impeachment.
Rowland, who is also the subject of a federal investigation, admitted on Dec. 12 to lying about having received free renovations on his vacation home in Litchfield, Conn., from state employees and contractors.
Rowland’s State of the State address — which coincides with the beginning of the General Assembly’s legislative session — instead featured the governor’s agenda for the next year, including increased support for the state’s universities, medical malpractice reform and a voucher program for some students at underperforming schools. In his $14.2 billion budget, Rowland also proposed delaying the scheduled repeal of a newspaper tax and increasing the cigarette and alcohol taxes.
As in recent years, however, the governor’s budget may undergo significant changes over the course of the legislative session. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who was present at the governor’s address, said he expected the governor to become “increasingly irrelevant” over the coming months. DeStefano said the governor’s address failed to include necessary tax reform measures, and he criticized the governor for offering rhetorical support for programs whose funding he had cut in past years.
“It is little comfort to people like me — to think that words are going to mitigate the harm he has done to the state,” said DeStefano, who has publicly expressed his interest in running for governor in 2006. “It’s too little, too late, as far as I am concerned.”
State Rep. William Dyson, a Democrat who represents the Yale campus and serves as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he was not yet sure where the General Assembly stood on the budget — especially since he said he was less optimistic than Rowland about the state’s economic climate.
Dyson also said he felt Rowland made the appropriate decision by focusing on his outlook for the state rather than his own personal difficulties. Dyson, who had opposed the creation of a legislative committee to investigate Rowland’s behavior, said he was pleased by his legislators’ receptive behavior during the governor’s address.
“I think the decorum spoke volumes,” Dyson said. “They were treating his presence in the chamber with respect, which is what I think they should have done.”
Like Rowland, the state legislators present gave little indication of the turmoil that has surrounded the governor in recent weeks, although they did give Republican Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell a rousing standing ovation as she briefly spoke before the General Assembly. Rell, who would replace Rowland if he resigns or is removed, asked the legislators to sit down, protesting that she was “embarrassed” by the applause.