Lowell Weicker, Jr.
In 1991, after a careful, first-hand examination of his state's deteriorating fiscal condition, Governor Lowell Weicker of Connecticut shocked many residents of the state by proposing a first-time-ever personal income tax as part of his fiscal year 1992 budget package. He believed that for Connecticut to survive its worst financial crisis since the Depression and meet fairly its obligations it would have to accept an income tax along with substantial spending cuts. Governor Weicker demonstrated tremendous political courage and risked his career by challenging the status quo and the popular bipartisan anti-income tax tradition. Despite intense political and public criticism, threats to his safety, and large-scale bitter protests, he persevered and finally prevailed in this fight. During a speech at Yale University in 1991, Weicker stated that, "Respect - if not reelection - comes from speaking the truth, standing up for what you believe in and taking some licks."
In a powerful State of the State address a month after his inauguration as governor in 1991, Lowell P. Weicker Jr. sent shock waves throughout Connecticut by proposing a personal income tax as part of his 1992 budget package. Weicker risked his career by challenging a popular bipartisan anti-income tax tradition that was the touchstone of state politics. Despite intense political and public criticism, threats to his safety, and large-scale protests, he persevered and finally prevailed. On August 23,1991, after six months of deadlock in a rancorous battle, Governor Weicker's broad-based budget package, including the income tax and substantial spending cuts, was approved by the Connecticut legislature.
A liberal Republican for 18 years in the United States Senate, Weicker left the Republican party in 1990, claiming, "I was a damn good Republican, It was the party that changed, not me." When he ran for governor of Connecticut, Weicker denounced the two major parties and founded his own independent "A Connecticut Party."
During the gubernatorial campaign, the desperate condition of the Connecticut economy dominated the race. One of only 10 states without an individual income tax, Connecticut had a long history of bipartisan resistance to such a tax. In 1971, when an income tax was passed, it caused an immediate revolt and the law was repealed within weeks. After the stock market crash in 1987, the state began to experience a period of continuing decline, and by 1988, the deficit was more than $150 million. Refusing to consider an income tax as an alternative, the legislature obtained nearly $1 billion in new revenues by adopting the highest sales tax and corporate tax rates in the country. By the end of the 1991 fiscal year the state was faced with a record $963 million deficit. Connecticut appeared ready to consider alternative options.
In the 1990 campaign for governor, Weicker kept his options open, even after the other candidates declared war on taxes or avoided the debate by calling for a referendum. After his victory, he reviewed the facts and became convinced that a personal income tax was needed for Connecticut to survive its worst financial crisis since the Depression and fairly meet its obligations to the people. On February 13, 1991, before the General Assembly, he proposed the income tax and substantial spending cuts as part of his budget package.
He explained his position in his State of the State address:
"Neither you nor I signed on to muck around for two to four years in the mistakes of the past. We're in the future business so let's get on with life in Connecticut, not debt. Now, as with anything new, there are those who will grimly hang onto the old. I predict the saying 'turf battle' will achieve a whole new definition in Connecticut in 1991…The change begins with the deficit. The themes are fairness and effectiveness
"I went into budget deliberations seeking to avoid an income tax... No rank was pulled in the debate. Both sides had spirited and conscientious advocates. Facts had to carry the day -facts linked not only to a past but to a future.
"The good news is what this course promises for the business climate of Connecticut - allowing it to compete again with all other states and the world; encouraging small business, offering new and expanding jobs and thus generating revenue.
"The political system is all of us in the state of Connecticut, We all had the means to give direction to our revenue and spending habits - and we didn't choose to do so. It wasn't only the fact that the legislature didn't. The people chose not to… I know we can do this together. Not me, not you, not Democrat, not Republican, not Connecticut Party -- but us.
"If we are fair and set forth those values that relate to others and not ourselves, then we will have done what we were elected to do."
The address created a storm of controversy and incited the largest single protest in the history of the state. Weicker was compared to Adolf Hitler, received threats to his safety, and was hanged in effigy. Many of the people who had voted for his election felt betrayed by his decision.
Weicker demonstrated extraordinary political courage by challenging the anti-income tax tradition and fighting for change. His steadfast leadership on this major issue stands as a reminder for all American citizens and officials that governments at every level in this country can and must find the resources needed to meet their obligations to the people they serve. As Weicker stated on October 9,1991 during a speech at Yale University, "Respect , if not re-election, comes from speaking the truth, standing up for what you believe in and taking some licks."
Weicker's courageous stand for principle is mirrored in John F, Kennedy's words in Profiles in Courage: "A man does what he must - in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures - and that is the basis of all human morality."
Lowell Weicker began his political career in 1962 when he was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly. He was re-elected twice, and served concurrently as First Selectman of Greenwich from 1964 to 1968. In 1968, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Connecticut's fourth district. He was elected to the Senate in 1970, and re-elected in 1976 and 1982.
In 1973, Weicker was appointed to the Senate Watergate Committee and became the first Republican Senator to take a public position against President Nixon. He grew in national prominence as a Senator with a conscience, prepared to set party loyalty aside in favor of principle. As his career progressed, he was often singled out for his courage to stand alone on difficult issues and for his ability to work with other members of Congress regardless of their party affiliation. His integrity and staunch adherence to principle earned him the 1988 Wayne Morse Political Integrity Award.
For 18 years in the Senate, Weicker used his clout on behalf of the people of his state. As Chairman and later ranking Republican member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funded health and education programs, he was able to block many of the Reagan budget cuts he opposed. He authored laws to protect the rights of the disabled, aid the homeless and protect small business.
Born in Paris in 193l, Weicker graduated from the Lawrenceville School in 1949, Yale University in 1953 and the University of Virginia Law School in 1958. He served in the U.S. Army as a First Lieutenant from 1953 to 1955, and in the Army Reserve from 1958 to 1964.
# # #