The election for governor is one thing, but what in the world is the new man going to do in office once he gets there? Four observers chime in.
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Kick the Stuffing Out of It
By Chris Powell
Who should be Connecticut’s next governor? He should be the candidate who is most willing to kick the stuffing out of state government.
Accounting gimmicks and revenue transfers having been exhausted, the best estimates are that taxes and federal aid will produce in the next budget year only 80 or 85 percent of the money now being spent by state government. That gap will require $3 billion or $4 billion in spending cuts or new taxes.
The last time Connecticut had a budget disaster like this, in 1991, the state enacted its income tax, which, despite some simultaneous tax reductions elsewhere, constituted a huge tax increase. Since then private-sector employment and the state’s population have been flat, lagging nearly the whole country. There may be no recovery ever from another tax increase on that scale.
The Democratic nominee for governor thinks he can close only about a third of the budget gap through spending cuts. That implies a tax increase of 10 percent or more. The Republican nominee pledges to avoid raising taxes, but that might cause political turmoil and would require Republicans to win substantially more than the one-third share of either house of the General Assembly necessary to sustain a governor’s budget vetoes.
Tax increases might be avoided if Connecticut ever questioned its many mistaken and expensive premises of public policy. As Gov. Chris Christie is proving in New Jersey, this can be done if a governor explains it clearly and mobilizes the public politically against the status quo and the government class.
What are the most expensive mistaken premises of public policy in Connecticut, the premises that will have to be challenged if the state is to regain prosperity? Here are a few:
1) While public employee compensation is about half the state budget when state aid to municipal education is counted, that aid paying for teacher salaries, the money is largely outside the democratic process because of labor law establishing collective bargaining for public employees and binding arbitration for their union contracts. That is, controlling Connecticut government’s biggest expense is actually against the law. These laws were enacted not to serve the public but to make government employees happy and to relieve elected officials of controversial responsibility. As a result for years now real income in the private sector in Connecticut has been declining, but not in the public sector.
2) Public employee pension systems were undertaken to compensate for what originally were mediocre salaries for public employees. Now those salaries are far better than private-sector salaries, public employees are practically the only workers with defined-benefit pensions anymore, and those
pensions are both extravagant and grotesquely underfunded. Republicans propose giving new state employees the 401(k) defined-contribution plans most private-sector employees have to make do with.
3) Most social problems in Connecticut can be traced to childbearing outside marriage and the resulting child neglect and abuse. Fatherless kids tend to fail in school, commit crime, beget other fatherless kids and cause incalculable public expense. But state government continues to subsidize and coddle fatherlessness rather than recognize it as a catastrophe and aggressively discourage it.
4) Drug criminalization causes around 75 percent of Connecticut’s imprisonments even as drug abuse becomes more pervasive, the price of illegal drugs gets lower, and life-maiming criminal records are imposed with disgraceful racial disproportion. Drug criminalization succeeds only as an employment program for police, prison guards, judges, prosecutors, public defenders, parole and probation officers, and social workers. But apparently that’s enough.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. His columns can be found at journalinquirer.com.