Not really much opportunity in Connecticut outside of government
Gov. Malloy and the other Democrats in charge congratulated themselves a couple of weeks ago on the orderly conclusion of the 2011 session of the General Assembly. Everything the majority wanted to do got done in time.But as it all was facilitated by the largest tax increase in Connecticut’s history, this orderliness wasn’t much of a challenge or a virtue. Rather, it was the consequence of a betrayal. For in his campaign last year the governor said he aimed to cover one-third of the huge state deficit by spending cuts and two-thirds by tax increases, and in the end there were no cuts at all. The new budget raises spending by 2 percent, there will be no reduction in the state work force and the budget abounds with padding. For when the governor’s agreement of pretended concessions with the state employee union leadership fell $400 million short of what had been budgeted, the gap was instantly bridged not with spending cuts or further tax increases but with easily revised cost estimates elsewhere.The agency consolidations just enacted are only cosmetic, saving little and irrelevant to policy, but Malloy touted them in his valedictory to the legislators. It seems that anyone enjoying a normal lifespan in Connecticut may live through three or four reconfigurations of the agency regulating public utilities, and Malloy has just arranged another one, but the state still has the highest electricity costs in the country. Saying goodbye to the legislators, the governor also claimed credit for reforming the administration of higher education, which indeed was bloated. (The state university system’s “chancellor emeritus” lectures budget skeptics against eating Connecticut’s “seed corn” even as he collects an annual pension of $110,000.) But the overwhelming waste is the university system itself, its functioning mainly as remedial education for students who failed high school but were graduated anyway and so have to take high school classes over again, this time in college.Democratic leaders say voters soon will forgive the tax increases and be glad of state government’s restored solvency. Maybe or maybe not. While the first election after the legislative session of 1991, the session that enacted the state income tax, a session closely analogous to the session just concluded, returned a General Assembly with exactly the same Democratic majority as the one that enacted the income tax, the governor who insisted on the tax, Lowell P. Weicker Jr., was so unpopular that he decided against re-election in 1994 and even left the state for a while. Upon enactment of the income tax — the biggest tax increase in the state’s history — Connecticut entered 20 years of recession. An even bigger tax increase may extend that recession for another 20 years, especially since, as it turned out, the solvency that the income tax was to ensure to state government forever didn’t last long. Instead the new tax revenue was consumed mainly by continuing to improve the compensation of public employees and to remediate social problems that only get worse. Perhaps most insensibly, spending by the state Department of Children and Families has risen to almost $900 million per year as the department superintends 4,700 neglected children, or almost $190,000 per neglected child per year, which would make a pretty good family income.DCF almost surely will cost even more next year, as, unlike Weicker, who had little interest in government besides the opportunity it provided to strike righteous poses, Malloy is a dervish of energy seemingly devoted to remediation — which unfortunately has nothing to do with solving problems. For the more state government remediates, the more it finds itself having to remediate.Perhaps conscious of the political price Weicker paid for rescuing the government class while letting Connecticut sink, Malloy promised the departing legislators that he would reconvene them in special session in the fall to address economic development and job creation. Yes, state government’s draining more than another billion dollars per year in taxes from the private economy will rationalize still more remediation by government. The governor’s big idea is the First Five initiative — vast special subsidies for major employers locating in the state. Malloy told the legislators he hoped that it would become “the First 50 or maybe even the First 100,” as if Connecticut can afford to subsidize everyone except those who are already here paying the subsidies.That is the compelling question facing Connecticut: whether there ever again will be a future in the state for anyone not employed by the government or receiving its patronage or welfare benefits. Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.