Sunday, May 14, 2006

We Are All Curryites Now



Bill Curry – who is to Connecticut Democrat politics what Adali Stevenson was to national politics; a highly literate also-ran – is back. And I, for one, am glad.

Let these few succulent lines roll around in your mouth: The roiling anger Bush has inspired in the breasts of Democrat true believers is “good for congressional challengers but bad for anyone trying to strike up a conversation about Rell's governance skills. It didn't help that Democrats wasted so much time painting Rell as Carmella to Rowland's Tony Soprano. People didn't buy it and even if they had, elections are about the future, not the past.”

That is a Curry paragraph. Very few people in state politics can juggle metaphors this way. And of course Curry’s notion that “elections are about the future, not the past” is a shattering insight, borrowed perhaps from former President Bill Clinton’s signature song: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…”

Here’s Curry, an incorrigible policy wonk, on Rell: “Two years in, Rell has done many things right but hasn't shown a strong feel for policy or administration. To call her out on it, Malloy or DeStefano must put a blueprint on the table showing how he'd solve the problems she hasn't. This is what Americans now ask of Democrats - a concrete, credible plan. The mystery is their inability to provide one. Whether Democrats are consulting their consciences or just consulting their consultants, they've been at it a long time.”

Since Mayor Dan Malloy’s gubernatorial campaign is top-heavy with folk who fell out of Curry’s political pockets, one supposes that Malloy, at least, will be able to put on the table a “governing blueprint” acceptable to Curry. No slouch in these matters, gubernatorial hopeful Mayor John DeStefano was chairman of the 2003 Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Incentives. Would anyone like to bet a Brooklyn Bridge that the Democrat blueprint will not contain a subsection on property tax reform?

The property tax reform babe in the woods has grown up considerably since it first bawled in the Curry/Rowland race. Curry lost to Rowland, but he did manage to stay out of jail, no small accomplishment as we enter another litigious year in Corrupticut.

Property tax reform promises “tax relief” to towns – which is not the same thing as promising tax relief to people who live in towns. The idea behind property tax reform is to shift tax payments from towns, said to be overburdened, to the state; when the state increases its percentage of payments to towns, mostly for education, municipalities will experience relief.

What about taxpayers? Every indication in all the proposed plans suggests that they will be relieved also – of more of their money. Here’s why: At the municipal level, proposed spending is often reduced through referendums. Within the past few years, my own town, Vernon, has seen numerous referendums that have reduced proposed spending from 14% to 4%. The property tax reform Democrats have in mind would relieve municipalities so that such decreases in proposed spending would be unnecessary. Without such spending restraints, net spending would rise, both at the municipal and the state level.

And net spending at both levels will rise because there is no provision for a state referendum. So, the spending reduction tools available in municipalities are absent in state budgets. As the state provides municipalities with a larger proportion of funds, and as municipalities reduce their spending obligations proportionally – if they do so – spending that once was subject to the discipline of referendums is moved out of harm’s way. No doubt, the removal of the threat of referendums will relieve town governments. But none of the plans so far offered suggest that taxpayers, municipal or state, will find relief in lesser tax payments.

Such assurances easily could be built into plans for tax relief. For instance, when the tax relief plan relieves Vernon by supplying it with a dollar provided by state tax payers, the plan could make the receipt of the dollar contingent upon Vernon’s willingness to reduce tax collections by a dollar. The state also could provide a referendum on state budgets. In this way, state taxpayers could provide the same spending restraint that Vernon provides when its governing officials offer spending plans that cannot be met by municipal tax payers.

Without such provisions, so called property tax relief plans are likely to provide real relief only to politicians practiced in pea and shell games.

The Republican Party could use an Adeli Stevenson of its own who might easily reduce all these fine points to a Curry-like metaphor that would fit on a bumper sticker -- something like “No referendums, no reform.”
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