Friday, February 23, 2007

The Conference of Connecticut’s Crapulous Big Spenders

Gov. Jodi Rell already having publicly announced her defection to the Big Spenders, two radio talk show hosts who represent the last vestige of Connecticut’s disappearing “firewall” -- which is supposed to check improvident spending -- derisively refer to Connecticut’s Conference of Municipalities as “the conference of crying mayors,” an understated description.

Of course, there are firewalls that really do prevent tax pirates from running off with the gold in taxpayer’s teeth -- municipal referendums. The CCM hates referendums for much the same reason the prodigal son hated the homespun advice of his father, and the organization wants these firewall dismantled.

Municipal referendums across the state represent the voice of the people on budget matters, and the message arising from referendums has been constant and unequivocal: Town officials have been asking for increases of 10 to 14 percent; budget increases of more than 3 or 4 percent are insupportable. That is what those who pay taxes have been saying to those who spend taxes, and the messaging has been direct and clear. Across the state, in such municipalities as allow referendums, mayors and other town officials have got the message, budgets have been trimmed, and in some cases cost savings have been realized.

The difference between what referendum voters in towns across the state think it prudent to spend on town government and what the CCM wants towns to spend will be breached, if the governor has her way, by an increase in the amount of funds the state will transfer to towns to supplement educational costs.

The increase in state funding, around 12 percent, purportedly will reduce property taxes. Realists and pragmatists say that the boost in state funding will be frittered away on union mandated salary increases. But once state funding of town budgets is increased, there will no longer be a need for referendums, since town taxpayers will no longer feel the bite of a 10 to 14 percent increase in their municipal taxes.

Presently, town referendums have reduced spending and taxing in municipalities. Since there is no state referendum, the state must rely on its so called “firewall” to control spending. That firewall now has been disassembled.

In fact, the largely mythical firewall has been a amusing joke ever since the institution of the income tax, as is obvious from the bottom line increases in the state budget since former Governor Lowell Weicker first draped the income tax albatross around taxpayer’s necks: If bonding is figured into the spending mix, the state budget has nearly tripled since the last pre-income tax budget. Though the mythical “spending cap” was constitutionally mandated, the legislature never provided enabling legislation to clarify the terms of the amendment. To this day, our legislators still have not bound themselves to the bill they have promulgated because such terms in the bill as “spending” have never been defined in law. Quite literally – and ironically --the legislature and the governor do not know what “spending” means.

Firewall? What firewall?

What Connecticut desperately needs, in the absence of an opposition Republican Party that can induce spending restraint, is a binding state budget referendum, similar to municipal referendums that have controlled spending in towns.

Additionally, the state needs, as desperately, legislators who realize that Connecticut does not operate in an economic bubble. Connecticut’s business competitors in other states are reducing taxes, and tax generating businesses are leaving Connecticut to take advantage of the resulting lower business costs. As expected, graduating students have followed in the departing footprints of once tax generating businesses.

If something is not done soon to stop the exodus, Connecticut may become – especially with the recent educational “investments” outlined in Rell’s budget address – a net exporter of students, whose educational costs are borne by Connecticut taxpayers, our gift to low tax states. If Democrat legislators are successful in establishing a “millionaire’s tax,” we may also become a net exporter of millionaires and half-millionaires to, say, Florida, where the golf season is longer and legislators are considering eliminating property taxes.

Such dislocations should disturb the fearful placidity of the CCM. But according to James Finley Jr., the executive director designate of the CCM, towns want more of the same.

In a recent communiqué printed in a Hartford paper, Finley congratulates Rell for having “dramatically raised the public-policy bar in the Land of Steady Habits” and then beseeches Connecticut’s prodigal legislature to axe the modest and ineffective tax cuts proposed and increase bonding. Other tax sponges will be equally importunate in the coming days.

The rest of us in this Panglossian Land of Steady Bad Habits should be careful what the Conference of Connecticut’s Crapulous Big Spenders ask for, because we may get it -- as usual, in the neck.

ADDENDUM

More, More, More…

If the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding didn’t exist, Gov. Jodi Rell and legislators who support her extravagant proposal to increase educational spending would be forced to invent it.

The coalition, headed by former Manchester Mayor Stephen T. Cassano, wants to double the amount of money Rell proposes to give municipalities.

Cassano’s attempt to bankrupt the state brought produced the following response from co-chairman of the legislature's Education Committee Thomas Gaffey, who is kindly disposed toward the state’s powerful and metastasizing education lobby: “To go and ask for a billion dollars more after we have had the most historic proposal in education history ... really smacks of not living in reality. We're going to be lucky to get [the governor's plan] through as it is proposed," he said. Everyone ought to be grateful.”

Ah yes, gratitude.

Now see here Gaffey, one is grateful when one has had one’s fill – only then -- and the education lobby is “a little boy with two stomachs in a candy store,” a phrase the great H.L. Mencken once applied to himself to indicate the joy journalist felt when witnessing the daily political comedy rife in America.

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