Friday, February 09, 2007

Unpacking the Progressive Verbiage

It is apparent, even after even a cursory study of Jodi Rell’s budget message, that Mayor of New Haven John DeStefano, slain as a gubernatorial candidate, lives on as a ghost inhabiting the body of the current governor. Rell's comments on previous budgets mark the change. At the same time, it is also apparent that Rell’s proposal to boost education spending through an increase in the income tax, rather than a tax on half-millionaires, has exposed Democrat pretensions.

Sounding very much like a conservative the day after Gov. Jodi Rell’s Budget address, Democrat Speaker of House Jim Amann, touched by the performance, said of the increasingly progressive governor, “First of all, she's all wet. We raised too many taxes already or else we wouldn't have a surplus. Somebody's being overtaxed, and I think the governor should understand that. I don't need to be lectured by someone who was part of the Rowland-Rell administration. Give me a break! She's also taxing the same people who got nailed with huge utility increases, and the middle class is tired of it."

And then he went and spoiled it all by adding, “She's taxing the wrong people.” A true progressive, Amann believes that millionaires – Connecticut for the moment is flush with them – are the right people to tax. Rell has said the millionaire’s tax is negotiable. Having given away the silver in the Republican Party’s cabinet, she has very little left to negotiate, but both she and Amann are comfortable taxing someone to pay for additions to Connecticut’s sprawling educational empire. Down the road -- and the end of the road comes on you quickly in the progressive era we appear to be entering -- someone will have to pay. Rell believes that those who consume state services ought to pay for them; Amann and his Democrat brethren at the capitol believe that the “guy behind the tree” who earns more than $500,000 per year should pick up the bill. “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me,” Huey Long once said, “tax the guy behind the tree.”

Few taxpayers in Connecticut unconnected to the state’s education bureaucracy would agree, if asked, to shell out more tax money for overpaid teachers. In fact, at the municipal level, the little people have been remarkably persistent in saying “no” through referendums to unreasonable increases in town budgets.

So then, when a spokesperson for the education establishment says that stringent municipal budgets are “causing problems at the local level,” the statement ought to be taken as a short and misleading way of saying this: “Look, we – teachers, boards of educations and representatives of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities – wanted a budget increase in (place the name of your town here) of 10 to 12 percent. However, since (place the name of your town here) appears to be inhabited by folk who resent being burglarized by third grade teachers, easily intimidated boards of education members, panting members of the Conference of Connecticut Municipalities and Edith Prague, the budget we proposed was rejected four times until our increase was pared down to a miserly four percent. We cannot survive with a four percent increase. We need at least 10; 12 is better, otherwise problems will be caused at the local level.”

The so called “problem” at the local level is not a problem at all. It is, in fact, a democratic solution to a problem of overspending mentioned by Amann in his reaction to Rell’s budget. When you spend beyond your means, someone other than Jim Amann is supposed to tell you to moderate your appetite, and that is exactly what happens when the little people in towns across Connecticut tell boards of education in referendums that they cannot accept unreasonable increases in education spending.

But – surely state level politicians have noticed – there is no state referendum. So then, when Rell increases to 50% the amount of money paid by the state to towns for inflated educational costs she is providing “relief” to precisely those people who have a personal interest in boosting educational costs. They will be relieved that the additional money will allow them to forgo embarrassing referendums.

Both the Rell plan and the Amann plan are, in the precise sense of the words, licenses to spend without political consequences – which means that spending, out of control right now, will not be reigned in anytime soon. And in the absence of rational politicians, the state is much in need of a state-wide referendum on state budgets that will allow the little people to say no to extravagant spending – even if millionaires pick up the bulk of the tab.
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