Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cibes Rises

Many of the young people who read Bill Cibes' op-ed column in the Hartford Courant, “In Case Of Rain, Break Open: State Fund Meant For Tough Times,” may well be asking themselves “Cibes who?”

The op-ed piece was attributed to two authors. Cibes is identified in the by-line as the former “secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management” and “a member of the board of the Connecticut Association for Human Services.” His co-author, Elizabeth McNichol, is “a senior fellow with the State Fiscal Project of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, which focuses on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals.”

Cibes is so much larger than his titles suggest. Before he was chosen by former Governor Lowell Weicker to head the Office of Policy Management, Cibes was a candidate for governor. His primary campaign program had but one serious plank – the state needs an income tax – and he was beaten with the plank in the primary election by an enlightened citizenry, a mob of anti-income tax Democrats who thought, rightly as it turned out, that an income tax would be a license to spend money at a time when legislators should have been making efforts to trim the budget.

Running as an independent against Cibes, Republican gubernatorial nominee John Rowland and Democrat nominee Bruce Morrison, both of whom rejected an income tax, Weicker pulled a Weicker: He strongly suggested during the campaign that he would not resort to an income tax to discharge a mounting deficit – instituting an income tax, Weicker said, “would be like pouring gas on a fire” – and then, after having won office in a three man race, Weicker brought Cibes into his administration as his budget chief.

The rest is, as the mourners say, history.

Most of the media in the state that had followed Weicker’s senatorial career with panting breath also favored an income tax, the Courant’s editorial board and its chief political writer, Charlie Morse – who later joined the Weicker administration – among them. Weicker cannoodled some Republican legislators into voting for the tax that doomed Cibes’ gubernatorial run, and before you could say “Why don’t we double spending in the next ten years,” the deed was done.

When Weicker left office, later shaking the dust of Connecticut from his feet, he prepared a downey fall for Cibes, who became the first chancellor of the state’s four state colleges, a position created at the tail end of the Weicker administration by a no doubt grateful governor.

Weicker once joked that his Lieutenant Governor, Eunice Groark, was the mother of the state income tax. By the tax was a bastard whose parentage is still in dispute. Some say Cibes is the daddy; others say Weicker is the daddy.

After retiring from his featherbedded job as chancellor of Connecticut’s state university system, Cibes is back in the fray.

And what does he want now?

Can anyone guess?

Cibes wants money – not for himself, it is understood; he got that from Weicker. Cibes wants the state to dip into its rainy day fund to pay off the tide of red ink in future budget’s that the income tax was designed to stem.

“By tapping this fund,” Cibes advises, “states can minimize the need to raise taxes or cut back on services such as health care or education to deal with temporary budget problems created by unforeseen events.”

Cibes wants to use the little cash still left in the till to “invest” in job development and – big surprise here – education.

Funny how the spending serpent, biting its own tail, circles in upon itself: We spent a lot of money, and so we needed an income tax; then we got an income tax; then we spent more money; and now we need to plunder the state’s rainy day fund which, Cibes and McNichol tells us, was designed expressly to sop up red ink.

Young people – many of whom had already got the message and left the state – must be asking themselves “Where will it all end?”

And the honest answer is -- in the poor house, may Cibes’ blessings be upon it.
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