Monday, November 17, 2008

Real Change for a Change



If state Republicans could adopt a slogan that might be useful to them in the future, it might be: “Real change for a change.”

The “change” slogan worked well for president-elect Barack Obama, and not only because the heavens smiled upon him when Wall Street took a bath. When a person’s perceived wealth – say, his 401k is diminished – he becomes ready and eager to herald in change. But Americans like change for change’s sake the way artists like art for art’s sake. To become perfect, Emerson said somewhere, is to have changed often. That is typically an American perception. Our political progenitors came to these shores to begin anew. Americans then are prejudiced in favor of change, or at least they do not fear it, which is why Obama struck a responsive chord with his slogan “change you can believe in.”

It is still very much an open question whether the changes Obama will inaugurate will usher in fundamental change, but that is a different matter for a different day.

Here in Connecticut, we are stuck in the mud; we may need the kind of push forward that change brings. What kind of change would be beneficial?

Certainly something has to be done about the sluggish economy. Republicans may have been very much surprised and encouraged to read a column written by Jonathan Pelto, a former state representative from Storrs, that appeared in a Hartford paper. Pelto, it should be recalled, is a liberal’s liberal.

In the age of Obama now upon us, it is not surprising that Pelto should be calling for change.

Some of the changes he trumpets are typical liberal prescriptions: Connecticut’s “spending cap,” fundamentally flawed Pelto says, should be “fixed.”

Now, the spending cap is not flawed, according to Pelto, because it has prevented the legislature and the governor from controlling spending. That naive perception is almost exclusively a Republican one. No, Pelto holds that the cap is flawed because it does not allow the state to recover sufficient funds from the federal government. According to this typically Democrat view, there are no spending problems; there are only revenue problems. The fix proposed by Pelto will enhance revenue; here he does not wander very far out of the Democrat ideological box.

Pelto’s call for an end to “irresponsible” bonding is one that might strike a responsive chord among some Republicans who have managed to shake off the spell woven by President George Bush, a reckless spender.

But what Republican heart does not beat a little more fiercely when Pelto writes:

“Connecticut's public-private partnership with its nonprofit, community-based providers is the best way to deliver services such as group homes, day treatment and employment programs for people dealing with mental illness, developmental or physical disabilities or other challenges. The state should properly fund them and expand their use. Overall costs can then be reduced and some state employees, who now provide these services, can be retrained and assigned to ensure the services are being properly provided… In addition, the massive budget crisis facing our state cannot be solved unless the state and state employee unions agree on much more aggressive mechanisms to reduce health care costs and ensure that the pension and heath care accounts are properly funded.”

A shocking proposal, coming from a dyed in the wool liberal.

After this bracing break with Democrat orthodoxy, Pelto falls back into the claustrophobic box with a crash. He attributes the state’s anemic job production with its failure to make use of “effective economic development strategies… From 1950 to 1990, Connecticut's job growth was impressive; since 1990, Connecticut has ranked dead last in job growth nationally.”

Republicans would be inclined to ask at this point – what happened after 1990 that may have contributed to the decline? And they may remember, more often than is comfortable for Democrats, that Connecticut’s income tax was launched in 1991. Pelto does not mention the roll the income tax may have played in generating a series of surpluses, quickly spent, that ratcheted up state budgets until, in 2008, the Wall Street that watered Connecticut’s treasury and Main Street with ample funds took a fall and left us with a $6 billion hole in our biennial treasury bucket. But then it's easy to miss such pink elephants in a room crowded with friendly Democrats.

Connecticut voters and taxpayers are now muttering under their breath, “Gotta change that.”
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