Saturday, December 20, 2008

Name Four Ways to Cut Spending

Shelly Sindland, the affable host of “The Real Story,” a Fox news production, had on her program three guests: Chris Healy, the chairman of the state Republican Party, Roy Occhiogrosso, a principal with Global Strategy Group, and Kevin Rennie, once a Republican state Rep. and now a commentator for the Hartford Courant.

Mrs. Sindland asked of her guests a question that reporters should not fail to ask of legislators as the state attempts to discharge a $6 billion biennial budget deficit: How do we cut spending?

At first there was some palaver about tolls, selling Bradley Field and selling off portions of state highways to private firms for maintenance, while politely asking the UConn Health Center to return some of the money lavished upon it by past legislatures.

Then Mrs. Sindland offered an idea of how to pump money back into the economy:

“I have a great idea. A congressman from Texas on the federal level is proposing to suspend the income tax and the social security tax for two months at a cost of $350 million dollars. Why not let people keep their money and let people figure out for themselves how to pump money back into the economy?”

Healy, conversant with conservative ideas, began to bobble his head. “I’m all for that,” he said. One of Healy’s conservative heroes is the late Bill Buckley who, tracing the course of a dollar to Washington and back again in the form of a federal grant, professed his dismay at the willingness of taxpayers to let go of the dollar in the first place. To quote Mrs. Sindland, why not let them keep it; why the unnecessary and costly trip to Washington, where every bureaucrat in the land is permitted to take a bite of it as if it were a wee bannock?

Occhiogrosso said, “I’m all for people keeping more of their money and spending it here in Connecticut,” forgetting for the moment that the lifeblood of spendthrift legislatures depends upon the willingness of the great unwashed to send a dollar to Washington and get back 50 cents in return.

Sage Rennie nodded in agreement, and later burst into song: “We need immediate solutions. The legislature, when it met last month, could not cut $100 million dollars from an $18 billion dollar budget. That’s what’s ahead. .. It’s maddening. No one wants to talk [about] what we’re to do. There’s $3 billion dollars this year, $3 billion dollars next year, and they’re shrugging. They’re averting their gaze. We’re led by crazy people,” a golden perception one hopes Rennie will share with his readers at the Courant, perhaps in a future column.

In the meantime, outside the citadel of the legislature, the Red Death of Allen Edgar Poe’s short story, prowls along the castle walls looking for a breach.

We all remember the story from English class.

The Red Death has carried off thousands of victims in the countryside. Prince Prospero decides to ignore all this distasteful nonsense and throws a masque ball in his secure castle. In their blissful ignorance, the revelers dance and play, oblivious to the terror outside the walls of the castle – until one day, a stranger appears, dressed in red, the color of blood and revolution. Prospero, his sword drawn, pursues the stranger through seven rooms, determined to avenge himself upon the impertinent gate crasher. And in the seventh room, the Red Death unmasks himself. At the sight of the Red Death, Prospero falls dead. The story ends when the rest of the revelers rush into the room.

If anyone wants to see a mad legislator run from the death room, he has only to be asked to cite four ways of cutting the budget.

But that is exactly the question that ought to be put to all state politicians seeking office. So far, entropy is Lord Prospero; what we have done before – raise taxes, move money from account to account, plague the citizenry with niggling little taxes -- we are tempted to do again. This time, it won’t work.
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