Thursday, February 19, 2009

To the Republicans in Windsor: The Revolution Now

A sharp political analyst, Karl Marx -- who, appropriately enough, wrote for the New York Tribune -- used to talk about “the correlation of forces.” Marx was a lousy economist but a keen observer of people, countries, events and political movements.

By the correlation of forces, Marx meant all the important powers that shape politics, the plow that forms the furrow in which politics flows and determines its course.

The correlation of forces drifted to the top of my mind about two weeks ago when Gov. Jodi Rell surprised all of us by pulling a pin from her grenade and fragging the Democrat controlled legislature. The ensuing fireworks have been instructive.

All the usual suspects retreated behind all the usual barricades.

Roy Occhiogrosso, who has become the unofficial voice of the Democrat Party in the media, characterized Rell’s budget, on the Shelly Sindland show, as “a fairy tale.” Republican Party Chairman Chris Healy was sitting beside him, and for once his wits failed him. He might have said, “Gee Roy, fairy tale? You’re not being as dismissive as you might. Actually, most people like fairy tales; they are so full of hope and – especially – change. They provided the springboard upon which our new president leapt into office.”

But we are not always at the top of our game at such moments.

Michele Jacklin, the chief political columnist for the Hartford Courant before she left the paper to devote her energies towards making New Haven Mayor John DeStefano governor of Connecticut, appeared once again in the pages of her old newspaper to denounce Rell’s budget.

Like many liberals, Jacklin is of a Manichean disposition. Mani, a second century Christian heretic, tended to see the world as a stage upon which evil and goodness struggled for the souls of men. In Jacklin’s universe, all the light is on the left side, while the right is bathed in darkness, and humankind can only hope that the light will someday vanquish the darkness.

I’ll save you the trouble of reading Jacklin’s column. It said that Rell’s politics was tainted with Reaganite elements. We all know what they are: a yearning for small and manageable government, prudent spending and policies that contribute to the general wealth and health of a free marketplace not overly burdened by aggressive legislators. In Jacklin’s scheme of things, Reaganism is evil. The manna that will trickle down to us from Obama’s Washington is good. Soon, even governor Rell will be bathed in manna, and this will help discharge the state’s projected deficit, now cresting at about $10 billion. There is some dispute among the numbers crunchers concerning the size of the deficit. Rell may have undervalued the deficit by about 3 billion. The thing is growing daily, like The Blob in the horror movie of the same name.

According to a recent report, Connecticut’s portion of the manna works out to about three billion, all of it to be dumped into the general fund – in the past a black hole for so called “dedicated funds” – then to be distributed according to the dictates of the powers that be in Washington.

That should work out just great.

Connecticut’s projected deficit, at $10 billion, is now larger than the state’s last pre-income tax budget, which was about $7.5 billion -- so far have we progressed.

One of the forces that has determined our political fate these many years is the absurd notion– and here I quote Jacklin in one of her old columns – that Connecticut “does not have a spending problem; it has a revenue problem.”

By this formulation, liberal Democrats mean that there should be no limit to spending. Spending is not a problem. Getting money to pay for profligate spending could be a problem, were not Connecticut’s Gold Coast bordering New York blinging with millionaires. What the state really needs is to figure out creative ways to expropriate that money from the millionaires, deposit it in the treasury and prepare the way for the coming of manna showers – a fairy tale far more implausible than any Occhigrosso could imagine.

This has been the operative understanding of the Democrat Party in Connecticut ever since Gov. Ella Grasso, who was something of a pinchpenny, bit the dust.

And where has it gotten us? Really, where has it gotten us? Another day older and deeper in debt.

That notion needs a graveyard. Some one has to flay it, behead it, burn it at the stake and give it a Christian burial.

Don’t count upon our media to do this. If life in Connecticut were a fairy tale, we would be characterizing some media adepts as having fallen under a cruel enchantment.

So then, at the top of the correlation of forces is that wholly false hobby horse of the Democrats – the idea that you can create wealth by redistributing income and that a deficit in the private market place, which is what a recession is, can be ameliorated by creating larger national deficits through simulative spending.

The correlation of forces arrayed against what Occhiogrosso and others characterize as a “fairy tale” are formidable.

Daniel Livingston, the principal negotiator for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, has called Governor Rell’s fairy tale budget “a series of attacks on working families.” This was a response to Rell’s suggestion that the state might be able to save some money by providing early retirement to state workers through a voluntary program. Presumably, state workers will not voluntarily retire if they feel that they will thereby be putting their families in jeopardy. So then, the program cannot rationally be characterized as an attack on the families of those workers represented by Mr. Livingston.

From outside the fairy tale bubble, this looks very much like an attempt to control costs by paying people not to work; when you retire early, you receive early retirement salaries and benefits. This may or may not be a good idea, because early retirement lengthens the period of time the state pays workers for not working. But, whatever else it is, it is not an attack on the workers Mr. Livingston represents. Early retirement may reduce costs only when the salary and benefit costs of a new hire through the length of his service are less than the salary and benefit costs of the replaced retired state worker. Those costs can only be favorably adjusted by persuading Mr. Livingston to reduce his demands as a bargaining agent – and his recent statements strongly suggest he is not amenable to preventing an attack by his union on the wallets of other non-unionized “working families.”

Impinging on state problems are the proposed “solutions” to national problems. The new administration’s Treasury Secretary, tax scofflaw Timothy Geithner, has just released an outline of his new and improved TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) plan, and it’s a doozy.

There are six tiers to the plan: 1) a stress test for financial institutions receiving TARP funds; 2) a $500 billion-$1 trillion “public-private investment fund” to value so-called “troubled” assets; 3) $100 billion of Treasury funds leveraged through the Fed for up to $1 trillion in loans to consumers and businesses; 4) a requirement that firms lend money the way and to the extent regulators tell them to; 5) $600 billion to purchase GSE—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—mortgage-backed securities and debt, plus another $50 billion for foreclosure “prevention” through modifications; and finally, 6) an expansion of Small Business Administration loans.

According to Americans for Limited Government, “when fully implemented, the Geithner plan would cost $2.75 trillion – this in addition to Congress’ current $1.2 trillion debt plan” -- a veritable raid on the income of working families. The current national debt is $10.7 trillion. People who quarrel with the accounting procedures used by those who tote up the debt insist that the real national debt is closer to $45-53 trillion.

Republicans have now lost control of both houses of the US congress. Rep. Chris Shays was the last moderate Republican left standing in New England. Democrats control both houses of the Connecticut legislature with a veto proof margin. The state has lost control of its spending, which is pretty much in the hands of President Pro Tem Don Williams in the Senate and Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, formerly a union head. The Democrat controlled legislature that will refashion Governor Rell’s budget is determined to tax working families even more and to resist whatever rational cost saving measures Mr. Livingston disapproves of.

So what to do?

Never despair. You fight, you fight, and you fight. Working families are depending upon you to dispel the fairy tale that has bewitched everyone in the state.

For watchful Republicans – especially here in Connecticut – there are other correlations that must be attended to.

There are some good ideas out there for reform that should be heeded. “Reform” and “change” are not words Republicans should avoid in their future campaigns.

The Yankee Institute, one of the best conservative to libertarian think tanks in the state, has suggested that High Schools simply forgive the fourth year of High School for students who excel and pay their first year at local colleges.

Chris Powell, the Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer, thinks that binding arbitration belongs in the trash bin of history, and it is difficult to argue with him when he says that binding arbitration deprives the citizenry of the democratic means by which they might trim the burgeoning costs of education. Governor Rell took a baby step forward in addressing this problem when she suggested a freeze on binding arbitration for two years. Opposition to this idea was immediate and intense.

Mark Sanford, the Republican governor of South Carolina who begged Rep. Charlie Rangel at a hearing to please not send him bailout funds, is a convert to use taxes; his ambition is to rid South Carolina of its property tax through targeted use taxes. He wants to eliminate South Carolina’s property tax. When Sanford, who is opposed to earmarks of any kind, received unwelcome opposition from his state’s Republican legislators, he brought live pigs into the chamber as a visual check on earmarks.

Your local prophet crying in the wilderness – me – has said numerous times in blogs and political columns that what the state needs to control profligate spending is a state budget referendum, a tool put to good use by municipalities when errant mayors, many of them Democrats, offer bloated budgets containing crippling increases in taxes.

Why not institute a truth in packaging law for legislation, every bill proposed to be accompanied by the projected cost of the bill and published on the internet before votes are cast? That projection should include a termination date for temporary legislation and a cost run-out over several years for permanent measures. In our post recession recovery stage, you may have to triple or quadruple the cost run-outs. In fact, after all the rescue money in the federal pipeline is spewed out into the marketplace, inflation – the “I” word nobody seems to be mentioning – will reduce the value of the dollar further and boost the projected cost of all salvational politics. Inflation, as we all know, is a hidden tax on wages that depresses the purchasing power of employment checks.

Windsor, Bloomfield and Enfield are as good places as any in the state to begin the revolution – which should commence (looks at watch) now.

Do it for Jacklin, Livingston, Occhiogrosso, the confederacy of dunces in the legislature, an uncomprehending media, the correlation of forces and your children.

This was an address given to the Republicans in Windsor, Feb 19, 2009
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