Sunday, July 12, 2009

Top Secret Budgets: Crisis, What Crisis?

Every time politicians gather together in secret sessions, journalists the world over feel a floppy emptiness in the pit of their stomachs, perhaps because they realize the justice of George Bernard Shaw’s remark: Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity.

Professional politicians are the conspirators; journalists, on the other hand, like to think of themselves as representatives of the laity.

This rule – that the public business must be conducted in the naked public square, where the tribunes of the people can keep a watchful eye on the conspirators and report back to the laity– is generally waved in around budget time. Here in Connecticut, final budgets are hammered out not in open sessions but in formerly smoke filled rooms where politicians practice their profession, the second oldest profession.

This year, as in most years, Republicans, Democrats and the reigning governor have not been able to fashion a budget while under close scrutiny by the fourth estate. There are many reasons for this, principle among them that politicians, fearful of an excess of light, like to work after hours in the dark.

Michele Jacklin, once the chief political reporter for the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s only state-wide newspaper, who left the ink-stained wretch business to work on John DeStefano’s fruitless campaign for governor, returned to her old haunt some time ago and suggested – nay, demanded – that Gov. Jodi Rell, who claims to want to put the lid on spending, and free falling, free spending Democrats in the legislature should be put together in some formerly smoke filled room, far from the madding crowd of journalists who dog their every step, so that the warring parties may hammer out a budget acceptable to the conspirators.

No one blinked an eye at the suggestion.

And that is what is now coming to pass.

The conspirators this year have assembled at the governor’s mansion; the doors have been locked and barred; pizza has been ordered.

A monstrous combination, a cross between donkey and an elephant, will emerge at the end of these sessions. Of course, no one will like the product, no one -- not the assembled Democratic leaders, not the Republicans in the room, not Governor Jodi Rell, not the tribunes of the people, not the taxed to death laity, not even Michele Jacklin.

A “compromise” budget will be produced, a perfect conspiracy. Rolls will be reversed. Republicans will say, “We didn’t want to tax you, but we produced a pragmatic budget.” Democrats will say, “We did not want to cut necessary programs, but we have given you a pragmatic budget.” The members of some editorial boards, wearing pasteboard frowns, will say, “It had to happen this way. No one likes taxes. No one likes spending.”

Everyone will be shatteringly displeased. The last time in Connecticut the legislature and governor gathered together to discharge multi-billion dollar deficit, the laity was whacked with an income tax.

Everyone frowned for a full month.

This ancient show, this grand posturing, is beginning to wear thin, which is why tea parties and other mini-revolts are springing up everywhere in the state. The tea parties are small crucibles of people who have had enough of taxes and just aren’t going to take it any more. Connecticut, last in job growth for the past decade, is a magnet for discontent. While California’s deficit is higher, $26 billion to Connecticut’s puny $8 billion, the nutmeg state is number one in per capita debt. California’s debt will cost every person in that state around $712, New York about $918. The comparable figure in Connecticut is a crushing $2,513, according to the Institute of Economic Research in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, known for many years here in the Job Bleeding State as Taxachussetts.

Expropriating taxes from plundered quarter-millionaires, a vanishing species, the application of the usual bromides, and Band-Aid solutions ain’t gonna patch together this shattered Humpty Dumpty.
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