Monday, August 10, 2009

Lamont And The Buck; It Doesn’t Stop Anywhere


Ned Lamont -- the Greenwich millionaire who with an assist from former governor and senator Lowell Weicker, the father of Connecticut’s income tax, Bill Cibes, the godfather of Connecticut’s income tax, and Tom D’Amore, for many years Weicker’s top aide, ran and won a primary against Sen. Joe Lieberman but lost the general election -- has now resurfaced with the three above mentioned gentlemen in tow.

Mr. Lamont has launched a broadside against Governor Jodi Rell on a popular blog site called Connecticut Local Politics.

Gov. Rell presently is in camera with Democratic budget leaders. The governor and Democratic legislative leaders are desperately trying to come up with a budget that a) does not sink the good ship Connecticut with yet more burdensome taxes and regulations, and b) is acceptable to state workers and union leaders, the state’s permanent shadow government.

These two goals may be irreconcilable, but that is not the point of Mr. Lamont's most recent broadside, perhaps an early Democratic campaign document, which begins: “There must be a plaque on Governor Rell’s desk which reads, ‘The buck doesn’t stop here.’

“Her recent op-ed piece in Sunday’s Hartford Courant was a classic example of blame-shifting for the state’s ongoing budget crisis. Crying, ‘the legislature made me do it,’ is a thin excuse for someone who has held the title of CEO of the State of Connecticut for the past five years– five years during which our state should have been implementing a strategy to lift Connecticut from the bottom of the heap in job growth and new business start-ups.”

All this sound promising. One begins to think: Perhaps Democrats really do have a plan up their magician’s sleeves. Mr. Lamont, one is anxious to believe, must have a solution – though so far it has escaped the notice of the Democratic leadership in the legislature – that will boost job growth and new business start-ups.

He seems so brave.

Just listen; “In her budget address to the legislature this past February, Governor Rell stated that, ‘the bloat of bureaucracy is no longer affordable.’ But that so-called bloat was never affordable, it was ramped up on her watch, and it has now become a long-term problem we are forced to solve with short-term fixes that will weaken Connecticut’s competitive position in future years.”

This is a promising start. So then, how do we prick the bureaucracy bubble?

We must, Mr. Lamont advises, “upgrade information technology to reduce costs and increase efficiency,” balance “the costs and effectiveness of drug treatment versus incarceration,” achieve “fundamental health care reform (can you say Sustinet?),” strategically target capital spending…”

Some of the ideas proposed by Cibes, Lamont, D'Amore et al have been cribbed from Mr. David Osborne, the author of "The Price of Government: Getting the Results We Need in an Age of Permanent Fiscal Crisis," a book that is all the rage among political cognoscenti, including Gov. Rell who, though not an ideologue, apparently approves some of Mr.Osbourne's notions.

So then, does Mr. Lamont advise replacing nursing homes with home care, since no cost saving would be involved in sustaining both? And does he expect any push back from unionized nursing home health care workers when he tries to deprive them of their jobs or reduce their saleries?

Will the shift in programs be revenue neutral or will it cost more money -- again? Remember, the income tax was set so high that the legislature was awash in surpluses for decades. They were quickly spent.

Will drug treatment replace incarceration for drug crimes? To reduce spending it is necessary to do much more than “strategically target” state dollars; it will be necessary to refuse state dollars to people and groups now receiving them.

Who are these people? What groups should be de-financed?

If Mr. Lamont has answers to these questions, he is keeping the answers up his sleeve.

Mr. Lamont writes on CLP, “Governor Rell writes that Connecticut cannot tax its way to prosperity, but her budget instead tries to borrow, securitize, and cost-shift our way out of this severe deficit.

“Borrowing: her biggest ‘labor savings’ simply borrows from the state pension fund by incenting (sic) our best workers to retire with additional pension bennies, and by failing to fund our pension obligations. Connecticut has one of the most underfunded state pensions in the country, but it will fail on someone else’s watch, so…’

So… will Mr. Lamont’s choice for governor fully fund state pensions, and is this measure likely to reduce the state deficit in the absence of higher taxes? Or does he plan to increase state taxes (which ones?) to fund depleted pensions?

Given that the state has absorbed billion dollar surpluses nearly every fiscal year before the downturn in the economy, whose fault is that that those surpluses were not dedicated to replenishing pension funds? Is this a shared responsibility between the last three governors and the Democratic dominated legislature? Or should the buck be laid at the feet of the governors alone, one of whom was Weicker?

Mr. Lamont doers not approve of cost shifting devises: “… let’s pay our Medicaid doctors a little less; not to worry, small business can make up the difference with higher premiums.”

It must distress Mr. Lamont grievously that Senate Democrats wanted to partially finance their new Health Care spending plan by taxing Medicare, importing hundreds of thousands of new beneficiaries on to the health care rolls without increasing taxes on the middle class or hiring new care providers, and passing the bill to Mr. Lamont’s children and his children’s children.

Mr. Lamont’s distress, however, has not been registered in anything he’s written lately.

Gov. Rell’s tax cuts, he writes, “are piecemeal and ill-considered: cuts in internet access to our libraries and schools, cuts in economic development money, cuts to the Connecticut Innovations Fund, the Connecticut Economic Resource Council and the Connecticut Technology Council — all of which are at the forefront of attracting and keeping good paying jobs and businesses. While we may unilaterally disarm, other states competing for our jobs and workers are not cutting these types of initiatives.”

All very true. During the last state recession, which followed closely on the heels of former Gov. Weicker’s gift to frazzled politicians, the state income tax, it took Connecticut nearly a decade to recover lost jobs. This time around, Mr. Lamont points to a study showing Connecticut will rank “…dead last in regaining lost jobs: sometime ‘after 2015.’”

Perhaps Mr. Lamont should be asked to list a dozen non-piecemeal and effective cuts that his favorite nominee for governor – Could it be Cibes? -- should propose.

Put-up time passed by long ago.

The culprits, according to Mr. Lamont are “… the high cost of housing, an aging transportation system, a gaping educational divide, high energy costs, one of the oldest populations and highest property taxes.”

There is no mention in his campaign broadside of high taxes, out of control spending or the ambitions of lean and hungry Democratic legislative leaders who, having saddled the state with an income tax, now wish to punish entrepreneurial capital by levying a crippling tax on corporations that, Mr. Lamont will agree, have fled the state in search of more business friendly environments. Seven states -- Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming -- have no income tax.

There is no need to sweat these details though, because: “…We don’t need armchair critics. That’s why for the past year William Cibes and I engaged business and labor and nonprofit leaders from across the state who came together around a strategic framework for our state’s future, which you can read more about at CTBlueprint.org.”

The last time Bill Cibes had a blueprint to erect a “strategic framework for our state’s future,” he was soundly rejected by a majority of state voters. It was Cibes who ran the honest campaign for a state income tax. In this effort, he was defeated by Lowell Weicker who, having been defeated in a senatorial race by Joe Lieberman, ran for governor as an independent. During his campaign Weicker threw an ocean of cold water on the notion of an income tax. But having won, he hired Cibes as his budget chief. Together, the two made history by instituting an income tax. Weicker, a faux Republican, was succeeded by Gov. John Rowland, who promised to repeal the income tax. He didn’t.

Now we have come full circle back to square one: The current two year budget deficit is larger than the last pre-Weicker state budget.

“We need to maximize our advantages and address our deficiencies – starting with an honest budget,” Mr Lamont writes. “The budget buck passing needs to stop here and now; the Governor still has time to get all the stakeholders around the table and make smart, tough choices which do not shortchange Connecticut’s future.

“As Warren Buffet commented on the national recession, ‘When the tide goes out, you can see who’s been swimming naked.’ Sadly, Connecticut has been swimming naked for a long time, most recently under Governor Rell’s leadership. This economic downturn should have been our wake up call. Don’t let the Governor hit the snooze button once again.”

Final budgets are made, as Mr. Lamont will soon see, by the dominant political party – his party. The governor proposes; the legislature disposes. And long before Connecticut’s tide began to recede, the state legislature was dominated by Democrats who had a penchant for burying their heads deep in the sand while wagging their bums in the air and pointing accusing fingers at Republican governors.
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