It should surprise no one that Governor Dannel Malloy is on the road again selling the usual product. This time, because elections are looming, he will be followed by Republican candidates for governor anxious to peddle their own prescriptions for what ails us.
Returning from a Middletown town hall meeting, though some in the audience objected to the format, Mr. Malloy sent around a sermon to the Hartford Courant. He began by noting that “Every budget is about setting priorities. That's true for every family in Connecticut, especially during tough economic times. It is equally true for state government.” Indeed, are we to suppose that President Barack Obama has set no priorities because he had presented no budget to Congress during his first term?
When middle class families in Connecticut encounter hard times, they cut back on spending, a remedy for budgetary red ink unknown in Washington and many states, including Connecticut. That is because workers in the private sector in Connecticut cannot force their employers to raise their wages. In this respect, private enterprise is qualitatively different than government. When a government runs into hard times, it may raise taxes and usually does. That is because governments find it painful to say “no” to those who use and provide their services. Independent Governor Lowell Weicker responded to a pre-income tax deficit by instituting a new income tax. Governor Dannel Malloy’s Democratic forebearers, Governors Ella Grasso and O’Neill resisted the effortless solution to which Mr. Weicker and Mr. Malloy so easily succumbed. Tax raisers in Connecticut are always careful to sugar their bitter pill with a bit of honey: “We don’t like taxes any more than you do, honey.” But they slather on the taxes anyway, heedless of predictable consequences. Connecticut’s present budget is three times larger than Mr. O’Neill’s last pre-income tax budget, and the bottom line increase in our budgets is a true measure of spending increases.
So then, the precipitous increase in budgets strongly suggests that the priorities of the governors who followed Mr. O’Neill lay in raising taxes rather than in cutting spending. Mr. Malloy’s tax increase was the largest in state history, and his spending cuts, to judge from the massive revenue increase in his first budget, were not commensurate with his tax increases -- which, come to think of it, is the very definition of “shared sacrifice,” Mr. Malloy’s campaign slogan when he first ran for governor.
In his latest sermon, Mr. Malloy notes that he has become an old hand at town hall meetings, having “done more than 30 of these town hall events since taking office.” He values such gatherings not only because they give him an opportunity to peddle his product from a bully pulpit, but more importantly because “they present the best opportunity for me to listen directly to the concerns of my fellow Connecticut residents.” And “Based on what I heard in Middletown, it is clearer to me than ever that many people share some simple, common-sense perspectives on what our state needs.”
Fortunately for Mr. Malloy, what he hears from citizens at these town meetings conforms precisely to his own prescriptions, which he is certain will bring prosperity and good fortune to the middle class in his state: “Connecticut's middle class doesn't need any more burdens. The middle class needs some breaks,” especially in these difficult days following “the worst recession since the Great Depression, and with a national economy that continues to grow too slowly.”
George Will’s definition of a “need” – a want that’s 24 hours old – is especially pertinent in the Malloy administration.
Surely in the course of 30 Connecticut town hall meetings, someone must have whispered in Mr. Malloy's ear that cuts in spending proportional to his tax increases might help middle class tax payers balance their own budgets. God, we are told, whispers to us in the whirlwind because He wishes us to attend to his message and wants us to learn how to listen. Perhaps Mr. Malloy has not been attentive to the whisperings of the state’s middle class: He is a very busy guy, and never busier than when he is telling the middle class to cough up a few more bucks he might distribute to Connecticut’s prosperous insurance companies, one of which is moving its in-state operations to South Carolina.
The simplest and truest way to give the middle class a break is to reduce their taxes – or, at the very least, not to raise their taxes – thus leaving them in command of their own salaries and futures. Mr. Malloy has done quite the opposite.
But never mind honey, here comes the honey: “That's why my budget contains no new taxes and puts us on a path to reinstating the sales tax exemption on clothing valued under $50. And that's why my budget would do away with the single most burdensome, most regressive and most unfair tax in our state — the car tax.”
Ah yes, the car tax. The car tax is a levy imposed by, collected by and spent by town governments. A short time after Mr. Malloy imposed upon Connecticut the largest tax increase in its history, the Yankee Institute, a right of center think tank, published a list of Mr. Malloy’s new taxes, many of which were regressive. Any imposition levied on a taxpayer who cannot comfortably pay the tax without depriving himself of necessary income is a regressive tax. Mr. Malloy’s revenueincreases spanned 25 categories of taxes and eliminated exemptions in about 37 different categories. The elimination of town property taxes on cars worth less than $28,571, which municipalities depend upon to finance their operations, is an invitation to municipal governments to either raise property taxes on middle class owners of houses or to cut town budgets. It takes little political courage for state politicians to eliminate someone else's tax. If Mr. Malloy wants to help the middle class by reducing state taxes, the list produced by the Yankee Institute presents some golden opportunities for him.