Thursday, February 20, 2014

Governor Bling And Connecticut’s Malingering Recession

Governor Dannel Malloy, it would appear from recent news accounts, is frantically attempting to put himself right with unionized teachers.

The Malloy-teacher romance hit a rough spot when a few months ago Mr. Malloy said of teachers who were resisting his pedagogical reforms, “All they have to do is show up.”

Mr. Malloy meant that teacher tenure tended to protect failing teachers from any and all attempts to displace them. The Malloy pedagogical reforms were designed to overleap tenure and displace poor teachers by setting standards against which the effectiveness of teachers in the classroom could be objectively measured. Teachers falling below the set standards would be given the opportunity of taking remedial courses. After a certain point, if the inadequate teachers failed to measure up, they would be dismissed. Whole school systems were put on notice that similar standards would be employed to measure the performance of principals and superintendents.

The usual objection to standardized testing of teachers is that teaching itself is an art, not a science. As an art, its effects on the consumer of the pedagogical product are subtle, too evanescent to be measured with precision. The proposed tests and standards, so the objection goes, are insufficient to gauge quality teaching or, for that matter, quality education.

Mr. Malloy was having none of this. His counter argument was that the educational product can be measured; indeed, teachers measure student performance daily by means of objective tests. The inevitable effects of inadequate teaching -- thousands of uneducated students, many of them locked by circumstances into poor performing urban schools – would no longer be tolerated in a Malloy administration; such was the message Mr. Malloy managed to convey in not a few “town hall” meetings. Here, at last, was an administration prepared to put first things first.

Having settled the problem of poor education, at least theoretically, the fleet-footed Mr. Malloy “moved on,” as politicians sometimes say, to other pressing issues. Were small businesses in the state, overburdened by excessive regulations and taxes that diminished their already slim profit margins, in agony, largely as a result of new taxes imposed on them by Mr. Malloy and the progressive Democrat dominated General Assembly? Very well, Mr. Malloy would establish a program – “First Five,” later expanded to “First Whatever” – that would allow Mr. Malloy to dispense tax money to businesses, some of which were multi-billion dollar corporations in need of moving their operations a few towns away. Subtle signals were being sent to Mr. Malloy that, in the absence of tax handouts, even large businesses might move some operations to other states more welcoming than Connecticut. To these signals, Mr. Malloy responded with tax dollars.

In the crony capitalist state, such a naked attempt at polite bribery is viewed by co-conspiring politicians as a cri de coeur. They are more than happy to oblige multi-million dollar companies with crony capitalist “investments,” because such measures will not permanently deprive the politicians of tax receipts, as would reductions in business taxes. Permanent business tax reductions really would create a “level playing field,” an expression favored and overused by former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal whenever he sued a company that he supposed had gained an unfair advantage by flouting an arcane regulation.

A good part of Mr. Malloy’s strenuous effort to save the state from the logical consequences of his tax increase, the largest in state history, falls into the category of political bling.

If the state of Connecticut – and remember, l'état, c'est Malloy plus the Democrat dominated General Assembly – wanted to rid itself of poor educators and poor education, especially in urban areas, it could establish a voucher system. Under a voucher regime, money spent for education would be attached to education consumers in the form of vouchers that students, in consultation with their parents or parent, might use to purchase quality schooling anywhere in Connecticut. Over time, good schools would flourish and expand as students invested their vouchers in them, and poor schools and inadequate teachers would whither on the vine, a prospect that would nudge poorer schools towards reform.

The polite bribery of public officials by outsized corporations – gimme a tax break and I won’t bolt – could be avoided altogether through reasonable and PERMANENT business tax reductions. And a state that pruned its briar patch of sometimes pointless regulations would make itself an attractive business hub for out of state corporations that might consider moving to Connecticut once our malingering business slow-down ends. The national recession ended four years ago, but not so much here in progressive Connecticut. Additionally, such measures would “even the playing field.” Large corporations awash in lobbyists and small Mom and Pop operations would receive exactly the same business saving benefits.                 

These measures, though effective, are bound to be rejected by tax hungry progressives. A governor poor in tax receipts has little to give away. Bling is not unimportant for politicians who wish to be perceived as important, if not self-important. The thoroughgoing progressive would rather change the world than save it -- inconspicuously. Mr. Malloy feels the pressing need to reinvent Connecticut, and he wants to be seen reinventing it. So he slings the bling around. The UConn Health Center, for years a failing enterprise, was wonderfully changed by Mr. Malloy when he attached to it some bling he had pulled out of his hat, the tax absorbing Jackson Laboratory. A maintenance governor intent on returning the state to normalcy might have invested his tax money in bridge repairs rather than a blingy fast speed bus line from Hartford to New Britain, but there is little political profit in performing expected and routine gubernatorial chores.

Bling’s the thing that keeps politicians, if not the state, “moving forward.”
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