Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Porcupine Cometh

Thanks Jeff Cohen
“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election” – Otto Von Bismarck

“I am a porcupine” – Dannel Malloy

The endorsements of Governor Dannel Malloy prior to Vote Day (VD) were not full throated. In fact, many Malloy endorsements made by editorial boards the members of which could not bring themselves to recommend as governor a guy who owned a yacht named "Odalisque" were so hedged about with thorns that the rose was barely visible among them.

A Hartford paper’s editorial endorsement was typical of most. The paper mentioned some minuses and pluses, added up the sums and endorsed the incumbent governor. Over the years, the paper had fallen into the bad habit of reflexively endorsing incumbents, and in Connecticut all the leading positions in government – the governor’s office, the constitutional offices, the members of the U.S. Congressional delegation and the leadership of the state’s General Assembly – are held by Democrats, which makes endorsements a snap for left of center editorial boards. Most editorial endorsements of Mr. Malloy were re-writes that required little independent thinking.

On the plus side, the paper noted in so many words, Mr. Malloy is the most progressive governor in state history, a tax and spend guy -- We like that; we have always liked that -- and a bit of a porcupine who relishes throwing campaign quills in the direction of businessmen yacht owners presumptuous enough to run against him. During one of their debates, Mr. Malloy turned on Mr. Foley and asked what effect he thought the naming of his yacht, “Odalisque,” might have had on Mr. Foley’s three-year-old children. The correct answer would have been “None.” And Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Foley might have retorted that questions involving his three-year-old children, generally considered out of bounds in gubernatorial debates, were a little too quilly for his taste.  Mr. Malloy’s administration, the paper said in its favorable endorsement, is “better than it may look.”

The paper was weary of Mr. Foley’s persistent iterations.  The guy who owned the yacht had noted countless times in debates that Mr. Malloy had pulled $1.9 billion in taxes from Connecticut’s battered economy in the midst of a persistent recession, which persisted nationally because progressive Democrats had pulled a massive amount of entrepreneurial capital from a gasping, capital starved private market place. But the largest tax increase in Connecticut history, the paper trumpeted, was necessary because, once in office, Mr. Malloy found himself facing a $3.7 Billion budget deficit; and so he “attempted to meet the problem head on, with almost $1.9 billion of tax increases, union concessions, consolidation of state agencies and other spending reductions.” Comes the thorns: “It didn't work exactly according to script. Union concessions didn't reach the hoped-for level of savings. The fix was predicated on a level of economic recovery that didn't happen."

Thorn, rose, thorn, thorn, thorn, rose, thorn, another thorn, and once you've toted everything up – endorsement Malloy.

The paper’s second endorsement of Malloy was little more than a re-write of its first endorsement, which was a re-write of its endorsement more than twenty years earlier of former Governor Lowell Weicker, the instigator of Connecticut’s income tax. Weicker had also faced a challenging deficit. Easy as shooting fish in a barrel, takes no thought at all. You just array your prejudices and endorse the most leftward leaning candidate. Occasionally, but not often enough, reality disturbs the slothful imagination. A few days after Mr. Malloy was re-installed, the paper tacked on to its endorsement the following caveat: “This editorial was updated Friday to remove a reference to Mr. Malloy making a "$100 million start at paying down the state's massive unfunded pension obligation." The plan to add the additional money in the pension fund was dropped earlier this year.”


We knew that after the election the porcupine would emerge from the closet. Following his successful election, Mr. Malloy attended a National Governors Association meeting in Colorado.  He returned home to a $99.5 million deficit, about which Mr. Malloy said after one of his debates with the yacht guy -- there will be no deficit. No matter, the deficit, Mr. Malloy told the media, was “de minimis” and easily could be handled though a recission process during which Mr. Malloy would not have to present to the Democratic dominated General Assembly thorny budget difficulties. He could handle the tiny hole in the budget himself through rescissions, a little budget nip and tuck that would result in neither spending cuts nor additional taxation. 

Mr. Malloy’s budget chief, Ben Barnes, then stepped forward to announce that the budget deficit about which the yacht guy made such a to-do during the Malloy-Foley debates – which Mr. Malloy declared would not raise its hoary head anytime in the near future – had suddenly and unexpectedly reappeared. One paper noted, “According to the nonpartisan legislative analyst’s report, the state faces a $1.32 billion deficit in 2016 — up from a $1.278 billion projection a few months ago — and a $1.4 billion deficit in 2017.” On this occasion, the election season now being closed, Mr. Malloy did not bother to dispute budget deficit figures brought forward by the state’s non-partisan analysts. He had done so in the campaign debates, insisting that deficit figures provided by the legislature’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis were wrongly computed.

They weren’t wrong for long. The Malloy administration has yet to put on stage its Jonathan Gruber, the Obamacare whiz kid who astonished the nation by letting the cat out of Obama-con bag. Mr. Barnes is not yet there – close though: “We have entered into a period of permanent fiscal crisis in state and local government, it seems. But that said, I think that we've made a lot of progress in trying to find ways to make our government more sustainable. I'm hopeful that we will come to a new equilibrium in which, when times are unexpectedly good, we produce surpluses that we set aside to cover us for when times are bad."

Mr. Barnes and Mr. Malloy, both full of pleasant dreams, are waiting patiently for a 15 percent income tax growth rate, at which point national prosperity will lift Connecticut’s recession boat. Two massive tax increases – the Weicker and the Malloy tax boosts -- have resulted in a net job growth close to zero since 1991.

In the post-election period, sleight of hand is everywhere brazenly displayed. Days after the election, Treasury Secretary Denise Nappier, who won election by a whisker, announced she was transferring money from bond proceeds to back-fill the rising deficit; at roughly the same time, the Bonding Commission,controlled by Mr. Malloy, announced it would exceed by about $167 million a “voluntary bonding cap established by Mr. Malloy.”

In the absence of the indispensable Gruber, we may lean upon Bismarck’s always serviceable apothegm: “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war, or before an election”   
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