Friday, November 28, 2014

The Grumpi Interviews, November 28

Girolamo Grumpi, obviously not his real name, is a retired journalist who lives north of Hartford and who wishes to remain anonymous.

Q: It appears that the skeletons came out of the closet a few days after the election. Ben Barnes, the Head of Governor Malloy’s Office of Policy Management, said that Connecticut should perhaps expect chronic deficits in the future, and this thunderclap caught the notice of some papers.

GG: Yes, Barnes may have been, if only for a moment, the Jonathan Gruber of Connecticut. Gruber, an MIT Don dripping with ivy and one of the architects of (President Barack) Obama’s Health Care initiatives, is on record as having said in various venues that Obamacare was intentionally deceiving, and necessarily so because most Americans, who are far less bright than MIT professors, would have rejected Obamacare had its architects been more honest than either Gruber or Obama. It’s true that Henry Mencken once said no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people, but one expects that sort of thing from a scourge of democracy. One expects genuflections in the direction of all things democratic from office holders, particularly presidents and their Ivy League supporters. Gruber is to be congratulated for blurting out the truth about Obamacare. In a like manner, Barnes blurted out the truth about Connecticut’s budgets when he said he state’s deficits had become chronic.

Q: Shouldn’t there be a price to pay for election fraudulence? Malloy said no, there would be no deficits, and now we have a deficit in the current fiscal year approaching $100 million, perhaps more, according to Republicans. Further down the road, the state is confronting a deficit of some (WHAT) for the next biennial budget. Only 42.3 percent of The State Employees' Retirement System (SERS) was funded as of 2012 and 58 percent was unfunded.  An 80 percent funded, 20 percent unfunded ratio is considered healthy; Connecticut is one of only nine states that have a ratio of less than 60 percent. The state’s long term debt, at around $65 billion, is even more daunting.

GG: Sure, if justice and truth were allied, all political liars would hang. But that is almost never the case. Sweet talking incumbents are rarely voted out of office; their tenure is more secure, if such a thing can be imagined, even than public school teachers. It’s hard not to feel a tinge of compassion for Gruber and Barnes. Gruber’s dalliance with the truth will cost him dearly. The bright side for him is that he will be paying less in taxes on his future diminished income. Malloy won’t fire Barnes. But he can take him to the woodshed and spank his fanny. Likely, someone already has got to him with the message: In the future, be more obscure!

Q: When do you think Connecticut’s media will begin to notice that objective reality now has forced Malloy to enact the program outlined in the gubernatorial campaign by his Republican competitor Tom Foley? Foley’s campaign stressed keeping spending flat for two years, cutting spending for some programs, which he declined to identify, and imposing a hiring freeze on state workers. Similarly, Malloy pledged no tax increases and no increases or reductions in employee contractual terms.  

GG: I suppose we should be satisfied they have noticed that if Malloy’s campaign pledge not to raise taxes were serious, he would have to get serious about cutting spending. It appears to be “deja vue all over again.” We are back in 1991, prior to the imposition of the income tax. One of the methods used by (Governor Lowell) Weicker to force an income tax through the tax resistant General Assembly involved “necessary” cuts to programs that would affect those people in the legislature whose constituents would be most severely impacted by the cuts. Weicker vetoed six non-income tax budgets offered by the legislature, after which he proceeded to close public parks. Most of Connecticut’s media howled in favor of the income tax. This time, Malloy has cut funds for human services, pretty much a snipping of the progressive carotid artery. One may expect the editorial howling to commence at any moment. Already, one paper has called the Malloy cuts “unfortunate”; it won’t be long before the terms “cruel and unusual” are attached to the assessment.

Q: Are you saying the General Assembly – dominated, as you have said, by progressive Democrats – will attempt to convince Malloy to raise taxes?

GG: We know that progressives in the General Assembly – one thinks of (State Senator and Majority Leader Martin) Looney – have been pressing the governor to accept a more progressive income tax. That was the real gravamen of (Jonathan) Pelto’s failed gubernatorial campaign. Clever legislative progressives may be able to use a deficit crisis to that end. They do not, any more than Obama, wish to let a crisis go to waste. And we know that Connecticut’s media are not unalterably opposed to a more progressive income tax. One leading paper has characterized the absence of an economic recovery in Connecticut “unfortunate”. If only a rising tide of prosperity had lifted the boats in Connecticut, tax increases and cuts would not be necessary. The paper put it this way:

“Mr. Malloy has no choice but to rely on spending cuts to close the budget gap and the projections for monster deficits in the next two fiscal years if he is to keep his pledge not to ask for tax increases. This is a pledge he must keep given his historic tax hike three years ago.

“Unfortunately for the governor, the recovery, although improving, still is not roaring and the need for austerity seems to have made a comeback as he begins his second term.”
Progressives can abide only so much austerity. Their tolerance limits for spending or tax reductions are non-existent.

Q: So, more taxes are on the way.

GG: Connecticut has not easily recovered from the national recession that ended more than five years ago because its tax and spending configuration, along with ever expanding budgets, have put it out of the quick recovery loop. We overtax and overspend, and we are mad for regulations. Our pastures are parched at precisely the moment when companies in other states are looking for greener pastures. We have signaled the other 49 states that their businesses will not be warmly received here. There has been no significant job increase in Connecticut since Weicker closed the parks. We are last or near to last in almost every important measure of prosperity. We have met the last two significant budget deficits by increasing taxes. The state’s progression in taxing and spending has been deemed by progressives in Connecticut insufficiently progressive. When the sky darkens and clouds begin to form and the needle on my barometer points to “rain,” it would be imprudent to suppose the day will be balmy and sunny. So, given all the indications above – and allowing for the absence of a practical Republican resistance to tax increases – I think it is safe to predict further tax increases. Don’t you?    

Q: Well, gee whiz… if you put it that way.

GG: How would you put it?

Q: That way… There are some bright spots though.

GG: Such as?

Q: One of the papers expressed disappointment at the shenanigans of newly elected state senator Edward Kennedy Jr., son of the late “Lion of the Senate.” Kennedy had taken advantage of a loophole in federal regulations that allowed him to trash Connecticut campaign finance laws. Even Democratic Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey has expressed disappointment in Kennedy and pledged to patch up the loophole so that well-endowed politicians will not in the future be able to steal a march on their less well-endowed opponents.

GG: Yeah, that horse is out of the barn and on the way to the state Capitol. Some reporters surely suppose Kennedy will not be allowed to collect much dust in the General Assembly before he opens a campaign for the U.S. Congress.

Q: On the corruption front, former “conservative” radio talk show host John Rowland appears to be on his way back to the clinker, pending appeals.

GG: Right. The good news is that anti-corruption Democrats will not have Rowland to kick around anymore.  And on the same front, former Democratic Speaker of the House Chris Donovan -- whose aides, caught in an FBI sting operation, have been sent to the clinker on corruption charges – was honored by NAREL in mid-November, long after he had resigned from the General Assembly under a cloud of corruption. Unlike radio talk show host Rowland, the prosecutors in Donovangate let the big fish off the hook – and not because there were not available to investigators any number of people prosecuted who would not have been more than happy send Donovan up the river for a reduction in their sentences.     
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