When the coroner bends over the body and pronounces Connecticut officially dead, some people, among them the enlightened members of the state’s dwindling editorial boards, will want to know the details: What finally did the patient in, and could the mortally ill patient have been saved had our political prescriptions been different?
The coroner’s likely verdict will be that Connecticut died as lobsters do when they are put in a pot of cool, salted water, the heat being gradually raised to the boiling point. At the beginning of the process, the lobster thinks it has finally arrived home in Homer’s welcoming, wine-dark sea; but, as the water grows hotter, its plight gradually begins to dawn upon it. It’s cooked; there is no exit.
After the coroner’s verdict has been issued, forensic historians will be probing the dead tissue and asking the same question put by Jim Powell in a Forbes story titled ominously “How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into One Of America's Worst Performing Economies?”
Some forensic historian may point to May 2015 as the tipping point, the slide down the slippery slope from which there is no return. In the middle of the merry month of May, the Yankee Institute, Connecticut’s premier conservative think tank, published a poll commissioned from Data & Strategy that examined “the current state of public opinion among likely general election voters in Connecticut around the issue of the current budget proposals and the constitutional spending cap.”
The study notes that “82% of voters agree with spending cap,” and “70% support the current structure of the spending cap.” These percentages exceed even the study’s data showing nutmeggers’ disdain for high taxes: “Neither raising taxes nor increasing spending above the state cap is a good thing if you will be on the ballot in 2016. 70% of voters are less likely to support lawmakers if they vote to increase taxes. 73% of voters are less likely to support lawmakers if they vote to increase spending above the constitutional cap.”
The study does not note how easily Connecticut’s General Assembly, weeks before the study was published, compromised the constitutional spending cap – through the expedient of moving previously capped funds outside the strictures of both the statute and the constitutional provision, the purpose of which was to control spending. This was beyond the purview of the study. It was as if the Democrat dominated General Assembly were to define down the very meaning of the word crime and then declare that crime in the state had been diminished through the progressive programs of enlightened legislators. Wait for it.
The pool of controlled spending under the cap once included pension payments – a huge block of money; Connecticut’s pension liability was hovering around $44 billion, according to a story reported in 2011 by the New London Day, which noted ominously, “It would cost each man, woman and child in the state $12,157 to close the $44 billion funding gap afflicting the state's two largest pension systems [for state workers and teachers] and its two retiree health benefit programs. Since the mid-1990s, the state rarely has met its required contribution, although it did so in 2013.”
Removing pensions from the cap allowed progressives in the legislature, with the approval of Democratic leaders in both chambers, to raise new revenue to meet the new ceiling created by the removal of pension payments. And the Democrats desperately needed a new ceiling.
Why? Because Democratic Governor Dannel (“the Porcupine”) Malloy had just sent to the Democratic dominated General Assembly a budget proposal that included expenditures of $100 billion over 30 years to repair the state’s crumbling transportation architecture that was supposed to have been financed through a dedicated fund that drew money from the state’s highest-in-the-nation gas taxes. Over the years, the “lockbox” containing the supposed dedicated funds was rifled by spendthrift legislators who used the money mostly to cover deficits created by a Democratic dominated legislature that could not and would not reduce its level of spending.
Connecticut “lockboxes” are regularly raided by politicians, dedicated funds are quickly undedicated, and spending caps are regularly doffed by the legal eagles who lead legislators by the nose down primroses paths strewn with promises of responsible and frugal spending. Neither the crooked spirit nor the wayward flesh of Connecticut’s governors or legislators is willing to cut spending. And, despite what many have heard from UConn economists, state union workers and others whose careers in and out of government depend upon a continual rise in the level of spending – it is spending, spending, spending that is driving once rich Connecticut into a too early grave.
Ironically, the one person in the state who might pull the lobster from the pot – by opening an entente with Republicans in the General Assembly – is Mr. Malloy. He won’t do it.