Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Connecticut Down

Governor Dannel Malloy, a righteous dragon, entered office in 2011 shooting flames out of his nostrils. Previous laggard Republican governors, ne’er-do-wells in Mr. Malloy’s considered judgment, had resorted to budget alchemy to balance their books. He would fix that: Open government, balanced budgets and an absence of the usual end of the fiscal year chicanery would usher in a long hoped for prosperity. And, oh yes, having in his first budget imposed on Connecticut the largest tax increase in state history, there would be no tax increases in Mr. Malloy’s second term. You can take that to the bank.

Mr. Malloy’s first budget imposed on the state a “shared sacrifice” to be borne by taxpayers as well as state employees. The preponderance of the sacrifice of course fell on the shoulders of Connecticut taxpayers, burdened in 1991 by the Lowell Weicker Jr. income tax, in 2011 by the Malloy broad-based tax increase, the largest tax hike in Connecticut history, and in 2015 by a tax increase extruded by Connecticut’s progressive Democrat dominated General Assembly, the second highest tax increase in state history. One timid news outlet querulously ventured that state employee unions still owed Mr. Malloy $225 billion in past due “shared sacrifice” payments. Neither Mr. Malloy nor his confederates in the General Assembly – Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey and President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney, both committed leftists – have given the slightest indication of their plans to collect from SEBAC, the union conglomerate in Connecticut authorized to negotiate contracts with the governor, the long overdue “shared sacrifice” dollars.    

Well now… as they say in the fairy tales, an expression usually followed by some unforeseen calamity. The getting and spending plan Mr. Malloy recently presented to the Democrat dominated General Assembly in his eupeptic budget address last February contained nearly a billion dollars in revenue increases. And the Malloy budget was not balanced. Mr. Malloy said he would leave it to the General Assembly to tinker with his masterpiece; after all, isn’t that what legislatures are for?

Mr. Malloy’s budget guru, Ben Barnes, pointing to an under-performing economy battered by a quarter century of mounting tax increases and tortuous federal and state regulations, explained to an astonished gaggle of news reporters that Connecticut should get used to frequent deficits. The often ravaged golden tax goose, it appeared, had been laying fewer eggs of late.  When reporters asked Mr. Barnes why the governor’s budget had imposed hefty tax increases on Connecticut hospitals, Mr. Barnes, dropping all pretense, replied in the accents of the infamous bank robber Willy Sutton, “because that’s where the money is.”

The hunt for new and more burdensome tax increases was on. However, the extraction of more tax dollars from an exhausted middle class presented a problem for Connecticut’s profligate governor. Mr. Malloy was on record as having said in various venues during his campaign against Republican Party yacht owner Tom Foley that he would stiffly resist any attempt to increase taxes, a pledge ostentatiously violated in his new, unbalanced budget.

Would a progressive General Assembly be satisfied with Mr. Malloy’s revenue enhancements, called “investments” by Malloyalists, at nearly a billion dollars the second largest tax grab in the state’s history? Would the Democrat dominated General Assembly at long last focus its wandering tax engorged eye on spending cuts?

It would not. To facilitate spending increases, progressive magicians in the General Assembly moved the state’s gargantuan pension liabilities out from under a constitutional spending cap that had been attached to the Weicker income tax measure. The cap served a buffer for querulous legislators who would not have voted for the income tax without the protection against voter backlash offered by the spending cap. However, definitions necessary to implement the cap were not provided; in the absence of implementing definitions, spendthrift legislators lifted the cap with the same reckless abandon of drunken sailors lifting their beer mugs – and with the same results. Nothing but a tin-foil cap stood between budget making legislators and unobstructed spending, and that is why spending in Connecticut has increased threefold from the last non-income tax budget under Democrat Governor William O’Neill to Mr. Malloy’s twin tax increases.

Hoisting the ceiling on spending, which artificially erased a deficit, clipped all the tethers restraining tax starved progressive legislators.  It was now possible for Democrat progressives in the General Assembly to refashion and make more progressive all tax acquisitions, a chore left to future progressives when the Weicker income tax was passed nearly a quarter century earlier. The day of the progressive had arrived, and progressives, longing to etch permanently in stone their self-promoting and destructive ventures, were determined to seize it.

They did – and why not? Where, the arsonist asks before he torches a building, are the police? How many battalions, Mussolini asks, has the pope? Most media in Connecticut can be found on the left side of the political barricades, consorting with the san culottes, and these poor ink stained wretches, as much a part of Connecticut’s political establishment as unions, hardly seem to have noticed that the ruling elite has put on monarchical ermines and silks. If immediately following the overthrow of tyranny in 1776 the new state government of the former colony of Connecticut had tripled the taxes imposed on the still hotheaded merchants that dotted the cities and small towns in the state, the insolent autocrats would have been baptized in tar and feathers; the most Mr. Martin Looney or Mr. Sharkey or Mr. Malloy – the “porcupine” – has to fear from a somnolent media is an obligatory ineffective editorial expressing a mild, easily navigable displeasure. In coming weeks, the journalistic pack will be braying for more taxes and spending. It won’t be long before Connecticut's triumvirate put in their applications for victim status, at which point the state's media will weep crocodile tears over their rough handling by Republicans who have been effectively marginalized.

There is nothing wrong in Connecticut that a pot of tar and a fusion Party fiercely committed to republican principles could not solve.

The chief and overriding republican (please note the lower case) principle is this – get out!

If you cannot -- or will not -- balance a budget during your tenure as a first term mayor, governor, state representative, US Congressional representative or president, get out.

If you have not spent real time doing real work among the lower and middle classes you loudly claim to represent, get out. This rule applies with special force to academics, which is why, come to think of it, the late Bill Buckley use to say that he would rather be governed by the first hundred people picked at random from the phone book than the Harvard Law School faculty. There is something about academic cloisters that addles the part of the brain that analyzes and directs political or economic thought.

If you cannot make a proper distinction between the public good and the long term needs of a clamorous public interest group -- remembering always George Will’s definition of a “need,” a “want” that’s twenty four hours old -- get out. The only interest groups prospering in Connecticut under the enlightened administration of Mr. Malloy are pension endowed unionized workers and the jobless poor, who find themselves imprisoned for life in elaborately gilded welfare cages, comfortable as a stage on life’s way to a more independent future – but a cage for all that.

Mr. Malloy and his Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman have on occasion proudly joined union workers on strike protest lines, which sends a discouraging message to preponderant non-union workers in the state, the tax payers who are forced to foot the attendant bills. Connecticut’s pension liability is approaching $44 billion, according to a recent survey commissioned by the indispensable Yankee Institute. These are dollars owed by Connecticut’s children and grandchildren to state union workers pampered by progressives.  Just as there are laws against child labor, so should there be laws against passing on to children debts that ought to be borne by the reckless spendthrifts in Connecticut’ s General Assembly.

The last time state Republicans won one of the two houses in Connecticut’s General Assembly was during the 1965-67 session, nearly a half century ago. The governor’s office was wrested from Republican hands in 2011. All the moderate Republican members of the state’s US Congressional Delegation in Washington now have been replaced by progressives with knives in their brains. Running on platforms that were progressive both economically and socially, Democrats managed, while the state’s media brazenly promoted them, to unseat Republicans who were economic moderates and social liberals.

In a hot political war, as in all active military engagements, if you’re winning, you’re losing. Faced with progressives whose ambition it was to cobble together a new epicentric core of voters, socially liberal, economically moderate Republicans in Connecticut running for office with one lung lost badly to progressives running feverishly on social issues – to put it in populist terms, on issues that were matters of the heart. Barack Obama did not win the presidency by dwelling on economic issues alone. Both nationally and more dramatically in Connecticut, Republicans abandoned social issues to progressive Democrats. It’s never a good idea while under fire to surrender half the battlefield to one’s opponents.

In Connecticut, the thread-bare drama masks worn by progressives are beginning to slip. There are indications that progressives, both in the governor’s office and in the General Assembly, have inflicted lasting damage on Connecticut that cannot easily be reversed. Most people have become impatient with scripted, fraudulent excuses offered by increasingly desperate Democrats. Mr. Malloy lately has insisted that he kept his no-tax -increase pledge to Connecticut voters, iterated numerous times on the campaign trail, because the budget he submitted to dominant progressives in the General Assembly was balanced (it wasn’t )and free of tax increases or, as fastidious Democrats like to put it, revenue enhancers (not true). Mr. Malloy might have directed proceedings in the General Assembly – which his party owns – by indicating he would veto any budget produced by progressives that did not conform to his own strictures. He was silent, and silence signifies assent. In politics, things happen the way they do because power brokers want them to happen as they do. 

Connecticut is the canary in the progressive New England mineshaft. A Republican Party led by competent managers conceivably could develop a new model Republican Party that may be able to turn the progressive Northeast towards a new light streaming from the shining city on the hill. The thing can be done. And once done success will engender success. The reformed Party should be missionary venture that will seek to bring into it whole battalions of new blood: Democrats who have seen the future of progressivism and know it doesn’t work; college students burdened by debts in whom the flame of rebellion burns brightly; African Americans in cities blasted by social disorder who are now looking inward for the strength and resolve to pull themselves from the rubble; businessmen with yachts and large bank accounts who are willing to finance the political rebuilding of an opposition party once vigorous and now fallen into the slough of despond. And of course the new model Republican Party will not despair of converting and recruiting to its ranks bitter cynics familiar with Ambrose Bierce’s definition of politics as quoted by Chris Powell, Connecticut’s Tom Paine, in a column titillatingly titled “Malloy the bold leader becomes the hapless wimp.” Politics, Bierce wrote in his Devil’s Dictionary, is “a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles; the conduct of public affairs for private advantage."

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