Thursday, June 25, 2015

Selling Malloy And Connecticut

The two most abhorrent but inescapable duties of politicians are: 1) selling themselves or their states to prospective investors, and 2) raising money for political campaigns. Connecticut politicians who do not like dunking for dollars hope to relieve themselves of the second chore through the public financing of campaigns. Whether or not the first is a disagreeable chore depends upon the individual politician and the condition of his product.

Adlai Stevenson, who could make a pretty speech, disliked television campaign ads. Like most people, he confessed, he liked watching television more than being on it. His speeches were long and substantive. Procrustean television editors usually cut them, leaving the juiciest body-parts on the floor.

President Barack Obama is not afflicted with the Stevenson phobia. The knock on Mr. Obama is that his policies are driven by campaign exigencies. And in this regard, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy follows in the footsteps of Mr. Obama rather than the camera shy Stevenson; though, of course, Mr. Malloy will have to travel miles and miles up fearsome cliffs and across raging rivers to best U.S. Senator and former Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, about whom it has often been said that the most dangerous spot in Connecticut lies between Mr. Blumenthal and a television camera.

Selling the budget – to meddlesome but marginalized Republicans, to the moderate remnant in his own party, to critical reporters growing more dubious by the minute – has been a chore these last few weeks for Mr. Malloy. During his re-election campaign for governor, Mr. Malloy maintained that the budget he would send to the Democratic dominated General Assembly would 1) be in balance, and 2) would not be marred by additional revenue increases. His budget was a disappointment on both counts: It was not in balance, and it contained steep “enhancements” -- to be sure, not as steep as his first budget, which contained the largest tax increase in Connecticut history.

The two Democratic leaders of the General Assembly – Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey and President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney – refashioned Mr. Malloy’s budget, restoring some cuts that victimized the poor and helping agencies ministering to them, while plugging into the budget new permanent revenue enhancers. Thoughtfully, the Democratic majority in the General Assembly removed pension liabilities from the constitutional spending cap, a deft move that reduced the state’s deficit, at least on paper, and raised the state’s spending ceiling. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Democratic progressives went on a revenue collection spree so that they might, when their budget had been tucked into bed, continue the state's usual profligate spending spree. Mr. Malloy nodded his approval to the budget and told his wife to pack his clothes for a business trip to Europe, perhaps happy to put some distance between himself and three of Connecticut’s largest restive businesses – Aetna, Travelers, and the union reviled General Electric.

All three companies expressed misgivings about the Malloy-Sharkey-Looney budget, which is heavy on punishing revenue enhancements and light on permanent spending cuts. Mr. Malloy responded to the grievances by reducing somewhat the profit busting measures the General Assembly had imposed on Connecticut’s now crumbling business infrastructure.

While Mr. Malloy was gone, two other companies in Connecticut – helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky, founded in 1925 by aircraft engineer Igor Sikorsky, a Ukrainian immigrant ,[and Colt Armory, founded by Samuel Colt in 1848, the manufacturer of the “gun that won the West”, were crashing on the rocks. Colt declared bankruptcy, and UTC announced that it would either spin Sikorsky off or sell the company outright. In its glory days, Connecticut used to be called “the provision state,” because it provided provisions to George Washington’s revolutionary forces.

The bright news during the last few weeks was that U.S. Congressional Representative John Larson had at long last been successful in persuading the federal government to include Colt as a part of its National Parks sites. The museumization of the state continues apace: Sikorsky, Aetna and Travelers, Connecticut companies all, would make fine future additions to the National Park system.

Mr. Malloy is still actively selling to prospective clients his plan to return Connecticut to its former glory as an economic powerhouse, but increasingly there are fewer and fewer potential takers; this is what happens when the takers get taken. Mr. Malloy began his career as Governor poking fun at Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie’s vow to catch Connecticut businesses as they fled the state's punishing taxes and discouraging regulations. In Mr. Malloy’s second term, poachers are everywhere. The latest is Republican Governor Rick Scott of sunny Florida, whose ads are now tickling the ears of disgruntled Connecticut CEOs.

Mr. Scott’s pitch is not unconvincing:

"Connecticut's recent decision to raise taxes by over $1 billion is bad for businesses, employees, and Connecticut families. Unfortunately, it doesn't come as much of a surprise. Connecticut has repeatedly put their (sic) state on a treacherous path of higher taxes, more regulation and less growth. And for many companies, the $1 billion in new taxes may be the breaking point.''

Right-to-work state Florida, according to a Hartford paper, has created over 879,000 private-sector jobs since December 2010, Mr. Scott points out, while Connecticut has created a piddling 75,000.

One wonders if on his arrival in what used to be called “the provision state,” Mr. Larson will give Mr. Scott a tour of the country’s newest national park-museum.
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