You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time -- Abraham Lincoln
Somewhere in Connecticut, the Gods of Irony are chortling.
Many moons ago, Governor Dannel Malloy proposed a major infrastructure repair program that will cost upwards of $100 billion over thirty years. Mr. Malloy’s legacy program -- assuming future legislators and governors do not pass along the debt to future taxpayers beyond the specified payment period, a fanciful assumption -- will tie the hands of Connecticut governors and legislatures thirty years out, crowding out necessary spending until the debt is paid.
Knowing full well that past governors and legislators, not excluding Mr. Malloy and the current Democratic dominated General Assembly, have shamelessly raided dedicated funds to finance their spending profligacy, Mr. Malloy dramatically proposed a “constitutional lock box” to assure that dedicated infrastructure repair funds would not be swept to cover General Fund spending.
However, Connecticut recently and glaringly has had current experience with failed attempts to limit spending. Connecticut’s constitutional cap on spending – a spending lock box initially passed during the administration of Governor Lowell Weicker as a sop to legislators who had been wavering in their support of Mr. Weicker’s income tax -- has been regularly overridden by spendthrift legislators, present company included. The Democratic dominated General Assembly that presided over Mr. Malloy’s two massive tax increases, the largest and the second largest in state history, has contributed its mite to a spend and tax budget that has tripled in size since the state’s last pre-income tax budget under former Governor Bill O’Neill who, like his predecessor former Governor Ella Grasso, was no friend of income tax measures.
Only a few months ago, once again attempting to discharge a budget deficit through duplicitous though legal means, Mr. Malloy and his partisan Democratic cohorts in the General Assembly moved a huge chunk of ordinary budget expenses, pension obligations, from under the cap, thus providing space in the biennial budget for yet more spending. The creative subtraction also allowed Mr. Malloy and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly to discharge a budget deficit – on paper but not in fact. If the average householder in Connecticut were able to deduct his mortgage payments from his annual budget costs, he would find it much easier to balance his books – on paper. But this kind of budget gimmickry is useful only to the self-deluded, or to politicians seeking reelection to office. In the end, the state’s bills must be paid, invariably by taxpayers who, once having discovered such dangerous persiflage, resent, in the words of President Abe Lincoln, being fooled “all the time.”
Even the Hartford Courant is becoming impatient with all the tomfoolery. “Another year, another big hole in the state budget, another patch-up job that does little to prevent next year's crater,” the paper thundered in a recent editorial. Really, someone has to have “tough talks with state employee unions to reduce health care, pension and other costs going forward to give the budget a break.”
And, oh yes – about that infrastructure lock box …
Several Republican House members -- John Scott, who represents the 40th district of Groton and Ledyard; Mike France, who represents the 42nd district of Ledyard, Preston and Montville; Kathleen McCarty, who represents the 38th district of Waterford and Montville; Aundré Bumgardner, who represents the 41st district of Groton and New London; and Doug Dubitsky, who represents the 47th district of Canterbury, Chaplin, Franklin, Hampton, Lebanon, Lisbon, Norwich, Scotland and Sprague – have issued a scorching manifesto.
The transportation “lock box,” they point out, is an old idea that has been tried multiple times and found wanting. Legislators in the Democratic dominated General Assembly have in the past consistently raided transportation fund lock boxes to balance budgets. In the present instance, “… within hours of this “lock box” vote, the legislature voted on a deficit mitigation plan to balance the current budget, which is estimated to be between $350 and $370 million out of balance only a few months into the fiscal year. That vote diverted $35.2 million from the STF [State Transportation Fund] into the General Fund, illustrating the lack of discipline consistent with past legislatures.”
An amendment offered by the Republican caucus to prevent such lock box sweeps that would have allowed citizen oversight by challenging “asset removals through legal action and provide the teeth that a law of this nature needs to be successful” died on a party line vote.
An amendment that would prevent the General Assembly from including in any implementer bill line items boosting costs that had not previously been vetted in the usual manner through public hearings and legislative committee assent very likely would not be considered by a General Assembly intent on fooling some of the people all the time. However, that does not mean such amendments, which limit the unrestrained spending appetites of legislators too cowardly to disappoint the special interests that preserve their little hegemonies, should not be proposed by the loyal opposition.
And that really is the problem, isn’t it? A legislature and executive head of state that does not represent the general interest – all the people most of the time – will be a truly representative government only some of the time, putting the Gods of Irony out of business most of the time. Irony, most of the time, is the trumpet call of moral and political dissolution.