Friday, March 04, 2016

The Blame Game In Connecticut

“Cuz that’s where the money is.” Such was the response when Willy Sutton, the scrupulously honest bank robber of the 1920-30’s, was asked why he robbed banks.

Before the reader draws the usual aphorism from his holster – “honesty is the best policy” – he should be advised that Willie denied having said the quip for which he is most famous. He robbed banks, Mr. Sutton said, because it was exhilarating: “I was more alive when I was inside a bank, robbing it, than at any other time in my life!”

It turns out that the most famous line in bank robbing history was inserted into an after-interview story by a reporter who thought the quip would be good copy. He was right. Reporters In those days took such liberties – not like today. It is true, however, that Willie gave his name to a law, Sutton’s Law, which holds that in diagnosing crime, one should always consider the obvious.

Now then, what has Willie Sutton and bank robbery to do with politics? Oh… lots and lots …

Politicians are most alive when they are doing politics. Many years ago, a reporter who slid from journalism into politics, a common occurrence, was asked why she enjoyed the obvious stress so much. Said she, “Politics is better than sex.” Delicacy and good manners forbids mention of the lady’s name -- this is, after all, a political column and not a public brawl between Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz for the Republican Party nomination for President -- but I could not help thinking at the time, “What’s her sex life like?”

In politics, and sometimes in reporting, copy is goosed because goosing sells. Proof is everywhere, but most spectacularly these days in the utterances of Mr. Trump who, evidently, intends to goose his way into the White House. Once there, no one – not even “The Donald,” who is not your Daddy’s conservative and may not even be your Daddy’s Republican – knows precisely what he will do to “Make America Great Again.” No doubt he will have fun doing it because politics, when practiced rightly, is better than sex. So we’ve been told.

Will there be new taxes – the pols prefer to call them “revenue enhancers” or “budget investments” – in Governor Dannel Malloy’s no-tax budget? There will indeed: How is it possible to add $100 billion to the budget over a thirty year period, the price of Mr. Malloy’s infrastructure repair program, without raising taxes? And will these taxes be levied on Connecticut’s vanishing millionaires, who presently contribute about 40 percent of the state’s income tax revenue? Mr. Malloy, swooning, says – No, no, no. He is now attempting to convince progressives in Connecticut’s Democrat dominated General Assembly that we do not want Connecticut’s herd of Gold Coast hedge fund millionaires to bolt to Boston. Then too, taxes levied on financial operations are notoriously uneven, up one fiscal year, down the next. Past best-practice has shown that revenue-hungry politicians who want a reliable stream of financing tend to prefer broad-based taxes or, as they are sometimes called, middle class taxes.

Now that elections are just around the corner, the blame game will be in full flower. Republicans, routed from the budget negotiating table by Mr. Malloy and his cohort in the General Assembly, will be arguing that Democrats are wholly responsible for Connecticut’s downward plunge and perpetual red ink. Having arrived at a fork in the road, Democrats had taken the easy low-road by refusing to confront real spending drivers such as union contracts and bloated state employee benefit packages. Moreover, Mr. Malloy, who repeatedly has vowed not to impose further taxes upon Connecticut's middle class big government “investors,” simply is no longer trustworthy. His Damascus Road experience is a welcome sign of repentance, but there is no reason, if past practice is a guide in such matters, to regard repentance as a token of changed behavior. However much Mr. Malloy – and, to a lesser degree President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey -- may show they have gotten religion, the likelihood is they will return to their ruinous ways once state elections have been tucked into bed.

For their part, Democrats will be blaming Republicans for having refused honestly to confront serious problems, increasingly a thread-bare argument.

Across the state, the general public is in a throw-the-bums-out mood, which is why out-of-the-box politicians like Mr. Trump are doing so well on the campaign trail. Mr. Trump’s programs may be thin gruel, but his attack on do-nothing incumbent so called “establishment” Republicans and the near suicidal policies of progressive Democrats strike the heart’s bells. Here in Connecticut as well, the overburdened middle class and the lower class, immured for years in debilitating welfare coffins, are dangerously restive. And Sutton’s law – always consider the obvious – is also a practical rule in determining the drift of voting preferences.       
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