Monday, May 16, 2016

Budgeting For The Old Reality, Afflicting the Afflicted, Comforting The Comfortable

"Th’ newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th' ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward" – Mr. Dooley In Peace And War

Dannel Malloy, Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and the second least popular governor in the United States, has produced, in conjunction with Senate President Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, the third least popular budget in Connecticut.

Connecticut’s first least popular budget was produced in 1991 by then Governor Lowell Weicker. Mr. Weicker that year imbedded an income tax into Connecticut’s revenue stream, with predictable results. Spending increased precipitously from $7.5 billion under Governor William O’Neill’s last budget to the current 2016-2017 frequently imbalanced $19.76 billion budget under Mr. Malloy and the Democrat dominant General Assembly. Mr. Weicker, the Rip Van Winkle of Connecticut, recently has awakened from a twenty year slumber to tell us that the state’s current troubles arise from the state’s inattention to the prescriptions of Mr. Weicker. In fact, Mr. Malloy and the progressives in the state’s General Assembly have been running on Weickergas for decades. 

When it became obvious that revenue instruments were every year producing fewer and fewer dollars, Mr. Malloy suffered a Damascus Road experience. We had entered a “new reality,” he said; his budget guru, Ben Barnes, told us the state would be in arrears for the foreseeable future, unless, bravely confronting the new world reality, politicians were able to reduce spending in the long term.

The current budget annoys everyone and in the long term solves little. On the progressive left, Senate President Martin Looney notes that it is a “stringent budget for stringent times… the necessary budget for these times, and [it] puts us on the track for a strong future.” Deputy Majority Leader Senator Beth Bye, said as the budget was tucked to bed, “We reduce the state spending back to 2011 levels. It’s a 2017 budget. That is a big structural change,” Bye said. “It’s filled with difficult cuts to all branches of government, but it also reflects priorities that we thought were important to support.”

Chastened by reality, the administration that came in like a lion – promising to curtail the fraudulent budgeting of the past, rein in spending, cut borrowing, eliminate the kind of teaching that in cities left students unable to read, write and figure – has gone out with a whimper. And all the talk on the left concerning “the new reality... structural changes” and tracks “for a strong future” is little more than campaign fodder. Deficits will continue long into the future. Red ink in the new reality will be gallons more than it was in the old reality. The Office of Fiscal Analysis is projecting billion dollar deficits for the next few years, and their projections are likely understated. Connecticut is still borrowing to beat the band. Spending in the post-election period will increase because taxes will increase soon after politicians responsible for the destruction of our state are returned to their posts. Every journalist in Connecticut worth his salt knows this. But, with precious few exceptions, they are biting their tongues as usual, long since having abandoned their mission of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

Really, brothers and sisters, who is more comfortable than those time servers in the General Assembly who for years have affected a touching concern for the poor and oppressed, the halt and the lame, and who now wink as they raise hospital taxes and cut services to the permanently disadvantaged -- so that they will not be forced to inconvenience their own howling supporters who weep crocodile tears when they are asked to accept benefit packages that reflect life in the reality lane?

Mr. Malloy’s “new reality” budget cuts $130 million to hospitals – because, as Office of Policy Management guru Ben Barnes earlier said, channeling bank robber Willie Sutton, “That’s where the money is.” Savings apparently are not to be found in “old world reality” benefit and salary packages for state employees. Nope – hospitals. Every dedicated fund should be a “lockbox, but sweeps, taking money from dedicated accounts and using the funds to patch holes in budgets, are back. And according to an early May Yankee Institute study, “Income tax receipts for FY 2017 are projected to come in $838 million lower than original figures – pointing to the state’s eroding tax base.”

The budget does not require a General Assembly vote on union contracts; it does not reinstate the Constitutional spending cap recently struck down as inoperative by Attorney General George Jepsen, once Chairman of the Democratic Party. According to a GOP budget fact sheet, piffling scatter-shot cuts include: “… $5 million cut to young adult services, $7 million to grants for mental health services, $1.7 million to grants for substance abuse services at a time our state is grappling with an opioid and opiate abuse epidemic,” and, most tellingly, “a $1 million cut to grants for DCF Psychiatric Clinics for Children” – after the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In the absence of necessary structural change after the election season has come and gone, broad based taxes almost certainly will be increased. Former Governor Jodi Rell will be one of the fortunate few to have avoided further deterioration in Connecticut’s vanishing prosperity. She is moving to Florida.

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