Sunday, February 13, 2005

Gov. Rell's Budget, Democratic Opposition

During her budget address, Gov. Jodi Rell embarked on a spending spree with a smile, even as she announced that “We must not embark on a spending spree of new programs and policies.” The governor pledged $1.3 billion more for transportation improvements, $5.5 million for universal pre-school pilot programs, $57 million more for public education, $20 million for embryonic stem-cell research, and on and on…

Rell surprised many of her Republican well-wishers by raising what used to be called “sin taxes’ and popping the lid on the state’s spending cap in an effort to gain revenue from the federal government by taxing nursing home property; this after the governor wisely pointed out that, from the point of view of costs to taxpayers, there is little difference between the three forms of government – municipal, state and federal – since the same citizen shells out money for all three tax collecting agencies.

A Democratic leader came closer than he may have wished to the truth when he said that it was a “ deja vue all over again” budget reminiscent of the Rowland years, when gimmicks and political posturing were all the rage.

The Democrats, unsurprisingly, were not satisfied, for they had previously announced through their leaders an intention to engineer a raid on the pocket books of Connecticut’s millionaires and were somewhat disappointed to learn that the “firewall” preventing their despoliation of the state’s “gold coast” did not disappear with the hasty retreat of John Rowland from the governor’s office. Their millionaire’s tax remains a consummation devoutly to be wished by champions of the little people.

Even Huey Long, defender of the hard pressed working man, felt compelled to point out from time to time that government services should be broadly based. “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me,” Long taunted the crypto socialists of his day, “tax the man behind the tree.” Everyone would dearly like someone else to assume what should be his financial obligations; it’s only human – alas, all too human – for me to want millionaires to pay my taxes, so that I can afford payments on my mortgage.

For as long as they have controlled the executive office, Republicans have been adept in public displaying their putative virtues while indulging their secret vices. But that sort of thing catches up to you – in the long run. In the long run, says the hedonist, we are all dead. And in the long run the fellow who wants the guy behind the tree to pay his taxes discovers, to his dismay, that he is the guy behind the tree, death and taxes both being unavoidable.

It ought not to be enough to say that the state Democrat Party wants the guy behind the tree to be a millionaire, while the Republican Party wants him to be a middle class citizen willing to pay – but not too much – for what he consumes in state services.

Why do Democrats generally want millionaires to “pay their fair share”, and why do Republicans generally want tax payments to be broad based?

Because, dear children, Democrats traditionally have been committed in principle to progressive taxation, while Republicans traditionally have been committed to small and responsible government. There is a direct relationship between increases in spending and the growth of government.

Progressive taxation, pushed beyond a certain point, leads to a tax consuming, spending leviathan that gobbles up the fruits of all our labors. When the pain of tax increases is distributed broadly, resistance to tax increases will be broad based. When only millionaires assume the burden of paying for spending increases, only millionaires will complain of spending increases – and they are a minority of the voting population.

The Democrats will oppose the budget cuts Rell has proposed and argue that the tax increases are regressive. Sin taxes – on cigarettes for example – impact the poor disproportionately not because the poor are any more sinful than the middle class or the upper crust, but because they cannot as easily afford to support their bad habits.

The opposition was already in full flower the day following Rell’s budget address.

Noting that Rell had proposed a $3 co-pay for low-income Medicaid recipients, Rep. Gail Hamm told Rell’s budget director, Robert Genuario, “It looks like the nice lady you work for has sent us a mean budget. And House Majority Leader Christopher Donovan, making reference to Rell’s proposals to increase medical premiums for poor families and eliminate medical and cash assistance for legal immigrants, hated to say it, but said it anyway: “These are some familiar Rowland proposals. I feel confident we will be united in opposing these cuts.”

It’s the same blame game, but a different administration.

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