Saturday, April 23, 2005

This Way To The Egress: Gov. Rell's Budget

Who put the fox in James Amann’s bosom?

There was the Speaker of the House holding up a written reprimand from Governor Jodi Rell at a news conference and voicing his displeasure: “Let her veto it. Let her get carpal tunnel,” said Amann, engorged with theatrical rage. “I don't care."

In her reprimand, Rell had promised to veto a Democrat budget proposal that increased spending by 13 percent over the next two years. No way, said the governor.

The Democrat proposal also included an attempt to shoot the kneecaps off the state’s spending cap. Democrats have never been comfortable with the cap, a constitutional restraint on spending they were forced to accept in a deal that imposed on Connecticut a new income tax. The restraint on spending was intended to make the tax tolerable to conservative Democrats and wavering liberal Republicans, sometimes called “moderates,” without whose votes the income tax never would have become law.

Rell this year compromised the constitutional provision by agreeing to expenditures exceeding the cap in order to recover matching funds from the federal government. Finding a chink in her armor, Democrats who control the legislature by veto-proof margins, decided to exploit it.

Amann’s expostulation was the opening shot of a political miracle play that is put on in the legislature every budget season.

In Act 1, the antagonists and protagonist are all lovey-dovey: Having lived and worked together cheek by jowl all their political lives, they have become fast friends. In Act 11, the tension begins to build. Proposals are made; curses and cries rend the air. A mock budget battle unfolds in which antagonists appear to represent the interests of the poor and downtrodden, while protagonists, appearing to represent the interests of the state’s millionaires, find that all their wallets are missing. In Act III a budget is written and all parties leave the stage arm in arm, singing the Marseillaise.

The millionaires in the box seats cheer because millionaires generally don’t pay taxes; the poor in the galley cheer; and the rest of the audience, upon leaving the theatre, discover they have all lost their wallets and cannot redeem their cars from the theatre’s surly parking lot attendant.

“Oh no! We was robbed!” the departing audience cries with mock alarm. But this, too, has become part of the play. Flummoxed once again by the actors, theatre management and parking lot attendants: It happens every budget season, regularly as the unfolding of Spring. But, what the heck, it’s the only show in town, and the audience seems to appreciate the political hi-jinks, though the price of admission someday may beggar them all.

It was the often quoted American journalist H. L. Mencken who once defined the word “democracy” as “the right of the people to get what they deserve, good and hard.” The people of Connecticut, who voted for all the actors in the state’s bi-annual miracle play, soon will get their just deserts – because in a democracy, one always gets the government one deserves – good and hard.

Democrats have interpreted their veto-proof margin in the legislature as a mandate to spend at will. At a recent social gathering, Amann playfully and mockingly waved a table napkin, the equivalent of a white flag, in Rell’s direction. He might well have asked, as did Stalin of the pope, “How many divisions does Rell have?”

The answer is: None. With a veto-proof margin in the legislature, Democrats are exulting in their supremacy. Their hubris knows no bounds.

Using Rell’s modest increases in so called “sin taxes” as a spring board, the Democrat controlled tax writing committee now has unveiled its vision for the future. The committee has proposed a new graduated income tax schedule that would boost rates from 5 percent to 5.75 percent for “millionaires” who earn more than $265,000 per year. Millionaires who make more than a million dollars a year would be taxed at a maximum rate – for now- of 6.5 percent.

To Republican cries and protestations, Democrats reply that that they are only seeking tax increases from those who can afford to pay them. Presently, the top 7 percent of wage earners in Connecticut pay more in taxes than all other tax payers combined, and we have the distinction of being both the highest per capita tax state in the nation and the most anemic job producing state.

These distinctions are both our badge of honor and our white flag. But then, in a democracy, one always deserves the government one gets – good and hard.

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