Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Governor Rell, The Democrats And Connecticut's Failing Economy

Democrats seem to be frustrated rather than perplexed by Governor Jodi Rell. She was supposed to have been a lightweight, a pushover politically and somewhat na├»ve. The Democrats were prepared for a caretaker governor. They wanted to knock her off after a first term and claim the prize that has eluded them ever since Gov. William O’Neill left town under a hail of rhetoric, but Rell has proven to be too clever by half.

Here in Connecticut, as everyone knows, an effective conservative response to reckless spending is impossible. Rowland knew this; Rell knows it. Politically, what this means is that there is no enemy to the right – especially within the Democratic Party. So, to succeed in politics, a Republican need only shore up redoubts on the left. There is no need to fear the slings and arrows of non-existent Democrat conservatives.

The easiest way to disarm ones political opponents is to spend a lot of money, a method favored by Republican moderates surrounded by liberal Democrats. This was the method favored by Rell’s predecessors: Throw a lot of money around and don’t attack publicly any of your real enemies. The coin of the realm in politics is not always pork. More often it’s compromise. Politicians generally are nice -- when you give them what they want, and most professional politicians are too high-minded to be bought off with ready cash. The public in Connecticut lost patience with Rowland after one of his underlings was caught burying in his back yard gold coins procured from a contractor friendly to the governor – very, very tacky. Politicians want their opponents to be nice. And Rell has been very nice to Democrats. She might be vulnerable on the right, but an attack from that quarter will not be forthcoming in Connecticut until Hell freezes over.

Republican governors have been far less frugal than either Ella Grasso or Bill O’Neill, both of whom were penny-pinching anti-income-tax Democrats. It was Weicker, a “turd in the punch bowl” Republican, who gave the state an income tax and put Connecticut on the road to reckless and seemingly endless spending.

No moderate Republican governor will put much of a dent in spending. Republicrat governors who have lost their salt are much too busy appeasing their fellow Democrats. In fact, would this not be a persuasive argument for the presence in office of a Democratic governor: Republicans spend money like drunken sailors; they just can’t get the job of spending reduction done?

This is what is wrong with political parties in the state. They are both very tightly scripted; there are things that cannot be said.

Like what?

Everyone has heard the expression “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Here is a variant on the same theme: One company--that has not been sent packing to another state because the cost of business in Connecticut is too burdensome--is worth a thousand political promises; so, for that matter, is one urban public high school that graduates what we used to call “scholars.”

Economic conditions in Connecticut are very bad, and they are getting worse. We are bleeding manufacturing jobs; and of the 50 states, we rank last in job growth. One understands why a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature would want to keep in the closet such embarrassing admissions of collective failure. But a rational politics would do something about the problem. We live in a flow economy. If we stand still, the world will pass us by. The world is passing us by. That was the clear and unambiguous message of “Connecticut’s New Economy Benchmarks: a report for the Governor’s Council on Economic Competitiveness & Technology” completed three years ago.

“If Connecticut received an ‘A’ in its concentration score,” the report concluded, “it did no better than an ‘F’ on its growth performance, ranking 47th among all states, a marked drop from the 2002 report where we ranked 32nd.” The concentration score is a measure of the state’s ability to compete in the new economy. Connecticut had all the necessary infrastructure components to fare well in international competition, the report found, but its growth score, a measure of the state’s actual performance, was an alarming “F.”

This means that other states are utilizing their possibilities to grow their businesses, attract new businesses and fill their coffers not from tax increases but from increased business activity and new taxpayers. Connecticut, dead last in the nation in job creation, now is losing its young entrepreneurs to other high growth states. It is a gross underestimation, bordering on a lie, to say that economic growth in Connecticut is anemic: The patient is neither moving nor breathing.

Ordinarily, one might rely on conservative Republicans and Democrats to take measures that might reverse the decline. But there is no one in the state politically on-line who will deliver this distressing message to a tax and spend legislature and an accommodating governor. Past Republican governors have not done so. And the present governor may be too nice for the task.

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