Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Voting With Their Feet

"It's a great budget. Nobody can say we're throwing the money away wastefully” -- Sen.
Edith Prague.

"This budget leaves no dollar left unspent. Tax relief is nowhere to be found - no car tax cut, no estate tax cut, no energy tax cut for consumers - while bloated spending proposals are to be found throughout" – Governor Jodi Rell

The 2006 budget offered by Democrats makes sense only as a campaign document. In every other sense – as a serious budget, for instance – it is an irresponsible horror. It folds the entire current surplus into their spending plan and is particularly generous to supportive Democrat interest groups.

Details of the Democrat spending program were released at the same time Mass Mutual Insurance Company announced that it was packing its bags, kicking the dust of Connecticut from its feet, and returning to Massachusetts, as state nutmeggers used to refer to derisively as “Taxachussetts.” If Democrats who control the legislature cannot put a cap on spending, other businesses are certain to follow suit and vote with their feet against Connecticut.

As usual, most of the discussion concerning the budget has revolved around the state’s surplus and how to spend it. All the discussion should focus on how to reduce spending – which has increased from $7.5 billion under the last Democrat governor, William O’Neill, to a crapulous $16 billion under the direction of Speaker of the House Jim Amann and President Pro Tem of the Senate Donald Williams.

Governor Jodi Rell’s budget is not quite so swollen with arrogance as the Democrat’s version, but it must be said that Republicans have not in the past offered an effective rhetorical resistance to the Democrats penchant for satisfying their pet special interest groups, which certainly will be gratified with their budget proposal.

Surpluses folded into general budgets increase spending and contribute to an economic environment that is toxic for Connecticut businesses. Mass Mutual is only the latest company that has voted with their feet against Connecticut’s stumble bum economy. Others will follow.

If Republicans can throw off their lethargy, this campaign year could be different. The state budget has increased every fiscal year since the income tax had been adopted because there are no mechanisms at the state level to discipline congressmen who spend beyond their means. The cumulative increases in the budget are now so weighty that any additional spending, like the straw that broke the camel’s back, may break tax payers’ budgets. That seems to be the message that municipal taxpayers are sending town governments. In many municipalities, politicians who offer extravagant spending plans have been rebuffed in referendums. But state politicians need not worry that their budgets will be similarly voted down, because ballot initiatives and referendums are not available at the state level.

Is it too much to hope that this year Republicans might campaign on a platform to offer referendums and ballot initiatives to voters? The unsustainable arc in spending over the past two decades is strong evidence that Republicans are powerless to restrain Democrats. But nothing is preventing them from calling upon people to join a grassroots campaign for ballot initiatives and referendums.

Rell appears to have struck both a responsive chord among hard pressed taxpayers and a nerve among her political opposition with the release of an ad that supports her view of tax relief. For Rell, tax relief means tax cuts. The ad chides Democrats for dismissing her proposal to eliminate the car tax. The chief objection to the ad from Democrats has been that it was financed by – Gasp! – the Republican Party. Imagine that: A party financing an ad that ties the state Republican Party to tax cuts. Shameless!

Rell, her Democrat gubernatorial opponents argued, was using her party to skirt a political promise made by the governor to purge from her campaign contributions made by entities that do business with the state. Not really, Rell replied. The ad expresses the view of her party and is a legitimate use of party funds.

Democrats are secretly fuming about the ad’s message, not its financing. What would happen if voters in the state got it into their heads that Rell and her party believe the best way to provide tax relief is to reduce taxes and cut spending?

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