Friday, February 23, 2007

The Conference of Connecticut’s Crapulous Big Spenders

Gov. Jodi Rell already having publicly announced her defection to the Big Spenders, two radio talk show hosts who represent the last vestige of Connecticut’s disappearing “firewall” -- which is supposed to check improvident spending -- derisively refer to Connecticut’s Conference of Municipalities as “the conference of crying mayors,” an understated description.

Of course, there are firewalls that really do prevent tax pirates from running off with the gold in taxpayer’s teeth -- municipal referendums. The CCM hates referendums for much the same reason the prodigal son hated the homespun advice of his father, and the organization wants these firewall dismantled.

Municipal referendums across the state represent the voice of the people on budget matters, and the message arising from referendums has been constant and unequivocal: Town officials have been asking for increases of 10 to 14 percent; budget increases of more than 3 or 4 percent are insupportable. That is what those who pay taxes have been saying to those who spend taxes, and the messaging has been direct and clear. Across the state, in such municipalities as allow referendums, mayors and other town officials have got the message, budgets have been trimmed, and in some cases cost savings have been realized.

The difference between what referendum voters in towns across the state think it prudent to spend on town government and what the CCM wants towns to spend will be breached, if the governor has her way, by an increase in the amount of funds the state will transfer to towns to supplement educational costs.

The increase in state funding, around 12 percent, purportedly will reduce property taxes. Realists and pragmatists say that the boost in state funding will be frittered away on union mandated salary increases. But once state funding of town budgets is increased, there will no longer be a need for referendums, since town taxpayers will no longer feel the bite of a 10 to 14 percent increase in their municipal taxes.

Presently, town referendums have reduced spending and taxing in municipalities. Since there is no state referendum, the state must rely on its so called “firewall” to control spending. That firewall now has been disassembled.

In fact, the largely mythical firewall has been a amusing joke ever since the institution of the income tax, as is obvious from the bottom line increases in the state budget since former Governor Lowell Weicker first draped the income tax albatross around taxpayer’s necks: If bonding is figured into the spending mix, the state budget has nearly tripled since the last pre-income tax budget. Though the mythical “spending cap” was constitutionally mandated, the legislature never provided enabling legislation to clarify the terms of the amendment. To this day, our legislators still have not bound themselves to the bill they have promulgated because such terms in the bill as “spending” have never been defined in law. Quite literally – and ironically --the legislature and the governor do not know what “spending” means.

Firewall? What firewall?

What Connecticut desperately needs, in the absence of an opposition Republican Party that can induce spending restraint, is a binding state budget referendum, similar to municipal referendums that have controlled spending in towns.

Additionally, the state needs, as desperately, legislators who realize that Connecticut does not operate in an economic bubble. Connecticut’s business competitors in other states are reducing taxes, and tax generating businesses are leaving Connecticut to take advantage of the resulting lower business costs. As expected, graduating students have followed in the departing footprints of once tax generating businesses.

If something is not done soon to stop the exodus, Connecticut may become – especially with the recent educational “investments” outlined in Rell’s budget address – a net exporter of students, whose educational costs are borne by Connecticut taxpayers, our gift to low tax states. If Democrat legislators are successful in establishing a “millionaire’s tax,” we may also become a net exporter of millionaires and half-millionaires to, say, Florida, where the golf season is longer and legislators are considering eliminating property taxes.

Such dislocations should disturb the fearful placidity of the CCM. But according to James Finley Jr., the executive director designate of the CCM, towns want more of the same.

In a recent communiqué printed in a Hartford paper, Finley congratulates Rell for having “dramatically raised the public-policy bar in the Land of Steady Habits” and then beseeches Connecticut’s prodigal legislature to axe the modest and ineffective tax cuts proposed and increase bonding. Other tax sponges will be equally importunate in the coming days.

The rest of us in this Panglossian Land of Steady Bad Habits should be careful what the Conference of Connecticut’s Crapulous Big Spenders ask for, because we may get it -- as usual, in the neck.

ADDENDUM

More, More, More…

If the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding didn’t exist, Gov. Jodi Rell and legislators who support her extravagant proposal to increase educational spending would be forced to invent it.

The coalition, headed by former Manchester Mayor Stephen T. Cassano, wants to double the amount of money Rell proposes to give municipalities.

Cassano’s attempt to bankrupt the state brought produced the following response from co-chairman of the legislature's Education Committee Thomas Gaffey, who is kindly disposed toward the state’s powerful and metastasizing education lobby: “To go and ask for a billion dollars more after we have had the most historic proposal in education history ... really smacks of not living in reality. We're going to be lucky to get [the governor's plan] through as it is proposed," he said. Everyone ought to be grateful.”

Ah yes, gratitude.

Now see here Gaffey, one is grateful when one has had one’s fill – only then -- and the education lobby is “a little boy with two stomachs in a candy store,” a phrase the great H.L. Mencken once applied to himself to indicate the joy journalist felt when witnessing the daily political comedy rife in America.

9 comments:

Patrick Henry said...

Don,
I could not agree more.

The property tax is the only firewall we have left. We get to actually vote on this tax and the powers that be hate this fact. Also, we get to decide how this money is spent and with what strings, the state does not get to tell us how we spend our money with the property tax, again how dare we.

Regards a net export of educational investment, I have been hammering on the flight of the young from our state, no state can stand if it loses their young. We will cease to be a viable economic model, excuse we HAVE ceased to be a viable ecnomic model. Case in point, my daughter a kid with SAT and AP scores (on the Math, Physics and Biology tests) that would knock your socks off, educated in Connecticut most likely will never come back to Connecticut. Granddaughter and Daughter of Aerospace Engineers lost.

Any investment has to withstand the test of return. Or it is not investment. Any business has to satisfy this concept or cease. If the state is going to use the language of business then so be it and let's apply the consequences of the business model.

Great post.

Patrick Henry

turfgrrl said...

But the danger in referendums is what has happened to California. There spending gets voted up, gotta have those pet programs over there, and tax increases to accompany them do not. The problem is that we the people want services, we just don't want to pay for them.

As I see it, in Connecticut, we don't get their services either, but keep falling for the same old song and dance from elected officials that this time, they really will do something progressive in streamlining government and making it do more. It's criminal that the state doesn't account for its business with GAAP. THat would be a baby step in the right direction.

Don Pesci said...

Turfgrrl

Your points are well taken, but once the resistance to overspending by towns is overcome through finance contributions by the state, what -- other than referendums -- do you propose as a break on spending?

I assume that both of us, being grownups, will agree that the Rell plan to reduce property taxes by having the state assume a larger portion of educational payments will not result in lower property taxes. It just won't.

The Courant usually responds to this line of inquiry by pointing out that we can always vote the bums out of office.

But owing to gerrymandering, the financing prowess of incumbents, the leftward tilt of — just to mention one prime culprit – the Hartford Courant, which never saw a spending proposal it didn’t like, you just can’t do that.

So, what then? It seems to me obvious that a threefold increase in the state budget – within the space of only three governors – signals an out of control state legislature and governor. If the plan is to remove the break on spending — to make town referendums less likely through state contributions – what do you intend to replace the break with?

Don Pesci said...

Patrick Henry

Good site. Good work. Meet Turfgrrl. She's brilliant.

Bo ItsHaky said...

I am in politics and I say Connecticut’s people desperately need the option of a state-wide referendum. Such tool will keep politicians/public-servants accountable to their promises and actions at any given moment during the entire term of their public service. Its time for us, “we the people” of Connecticut to reintroduce ethics, morals and values – for our young to WOW, and cherish – a worth while life-style, to make Connecticut their permanent home for generations to come….


Bo ItsHaky

Anonymous said...

CT is a small state and we live in a global economy. Let's keep our young here and insulate them form the world and by no means let's not let others in who might cross pollenate the stale ideas of those who never left CT.

Bo ItsHaky said...

How about encouraging the young to be exposed to the global scene/economy – expand their horizons and see how others live and do? On the other hand, let’s make Connecticut SOOoo astoundingly attractive. Irresistible - for them to build their lives here in Connecticut, attract others, travel the globe looking for new ideas and continue to expand their horizons. After all there’s always room for improvement – there will always be! Welcome to Life University.

Bo ItsHaky

Bo ItsHaky said...

How about encouraging the young to be exposed to the global scene/economy – expand their horizons and see how others live and do? On the other hand, let’s make Connecticut SOOoo astoundingly attractive. Irresistible – for them to build their lives here in Connecticut, attract others, travel the globe looking for new ideas and continue to expand their horizons. After all there’s always room for improvement – there will always be! Welcome to Life University.

Bo ItsHaky

Bo ItsHaky said...

How about encouraging the young to be exposed to the global scene/economy – expand their horizons and see how others live and do? On the other hand, let’s make Connecticut SOOoo astoundingly attractive. Irresistible – for them to build their lives here in Connecticut, attract others, travel the globe looking for new ideas and continue to expand their horizons. After all there’s always room for improvement – there will always be! Welcome to Life University.

Bo ItsHaky