Incoming Speaker of the State House of Representatives Chris Donovan, “resisting a radical tag,” says about himself, “I’m a mainstream politician now.”
Indeed, a truer word was never spoken. For there is nothing Donovan would need to reform to bring the state in line with his paradisiacal notions of state government. His train has arrived. His eagle has landed. Progressive Democrats in the state have become the status quo, and a reformer is someone who sets his heart against the present system. The present system has been very good to Donovan; that is why he is the Speaker of the House.
But the state needs reformers. More, it needs radicals. A radical is someone who “goes to the root of things” in order to effect beneficial change.
What would a radical do in Connecticut? What would the radical be saying?
He might be saying that the accumulated budgets of the last two decades have bought the state -- at a dear price -- a $6 billion deficit.
During this time, the state has used successive surpluses to pad its bottom line budgets, and the result has been a ratcheting up of that bottom line. At the same time, the state has relied on a progressive feature in the tax system to boost spending. The current failure on Wall Street has diminished revenues, placing status quo politicians in somewhat of a quandary. Since the state is constitutionally obligated to pay its debts before the end of the fiscal year, unlike the federal government, which can print money to cover its arrears, state status quo politicians now are faced with a kind of Sophie’s Choice: They can either raise taxes to liquidate the debt, or radically cut costs, or do a bit of both.
The radical might note that the citizenry has become poorer in direct proportion as the state has become richer, as suggested by their inability to absorb ever-mounting increases in municipal budgets submitted to them in referendums. Inordinate municipal tax hikes have been rejected by towns that allow referendums because – big surprise here -- people cannot afford the tax increases. Increasing tax burdens and the inability to absorb more tax increases make spending reduction all the more imperative.
The radical would offer some radical ideas to ameliorate this situation, ideas that would really change things -- radically. Naturally these ideas would be resisted by status quo politicians. But that is all to the good, evidence that such ideas are truly radical.
What would those ideas look like?
Recognize the fact, plain as the nose on your face, that status quo politicians cannot control murderous incremental increases in spending and establish a state budget referendum, so that the citizenry can regain control of its own budgets.
Reform education by changing the way education is financed. Cap education budgets but allow principles and superintendents greater control over money dispersals. Money should be allocated to school projects that work and withheld from unsuccessful enterprises and teachers. End binding arbitration. Eliminate, as far as possible, state mandates on educational institutions. Close down schools that have shown they cannot perform effectively, dispersing funds and students to successful schools.
Establish a freeze on all state salary and benefit increases until the economy improves -- not anytime soon says President-elect Barack Obama.
Reduce payroll taxes whenever possible and increase use taxes commensurately so that the net increase will be zero.
Adopt a measure suggested by the Yankee Institute to set statutory limits on spending keyed to the increase in the rate of inflation and the growth of population.
As far as possible, try to resist spending your way out of recessions, even if the money is “borrowed” or given outright as a gift from the money tree that grows in back of the US Capitol. Such gifts arte highly inflationary, and states that cannot stand on their own two feet without crutches are bound to fall on their rumps when, as often happens, the crutch is pulled out from under them by mercurial presidents and congresses.
It’s a beginning.