Monday, March 02, 2009

Fleischmann’s Pig in a Poke: Tea Party Anyone?

The requirement that the state balance its budget yearly is one of the few effective checks on spending left to us.

State Rep. Andy Fleischmann of West Hartford, having drunk deeply from the well of current political rhetoric, proposes removing it.

“If you believe it makes sense for government to stimulate the economy to help reduce the severity of the current downturn,” he writes in a Hartford paper, “then — whether you’re a groundskeeper, gas station owner or governor — you should join me in pushing Connecticut to alter its constitutional requirement to balance the state budget each fiscal year.

“That’s why I introduced legislation requiring state government to balance its budget over the course of the 10-year business cycle — not in a single fiscal year. This simple change will allow our state to pursue policies that reinforce — rather than undermine — the recently enacted federal stimulus plan.”

After cutting unnecessary services, Mr. Fleischmann would have state government issue “economic recovery notes” to cover any deficit, state IOU’s to be paid out as the economy improves, thereby eliminating the need for spending cuts or tax increases.

Those of us who have been watching the state budget balloon from $7.5 billion in pre-income tax days to its present distended $18 billion may have a few problems with the proposal. The state deficit is now $8 billion, about half of the last pre-income tax budget.

That increase means that the “constitutional cap on spending,” a device the architects of the income tax designed to convince legislators to pass the measure is, to put it mildly, a polite fiction. The only real remaining spending cap is the requirement that the state balance its budget; this means, when the state sees red ink, it must either raise taxes or cut spending in the current fiscal year.

Fleischman’s proposal is a reprieve from this rather too onerous constitutional duty.

Fleischman airily proposes that his measure will give the legislature time enough to revamp its budget in a way that will prevent both tax increases and cuts he deems destructive.

Very good. Let Mr. Fleischmann propose right now the cuts and spending increases he thinks appropriate. Surely West Hartford’s state Rep. has been in the legislature long enough to examine the programs he wishes to restructure. In fact, the budget deficit is forcing the legislature to achieve fiscal responsibility right now, and this has made legislators such as Mr. Fleischman go wobbly.

The Fleischmann's proposal is what an earlier, more wide-awake generation might have called a “pig in a poke.” The pig to be sold is put in a bag that prevents the buyer from seeing what he is purchasing. It might be a pig, or it might be a bag of corn pones. Just give us your money.

This much is certain: It cannot be prudent to remove the dam and hope the water will magically stay in place.

The time to revamp programs in the manner Mr. Fleischmann now proposes was when the state was enjoying obscene surpluses, which an irresponsible legislature yearly plowed into the general budget.

The deficit means, if it means anything at all, that we need more not fewer restraints on spending.

Spending should be tied, constitutionally if necessary, to the rate of inflation, which certainly will increase under the enlightened administration of President Barack Obama and his chief counselor, Rhamn (send'em a dead fish) Emmanuel.

Now is the time to pay the piper. And Mr. Fleischmann does not want to do it. This is no great surprise. In escaping the responsibility to balance the budget in red ink years, Mr. Fleischmann is not at odds with his Democrat caucus – the surplus devourers. For 15 years, the legislature has shown an enviable genius in proposing ways in transferring the wealth of the state, the bread earned by citizens of the state through the sweat of their brows, to state coffers. The deficit, if it means anything at all, means that the legislature, dominated for years by high-roller Democrats, must now apply the same energy and purpose to reduce spending.

This onerous duty they wish to avoid at all costs, because spending cuts would put them in Dutch with all the special interest groups from whom they have received the political favors they need to stay in office.

Any rational state would turn the lot of them out of office.

Tea Party anyone?

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