Saturday, February 06, 2010

Waltzing Towards Bankruptcy

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

These lines from “The Road Less Taken,” a poem by Robert Frost, should be seriously studied by everyone in the state legislature as well as the new incoming governor, whoever it may be.

The outgoing Governor Jodi Rell’s State of the State address, followed by the usual accommodating do nothing solutions, was her way of saying to the opposition in the legislature: You’ve made your bed, now lay in it.

It is a bed of nails.

The best guess, from serious commentators on Connecticut politics, is that no one will heed the stern warning in the Frost poem. Some men and women learn by rigorous thought and precept. The heedless and inattentive, handed over to the rough and unforgiving hands of experience, are mauled.

They learn by their lumps.

The wayfarer in the Frost poem makes his choice and keeps in mind the path not chosen for another day:

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Wise wayfarer.

Life imitates poetry: Some choices are serious and determine the path of men and states. It looks like the governor and the men and women in the legislature, as well as other important political actors, now have chosen their and our path.

It is a path leading to bankrupted California rather than Texas, a state whose future is considerably brighter. Both California and Texas are burdened with debt, largely because national legislators and presidents chose a path through a Beltway inspired recession that has led to massive taxpayer payouts, unsupportable deficits, chronic job losses and a potential crippling period of high inflation, still in the offing.

Texas may more easily survive the downturn than California because, among other reasons, it has a part time legislature, no income tax and has shown U.S. industries, international bankers and money movers that it “gets” the message in Frost’s poem.

Connecticut adopted in 1991 an income tax that legislators this year made more progressive. Like California, our legislators will be asking mini-millionaires to pay more of their “fair share.” Connecticut has the largest per capita debt in the country, larger than California, no rainy day fund -- we spent it all -- and a $500 million deficit carried over from the last budget fandango between the governor and a willfully blind and spendthrift legislature. The state’s unfunded liability is $57.8 billion, and coming round the corner at us is another deficit of about three billion.

The road Connecticut has taken through the darksome glen is the one more taken.

Responsible Democrats have said Connecticut’s debt is unsustainable. To meet the debt, Democrats in mid-January proposed a blue ribbon commission to suggest ways the legislature might crawl out of the deficit hole fashioned by legislative leaders Speaker of the House Chris Dovovan and President Pro Tem of the Senate Don Williams.

As a practical matter, the commission would increase from 2, the legislative “leaders” named above, to 45 the number of people who will decide to do little or nothing in the way of cutting state spending. There will be no diffident Republicans sitting on the Democratic Blue Ribbon Commission. The real purpose of the partisan commission is to provide cover to soften the boot in the bottom Dovovan and Williams so richly deserve from voters whose pockets soon will be empty.

Taking a leaf from the Democratic playbook, Rell has proposed her own commission, possibly less partisan. And this commission has been criticized by some Democrats as unnecessary, since the state has a brilliant legislature to make the hard choices.

So far, the hard choices made by Connecticut Democrats and the departing governor have entailed, depleting the rainy day fund, gratefully accepting so called “stimulus” funding plucked from the jobs tree the very nearly veto-proof national Democratic legislature has planted on the White House lawn, securitizing Connecticut’s debt through bonding anchored by a tax on electric energy consumption, and spurning spending cuts that might impact unionized state government workers who walk state Democratic leaders on a short leash every morning, afternoon and evening.

And so the fiddling goes, while Connecticut burns.

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