Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ideological Prisoners

Democrats, far more than Republicans in Connecticut, have shown themselves to be prisoners of their ideological convictions.

Some of these persuasions are mentioned in a recent column by Chris Powell, Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer and a political columnist for the paper, who is often mistaken by politicians he has gored over the years as a conservative, an error Linda McMahon is not likely to make.

Mr. Powell begins his column by noting Governor Malloy’s colossal “‘shortfall’ of $365 million in the current year's state budget,” attributed by the governor to a poorly performing economy and increases in the Medicaid program, also springs from other more controllable causes.

Mr. Malloy has insisted that the state is suffering from a “shortfall” rather than a deficit. The chief difference between a “shortfall” and a “deficit” is this: A “shortfall” is a minor hole in the budget bucket caused by others, principally unforeseen circumstances; a “deficit” is a major hole in a budget that right thinking people attribute to imprudent policies.

Mr. Powell, who has an addiction for calling things by their right names, is very polite about Malloy’s rhetorical evasions. Hey, recessions happen. However, “the Malloy administration has never tried hard to economize. It just reduced the state budget's rate of increase a little. Indeed, the Malloy administration is most notable for a great expansion of the scope of state government, and its expansion of eligibility for Medicaid is just part of it.”

And the rest of the story?

It was the Malloy administration that “created a state version of the federal earned-income tax credit, cash payments to people who don't earn enough to pay state income tax,” and also “increased state grants to municipal education, which are mainly just subsidies for raises for teacher unions,” and also “created a program of corporate welfare dressed up as economic development, paying hundreds of millions of dollars to profitable businesses to stay or expand in Connecticut, including $115 million for the biggest hedge fund to relocate a few miles from Westport to Stamford, the governor's hometown,” and also undertook imprudent and “expensive public works projects for which there was no demand and little need, the bus highway between Hartford and New Britain and the high-speed railroad between New Haven and Springfield.”

And perhaps most strikingly, “The administration failed to obtain substantial concessions from the state employee unions [during its first budget], which gave up some but not all raises and received a four-year guarantee of job security. Amid the record tax increases he imposed, the governor described the union concessions as ‘shared sacrifice,’ but the taxpayers sacrificed far more than the unions did and municipal employee unions lost nothing -- and now the state employees will be exempt from any sacrifice at all for a few years no matter how much worse the economy gets.”

Mr. Malloy has pledged not to raise taxes or rely on layoffs to cover the deficit projected by State Comptroller Kevin Lembo. In view of the automatic salary and benefit raises for unionized state workers plugged into his first budget, the options available to the governor and the legislature to close the state deficit in a special session are varied: He could, as Mr. Powell points out, reduce the state income tax credit against residential property taxes; he might reduce educational financial grants, thus passing along to municipalities the state’s growing deficit and forcing towns to increase taxes for their employees, mostly teachers. No one expects the governor, who has appeared along with Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman on union picket lines, to give his internal assent to serious sacrifices made by union affiliated workers.

Now, the political theory driving this mad method revolves around a highly exaggerated and fantastical notion of the power and efficiency of government. No one who has a realistic operational understanding of government and the private economy would expect Mr. Malloy, or for that matter Mr. Obama, to micromanage free markets, which are far more efficient allocators of resources than government bureaucracies. Mr. Malloy’s “First Five” program is rooted in the perception that the governor can more reasonably direct the economic fate of Connecticut than the once invisible hand of the free market. Governments that seek to do everything – Mr. Malloy has several times said that he wishes to “re-invent” Connecticut --  do nothing well, which is why in a constitutional democracy the perimeters and powers of the three branches of government are carefully prescribed.

The real problem with defective ideologies is that they serve as blinders, preventing a view of reality that will bite your nose the longer you avoid recognizing it. Reality is a snarling tiger. Times of economic stress require maintenance chief executives, prudent cost conscious legislatures and independent appellate courts faithful to their mission, which includes preventing the executive and legislative departments from overrunning their constitutional banks.

Whether Connecticut has – or indeed wants – a government of prudent and modest means is a matter finally to be decided by what the founders used to call a “virtuous” public. When Ben Franklin emerged from the Constitutional Convention that had imposed a form on the government of the fledgling United States, he was asked by a woman what kind of government he had given us. “A Republic, madam,” said Franklin, “if you can keep it.” Implicit in Franklin’s reply is the unsettling notion that future less vigorous generations may not be able to KEEP the Republic at all.

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