While in the South – land of opportunity for Northern expats – I was asked by a Connecticut resident who had moved below the Mason-Dixon line several years ago seeking relief from ever-expanding taxation, the general reluctance to make long term permanent cuts in spending, excessive regulation, and the arrogance of progressives who had ruined his state, “Will President Trump be a help or a hindrance for Connecticut Republicans running for office in 2018?”
The non-simplistic answer to the question on everyone’s mind is, as the new moralists might say, complex. The complex answer depends upon a shifting political frame.
Will Connecticut Democrats be able to disassociate themselves sufficiently from the ruinous policies of departing Governor Dannel Malloy, whose approval ratings, never high, have now dipped far below the approval ratings of the Democrat’s straw man, the redoubtable Trump, whose ratings are in the ascendancy – though, one supposes, not in Connecticut?
Have voters in Connecticut been sufficiently racked and thumb-screwed to cause them to alter usual inflexible voting patterns? Registered Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans by a two to one margin; unaffiliateds slightly outnumber registered Democrats. “Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on you,” the old adage warns us. Are Connecticut voters who have not yet expatriated themselves fools? Are Connecticut politicians shameless?
On the Democrat side, the likelihood of a radical break with progressive policies – increasing taxes to discharge repetitive deficits, declining to make necessary long-term adjustments in union contracts, filching from so called lock-boxes to maintain irreducible and increasing spending limits, relying upon what Sharyl Attkisson has called “transactional journalism” to maintain a political status quo, assuming banking functions to prop-up failing companies or to give a market edge to major home-grown companies that are looking with longing at the exit signs, heavily regulating all enterprises but state government, fooling most of the people most of the time – probably is not in the campaign cards. It is nearly impossible to sugar-coat the state’s depressing realities: Connecticut has yet to recover from a protracted national recession that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009; a number of major businesses native to Connecticut have either left the state or merged with out-of-state companies, sometimes a prelude to painful leave-takings; and progressive incumbent politicians – Malloy, Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, Attorney General George Jepsen – are jumping ship.
The alternative default plan is to drape Trump, regarded as a political albatross by progressive Democrats, around the necks of Connecticut Republican politicians and hope that voters will not, as is generally supposed, vote their own interests.
This plan may self-destruct for several reasons. Trump is a national, not a state figure, whose indirect effect on Connecticut has not been nearly as disastrous as the policies of unrepentant progressives such as Malloy, who has firmly established a government of, by and for state employee unions. Important job increases in Connecticut can be attributed to Trump’s increased military expenditures – his is not a budget constructed by a “lead from behind” commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed services -- and Trump’s successful tax reform efforts may increase both profits AND TAXES reliably paid by redundantly wealthy millionaires huddled together in Fairfield County’s so-called “Gold Coast” who cough-up every year more than their fair share of tax revenue.
Malloy has yet to devise a plan to prevent such valuable tax resources from leeching into near-by states. Perhaps an anti-migration wall might be constructed to hem in Fairfield hedge-funders and Connecticut’s highly offensive conspicuous consumption millionaires. Poaching Connecticut millionaires became a successful enterprise only after the state had leveled its tax playing field by instituting an income tax, for which we must thank former Governor Lowell Weicker and the late Lieutenant Governor Eunice Groark, who cast a deciding vote in favor of the tax.
National Democrats are now crowing that gas tax increases will eat-up any benefits accrued by Trump’s tax reforms. They may have a point, though they fail to note that gas prices decreased largely owing to a change in oil recovery, fracking being the culprit. The average regular gas price in South Carolina presently is $2.605; in Connecticut the price is $3.124, much higher because nutmeggers pay a double tax collected both at the delivery port and at the pump. Proceeds from the gas tax were supposed to be dumped into a transportation maintenance lock box, which is now empty. Progressive Democrats in the state have proposed filling this depleted lock box through the addition of congestion tolling, paid chiefly by Connecticut residents, the deposits being dumped into yet another lock box somewhat similar to the lock box devised when Connecticut’s state employee pension plan was adopted. Connecticut's two major state employee benefit plans established in 1939, “SERS and TRS were not pre-funded until 1971 and 1982, respectively,” according to an 2015 analysis undertaken by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Isn’t it obvious to all that Connecticut’s government was simply waiting for the usual golden goose to lay a golden egg the state might use to pay off its improvident spending? W. B. Yeats said it best in “the Second Coming” – “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.”