Friday, September 21, 2018

Malloy’s Last Gasps, The Barnes Boodle

the banner headlines on Tom Dudchik’s  “Capitol Report” read, in screaming text.

“Capitol Report” is an aggregator site much frequented by Connecticut politicians and state political watchers that retails important stories. The lede to the featured Hartford Courant story read, “The state Bond Commission will meet Thursday to vote on borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to finance projects around the state, and the potential for a bonanza of funding for Hartford.”

Mayor of Hartford Luke Bronin was once Governor Dannel Malloy’s General Counsel. Shortly after becoming Mayor in 2016, Bronin strongly hinted that the state’s capital city might easily tumble into bankruptcy if it did not receive a monetary hand-up from his former boss who, along with a Democrat dominated General Assembly, soon obliged and dispatched a multi-year bailout of nearly a half billion dollars to the city, which had been struggling to satisfy clamorous unions.

"Really?” state Representative Gail Lavielle remarked on Facebook. “With a looming nearly $5 billion deficit? And $100 billion in unfunded liabilities? Let's call Salvador Dalí and André Breton right away, because this is surreal.”

An earlier story in CTMirror assured us – but, more importantly, it assured lame duck Governor Dannel Malloy’s chief numbers cruncher Ben Barnes, who will be leaving public service more than two years before he would be fully invested in Connecticut’s pension system -- that a comfy feather bed awaited him.

Upon his retirement from state service, Barnes, “who has overseen Connecticut’s budget as the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management from the early days of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration” was due to fall short of full investiture in the state’s staggeringly under-financed pension system. “Ten years of state service,” CTMirror reports, “is needed to qualify for a full retirement package that includes both a pension and healthcare benefits. Barnes has accrued seven years and eight months of service toward a full state pension and retirement healthcare.” Connecticut’s unreformed pension system, now plunging the state into penury, is underfinanced by $127.7 billion, depending upon which numbers cruncher is consulted.

That’s right: If you are a political public servant you can self-serve by retiring with a full pension after TEN years in state service.

“Connecticut's unfunded pension liability rose,” according to The Yankee Institute, “from $99.2 billion in ALEC's 2016 study to $127.7 billion in 2017, leaving the pension system only 19 percent funded. The debt from the public pensions amounts to $35,721 per person in Connecticut, the second highest per capita debt in the nation behind Alaska.”

Barnes, we are told, “is on a short list of candidates interviewed for the vacant post of chief financial officer at the state’s system of community colleges and regional universities.”

When word reached Courant “Daily Ructions’ columnist Kevin Rennie that Barnes would be featherbedded until the he was fully invested in the state’s dangerously under-financed pension system, he remarked on Twitter, “Barnes scrambles for another state job after 8 years of failure. Hacks have no regard for academia.” The “eight years of failure” have included “politically balanced” budgets that tilted into the red soon after they had been signed by the governor.

Connecticut’s Democrat Party knows how to take care of its friends, a friend being anyone who can, through monetary contributions or campaign efforts, advance the interests of Democrat office holders.

In an arresting Hartford Courant piece, investigative reporter John Lender provides a typical “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” instance of pay to play politics involving Malloy, Barnes and a richly rewarded political stakeholder. Tammany Hall chief George Washington Plunkitt used to call the following series of events “honest graft.”

A Democrat contributor had purchased a piece of property at a market price located near a proposed railway station. The proposed station had inflated far beyond the original purchase price of the property its sales value. A problem arose when the town nixed the deal. Did the property revert to its purchased value?  Nope. Before you could say “honest graft,” tax dollars began to flow in the direction of the political stakeholder, and the property’s inflated cost was justified by Barnes and Malloy because, to quote from Lender’s account, the office of Policy Management “still wants the property for the purpose of ‘land banking’ it, Barnes said – that is to salt it away for the future because it is such a good site. ‘We pushed very hard,’ but fell short, he said. So now, ‘we are essentially buying it for future use as a train station… Frankly, it has great value to the state of Connecticut, in my belief.’” And the property value was immediately, if prematurely, realized by the politically lucky property holder.

Honest graft, like the poor, will always be with us. So will death and taxes. It is party hegemony and an inattentive media that facilitates honest graft, and the most efficient way to prevent inordinately high taxes from destroying the real wealth of the state is through a measure that requires a super majority in the legislature to approve any net tax increase. 

No comments: