Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Connecticut’s Detour

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world… W. B. Yeats 

It seems ages ago that a major newspaper in Connecticut firmly decided that Connecticut was suffering from a spending rather than a revenue problem; meaning that budget deficits in the future should be liquidated by spending cuts and not tax increases.

Naturally, few politicians, chiefly those on the Democrat side of the political barricades, paid much attention to this change of heart and mind. Faced with chronic and continuing budget deficits – the state’s present biennial budget deficit is about $4 billion – Connecticut’s Democrat politicians continued piling on tax increases. Former Governor Dan Malloy, who retired from office following his second term, was a chronic revenue increaser, aided, of course, by a Democrat dominated General Assembly. Malloy’s approval rating plummeted more or less in concert with his tax increases, and he left office the least popular governor in the nation with an approval rating hovering around 25 percent.

We now find that Malloy’s replacement, Governor Ned Lamont, has an approval rating of 33 percent after only 100 days in office. An approval rating this low, this early – particularly after a blue election wave had wiped out Republican gains in the General Assembly -- might cause some discomfort to the usual politician, but low approval ratings did not serve as a check to Malloy, who pretended to the last moment that he would not trim his policy sails to the prevailing popularity winds. The same may be said of Lamont, despite claims that Lamont lacks Malloy’s discomforting porcupine quills. Lamont enjoys a numerical cushion similar to that of Malloy during the early days of his administration. Democrats presently have the luxury of overwhelming numbers in the General Assembly, which provides the ruling majority with a large margin for policy experimentation and error. During the recently concluded November elections, Senate Democrats won 23 seats to Republicans’ 13; the spread before the election had been 18-18. And in the House Democrats won 92 seats to Republican’s 59, a gain for Democrats of 12 seats. In power politics, numbers always trump democracy.

Lamont, only 100 days into his administration, appears to be caught between a rock, progressive ideological irredentism in Connecticut, and a hard place. The hard place is very hard indeed. After multiple revenue increases, the state still is facing daunting budget deficits. Lamont’s solution to the hard place is to raise revenue by means of unpopular tolls and a broadening of consumption taxes, solutions made necessary by unwillingness on the part of a Democrat Majority in the General Assembly to confront spending escalators such as the high cost of labor among unionized state workers.

The rock is a newly installed progressivism, an ideological lockbox seemingly impervious to reality that presents special difficulties not confronted in the past by a cool-centered Democrat Party, one that historically had been willing to seek common ground with minority Republicans in pursuit of policies that benefited the greater good. Moderate Democrats have been pushed from their power perches almost everywhere in the Northeast, and it is doubtful the vacated traditional Democrat center can hold for long within a party moved eccentrically by leftists. Should socialist Bernie Sanders win his party’s presidential nod, his primary victory will send a signal to the entire nation, sleepily going about its business, that the new quasi-socialist Democratic Party is no longer their daddy’s and mommy’s party. Ideas and politics both have consequences.

Lamont recently busted into a “No Tolls CT” rally in his hometown of Greenwich. He thanked the group for allowing him to handle a few uncomfortable questions and said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt your party,” to which a very polite Patrick Sasser co-founder of the “No Tolls CT” movement, replied with excessive civility – this was, after all, Greenwich -- “Sorry you weren’t in the office the other day when I presented 100,000 signatures” on petitions collected across the state opposing tolls.

Lamont responded, “You can say, ‘No tolls,’ but you’ve got to say what you’re for. Are you for bonding? Are you for doing nothing? You have to have an alternative.”

But of course bonding is not the opposite of tolling. Both are means of collecting tax revenue from people already suffering the predictable consequences of excessive spending – which produces debt. The opposite of both tolling and bonding is permanent, long-term cuts in spending. Spending is the problem; cutting spending is the solution to the problem, and anything else – income tax increases, consumption tax increases, broadening the tax base, bonding, filching funds from laughably insecure “lock-boxes,” etc. exacerbates the problem.

According to one account of the Greenwich “party,” Lamont beat a retreat as party goers sought to engage the governor further. “Hey everybody,” the Governor said, “I don’t want to be a downer here, so thank you so much for the chance to be back here.”

Lamont’s appearance at the party was a detour in the rush to increase taxes and imprint on the public memory a politically pleasing narrative, so that the ruling left-of-center Democrat Party in Connecticut will in the future be able to increase spending yet again – the easy road most often traveled by modern progressive politicians -- and the spending increases will lead ineluctably to further deficits.

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