For a moment a week ago reality flashed above Connecticut politics as the new speaker of the state House of Representatives, Hamden Democrat J. Brendan Sharkey, said state financial grants to municipalities will have to be reduced in the next state budget.
Despite – or more likely because of — last year’s record state tax increase, revenue is declining faster than state government can make emergency budget cuts and Connecticut’s economy keeps weakening. The estimated gap between revenue and spending in the next state budget year has reached 6 percent and may grow. In an interview with the Journal Inquirer, Sharkey, whose background is in small business rather than the usual Democratic haunts of public employee union organizing or social work, somehow brought himself to acknowledge the catastrophic direction of things.
But unreality quickly closed back in. A few days later state legislators began talking about reimposing tolls on state highways because, as state Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, told the Connecticut Mirror, “our infrastructure is crumbling and we don’t have the money to pay for it.”
Neglected maintenance of state roads and bridges is believed to require as much as $3 billion. But Dillon and the other Democrats who control the General Assembly overlooked this last year when they supported Governor Malloy’s strange showcase public works project, the 9-mile bus highway between Hartford and New Britain. The busway will cost hundreds of millions to build and countless millions more to operate every year even as Connecticut can’t take care of the transportation system it already has.
Opposing the busway, legislative Republicans raised this question of priorities to no avail. Now as Democrats clamor for tolls, it’s as if the maintenance issue exploded on them out of nowhere.
Quickly trumping this obliviousness, the governor himself this week announced plans for a $200 million state fund to subsidize “bioscience” businesses locating in the state — still more corporate welfare and patronage, more government selection of the winners and losers in the economy, such patronage having become the marquee policy of the Malloy administration, signifying the administration’s desperate hope that patronage for the few can offset what has become the rush for the exits by the many — like Pratt & Whitney, which announced more big layoffs in Connecticut even as the company is hiring in Florida.
Where is the $200 million for more “bioscience” patronage going to come from as state government faces another billion-dollar revenue gap? The governor didn’t say exactly. His plan is conveniently back-loaded, scraping up only $10 million per year in the first two years, $15 million in the third and fourth year, and $25 million per year in the next five years, when state government’s finances presumably will have been straightened out.
It’s all so delusional. Indeed, the governor and legislators seem almost happy to be able to busy themselves with ideas for more regulation of guns, in response but with little relevance to the madman’s atrocity at the elementary school in Newtown, as if then they might not have to face the collapse of state government’s finances and Connecticut’s economy.
Leadership for Connecticut would acknowledge this collapse, declare an existential emergency, and repeal or suspend all the laws and regulations that have been so carefully installed to prevent Connecticut from getting value from its government. These range from collective bargaining for government employees and binding arbitration of their contracts to minimum school expenditure requirements to earned income tax credits to corporate welfare to bonding for “farmland preservation” and playgrounds, the objective being to turn things around by making the payers feel more wanted than the takers.
More obliviousness promises only oblivion.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.