Congratulating the General Assembly and himself this week as the legislature adjourned, Governor Malloy said, “Over the last 16 months we have pushed more change through these two chambers than has occurred in Connecticut in a long time.”
Yes, government in Connecticut has gotten bigger, more pervasive, more expensive, and more complicated, a mechanism only Rube Goldberg could appreciate. The most recent Quinnipiac University poll suggests that the public does not yet perceive any improvements. For most of what state government has done lately is only the same old thing — running up costs unnecessarily.
“Let’s keep squeezing every dollar we can out of state government,” the governor said. “Let’s make government more efficient. Let’s continue the conversion of the state’s books to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.”
And yet even as the governor was boasting about squeezing dollars out of government, legislators of his party were saying that what made them proudest of the session just ended was its extending collective-bargaining rights to state-paid child care and home health care workers, a measure meant to squeeze dollars out of government in quite a different way, much as the collective bargaining recently extended to state police supervisors has just squeezed massive pay raises out of the government and into those supervisors.
A few months ago the governor was boasting about squeezing dollars out of government by filling state employee drug prescriptions through a mail-order pharmacy. But the budget revision act just passed includes a subsidy program for independently owned pharmacies that couldn’t match the mail-order pharmacy’s prices. The small pharmacies now will be paid a higher rate than chain pharmacies for filling welfare prescriptions, a new form of welfare.
Then there are the millions of dollars in new state grants to municipal schools, “aid to education” being the euphemism for still more pay raises for teachers, though the recession makes raises unnecessary for retaining staff. Their only necessity is political.
In his valedictory to the legislature the governor also made much of a small change in the state’s unemployment rate to boast about private-sector job growth, a boast contradicted by state income tax collections, which have fallen far below estimates and have caused a big state budget deficit despite last year’s big tax increase. Indeed, the administration’s economic development policy — a hodgepodge of patronage grants, from the hundreds of millions of dollars to Jackson Labs for its “mouse factory” in Farmington to the tens of thousands of dollars given to a paintball game arcade in Groton — is a confession that Connecticut’s private sector can no longer grow by itself and that the state is sinking into a command economy. This insults every business that is taxed for patronage for its competitors.
“We’ve changed our state’s finances,” the governor said with a hyperbole that might be explained only by the giddiness he could have felt from sending the legislators home so that he might be left alone with the reins of administration. “We’ve closed the worst-in-the-nation deficit and we’re firmly committed to keeping our books honestly for the first time in a long time.” But the new deficit was closed only by the sort of fund transfers and accounting tricks state government long has relied on, which the governor so righteously promised to end when he was seeking election in 2010. Candidate Malloy’s signature pledge, converting to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles — “keeping our books honestly” — turned out to be the most expendable thing once he was elected.
This promise breaking may be understandable enough, the state Capitol being a place where all the tax eaters have their hands out around the clock and taxpayers have precious little representation. But the governor’s pretending so brazenly that the most obvious failure of the legislative session didn’t happen may be worse than the betrayal itself. Most voters may want to be fooled and may even deserve it, but fooling them requires a much better effort than this.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.