Powell: Not another cent for Washington or Hartford
Eighty super-rich Americans calling themselves the Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength have written to President Obama in support of raising federal taxes on incomes above $1 million to help get the federal deficit under control.
It's not really such a grand gesture. For those people are already so rich and have acquired so many wealth-producing assets that the higher tax would mean little to them. Higher taxes on incomes over $1 million will be felt by entrepreneurs trying to get rich, and under an ideal scheme of progressive taxation maybe they should pay more too. But such higher taxes will be felt by everyone else as well, because every dollar gained by the federal government now will reduce the pressure on the government to reduce its overwhelming stupidity and venality.
Much if not most of every dollar gained by the government now will just go down the twin toilets of Iraq and Afghanistan or bail out irresponsible financial institutions and politically influential companies. Every dollar gained will enlarge the government itself, which already consumes about half the national gross product.
With their new majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans are excited about their chance to block an increase in the federal debt limit, which will have to be increased in April unless massive cuts are made in federal spending. Already congressional Republicans are refusing to support extending unemployment benefits unless equivalent budget cuts are made.
Democrats are trembling about this. They shouldn't be. They should trump the Republicans by liquidating the wars, with the president acknowledging the mistaken premise of nation building, a mistake emphasized the other day by an Afghan police trainee's murder of six U.S. soldiers. Nothing will change the barbaric Iraqi and Afghan cultures short of a long and brutal occupation that uproots children from families. The United States does not have the right, the financial capacity, or the need to do that.
Connecticut state government faces a similarly overwhelming budget deficit and for practical purposes may be at its debt limit as well, with the highest per-capita debt among the states. And just like the federal government, Connecticut is engaged in overwhelmingly expensive undertakings that plainly don't work but into which more money is poured every year — education and child welfare.
A recent report by a state Higher Education Department study group concluded that most of what calls itself public higher education in Connecticut is remedial — that 70% of students in degree programs at community colleges require remedial math or English and that the remedial figure for students in the state university system is nearly two-thirds.
"In a perfect world," state Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti says, "it would be great if every 18-year-old graduated from high school college-ready. We're clearly a long way from that."
But it's far worse than that. For the college remedial figures show that many Connecticut high school graduates shouldn't even be graduating. The figures also show that rather than enforce standards Connecticut extends high school by two years or more and calls it college. Why should students take high school seriously when public policy tells them it doesn't matter, that high school can go on forever?
It's the same with child welfare. Connecticut spends millions more each year in the name of remediating "troubled families" only to find that there are ever more "troubled families" to remediate. Mostly this is only the coddling and legitimizing of fatherlessness. Gov.-elect Dan Malloy has announced an unusual nominee to run the coddling agency, the state Department of Children and Families: Supreme Court Justice Joette Katz. The implication is that a judge can best help DCF get out from under years of federal court supervision. But the problem with DCF isn't administration but premise, the premise that childbearing outside marriage by incompetents somehow can be made right by the government. It can't be; it can only be aggressively discouraged.
Unfortunately Malloy's first objective seems to be to sustain such failed systems, not to reform them. Interviewed the other day the governor-elect said he is inclined to raise revenue by repealing sales tax exemptions, citing specifically the exemptions for haircuts and newspapers. Taxing sales of newspapers may not raise much money but, given the collapse of the news business in Connecticut, it could greatly curtail notice of government's policy failures, which, politically, might be as good as policy success.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.