Addressing an internet meeting of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association a week ago, Governor Lamont made the most remarkable statement of his two years in office. “I have no interest in broad-based tax increases,” Lamont said. “Every governor, Republican or Democrat since, or including, Lowell Weicker has done that and it did not solve the problem.”
Of course a few months ago the governor signed into law a broad-based tax increase that took effect three weeks ago: the half-percent increase in the state income tax that is to finance a program of paid family and medical leave, self-insurance that people easily could have arranged on their own. And a few weeks ago the governor endorsed an increase in the wholesale gasoline tax, a hidden tax that, falling on everyone who travels in motor vehicles, is broad-based too.
Maybe the governor just forgot about his recent broad-based taxes as he spoke to the business people. That can happen. More importantly, what exactly did he mean in saying that the big tax increases of his predecessors over the last 30 years “did not solve the problem”? Just what is “the problem”?
The governor is a Democrat, and from a Democratic perspective those tax increases — especially the state income tax, pushed through the General Assembly by Governor Weicker in 1991 after he campaigned on opposing it — did solve “the problem.” That is, the problem of securing the loyalty of the Democratic Party’s army, members of the state and municipal government employee unions, whose ever-more generous compensation was financed by those tax increases.
So could the governor really have meant the other problem — the problem seen from the public’s perspective — state government’s failure with tax increases to improve life in Connecticut for those not employed by government? Could the governor really have meant, say, the failure to reduce poverty and dissolution in the cities and to improve performance not only in city schools but most others, the state’s loss of population relative to the rest of the country, its loss of businesses and skilled, high-paying jobs and their replacement by low-paying jobs?
That is, by “the problem” with taxes could the governor have meant Connecticut’s decades of general decline?
Maybe his audience was thunderstruck, for nobody seems to have asked what he meant by “the problem” with taxes. But the governor hinted he might elaborate soon. He added that the federal government’s pending reimbursement of the state for epidemic expenses “might buy us some time to make some efficiencies.”
“Efficiencies”? Again this is not how Connecticut Democrats usually talk.
Indeed, even as the governor was telling the business group that raising taxes hasn’t solved “the problem,” some members of his party’s enlarged majority in the General Assembly were proposing raising taxes all over the place — on the incomes of “the rich,” on expensive houses, on motor vehicles driven on state highways (that is, tolls), and on legalized marijuana and sports betting, the latter burdens sure to fall more on the unrich. A Democratic legislator also proposed to give big tax credits to households with children, but this seemed dependent on raising taxes on “the rich.”
Having to choose between taxing everybody, including the poor, or doing without more money and economizing, by political necessity most Democratic legislators will choose more money every time. The army’s salaries and pensions always come first.
* * *
RESTORE DEMOCRACY: This week the governor said he wants to extend until April 20 his emergency powers to rule by decree, in the belief that the epidemic will be under control by then. That is wishful thinking and would push the suspension of democracy in Connecticut beyond a year when it already has been too long.
Republican legislative leaders have a better idea. They would end the governor’s rule by decree on March 1, with the legislature deciding which of the governor’s orders to continue as legislation and which to extinguish. Future emergency declarations would be limited to 30 days and could be extended only by legislative action.
Throughout the epidemic the legislature has been fully able to operate but abdicated instead. Legislators should start earning their pay again, and the governor himself should demand it.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.