Some small good things were done by the session of the General Assembly just concluded, but the best things about the session may have been what it didn’t do.
That is, it did not raise taxes much — mainly on heavy trucks — and thus did not disadvantage Connecticut more relative to other states and did not give the state’s taxpaying residents more reason to consider leaving for less expensive jurisdictions. The large far-left faction of the Democratic legislative caucuses wanted to raise taxes sharply on the rich, but with the state rolling in emergency money from the federal government, Governor Lamont, a more moderate Democrat, prevented it, knowing it was financially unnecessary and could wait until after the next election.
The legislature did not create, as was proposed in the name of “equity” — now a euphemism for political patronage — an independent agency with its own revenue stream for spending billions on infrastructure projects in the cities, outside the normal supervision of the governor and the legislature. This was to be done on the false premise that Connecticut’s urban problem is the disintegration of infrastructure rather than disintegration of society.
Instead the legislature authorized $1.5 billion in bonding dedicated for the cities over the next 10 years, to be supervised by a new commission on which the governor, legislators, and their designates will serve, a sort of subcommittee of the State Bond Commission. The initiative carefully preserves the false premise about the cause of the urban problem.
The legislature did not raise gas taxes in the name of a “climate initiative,” and thereby left “climate change” to its historic perpetrators, the sunspot cycle and precession of the Earth’s axis.
The legislature did approve big increases in spending — 2.6 percent in the first year, 3.9 percent in the second — but the huge increase in federal money will cover it and most of the new money will go for more of the same things state government has been doing all along. Then, without more money from Washington, tax increases, or spending cuts, in three years state government will return to big deficits.
Funding is being increased modestly for the nonprofit groups that provide social services at half the cost of state government’s own employees. Subsidies also are being increased for people who buy medical insurance on state government’s insurance exchange.
As usual much of the extra money — starting with what is sent to municipalities — will end up raising compensation for government’s own unionized employees, the Democratic Party’s army. This will be euphemized as “property tax relief” though property taxes are never relieved.
But given the increased Democratic margin in the legislature, the damage could have been far worse.
In a discussion this week with talk-show host Will Marotti on WTIC-AM1080, Bob Stefanowski, the 2018 Republican nominee for governor, who may seek a rematch with Governor Lamont, remarked on some of state government’s recent embarrassments. Stefanowski said there is “no oversight.”
Indeed, this lack of oversight extends far beyond those occasional embarrassments and is a matter of the most expensive policies. While the governor and other Democratic leaders are celebrating their new budget as “transformational,” when the television cameras are off, does anyone really think that the budget will change anything about life and government in Connecticut?
For decades state government has been substantially increasing spending in the name of education, yet student performance has not improved and its racial gap remains mortifying even as school employees are better paid.
The same with the cities, whose populations grow poorer and where violent crime is worsening despite ever-increasing financial aid from the state.
If state welfare programs were making people self-sufficient, their appropriations would be falling, not rising.
Housing prices are soaring and economic and racial segregation are entrenched because the state’s housing supply is so constrained. There is little action there either.
And of course state spending can’t be reduced or even much redirected.
No, the legislature abolished its Program Review and Investigations Committee years ago. It is of no concern whether anything in state government works much except to pay the wages of the Democratic Party’s army.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.