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Chris Powell

Can State Afford to Cut Taxes? And Higher Ed is Propaganda

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but with his re-election campaign coming up, Governor Lamont says Connecticut may be able to afford some tax cuts, or at least a revival of a property tax credit against state income tax obligations. Some fellow Democrats in the General Assembly are receptive to the idea.

But a detailed review last week by the Connecticut Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf suggests that for a while the state really won’t be able to afford to do much more than to keep paying down its unfunded pension obligations, estimated at more than $95 billion. State government’s pension debt is nearly the highest in the country on a per-capita basis, state pension fund contributions consume 14% of state government’s General Fund, and those contributions and other “fixed costs” of state government — costs placed outside the ordinary discretion of the governor and the legislature — consume more than half the state budget, signifying a government that is on automatic pilot to oblivion.

Under the Lamont administration state government is somewhat better situated than it was a few years ago. It has a “Rainy Day Fund” of more than $3 billion, it is rolling in a few billion dollars of federal emergency assistance, the recent stock market boom has raised hopes of easing the pension debt burden, and the rate of growth in state government’s ordinary debt has been falling slowly.

But the state budget deficit is forecast to reach nearly a billion dollars in 2023, just as the emergency federal aid expires, and relying on a continued boom in the stock market is probably a bad idea. State government could double its annual pension contributions and still be grossly overindebted, and that overindebtedness is an argument for raising taxes, not cutting them, though it is an argument nobody makes.

Liberal Democrats do argue for raising taxes but not to make the pension fund sound but rather to increase spending on programs that tend not to achieve their nominal objectives, like education and welfare.

At least the governor recognizes that Connecticut’s tax burden is also nearly the highest in the country and increasing it could prove counterproductive, discouraging investment and pushing wealthy taxpaying residents out.

Of course the world won’t end if the next session of the General Assembly enacts another property tax credit as a campaign gimmick. But any such credit almost surely will prove to be only temporary, and cutting spending will remain the only way to achieve lasting tax cuts, a course that continues to seem politically impossible.

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What’s the purpose of public higher education in Connecticut — education or political propaganda?

Last week the president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, Terrence Cheng, suggested it’s the latter. He emailed a statement to staff and students expressing “shock, anger, sadness, and more” about the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse case in Wisconsin.

“Systems of inequity were not built in a day or a moment,” Cheng wrote. “They have been manufactured, crafted, and honed through generations of practice and reinforcement. … The work of confronting, disrupting, and dismantling such systems will not happen in a day or a single moment, as much as we wish they could be.”

Was there some educational reason that college staff and students needed to know Cheng’s opinion of the Rittenhouse case?

Had Cheng studied the trial as closely as the jury did? Or had he just developed the political rooting interest that many on the political left and right developed about the case — the left rooting against Rittenhouse because he had shot three white men rioting in purported protest of the shooting by police of a Black man, the right rooting for Rittenhouse because he purported to go to Kenosha to defend property against rioting and looting by leftists?

And what about equal time for people who approve of the verdict? Will they be invited to use the college email system to send a contrary statement to staff and students?

Of course not. For public higher education has become a system of inequity itself, a system of political propaganda. Since it employs so many leftists so extravagantly — Cheng is paid $360,000 a year — confronting, disrupting, and dismantling this system may take longer than it should.

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Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

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