Bribing people with their own money is a standard technique of politics, and with a state election coming up, Connecticut’s Democratic and Republican leaders are already at it.
Governor Lamont, who will be nominated by the Democrats for a second term, says he is likely to propose increasing the property tax credit on the state income tax. The Republican minority in the state Senate proposes cutting sales taxes a little.
Both sides assume that these tax cuts are possible without cutting spending because state government is rolling in money at the moment, as a booming stock market has produced lots of capital gains tax revenue and the federal government has bestowed on the state hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency epidemic aid. In recent days the governor has seemed eager to give away tens of millions as fast as he can, first with bonuses to recipients of the earned income tax credit, then to a job-training program, since so many young people graduate from Connecticut’s high schools without job skills and without mastery of math and English.
While state government has a lot of cash in the bank at the moment, its bonded debt and unfunded pension obligations remain overwhelming, beyond $100 billion. This money is borrowed from the future. Tax cuts without spending cuts disregard this debt and will make it more burdensome.
But few politicians care about the future beyond the election in November. Indeed, Connecticut’s political history suggests that whatever taxes are credited or cut to honor election promises will be reimposed when state government’s financial position worsens. The tax credits and cuts under discussion may not last even two years.
Tax cuts built on spending cuts would be something else, a gift that might keep on giving. But in joining the governor in proposing tax cuts without spending cuts, even the Republicans are declaring that no efficiencies in state government can be found and that there is nothing in state government spending even worth auditing — not in education policy, though social promotion produces ignoramuses; not in welfare policy, though it produces dependence instead of self-sufficiency; and not in urban policy, though living conditions in the cities have been declining for more than 50 years.
Last week an arbiter of state government employee union contracts ruled that state employees have the right to challenge in arbitration any order that they must work in their office more than one day per week, rather than from home most of the time. This ruling was another diminishing of management in state government, completely contrary to the public interest and sure to impair efficiency and accountability.
But the arbiter’s ruling passed without comment from Democrats and Republicans alike at the state Capitol, where serving the government employee unions comes far ahead of serving the public.
The Capitol crew is confident that most people will never notice that any tax relief they get will be brief and financed by money already taken from them.
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TRUMP OR VICTORY?: The prodigy of Connecticut politics, state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, who was elected in 2018 at age 22, defeating a long-time Republican incumbent, and re-elected in 2020, announced last week that he won’t run again but instead will go to law school.
Haskell bravely has advocated imposing highway tolls and raising gas taxes, so he might have been vulnerable this year. While he would not have been elected twice if he was not a good campaigner, he also probably would not have been elected either time without the taint brought to the Republicans by then-President Donald Trump, whose demeanor has especially alienated voters in Fairfield County suburbs that ordinarily lean Republican.
Haskell’s retirement presents a great opportunity for Republicans to recover his seat, as they recovered the Greenwich-Stamford Senate seat in a special election last year after Democratic Sen. Alex Kasser resigned. But Democrats in Connecticut will keep running against Trump this year and will try to tie him to all Republican candidates. That strategy has worked well twice and might work again.
So how will Connecticut Republicans choose — for Trump or a chance to win?
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.