To the Editor:
One expects almost anything from political campaigns but partisans posing as “average citizens” are more alarming. A good example of this occurred in a posting on October 19, 2022 by Sean Goldrick here at the CT Examiner and elsewhere regarding Rep. Kimberley Fiorello. In these attack pieces, Fiorello is predictably called “Far Right” and her positions on the state’s economic and fiscal outlook are “falsehoods” and “lies.”
Here is some brief objectivity due to space constraints. On the economy, highlighting the last quarter’s decline in GDP is not a “falsehood.” Although it is correct that GDP grew in previous quarters, the characterization that the economy is great is not. See actual GDP figures at their source. The last quarter is always the most important and predictive, if there is any prediction at all. An economy with shrinking GDP, the highest inflation in decades, a bear market with double digit stock declines, and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates and driving credit cost and home prices up, and affordability down, are significant, well-known and legitimate concerns.
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Only high employment has kept the economy from collapsing. This is a befuddling dynamic that is unusual when the economy is detracting. Ultimately no one knows where the economy is headed. But most people, including 86% of corporate CEOs think there is and/or will be a recession. Besides thinking it, corporations have been acting by cutting back on expenses in anticipation of a recession since the first half of this year. It is just dishonest to characterize the economy as doing well.
On the state’s finances, Goldrick declares as “False” Fiorello’s worry that “our state” (her inclusive words) is spending and borrowing without concern. This is not a true/false binary. Different people have different views of priorities. Some “experts” actually believe in the new “Modern Monetary Theory” where deficits are a myth and the federal government can print money without limit or negative consequence e.g. borrow/spend like drunken sailors. Naturally you can find proponents of this theory in places that espouse socialism like the Senior Economic Advisor to Democrat Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns. This a bankrupt theory (pun intended) in my opinion, but not an objective fact – since the theory cannot be proven until the government collapses from the weight of borrowing or ushers in a new utopia. Go ahead, bet everything on 36 Red at the roulette table. Just don’t use my money.
Goldrick also argues that the budget grew more under Republican governors than the two recent Democrat governors. But he “conveniently omits” that the legislature, which possesses the power of the purse, has been controlled by Democrats for the last 30+ years (except for the Senate in 1995-1996). In reality, the Democrat legislature in Connecticut always wants to spend more than the executive – Republican or Democrat. The spending cap (Republican-led), instituted as part of the 1991 income tax (Democrat-led) bargain, helped control spending. But during the Malloy years a stagnant economy and lack of revenue were a bigger factor. In 2014, Malloy’s highly capable Budget Secretary characterized it as a “permanent fiscal crisis.”
And during the Rowland/Rell years, the Democrat legislature consistently sought to spend more than these Republican administrations would allow. Every year the threat of budget impasse hung over the legislative session (and often during the Malloy years). These administrations served as a check on the ceaseless Democratic appetite for spending. There is just no real debate in Hartford about which party would like to spend more.
Goldrick also claims that Fiorello and the conservative Tax Foundation “grossly [mislead]” in their assertions that Connecticut’s per capita taxes are among the highest in the nation. According to his sources, Connecticut’s taxes are actually “among the lowest in the nation.” Does this pass the sniff test? Is it possible to create and/or expand government programs, a source of Democrat pride, outclassing other states by intention, and somehow keep taxes low? Under this thinking, massive Democrat initiatives like the New deal or The Great Society didn’t actually grow the budget or increase taxes. And that federal revenue is still about the same as at the beginning of the 1900s when it was almost exclusively derived from tariffs. Of course not. Individual years may vary, but the historical trend, since 1900 anyway, has been upward for both the federal and state government.
Perhaps the most incorrect criticism was about ascribing state surpluses, the brimming Rainy Day fund, and pension paydowns, as somehow due to Gov. Ned Lamont. The Governor had nothing to do with it – nada. First, the stock market created the tax windfalls and second, the 2017 bipartisan budget package mandated how these windfalls could be used. That budget, made possible by the defection of some Senate Democrats who joined with the Republican minority, instituted a revenue and capital gains volatility cap as well as a “bond lock” in which future bond offering covenants were tied to the statutory revenue limits. Prior to 2017, these Republican policy ideas were routinely dismissed by Democrats.
The current year’s $24.2 billion budget says it all. It spends 6.4% more than last year yet still has a $565.1 million budget balance. This is of course due to more than usual available revenue but also due to spending cap constraints. The budget is a tiny $8.6 million under the spending cap. As usual, Lamont and the Democrat leadership spend right up to the limit.
Why not be honest and show pride in the spending and programs created by Democrats? Why resort to gaslighting and smears? State Rep. Fiorello certainly does not deserve this. And neither does the public who are disgusted with the lack of trustworthy, reliable information.
Calandro is an unaffiliated voter, a former Director of Connecticut’s nonpartisan legislative Office of Fiscal Analysis, consultant, and author on Substack.