There are many things to be thankful for here in Connecticut. Despite our many foibles, missed opportunities, and policy mistakes, our state remains a truly charming place to live in. This is not just a matter of beautiful towns, nice cities, or the natural beauty of our hills and shoreline, but also a matter of hard data.
Connecticut, for instance, ranks near the top in life expectancy, and we have one of the lowest uninsured rates both for children and adults in the country. Our public schools are among the best in the country, and we have the fourth-lowest crime rate. To top it off, we remain one of the wealthiest states in the nation, with very high wages and incomes.
All these outcomes, obviously, are not borne out of chance or accident, but the result of decades of policy choices made at the state level. Connecticut embraced Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act, and the state made big investments in public health for years that clearly have paid off. We were the first state in the country to pass a paid sick days law, and we have one of the best paid family and medical leave programs in the nation. We not only spend a lot of money in our schools, but this commitment has been there for years. We invest in public services, like good police departments, and have not been shy to call on their mistakes and adopt reforms when they have fallen short doing their job. We have actively tried to push wages upwards, both with a higher minimum wage and by protecting the right to unionize.
These good policies and outcomes, however, should not lead to complacency. Because for all the good, nice things we are doing in our state and all these great outcomes we should be both proud and thankful for, there is a lot more work to be done. Because as nice as Connecticut is, plenty of families in our state are still struggling to make ends meet, inequality runs rampant, our economy is growing below its potential, and racial and social disparities are not just wide, but often actively enforced by our own laws and decisions.
Case in point: Connecticut is a very expensive state, with a very high cost of living. Contrary to popular belief, this is not due to high taxes or state spending (Connecticut is, in fact, pretty average), but to our high housing, transportation, and childcare costs. State government can do little to lower gas (our taxes on it are also pretty average), eggs, airline tickets, or used car prices, but it can do a lot to keep housing prices in check by building more of it, both affordable and market rate. Transportation costs are just another way to say “housing”; long commutes and bad transit are a result of policy failures in those areas. Childcare is part of our education system and family policy, and keeping it expensive is a policy choice.
Racial and economic disparities are also the result of state policies. Connecticut has massive differences both in resources and outcomes between its school districts. We also have areas with very high concentrated poverty that track very, very closely with racial segregation. School finance laws are a policy choice, as is our heavy dependence on property taxes for education funding. With our cities and towns heavily segregated by income and race, we have lower income mobility than other peer states, again because we choose to do it that way.
This word, choice, is especially important, because Connecticut Democratic policymakers have been, in fact, fairly complacent in recent years. Despite overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly and Democratic Governor, they have been extremely reluctant to tackle any of these issues head on, or even update some of our current legislation to protect workers.
Lawmakers failed to pass, for instance, very modest changes on our paid sick days legislation that currently covers 12% of our workforce. They did not bring to a vote a predictable scheduling bill that would have helped workers with kids to take care of their families. They did not look at ways to fund childcare for all, or fully expand healthcare coverage for all undocumented residents. They refused to consider legislation that could tackle our high housing costs or persistent economic and racial disparities.
Sure, Connecticut is a very nice state, and our state government does many things right. There is, however, much, much left to do to truly become a place that embodies our values. We can be thankful for how far we have come, but we also have to call elected officials to aim higher. Time to be more ambitious.