Despite imposing during the last six years Connecticutâ€™s two largest tax increases, state government is running its third straight big annual deficit, this week causing Governor Malloy to spend the emergency reserve and to suspend some financial aid to municipalities. The numbers are a judgment against the administration of failure and wrongheadedness. Yet every week the press releases still fly out of the governorâ€™s office, announcing millions in discretionary grants being sent hither and yon, seeming to proclaim obliviousness.
Still, the governor deserves a little sympathy, for he alone is dealing with the problem somewhat.
The municipalities just whine about it, though the governorâ€™s reduction in their aid is an invitation to them to obtain concessions from their employee unions just as the governor is seeking concessions from the state employee unions.
Having left empty the fabled â€śsuggestion boxâ€ť of a few years ago that was supposed to be filled with proposals for greater efficiency in state government, state employee union leaders speak only of raising income taxes on the rich, as if tax rates should be set not by a careful calculation of fairness and effectiveness but by whatever is necessary for the unionsâ€™ contentment, as if they have first claim to everyone elseâ€™s income.
While he complained this week about leaks in the roof of Gampel Pavilion, University of Connecticut womenâ€™s basketball coach Geno Auriemma was no help either. At a rally of real estate agents at the state Capitol, Auriemma admitted, â€śI donâ€™t have any answers. Iâ€™m not running for anything, nor do I want to.â€ť He too just wants money.
Auriemma also told the agents: â€śIâ€™m in the recruiting business. Youâ€™re in the recruiting business. When people have a choice, you better give them a reason to pick you.â€ť
But through its budgeting, state government already engages in a lot of recruiting: for government employees, welfare recipients, and, having made itself a â€śsanctuary state,â€ť illegal aliens.
Meanwhile Republican legislators just cautiously pick around the edges of the budget for small savings in the future that wonâ€™t alienate anyone in the present. Asked this week why state government shouldnâ€™t try to reduce teacher pension benefits, since the governor is trying to push teacher pension costs onto municipalities, Senate Republican leader Len Fasano defaulted. Instead Fasano expounded on what he called his â€śtendernessâ€ť for teachers, whose unions, far from being tender themselves, are actually the stateâ€™s most fearsome special interest, constituting the largest politically active group in every town.
With an excess of â€śtendernessâ€ť for the teacher unions, the Senate last week voted unanimously to repeal a law that would end social promotion in schools, a law establishing competence examinations for graduation from high school. Trying a little â€śtendernessâ€ť itself last month, the State Board of Education canceled a plan to incorporate student test scores in teacher evaluations.
While state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, a Democrat who recently became a candidate for governor, is supposed to be a righteous numbers guy, this week he issued a statement denouncing President Trumpâ€™s removal of FBI Director James Comey.
â€śWe must speak out, we must stay engaged, we must stay active, and we must fight back,â€ť Lembo said, though Connecticut already has seven members of Congress, all Democrats, making a very good political living on Trump issues, which involve the federal government, not state government. If Connecticutâ€™s numbers guy has any idea of what to do about the stateâ€™s catastrophic budget numbers, he hasnâ€™t yet shared them, though of course he too well might prefer to run against Trump.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.