Connecticut, Governor Malloy told a business group last week, is being brought low by its political culture of postponing tough choices. As a result, the governor said, the state now is without the revenue to maintain and improve its transportation system. Thus the governor suggested that the state hasn’t raised taxes enough. He added that he is proudest of what he considers his toughest decision -- to increase funding of the state employee pension system.
Yes, state government has been avoiding tough choices for a long time but the governor himself may be the worst offender. For raising taxes is always the easy choice and the Malloy administration’s two record-breaking tax increases have only impoverished the state, feeding more spending and leading to more budget deficits.
Of course this habit hasn’t been peculiar to Malloy. Elected governor in 1990 after promising to prevent a state income tax, Lowell P. Weicker Jr. quickly broke his promise upon realizing that preventing an income tax would require tougher choices - confronting unionized state and municipal employees and restricting welfare benefits to reduce antisocial behavior.
It was the same with Gov. Jodi Rell, who proposed a huge tax increase in the name of solving all the problems of municipal education, as if those problems have anything to do with money. Even Democratic legislators let Rell’s proposal fall flat.
The tough choice with state employee pensions isn’t to fund them better but to phase them out completely - not because they are so extravagant for most state employees but because state employee wage and insurance compensation by itself is more than competitive with private-sector compensation and because Connecticut’s future governors and legislatures are never likely to have the political virtue to avoid diverting pension fund contributions to general purposes.
The tough choice with education isn’t to spend more on it, as Malloy always has been inclined to do, but to stop operating it by social promotion, to act on the miserable student test scores showing that most high school graduates never master math and English because they don’t have to master anything to graduate.
The tough choice with government employee labor policy is not to keep making the unions happy because they control the majority political party but to repeal the laws that prohibit controlling labor costs.
The tough choice with poverty policy is to stop doing what only perpetuates dependence.
Disparaging legislators who like to discuss transportation projects, the governor told the business group that it’s “really fun to say we’re going to spend more money.”
But the governor has had more such fun than anyone else during his seven years at the top of state government. He repeatedly has celebrated expensive inessentials like the bus highway between New Britain and Hartford and the commuter railroad between New Haven and Springfield and every week he produces excited announcements of state funding for goodies all around the state as if state government isn’t running a huge deficit again and as if the governor himself isn’t simultaneously warning of financial disaster.
The governor is entitled to his opinion of his proudest moment, but improving the security of government employee pensions may not win him much admiration from most state residents, who get no closer to pensions than the taxes they pay so government employees can have them.