By CHRIS POWELL
When Bob Stefanowski was the Republican nominee for governor two years ago, he was mocked by Democrats for being light on the issues - for advocating repeal of the state income tax without specifying how to reduce government spending. Even so Stefanowski came within 40,000 votes of winning the election - a matter of failing to change only 20,000 minds - and he seems inclined to run again.
With an essay in The Wall Street Journal last week, "What Isn't the Matter with Hartford?," Stefanowski wrote about what's wrong in the capital city's government and state government generally, and he specified some policy alternatives. Whereupon Democrats around the state went apoplectic, denouncing Stefanowski personally but never confronting the issues he raised.
Two years ago the Democrats wanted specifics from Stefanowski. The ones he gave them last weekend seemed to wound them deeply. Stefanowski cited Hartford's long decline - in population, business, education, crime, personal income, health, capitulation to municipal employee unions, unfunded pensions, and high property taxes. It was a diagnosis few would argue with, not just in regard to Hartford but to all Connecticut's cities. Indeed, Democrats themselves often cite most elements of Stefanowski's diagnosis when they seek more money for cities.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin didn't argue with Stefanowski's diagnosis. The mayor simply dismissed it. Stefanowski, Bronin sneered, has "zero understanding of the city." But Stefanowski understood Hartford well enough to recall that a few months ago the mayor pandered to demands to "defund the police," reducing the city police budget by a million dollars, only to face rising violence and have to ask Governor Lamont to send state troopers to the city.
The alternative policies Stefanowski's essay supported - more school choice, charter schools, linking school funding to student choice, resistance to government employee unions, curtailing government pensions - are of course arguable and don't fully address the urban problem. But they acknowledge the failure of Connecticut's urban policies, as state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, with remarkable fairness, himself implicitly did in his response to Stefanowski. Winfield asked: "Can someone tell me what my party has as an urban agenda?"
Winfield's question is answered easily enough. The Democratic agenda for the cities remains social disintegration, welfare policy that destroys the family, social promotion that destroys education, subservience to the government employee unions that destroys public finance - and a refusal to audit anything no matter how long it fails to achieve its nominal objectives. That is, perpetuating poverty and dependence.
Connecticut could have used this debate in the gubernatorial campaign two years ago - or 30 years ago, before the state income tax was enacted and locked failing policies into place. Better late than never, but policy failure in Connecticut is now so profitable for so many that any candidate who dares to question it with specifics must prepare for the nastiest personal abuse.
LEONE'S BIG PAYDAY
More Democratic exploitation at the state Capitol escaped much notice last week.
Having just won re-election, state Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, accepted Governor Lamont's offer of a job as an adviser to the transportation commissioner and isn't taking the legislative oath this week. Leone has served in the General Assembly for 15 years at the low legislative salary, but his salary probably will be more than doubled at the Transportation Department.
Since state government pensions are calculated from an employee's highest-earning years, Leone has secured a big payday even while deceiving his constituents and imposing on Stamford the cost of a special election.
TAXED FOR NOTHING
Maybe the half-percent increase in the state income tax that took effect this week will prompt a few people to ponder these policy failures. The tax increase is to fund a program of paid family and medical leave. But since the program will give people only a chance to get their own money back, it provides nothing they couldn't have accomplished for themselves with an ordinary savings account at a bank.
A savings account would be far superior, since it could be tapped for any emergency. Since the program is so restricted, many will never qualify for it. For them it's just another tax increase.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.