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April 26, 2018

Risks in Supporting a New Budget Agreement


Most of us who are of a certain age were raised to not discuss three things with strangers.  Religion, how much we make and politics.  This was so we were considered polite when meeting new people.  Things have certainly changed.  You can blame it on social media, millennials or even Donald Trump.  In the case of Connecticut, talking about politics in even the most genteel places is more popular than talking Red Sox Yankees rivalries.  You can hear politics being discussed everywhere you go in the state.  The line at the convenience store, restaurants and even during a night out at the movies.

You also hear people openly discussing moves to other states to avoid what they feel is the state government’s reliance on new taxes at every turn to try to right the ship of Connecticut’s budget.  So it comes as no surprise – to anyone but a few state legislators – that nine out of ten people surveyed in a recent Sacred Heart University poll think the tax burden in CT is too high.  Let that number sink in.  In today’s divisive political climate, to get agreement of ninety percent (90%) of the people almost seems unheard of.  But the poll conducted by Great Blue Research of Cromwell, CT goes on to state:

“One finding that “should have public officials concerned” is that nearly half of respondents making more than $150,000 a year said they were considering leaving the state within the next five years.”

The state legislators talk about structural problems but, this is one that seems to get swept under the carpet far too frequently.  This is also a problem that has been partly, if not mostly, responsible for deficits over the last several budget cycles.  Millionaires leaving the state make headlines and raise conversations in the media.  A middle class family leaving behind a tax burden for the rest of us to ante up for never makes a headline unless it comes out in polls such as the one referenced.   Even then, too many people throw their arms up in the air and say, “what can we do.”

The state was further damaged, and the legislature was hampered, by the SEBAC deal passed by a democrat majority and signed by Governor Dannel Malloy over the summer.   Nearly twenty-five percent (25%) of the state budget goes toward salaries and benefits for state employees.  Numerous studies have also shown that compensation packages are vastly more lucrative than those in the private sector.  State workers claim they are making concessions but they aren’t significant enough as state payroll has grown every year Malloy has been in office.  Businesses who want to stay competitive in challenging times almost always are forced to lay people off to realize efficiencies that will enable them to remain competitive.  Connecticut is competing with other states for taxpayers.  Alas, that ship has sailed and will not be back in port for another ten years.

This poll would seemingly give conservative budget makers something they have not had in a generation or so, political capital.  Political capital has been a hard commodity for GOP lawmakers to come by.  In 2016 they got a whiff of it from the voters,  The Senate is evenly split and the House Democrats only have a three vote margin to attain a majority.  Malloy’s pockets are turned inside out being a reviled, lame duck and his contentious press conference on Friday was trying to cash in the lint that is all that is left of any political clout he may have.  Republican ascendency comes on the heights of dissatisfaction that people are expressing at the ballot box.  The taxpayers of Connecticut want a new way forward.

These same legislators risk being swept up in this even further eroding tide of tax and spend policies if they vote for any new taxes.  A month ago it was a near certainty that republicans would have their first majority in both houses come 2018.  Possibly even the Governor’s mansion.  This will become enigmatic if they join in any calls for new taxation.  Particularly after pulling off a stunning upset when they passed a no new tax budget just weeks ago.

“My opponent supported higher taxes.”  Period.

Any GOP legislator who votes for a budget that increases taxes will be exploited by democrats, as well as some republicans, come 2018.  This isn’t rocket science.  Palm cards and ads won’t say. “Representative Such-and-Such voted for a bi-partisan budget but…”  They will read “My opponent supported higher taxes.”  Period.   It would also be expected that we would see more candidates having to face primary challengers.  Whereas, sitting democrat lawmakers will face significantly less scrutiny.  They will be able to say that they saved their local schools and that the GOP budget that passed was not brought up for a veto override because it was full of smoke and mirrors.  If that vote is even remembered a year from now.

Malloy is holding seven deuce and the GOP has a pair of jacks in their hand.  By not forcing the override vote, the legislature gave Malloy another seven on the flop.  You can’t let him draw to another seven.  The risks are too high.

 

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