Primaries offer state voters chance for a new direction
Next week, voters in West Haven and Connecticut trek to the polls to select party nominees for both the Democratic and Republican Party tickets. Gov. Dannel Malloy is ending his second term as the state’s chief executive, and it is what politicos call a “wide-open field” for not only the nomination, but who will govern the state for the next four years. In this staunchly “blue” state, we hope voters take a couple of concerns to the polls, not only next week, but in November.
Connecticut has the dubious honor of being one of the three most poorly run states in the country, following Illinois and California – not far behind are New York and New Jersey. Not so mysteriously, all these states are run by and have been run by longtime Democratic majorities. But whatever happens in the next few months, the problems faced by Connecticut transcend party, and must be solved by legislative and executive politicians who see the need for a new direction.
Since the 1970s, Connecticut has expanded government, raised taxes and made the state less hospitable to businesses and wealthier residents. In the 1970s Connecticut was a destination state. With the defense industry as the backbone of the state’s economy, we lived up to our nickname as the “arsenal of the union.”
But the Northeast and Midwest saw a sharp decline in those industries in the 1980s and well into the 1990s. High labor costs, high business costs in the energy sector, primarily, and legislative decisions that saw this declining tax base as a golden goose to be plucked while it could made the state a place to leave – and leave quickly.
While manufacturing exited the state, nothing came in to fill the vacuum. While Connecticut enjoyed a highly educated workforce, there were not enough white collar jobs to make up for the blue collar positions lost. Still, politicians believed expanding government and the budget at three- and four-times the rate of inflation was a winning strategy.
The decline of our state continued through the early 2000s and into today. Now the white-collar jobs in the form of General Electric and other concerns are moving their corporate headquarters out of the state – ironically, they are going to Massachusetts in some instances, another over-spending, over-taxed state.
Meanwhile, the declining tax base has not moved the General Assembly nor the executive to do any real contemplating on where the state should go. As with most politicians of any stripe getting through the next election is the most important thing, not solving the problems that need to be addressed. The proverbial “can” is kicked down the road.
In the last few years, particularly in the waning years of the Malloy administration, the kicking of the can down the road is no longer an option. The state, which suffered in the economic downturn of the late 1980s and 1990s, was hurt further by the downturn of 2007-2008, and it has never recovered.
Instead of making the state attractive to industries and commercial concerns, which bring with them a new injection into the workforce, the General Assembly and the Governor attempted to maintain the status quo. Taxes were raised, new fees added, and with them came the further exodus of younger and wealthier people to other parts of the country. Meanwhile, deficits continues and the nearly $100 million in unfunded liabilities the state has not been addressed Most of that is in the form of generous pension guarantees given to state workers in better days.
The dysfunction of current political class was shown last year with the three-month delay in passing a budget for Fiscal Years 2018-2019. The state ran without a budget because necessary cuts were bypassed while taxes were increased. The old tax-and-spend methodology of generations cannot be sustained.
When voters go to the polls next week and beyond, they must see which candidates offer a new solution to old problems. Connecticut became a debtor state primarily because politicians maintained “a champagne taste on a beer pocketbook.” There is no will to do the hard decision-making necessary.
Candidates both for the General Assembly and the governorship and its secondary offices must offer a new way to get the state out of debt and attractive again. Illinois came close to being the first state in the union to declare bankruptcy. It may not be able to stay out of that condition must longer. Connecticut is not far behind.