Legislators thrilled to avoid doing what Connecticut needs

Concluding the 2018 session of the General Assembly on May 9, legislators congratulated themselves on a bipartisan budget that bequeaths mammoth deficits to themselves and the new governor next year. This was no great service to a state that badly needs structural changes to its operations, but legislators could have considered it a triumph for themselves, as it postponed those tough decisions beyond the November election. No wonder they were giddy about it.

The Connecticut Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf reports that the status quo was maintained with the budget by borrowing money from hospital reimbursements and spending one-time tax revenue that had resulted from a change in federal tax law, revenue that was supposed to be put into the state’s emergency reserve. This tactic will enlarge the budget deficit awaiting state government next year, but then with Donald Trump as president, maybe there won’t be a next year.

This time, for once, the Republicans were more cynical than Democrats. For while the Democrats really believe that transferring more money from the private sector to the government and welfare classes is the highest purpose of government, Republicans at least have declared themselves in favor of curtailing the advantages of government employee unions. But to obtain a status quo budget and reduce campaign controversy, the Republicans withdrew their proposals that were offensive to the unions.

When the Republican labor proposals became the impediment to a status quo budget as the session drew to its close, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, remarked, “There’s no way with 25 1/2 hours to go that major structural changes in how government operates are going to go forward.” Of course the legislature and the governor also have had no time for major structural changes in government operations for decades, and still there was no time this year even as it was widely reported that Connecticut’s economy has been contracting and the state’s economic performance is now nearly the worst in the nation.

Indeed, this year’s small attempts at doing something to get government’s finances under control quickly became jokes.

The Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth recommended only more tax increases.

The Municipal Accountability Review Board was established to supervise Hartford city government’s finances as the price of what was supposed to be $40 million in emergency state aid to prevent the city from filing for bankruptcy. But Governor Malloy construed the legislation as authority for state government to assume responsibility for nearly all of Hartford’s long-term debt, more than $500 million, thereby relieving the city of responsibility for its longstanding incompetence and corruption.

Then the review board approved a “solvency” plan for the city that has the city budget returning to deficits after only three years.

Financial issues were not neglected because the legislature had more important business.

As usual the session concentrated on trivia, like outlawing “bump stocks” for guns as if they won’t be obtainable through other states until the federal government outlaws them, and requiring schools to teach about genocides in history as if most Connecticut high school graduates don’t fail to master basic English and math.

Legislators continue to hope that such pious posturing will be mistaken for political leadership.


Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.