Been there, done that, the result: 20 years of decline

Here we go again. Connecticut state government is far beyond broke as social conditions worsen. The governor wants huge tax increases and concessions from the state employee unions to restore solvency. The taxpaying class and the government class are at each other’s throats as the governor tries to split the difference.

We know how things turned out 20 years ago. The tax increases — including enactment of a state income tax, whose avoidance had contributed powerfully to Connecticut’s prosperity — turned out to be far bigger than the economies, the people were promised that the income tax would take care of government’s revenue needs forever, and things didn’t get better. Except for the government class, prosperity vanished; there has been no private-sector job growth in the state ever since and Connecticut has lost population relative to the rest of the country.

Why should such an approach work this time?

Once again government’s problem is being mistaken for solvency when it is really efficacy. Government has been fed well. But in some of its most expensive aspects, what does it deliver?

• Vast increases in educational spending over the last 25 years delivered the best compensated teachers in the country but not corresponding improvement in student achievement. To the contrary, city schools have declined to the point of hopelessness, spawning the fad of “magnet” schools, which are presented as tools of racial integration but function mainly to help parents get their children away from the slob culture of the cities and the decline of schools in the inner suburbs.

Control of school costs is actually prohibited by the law requiring binding arbitration for public employee union contracts and the law forbidding school systems from ever reducing their budgets over the previous year’s, even if all their students withdraw. Such laws are maintained for the benefit of school employees, not students or taxpayers.

• While the state Department of Children and Families consumes close to a billion dollars each year, it is entering its third decade of federal court supervision. Its new commissioner says she wants to “wrap services around families” as if the department hasn’t been doing that all along, only to find ever more families around whom “services” need to be “wrapped,” “families” being a sick euphemism, so many families having collapsed under government subsidy for their collapse, the legitmizing of childbearing outside marriage and the resulting neglect and abuse.

• The subsidized collapse of the family has caused the collapse of the cities, destroying their schools, fueling the drug trade and its violence, exploding their criminal justice costs,and driving the middle class out. State government has spent billions on urban infrastructure without any benefit, unable to see that life in the city is almost entirely a matter of the people who live there.

In turn the collapse of the cities has caused complaints about “suburban sprawl,” which government tries to restrict, refusing to accept that the real problem is its own having made cities uninhabitable.

There is no sign that anyone in authority in state government, from Gov. Malloy down, recognizes any of this, recognizes that the current approaches to Connecticut’s most expensive problems don’t work. Rather there are only appeals to do more of the same.

While the governor says he wants a billion dollars’ worth of concessions from the state employee unions in each of the next two years, he has not specified how to save the money even as he would exempt municipal employees from sacrifice, and resistance from the government class is growing quickly.

Most state employee pensions, defenders of the government class say, are not large. But many such pensions are, and most taxpayers have no pensions at all.

Rather than economize, defenders of the government class say, state government should tax the rich more — as if most state income tax revenue isn’t already obtained from the rich, as if this isn’t only what was urged 20 years ago when the income tax was enacted and as if this isn’t an admission that most people not already on its payroll don’t think that government is worth more of their money.

The governor’s budget and tax increases generally don’t rethink the expensive mistaken premises of state government. They just push Connecticut closer to the day when the welfare recipients and public employees will have to fend for themselves.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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