Malloy feeds machine: Who has a better idea?

Grouse at Gov. Malloy all you want, but during the election campaign, as the Democratic nominee, he said he would raise taxes even as his Republican opponent pledged not to. At budget briefings last week, the governor and his staff outlined how he proposes to give Connecticut what it voted for: big income, sales and gasoline tax increases.While “shared sacrifice” lately has been the governor’s slogan, last week it seemed that municipal employees and particularly teachers would escape sacrifice. Not only would the governor maintain current levels of teacher salary reimbursements (euphemized as “aid to local education”) but in raising the sales tax he would give municipalities a small cut of the new revenue, most of which also will be paid in raises to teachers, which is where such “aid” and the liquidation of student services have gone for years. Asked to quantify the sacrifice he would seek from the state employee unions, Malloy answered, “More than you think,” elaborating that he’d be negotiating “very aggressively.” Apparently for the first time he even threatened layoffs. He said his budget would be built on concessions from the unions, and if they didn’t cooperate there would be either “a shredding of the safety net” for the poor or “thousands of people unemployed.” Is the governor ready for a fight or at least a game of chicken with this unpopular but powerful group to give political cover to his tax increases?Other than the hope that many of the infirm and indigent elderly could be diverted from nursing homes to less expensive care, the governor and his aides did not offer any big ideas about changing premises in state government. The touted agency consolidations, which will produce only trivial savings, are only a pretense of structural change. But government in Connecticut being as ravenous as it is ineffectual, Malloy may be given credit just for trying to freeze it at current spending levels while the private economy collapses underneath it. And while no net tax increase can be good, no one in authority in state government before Malloy has concretely proposed to repeal many of the nonsensical sales tax exemptions, like those for haircuts and car washes.And of course, since the election campaign produced no big thinking, not much big thinking could have been expected from Malloy in the three months since. Staffing the new administration and assembling a budget that would simply feed the machine of government for another year is probably all any governor elected in such circumstances could do.The Republican state chairman and some other Republicans were quick, however, with their general criticism of tax increases but offered nothing more, not an alternative budget or even one idea for changing policy so spending could be cut. Indeed, if, during the recent campaign, the Republican nominee for governor had proposed and emphasized a few specific policy changes, he might have been elected. Instead he and other Republicans left the impression that nothing particularly intelligent could be done. Republicans will have another opportunity to define themselves with opposition to Malloy’s budget, but only if they can specify how they’d change policy. While Malloy has joked that the best thing for legislators to do with his budget would be to enact it and then blame him, Democratic legislators may be awfully nervous about all those tax increases, and the right sort of clamor might maneuver them into exacting more than Malloy’s cosmetic economies. If, with enough clamor, Egypt can throw off a parasitic regime, maybe even Connecticut can.Really, why must teachers always be treated like royalty and everyone else like peasants? Why is so much expensive public policy merely remedial, never getting at the cause of Connecticut’s decline, from the high school courses taught to most students in the state university and community college systems, to the coddling and encouraging of fatherlessness done by the Department of Children and Families, to the pouring of money into the cities, which only disintegrate the more that is done in the name of helping them? Why is Connecticut government’s only inviolable service not Malloy’s vaunted “social safety net” but the provision of pensions to public employees?With his budget, Malloy at least has had the courage to risk making enemies. Who has the courage to offer an alternative? Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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