March 12, 2018
Other Voices

More taxes, pipe dreams won’t revive Connecticut

Chris Powell 

Peggy Lee's 1969 hit song "Is That All There Is?" could have been the fanfare for the report issued recently by the state Commission on Fiscal Sustainability and Economic Growth.

The commission, composed of business executives, was thought to be stacked against government employee unions, thereby giving hope of some critical analysis as Connecticut sinks deeper into insolvency. But the commission proposed mainly more tax increases and pipe dreams.

State income tax rates, the commission said, should be reduced but sales and business taxes should be raised to recover all the lost revenue.

While those tax recommendations were described as revenue-neutral, the commission urged raising the gasoline tax, thereby taking much pressure off state government to economize elsewhere in favor of transportation. This wouldn't be revenue-neutral.

The commission also proposed letting municipalities levy their own half-percent sales tax on top of their property tax. This wouldn't be revenue-neutral either. Mainly it would ease pressure on municipalities to control their biggest cost, labor.

The commission's recommendations about government labor costs were weak. State employee pensions and benefits should be removed from collective bargaining and set by statute, as they are in most states, the commission said. But this is barely a start and cannot be done until the current state employee contract expires in nine years.

The commission would modify binding arbitration of government employee union contracts, ending last-best-offer arbitration and authorizing arbiters to write contracts. But retaining any binding arbitration will leave government labor costs beyond democratic control.

The commission proposed raising Connecticut's minimum wage by nearly 50 percent to $15 per hour over four years, as if all private-sector businesses in the state are rolling in money and as if the commission wasn't created precisely because they're not and because the state's economy has been shrinking.

The commission proposed reducing the state budget by $1 billion but of course was vague about how.

Nothing recommended by the commission would get state government out of its projected short-term deficits in the billions of dollars, much less its projected long-term deficits in the tens of billions.

And then came the pipe dreams: "Reinvest" in transportation and cities, start a science and technical university in a city, and undertake "growth initiatives" as if state government hasn't been "reinvesting" in cities for decades only for their demographics to keep declining.

Having barely noticed state government's labor costs even as the University of Connecticut lately has been unable to explain why it kept paying one of its employees his $200,000 salary for months after he disappeared, the commission offered no recommendations about welfare policy's perpetuation of poverty, child neglect, and urban decay, nor about the high cost of social promotion in the schools and the failure of most high school graduates to master high school work.

For decades business leaders in Connecticut have meekly gone along with the destructive trends of state government, hoping vainly to mitigate them a little. The commission's report is an echo of that political uselessness, and thus another omen of the state's doom.

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

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