Campaigning last year Gov. Lamont promised “structural change” in state government, but the budget he proposed last week fulfills that promise only in taxing, not spending.
The governor would blanket state highways with tolls, repeal dozens of sales-tax exemptions, raise municipal property taxes by requiring towns to contribute to the state teacher pension fund, cancel scheduled reductions in taxes on corporations and hospitals, punitively tax plastic shopping bags and vaping products, and put a big return deposit on wine and liquor bottles in the hope that they won’t be returned and the state can keep the deposits. And for what?
Just so spending can continue to increase at the usual rate and to maintain the contentment of the state and municipal employee unions, from whom the governor asks only a reduction in the rate of increase of their pensions.
In the largest sense the governor’s budget isn’t structural change at all. It is more of the same going back to enactment of the state income tax in 1991 through the big tax increases since, taking more from the private economy only to feed the machine of government and sustain the status quo.
In the last half century have Connecticut’s cities improved or just grown more impoverished and demoralized? Has public policy been reducing poverty or manufacturing it? With most community college and state university students now requiring remedial high school courses, has education policy produced more skilled workers and better citizens? And with state and municipal employees costing more every year despite their pretended concessions, is government more efficient?
Lamont’s budget addresses none of these questions.
Instead it engages in ever more sleight of hand. As the Yankee Institute notes, sales tax revenue from cars will be diverted from the transportation fund to the general fund to cause a transportation fund deficit justifying tolls. (So much for that transportation “lockbox” just credulously inserted into the state Constitution.) Savings on state employee medical insurance will be extracted from hospitals, which have their own union problems.
Repeal of the business entity tax will be laughable amid the extension of the surcharge on corporation profits and the increase of the minimum wage. The latter will be undertaken on the insane premise that pushing a broom or passing sandwiches through a window creates enough value to support a fatherless family of six and doesn’t devalue the wages of skilled people who have lived more responsibly.
The governor’s tax proposals are all so unattractive that they may be suspected as a ploy to induce people to beg him to break his campaign pledge not to increase state income tax rates. After all, he already has broken his pledge against tolls, so why not break more and get past them right away?
But events might raise other possibilities. While in his budget address Lamont spoke cheerfully about gaining cooperation from the state employee unions to achieve the modest savings on pensions, they immediately rejected him. Someday a governor may take offense at the claim that the people cannot have a government without union permission.
Further, the governor actually pleaded for possibilities. “When we differ,” he said, “don’t hold a press conference. Come talk to me. Let’s take a breath and suggest a better alternative.”
So, Republicans and other complainers, where’s your budget?