Connecticut’s government, if not the state’s citizenry, is suffering from an abundance of riches, according to a piece in the Hartford Courant.
“With the state generating record budget surpluses,” Chris Keating writes, “Connecticut legislators are now facing a relatively new situation for a previously cash-strapped state: how much should they cut taxes?”
In large part, it is the spending guardrails installed after Republicans in the General Assembly had achieved near-parity with Democrats several years ago, that had produced the state surplus. Cuts in future spending increases, guardrails that prevent profligate spending, do tend to produce surpluses.
“The state-mandated cap was reconfirmed by both Democrats and Republicans earlier this year,” Keating reminds us. “The fiscal guardrails were enacted by the bipartisan budget of 2017 that was crafted when Republicans had more power in a state Senate tied at 18-18… The latest numbers from the state comptroller’s office shows a projected surplus of $1.58 billion in the state’s general fund in the current fiscal year that ends on June 30. An additional surplus of nearly $250 million is projected in the once-troubled Special Transportation Fund, which includes money from gasoline taxes, fees, grants, and other sources. The latest projections come on the heels of a record-breaking surplus in the general fund last year of $4.3 billion.”
This abundance of riches has excited the usual demands.
What do you do with a burgeoning surplus? There are three possibilities: 1) you spend the surplus on “necessary” expenses or, since a surplus is the net amount of money the General Assembly has overtaxed its citizenry, 2) you return the surplus to hard-pressed taxpayers, or 3) you use the surplus to pay down incurred debt. Connecticut’s present debt is hovering around $53 billion.
Neo-progressives in the General Assembly prefer 1) but will tolerate 2), provided the taxes it collects are returned progressively to the state’s needy population. The state’s debt, incurred by irresponsible legislators, mostly Democrats, will be passed on to future generations, as usual, on the assumption that someone in the distant future, the children and grandchildren of present big spenders, will eventually discharge the ever growing debt.
“Necessary” expenses are those that service the increasing administrative juggernaut that over the past few decades has raised state budget levels from an annual $7.5 billion during the pre-income tax administration of Governor William O’Neil to the present biannual budget bottom line of $50 billion, a more than threefold increase in the past 30 years.
Chris Powell has warned us often enough that “steady increases in state government spending have erased most political pressure to evaluate government agencies and programs for results. Every special interest clamors for more and nearly everyone gets more, and as the most influential special interests are relatively satisfied, few people in those interests or in politics pay much attention to whether anything works well or at all. What major social problem in Connecticut has been solved or even much alleviated?”
For the past 30 years, all the chatter in the General Assembly has been about tax cuts, rare but possible, and, much more frequently, spending increases. The current chatter within the General Assembly is no exception to the general rule. There is, most citizens and reporters in Connecticut cannot help but notice, little to no chatter regarding long term, permanent, spending cuts. And – here’s the rub -- it is spending that drives budget deficits.
On a micro-level, every responsible citizen understands that spending cuts are in order when the average working citizen runs up a debt. But macro-politicians, quivering in fear they may lose a vote, operate on a level of unreality denied to common sense and rational thought. No prison – or, worse, no political rejection -- awaits politicians who operate on the principle that debt accumulation may be assuaged through a beguiling propaganda that appeals to the angelic nature of their constituents.
The operative political principle of neo-progressive legislators in Connecticut’s Democrat dominated legislature is that guardrails that do prevent future spending increases cuts are quite unnecessary in a state enriched by an obscene surplus that should be spent as soon as possible on the latest fashionable “necessity.” And, once spent, spending itself will in the future increase proportionally, producing new debt, spurring a move to increase taxes progressively, but – here comes the saving grace – only upon millionaires and successful working folk who can well afford the burden put upon them by neo-progressive fantasists.