Connecticut faces considerable fiscal and economic problems, and majority lawmakers in Hartford don’t want to talk about them. They’re more interested in “changing the narrative.”
Their resistance to discussing the state’s biggest challenges is understandable. After all, that conversation would quickly lead back to a decade of tax increases and missed opportunities to do something—anything—to rehabilitate our state’s frail economy. All too often, my colleagues complain that they wish people would be more positive about Connecticut, and this failure to recognize the cause and effect of these bad tax and spend policies is frustrating at best.
That resistance was on full display recently during a “Young Earners Prosperity” forum organized by majority Democrats who, fresh off imposing far-reaching tax hikes and business mandates, want to know what it will take to get young people to grow roots here. Early on in the two-and-a-half-hour forum, a young woman expressed the type of concern I hear often from residents of all stripes: “I think Connecticut needs to be a place where the average middle class resident isn’t finding themselves paying an arm and a leg to pay their taxes.” Aside from our state’s economic development commissioner promising Connecticut won’t “be the high cost, high tax state indefinitely,” that was the last of the revenue talk. No legislator acknowledged the tax on meals, Netflix and Spotify, or even the insidious levy on in-app purchases.
Instead, legislators steered conversation on topics such as social justice and climate change, “the existential threat to our continued existence.” College debt, too, though nothing about what’s driving the increasing costs of attending our flagship university and schools within in our state university system. One lawmaker explained “the biggest structural change” he would make in state government is pushing young people to vote. It wasn’t clear where Connecticut’s massive unfunded pension problems ranked on that senator’s priority list.
Talk about phytoplankton got more time in this forum.
In fact, it wasn’t until 15 minutes before the session ended that Connecticut’s pension crunch came up. A brave young soul showed concern about the burden placed upon future generations. Naturally, a seasoned legislator challenged the invited panelist on information he used to describe the indisputable crisis before ignoring the issue altogether. These days, that’s standard legislative fare. If you talk about Connecticut’s troubles, the people behind the wheel—even when you’re invited—make you look like a wet blanket. Legislators engage in deflection and misdirection, but people aren’t buying these well-worn tricks. Until we practice honesty and come clean with the public on these important fiscal issues plaguing our state, the public disdain for politicians will only worsen.
Yes, we know Connecticut has great qualities. As a couple of lawmakers from our region reminded, we’ve got beautiful state parks and beaches, and our location between Boston and New York carries potential. That’s the “narrative” we should sell, and to do otherwise blocks recovery.
Yet “changing the narrative,” as they suggested, is to ignore things critical to that recovery. People and organizations that create jobs want to know that Connecticut’s budget is stable, and that lawmakers are serious about creating a welcoming tax and regulatory landscape.
Democrats’ raid of $170 million in special transportation funds to fill a budget hole as the governor promoted highway tolls? That reeked of instability.
At one point in the forum, a lawmaker explained that it’s time to “find a way to embrace change” while “confronting our fear of doing things a little differently.” Doing things “differently,” though, isn’t so scary if you start small. Majority legislators could begin by finally embracing proposals to strip lawmakers’ mileage payments from pension calculations and block state employees from conducting union business on the taxpayer dime.
That’s the overdue “narrative” we should broadcast to employers, investors and entrepreneurs—that state government is at last willing to install a bit of private sector sensibility.
Prosperity for our state’s young people depends on it.