Chris Powell: Of Flint, Hartford and a stadium

With the city’s water system contaminated by lead, this was the headline last week on a news story from Flint, Mich.: "Mothers of Flint Very Frightened for Their Kids."   

The story lacked even one reference to the fathers of Flint, presumably because there are few if any fathers there, the city of 100,000 being, like so many other U.S. cities, more or less a concentration camp for the poor, hapless and fatherless.  

As a result since 2011 Flint has been operating in administrative receivership by Michigan state government. The city was also in state receivership from 2002 to 2004 but it did little lasting good.     

The catastrophe resulted from the current state receiver’s decision to save money by switching the city’s water supply from the metropolitan Detroit system to the Flint River, whose water leached lead from the city water system’s old pipes. As signs of trouble grew, Flint lacked the competent political class needed to take care of itself or evoke the concern of state officials.

So now many children in Flint are at risk of irreversible lead poisoning, a national scandal.   

But Flint’s circumstances, political incompetence arising from comprehensive and perpetual poverty, are common in many cities, including cities in Connecticut,  as indicated by the latest incompetence in Hartford, the $10 million cost overrun in the minor-league baseball stadium the city is building to steal New Britain’s team.  

Nearly everyone outside Hartford knew that the lack of minor-league baseball was not among the city’s problems and that city government would botch the project.  For like Flint, Hartford lacks the independent and engaged middle class necessary to make government work in the public interest. Instead, most ofHartford’s politically involved people are members of the government and welfareclasses -- the dependent classes.

While some Hartford residents have complained about the decision to build the stadium and the cost overrun, there are not enough to make a difference politically.  

Hartford’s new mayor, Luke Bronin, who had nothing to do with the stadium decision, has made what he says is the best settlement available for the cost overrun. The city will split the expense with the minor-league team and the mayor will pursue more financial aid from the state and federal governments to compensate for the city’s unplanned extra contribution.  

Thus Bronin, until recently an aide to Gov. Dan Malloy, inadvertently has exposed the dodge that his former boss hid behind when Hartford began contemplating  the stadium -- a statement that state government would not help fund it.

But like Connecticut’s other impoverished cities, Hartford long has drawn half its budget from state government reimbursement, far more than most municipal governments get, and thus for many years whenever Hartford has wasted money,  half the waste has been state government money.

With the stadium Hartford already has wasted a lot of state money, and if Mayor Bronin obtains more aid from the state and federal governments to reimburse the cost overrun, the city  will be wasting still more.   

The disaster might have been prevented if, instead of purporting to be indifferent to Hartford’s stadium plan, the governor had candidly acknowledged the city’s disproportionate financial dependence on state government, declared the stadium a luxury, and announced that every dollar the city spent on the stadium would be matched by a reduction in state aid to the city.

That instantly would have scuttled the stadium and brought much-needed clarity to Connecticut’s dysfunctional political economy.    Instead, exploding the governor’s pose of neutrality, state government now will be subsidizing not only Hartford’s theft of New Britain’s team but still more ofHartford city government’s incompetence, thus giving all municipalities more incentive for their own incompetence.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.