What are Hartford's big problems? Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy suggests that they are the lack of a big-league hockey team and a deficient formula for state financial aid to the city's school system. But Connecticut has been there, done that, and gotten the bill if not the T-shirt. Proposing to spend $250 million to renovate what used to be the Hartford Civic Center arena -- now the XL Center, naming rights having been sold -- the governor is soliciting the New York Islanders to leave their arena in Brooklyn.
It's unclear why the Islanders would respond with anything except a laugh, since Hartford proved itself unable to support big-league hockey when the Whalers departed, in 1997. As state government began contemplating still another subsidy for the Whalers in 1996, the Journal Inquirer reported that the team had gotten at least $67 million from the state since 1992 and that this had equated to a subsidy of about $32 per Whalers ticket purchased over five years.
While it thought that it had plenty of money to subsidize hockey back then, state government was failing to put aside the money necessary to maintain the solvency of the state employee pension fund, whose unfunded liabilities now are cannibalizing the rest of state government. Still the governor imagines that the state has money to subsidize hockey in Hartford. As for state aid to municipal schools, the governor's proposal on the subject seems to be part of a scheme to balance the state budget by cutting aid to all but the most impoverished cities and towns.
This will force most towns either to raise property taxes or get concessions from their municipal employee unions, the largest of which represent teachers. What the governor proposes may be fairer taxation, but people being taxed more still will be right to resent it, because state government has been tinkering with its school aid formula since the state Supreme Court decision in Horton v. Meskill, in 1977 without any substantial improvement in educational results in the schools that were supposed to be helped. Connecticut's evidence of almost 40 years is that school financing has little bearing on student performance -- that student performance is mainly a matter of parenting, with most children in poor cities and towns being products of the welfare system and thus having no fathers and only incompetent mothers.
Almost four decades have passed since Connecticut began its school-aid formula approach to education. The only reason to continue that approach is to delay recognizing the social problem and welfare policy's responsibility for it.
BANKRUPTCY WON'T VAPORIZE HARTFORD
In an editorial the other day The Hartford Courant called on the rest of the state to rescue Hartford city government from its insolvency, as if state government isn't even more insolvent. The Courant gave the impression that if Hartford filed for bankruptcy, as Mayor Luke Bronin has said the city might have to, all the good things in the city would disappear, causing a lot of damage to the suburbs.
Of course, such suggestions are nonsense. Bankruptcy would leave Hartford with its hospitals, museums, and colleges -- would leave the city even with the incompetently built minor-league baseball stadium city that government decided to undertake at a cost of $50 million (now probably more than $70 million) shortly before discovering that city government was facing a budget deficit of equal size.
No, bankruptcy would merely restructure the city's debts, which are owed primarily to its employees and retired employees and bondholders -- the parties who long have enabled and profited from the financial irresponsibility of city government. In a bankruptcy they would have to return some of their profits -- that's all.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.