Chris Powell: Will 'starve the beast' work in Conn.?

Original  Godzilla  film poster in 1954.

Original Godzilla film poster in 1954.

From his remarks to reporters last week at the Crocodile Club lunch at Lake Compounce in Bristol, the Republican candidate for Connecticut governor, Bob Stefanowski, seems to think it's not important to tell voters how he would cut the half of state government that is financed by the state income tax, which he wants to eliminate over eight years. 

“We're ready and happy to talk about it," Stefanowski said, but he still has not   done so specifically. "I don't think the argument is about what the details of people's plans are," Stefanowski added, because there is such a "stark contrast" between him and Ned Lamont, the Democratic candidate for governor. Lamont, Stefanowski said, "is going to raise taxes and I'm going to try like heck to get rid of the income tax.” 

Yes, telling voters the consequences of his platform before the election might spoil the lovely dream of escaping the income tax. Since he won the Republican primary with nothing but that lovely dream, maybe Stefanowski thinks he can keep avoiding specifics because a candidate's credibility doesn't matter. 

Stefanowski doesn't seem to have noticed that he got only 29 percent of the Republican primary vote and that only 20 percent of Connecticut's voters are Republicans. Or maybe he doesn't think that matters either. 

But maybe even if a governor had no budget priorities and just began to cut spending across the board -- pursuing the good, old conservative platform, "starve the beast" -- much help might be volunteered to him, if resentfully. 

Maybe just reversing the dynamics of budgeting would spark the necessary reforms. That's because all the spending-dependent groups in Connecticut long have been on the same side, clamoring together to increase taxes so they all could get more. 

This has always worked for them, since, despite the whining about spending cuts, total spending in state government always increases and the only "cut" is in its  rate of increase.  

If a governor was determined to reduce or even just freeze spending and had enough support in the General Assembly to sustain his veto, the spending-dependent groups might be forced to split up and scrutinize each other for inessentials and excesses. Knowing the tricks of budgeting, these groups might make excellent auditors. 

For example, advocates for the mentally handicapped, 2,000 of whom are always languishing on a waiting list for placement in group homes, might start caring about the expense of the paid day off enjoyed by state and municipal employees in the name of Columbus. They might even question collective bargaining and binding arbitration for government employees, policies that put the compensation of those employees ahead of all other purposes in government. 

Employees of nursing homes and nonprofit groups with whose salaries state government long has been stingy might protest the extravagant pay at the University of Connecticut. 

Passengers of the Metro-North commuter railroad, where maintenance is always neglected, might protest the bus highway to nowhere. 

Parents of special-education students for whom services are hard to obtain might denounce the huge but never tabulated cost of social promotion in the schools. 

They all could have fun picking through the bonding package. 

If Stefanowski really thinks that most voters care only about taxes, let him run on "starve the beast." 

The beast does need to go on a severe diet. But if voters are more sophisticated, Stefanowski better start explaining. 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.