Dannel Malloy

Don Pesci: Hartford is the canary in the Conn. mineshaft

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, one of America’s oldest and best museums. The financially and sociologically stressed city still has many impressive cultural institutions, mostly dating back to its long economic heyday as a manufacturing center and “The Insurance Capital of the World,’’ when it had a large comfortable middle class and quite a few rich folks, too. Mark Twain probably was its most famous resident.

Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, one of America’s oldest and best museums. The financially and sociologically stressed city still has many impressive cultural institutions, mostly dating back to its long economic heyday as a manufacturing center and “The Insurance Capital of the World,’’ when it had a large comfortable middle class and quite a few rich folks, too. Mark Twain probably was its most famous resident.

According to a story in a Hartford paper, the city’s mayor, Luke Bronin, a rising star in state politics, “declined to comment on the dispute” between Hartford teachers and their nominal patron, the Hartford Board of Education. The dispute is about contracts and the inability of the people of Hartford to finance years of overspending.

A few months ago, Bronin, unable to meet his contractual obligations, sought a bailout from state taxpayers. Bronin leapt from the Malloy administration frying pan, where he served as then Gov. Dannel Malloy’s chief counsel, directly into the fire as mayor of a city teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and his former boss was only too happy to bail out his protege by flooding the city with state tax balm.

The Hartford school board is seeking concession from teacher union representatives, and the concessions will, if ever they bear fruit, make future state bailouts less burdensome to an all-Democrat political hegemon that may, under the enlightened administration of newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont, be less inclined to bail out Connecticut cities teetering precariously on the edge of bankruptcy.

The concessions that the Hartford Board of Education wishes to wrest from its teachers' unions are curative, which is to say they will help in overcoming crippling future deficits, while state bailouts are palliative; they simply put off an effective remedy until a more favorable moment – which, of course, never arrives. “Among the concessions sought by the school board,” we are told, “is a reduction in sick days from 20 to 15, two years of pay freezes, followed by a one percent increase in the third year, and a switch from a preferred provider medical plan to a health savings account.” In addition, “the board suggested eliminating a higher tier of pay for workers who have earned a master’s degree plus 60 additional credits, and reducing the number of union officers who are detached, with pay, from day to day district work from three to one.”

All these remedies reduce the municipal cost of labor, and it is the cost of labor that has made beggars of our state’s larger cities.

The state itself should take a lesson from this moment. The cost of labor in state government also produces the same set of seemingly intractable problems. Connecticut’s recurring deficits cannot be traced to an insufficiency of taxes, which have tripled in the course of four governors.

The crunch is coming, and it may arrive on Lamont’s lap during his first term. He would be wise not to pet the tiger. There was plenty of petting during Lamont’s first speech as governor: “I am a strong believer in labor, and now is the time to show that collective bargaining works in tough times, as well as good times. As our liabilities continue to grow faster than our assets, together we have to make the changes necessary to ensure that retirement security is a reality for our younger, as well as our older, state employees, and do that without breaking the bank.”

There are more curves in those few sentences than there are in the usual Connecticut cow path. Will Lamont present in his budget a straight path to prosperity – or not. The price of government in Connecticut has become too costly; how will Lamont reduce it so that the expenditures of the father will not be visited upon the sons, “yea even to the third and fourth generation.”

Executive director of AFSCME Council 4 Jody Barr and other labor leaders met with Lamont at the governor’s mansion a week after he had been sworn in as governor, and how did that go? Barr emerged from the meeting hopeful, according to an account by Christine Stuart of CTNewJunkie, “Barr said the governor has invited labor to be part of the process… his members have participated in the transition and are offering up ideas on how to improve state government… He said they will be at the table, but that it won’t a table where they negotiate more concessions… We’re all hopeful he’s going to bridge this fiscal thing,” Barr said. “It gives us hope we can get through it.”

One cannot drive a straight line through such oracular pronouncements.

Sometime in mid-February, Lamont will be presenting his budget to the General Assembly. If the governor’s bargaining session with union heads over contract negotiations were to be concluded BEFORE that date, the twists and turns in Lamont’s pre-contractual pronouncements will have been straightened out before the legislature decides to sign off on a budget document that very well may visit the expenditures of the fathers and mothers upon the sons and daughters of Connecticut, yea even to the third and fourth generation.

It’s perfectly reasonable for a state to give a low approval rating to a governor who deals in such budget necromancy. Dannel Malloy’s approval rating on his retirement from office, we now know, was 20 percent, the second lowest in the nation. Lamont tells us that he doesn't to wish to lose his shot. If so, he'd better shoot straight.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist.


Chris Powell: Malloy leaves feeling the ingratitude of the great unwashed

Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2016,

Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2016,

From the many valedictory interviews he gave to journalists last week, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy seems to be departing as bitter as Connecticut is about his eight years in office.

Malloy says he meant all along to be unpopular by always doing the right thing, apparently presuming that the public always perceives the right thing as the wrong thing. While civic engagement and literacy indeed have continued their collapse during Malloy's administration, people remain entitled to their opinion, and the governor isn't leaving them persuaded. But even as he retires as Connecticut's most disliked governor in modern times, he should be enjoying the last laugh, since he did persuade enough people when it counted, twice getting the most votes for governor.

Malloy can't acknowledge it, but there are reasons for being unhappy with him quite apart from his supposedly always doing the right thing for the ungrateful great unwashed.

During his re-election campaign he said he wouldn't raise taxes, but, returned to office, he raised them hugely. (Was lying doing the right thing?) While portraying himself as a hands-on administrator, he was brazenly indifferent to misconduct and incompetence in state government and sometimes sought to conceal it. He pandered to political correctness and proclaimed it as sound policy. A Democrat, he candidly told the government employee unions, his party's base, "I am your servant," and in this he kept his word, making his highest priority the preservation of government employee compensation.

In one interview last week the governor even attributed the defeat of some Republican state senators to their supposed bigotry against homosexuals. The senators, Malloy charged again, had voted against his nominee for chief justice of the state Supreme Court because he is gay, not for his having been part of the court's majority that presumed to erase capital punishment from the state constitution. Yet the nomination was hardly mentioned in the recent state legislative campaigns. Mostly the Democrats hung President Trump around the Republicans' necks. Malloy's charge is still hard to believe, but thank God if something in the election had nothing to do with Trump.

As with any administration, Malloy's did some good things, and his office last week issued a lovely report enumerating what he thinks they are. For example, he hastened Connecticut's move away from drug criminalization; increased medical insurance for the poor and resisted the Trump administration's malicious sabotaging of universal coverage; nearly eliminated homelessness among military veterans, and improved Bradley International Airport.

But state government remains grossly insolvent and overextended and all that good stuff was peanuts against the failures Malloy never confronted: the failure of social promotion to educate, the failure of unconditional welfare to lift people to self-sufficiency, the failure of the contentment of the government class to trickle down to taxpayers, and the failure of ever-increasing taxes and regulation to grow the private sector, which finances everything.

The better high school graduation rate Malloy often touted is deceitful when most graduates learn little and need remediation. No matter how much is spent in their name, Connecticut's cities grow poorer and more demoralized and depraved. And, perhaps the key measures, under Malloy the state's population declined relative to the rest of the country and its economy shrank.

Malloy was left a disgraceful mess and is bequeathing one to his successor. But then of course everything always could be worse.

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

Don Pesci: 'So sorry to have left you a mess'

Autumn in Connecticut?

Autumn in Connecticut?

“Connecticut Gov.-elect Ned Lamont says outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy has ‘done a lot of thinking about transition…’– WTNH News 8After lunch, Governor Malloy and Gov. -Elect ] Lamont have a ‘frank and honest’ conversation with each other. Throughout, Malloy – approval rating 15 -- appears to be carefree, strangely excited. The burden of governing has been lifted from his shoulders. When his term ends, he will kick the dust of Connecticut from his feet, move to Massachusetts and teach courses at his old alma mater, Boston College. Lamont is restrained, his characteristic ebullience gone, now that he faces the reality of governing a state in the dumps.

Malloy: … reason to be depressed. According to one analysis, your margin of victory in the race was larger even than mine during my first campaign. Imagine that. You have in your corner the large cities, most of the state’s media and – big surprise – portions of the state that have always gone Republican. Right now, you are very well positioned. You have the General Assembly laying like a cat in your lap, purring. Why, President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney can hardly contain himself. He no longer will have to deal with Themis Klarides or Len Fasano; tough customers, those two. You can do whatever you want. It’s 2011 all over again. Be happy.

Lamont: I think you know there are problems.

Malloy: Yes, there are always problems.

Lamont: I hope we can speak frankly. Most of it has to do with the legacy you left me. I have fewer weapons in the struggle with SEBAC (union leaders with whom the governor of Connecticut sets the path of future governance) than you did coming into office in 2011. I can’t change your contracts until 2027, and the contracts provide a no-layoff provision and salary increases after a brief freeze. Then there are the recurring deficits and your expressed intention not to raise taxes. People take these silly pledges seriously you know. Perhaps most importantly, I can't shuck my problems off on my predecessor. That would be you.

Malloy: Right. Speaking frankly Ned, those are your problems, or they will become yours in January. I’m sure you’ll think of something. Tolls for trucks in Connecticut is a good baby step. The tolling, and the revenue pouring in from tolling gantries, can always be extended far beyond trucks to all vehicles, and that will provide you with a new revenue resource. Just tell everyone the bridges will collapse without repair, and that you’ll place the new revenue in a lockbox to which, heh, heh (he moves his fingers as if opening a safe) you have the combination. Given the Democratic Party’s mutually beneficial connection with unions, there is no way to discharge deficits without some new and expandable revenue source – hence tolls. You could make a grab for municipal dollars by restructuring property taxes. We’ve talked about this, remember?

Ned: The unions will have to come around.

Malloy: Yes, I’ve I tried that. It’s easier politically to stick to tax increases. Not for me of course. I’m rather hoping that the people at Boston College Law School will be willing, after a time, to forget that they hired as a professor someone whose approval rating among overtaxed Connecticut citizens is 15 percent, according to one dubious poll. I’m relying on history to rectify my standing. But you’ve made no promises during your campaign. Asked whether you intended to raise taxes, you first said ‘Yes’ and later wisely amended your ‘Yes’ to ‘No comment.’ {Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob} Stefanowski had some fun with that in his ads. But, of course, we both know that people generally discount both political ads and promises made in the heat of campaigns. Remember your Bismarck: ‘People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.’ To tell you the truth, I’m glad to be out of it.

Lamont: And so your final advice to me would be what?

Malloy: Do the progressive thing, shut out rump Republicans as I’ve done, and slog through. Remember, there will be a life after politics. As Weicker did and I will do, you may have to move out of state for a bit to reinvent yourself. He went to Washington DC to teach a class in Lowell Weicker, and I’m off to Boston to teach a class in Dannel Malloy. I feel liberated. So sorry to leave you with a mess. One more budget and I’m off the hot seat. Did I tell you I’m working on a book? Personal memoirs have become a form of character restitution, have you noticed? Shall we join the ladies?

Don Pesci is a columnist based in Vernon, Conn.

E-mail: donpesci@att.net

Chris Powell: Malloy wins third term as Conn. governor!

State seal of Connecticut. Love the grapes! Nutmeg State residents are big wine drinkers.

State seal of Connecticut. Love the grapes! Nutmeg State residents are big wine drinkers.

Maybe it was his only way to win Connecticut's election for governor, but having assured voters during the final weeks of his campaign that no one would have to sacrifice during his administration, either through tax increases or cuts in services, Ned Lamont now can only disappoint people, even as the hungriest ones think that he owes them big-time.

Five days before the election Lamont, the Democratic nominee, told a rally of government employee union members in New Britain, "We're going to be fighting for you for the next four years." Lamont's remark recalled Gov. Dannel Malloy's infamous if honest declaration to a rally of government employee union members at the state Capitol four years ago: "I am your servant."

How will the new servant of the unions deliver to them after first pledging to raise taxes, then pledging not to, and then, hours before the election, dismissing a radio interviewer's question about taxes with a "no comment," as if that answer was not as arrogant as anything ever uttered by his ignorant Republican rival?

But at least Lamont will enjoy a Democratic majority in the General Assembly, as the slowly rising Republican tide of recent years receded just as the party seemed about to seize legislative power. Dissatisfaction with President Trump probably hurt Republican legislative candidates.

The restored Democratic majority in the legislature probably won't object much to raising taxes again, as long as it is done quickly, leaving maximum time before the next election. New tax revenue will help protect the compensation of the Democrats' own campaign workers, like the members of government employee unions who performed sentry duty at polling places for Democratic candidates, doing political work on one their many discretionary paid holidays.

Connecticut's Republicans couldn't have suffered a bigger defeat than this election, since the state had been laid so low by eight years of Democratic administration under Governor Malloy that even Lamont ran against his own party's record. But circumstances turned out to be worse for the Republicans than Malloy's record was for the Democrats.

First was the failure of the Republicans to unite behind a gubernatorial candidate at their convention, resulting in a five-way primary whose winner was a political unknown with only 29 percent of the vote, Bob Stefanowski.

Second was the failure of the Republican bench, the party's leading legislators and mayors, to win nomination for higher office this year. Only one of those leaders did -- state Sen. Joe Markley, of Southington, who ran for lieutenant governor. With that exception everyone on the Republican ticket for statewide and congressional office had little to no name recognition when the campaign started and barely more when it ended.

That Stefanowski came fairly close despite his lack of involvement in the state's public life, his unfamiliarity with state government, and his refusal to articulate a platform beyond reducing taxes suggests that Connecticut was ready for a change of regime if it was offered a more plausible candidate.

But while enactment of the state income tax in 1991 was expected to prompt a political revolution in the legislative election the next year, the political composition of the new General Assembly was exactly the same as the old's. Malloy is leaving office detested but here comes his third term.

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

Chris Powell: Those UConn tourists; unfair to DMV

Tourists at the Trevi Fountain, in Rome.

Tourists at the Trevi Fountain, in Rome.

Bad news has been piling up quickly in Connecticut’s state government this month. Among the examples: 

-- A department head at the University of Connecticut at Storrs resigned after getting caught approving more than $100,000 in travel expenses and paid time off for his administrative assistant so that she could travel with him internationally in the name of attending conferences but actually for sightseeing and companionship. The department head was already earning more than $320,000 annually and during the last two years received another $125,000 in compensation for "research." Simultaneously UConn President Susan Herbst blamed a reduction in its state appropriation for the university's modest decline in a national ranking of colleges. 

-- State Atty. Gen. George Jepsen announced that he is suing 13 current or former state employees for defrauding state government's employee prescription drug plan of $11 million through a kickback scheme with a pharmaceutical company in Florida.

-- A toy chicken hanging from a noose was found in the office of a black employee of the state Department of Developmental Services in Torrington. Dozens of the department's employees long have been complaining about racial discrimination in the department. 

-- And the state Education Department announced the dismal results of the latest round of standardized tests of students in Grades 3 through 8 in the public schools. The results showed that there has been no closing of the "achievement gap" in the performance of minority and impoverished students in the last four years, during which state government has spent tens of millions of dollars in the name of closing the gap. 

So what did Gov. Dannel Malloy do about these things? Nothing. Instead this week he flew off to San Francisco to attend a conference on climate change, as if there aren't plenty of people already attending to that issue. But who is attending to state government's lack of management? Nobody until, maybe, the next governor takes office and changes Connecticut's political climate. 

A JOKE ON BOTH PARTIES: Ned Lamont, the Democratic candidate for governor, told a joke the other day in the course of making proposals to improve the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Customer service at department offices, Lamont said, has been so bad that people might enter as Democrats and exit as Republicans. 

Catchy as the joke was, it wasn't really fair, for clunky as the department remains in some respects, it has improved gradually in recent years, if not enough. More of its functions have been enabled on the Internet, and department employees now strive to route people to the right windows as soon as they enter the office so they don't waste time in the wrong lines. 

Besides, for the 16 years prior to the current Democratic administration, Lamont's joke could have been told with the parties reversed. Govs. John G. Rowland and Jodi Rell, both Republicans, showed less interest in the Motor Vehicles Department than Governor Malloy has shown. Indeed, the most notable frustration with the department in recent years resulted from an upgrading of its computer system that should have been implemented long before Malloy took office. 

The Republican candidate for governor, Bob Stefanowski, proposes privatizing more of the department's operations. Anything that reduces state government's direct employment may save money, but improving service is something else. That may require some investment, which will be hard to find in state government for a long time. 

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

Don Pesci: Democratic kooks consider court-packing


In “History’s Bad Ideas Are an Inspiration for Progressives,”  historian and columnist Victor Davis Hanson examines the dark side of progressivism.

Stymied by a Supreme Court that was a bit too traditionalist for his tastes – that is to say, a high court that faithfully interpreted the laws with reference to a real rather than a fictitious “living Constitution” --   President Franklin Roosevelt, Hanson notes, tried in 1937 to pack the court. His “convoluted proposal would have allowed Roosevelt to select a new—and additional justice—to the Supreme Court for every sitting judge who had reached 70 years, 6 months, and had not retired. And in theory, he could pack on 6 more judges, creating a 15-member court with a progressive majority.”

The effort to compromise the independence of the court by packing it with progressive judges failed ignominiously, in large part because the media of the day were constitutionally literate. Since then, the American media have declined. With the help of half-mad French philosophers, the American media have been convinced that any institution not born yesterday is hopelessly recherché. Texts, including the solid propositions of our founding documents, are to be wretched from their contexts and reformulated to satisfy the revolutionary ambitions of fake philosophers and politicians.

Faced today with a president considerably more conservative than his predecessor, the kook wing of the Democratic Party once again is considering court-packing. Donald Trump has nominated two Supreme Court justices viewed by progressive extremists as intolerably conservative. In fact, Neil Gorsuch, who has been approved, and Brett Kavanaugh, awaiting approval, are constitutional originalists in the manner of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Kavanaugh, Trump’s most recent nominee to the high court, is viewed by many court watchers as a libertarian in the manner of Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom he will replace on the bench. The libertarian Cato Institute perhaps put it best when it described Kennedy’s jurisprudence as “a constant struggle to balance freedom and responsibility—ordered liberty, if you will."

Noting that appointments in due course occasionally disappoint those who believe that justices selected by conservative or liberal presidents will continue to maintain a steady ideological path on the court, Hanson lists the three most noxious principles of progressive irredentism.

First, progressives believe that only conservative justices should flip, while liberal justices should maintain an inflexible progressive course. Second, any and all judicial means that advance progressive decisions, however much they violate man and nature’s God, must advance the public good. And lastly, progressives believe, with all the fervency of a doctrinaire extremist, that it is proper to view the court as an instrument of social justice, prodding representative bodies to the left by means of decisions that, strict constitutionalists would say, have only a nodding acquaintance with historical constitutional interpretation.

Hewing to this last principle, the progressive re-drafters of the constitution tip their hats to a Marxist formulation: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it,” said Karl Marx, words engraved as an epitaph on his tombstone. In much the same way, modern progressives hold that it is the business of progressives on the left to change laws made by representative assemblies through a radical, ahistorical re-interpretation of a shape-shifting Constitution.

Among progressives, nullification has become the new normal. Revisiting this socially disruptive idea can only bring down fire upon our heads. Jefferson Davis and other Southern secessionists embraced nullification until they were persuaded by President Abraham Lincoln’s generals to give it up, but not before the grounds of Shiloh and Gettysburg were soaked in blood. The operative principle of nullification is that the governor of a state, its lawmakers, or its municipal executives may nullify – declare inoperative -- federal laws at will and  expect the federal government to wink at governors and state legislators who counsel lawbreaking on occasion for purportedly good reasons. But consider that In an assembly of states that calls itself a union, the presence of a sanctuary city is an act of uncivil defiance bordering on insurrection.

Sanctuary state proponents such as  Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut are perfectly willing to accede to the proposition that the federal government does have the authority to make and enforce laws. Indeed, if Blumenthal were to contest this proposition, his office -- that of U.S. senator, which is constitutionally authorized to write laws to be executed by the executive department – would be rendered useless. In supporting sanctuary cities, Blumenthal is setting his face against both the executive department and  Congress of which he is a member. In effect, Blumenthal is saying that federal laws may be vacated by governors and mayors of the states if the law in question is perceived as unjust.

Once his principle of abrogation is generally accepted, any municipal executive with the concurrence of a governor may defy any law written by Blumenthal and affirmed by Congress. One needn’t wonder whether Blumenthal or Malloy would assert their destructive operative principle if a conservative state government were to defy what has been called “settled law” in Roe v Wade and outlaw all forms of abortion.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.


Don Pesci: The dream that Conn. progressives dream is a nightmare for the state's economy

"Low Tide, Riverside {part of affluent Greenwich, Conn.} Yacht Club  (1894)''  by Theodore Robinson.

"Low Tide, Riverside {part of affluent Greenwich, Conn.} Yacht Club  (1894)''  by Theodore Robinson.

Ned Lamont, the Connecticut Democratic Party’s certified candidate for governor, having run the nomination knout, is now proceeding to run primary-election bases.

NBC Connecticut has noted a pronounced difference in messaging:
"Lamont Distances from Malloy at Technology Forum''.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has relied on targeted tax reductions and tax grants to try to persuade companies to remain in Connecticut and avoid migrating to other states in order to escape the governor’s burdensome taxes and the Democratic-dominated General Assembly’s noxious regulations.

"I think we've gone snap happy in terms of trying get and keep businesses,” Lamont said at a forum hosted by the Connecticut Technology Council. Lamont told the group he was not interested in providing bailouts to Connecticut’s tax starved cities: "I'm not interested in bailouts, I didn't like that deal at all, but there have to be other ways to help our cities,” which are, never-the-less, critical to the growth of the state.

“This version of Ned Lamont” the report pointedly notes, “is new on the campaign trail. Before the Democratic State Convention last month in Hartford, he seldom ever mentioned policies or moments of the political past, insisting on looking forward and having a message to reflect that effort.” Right, for politicians uncomfortable with offering rational solutions to pressing problems, glittering talk about a mythical future is the last refuge of scoundrels.

Unless sound measures are adopted to rein in spending, clip the power of unions to shape budgets, address Connecticut’s ruinous pension liabilities,  reduce taxes as an incentive to lure companies from surrounding states – Massachusetts, formerly called Taxachusetts, led by a Republican governor, is eating Connecticut’s lunch – strip away burdensome regulations and offer some hope to entrepreneurial talent in the state inexorably gravitating toward greener pastures in low governmental-impact states, Connecticut’s future will remain bleak. And everyone who is not a wall-eyed optimist or a Panglossian politician knows it -- especially intelligent voters weary of the usual glittering propaganda of politicians on the make.

The politically barbed question Lamont will be asked once he enters debates with his Republican counterpart is: Can he reverse the direction set by Malloy, the nominal head of the Democrat Party, and deliver prosperity?

That question is a slightly different one than asking Lamont, in one form or another, to denounce Malloy. Denunciation will come more easily to Republicans than Democrats, because Malloy’s operative principle -- Connecticut is not suffering from a spending problem; it is suffering from a revenue problem, the solution for which is tax increases – is the battle flag of the modern progressive movement.

Connecticut’s progressives go to bed dreaming, and they wake up dreaming.  If only Connecticut were better able to identify sources of wealth and tax them properly, the state will revive. What Connecticut desperately needs is a heavy progressive tax on hedge fund managers huddled together in Connecticut’s Gold Coast.

The state must spend more on early-childhood education, listen with a learning ear to the lights of the progressive National Democrat Party, Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, and uber-progressive demagogue Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, rebuild the state’s infrastructure with congestion tolling, invest in solar and wind energy, increase the minimum wage, make all schools in Connecticut gun-free zones, open more sanctuary cities -- impeach President Trump! Ah, if these things were done, then Connecticut would rise in splendor from its ashes and once again become the progressive pearl in New England’s crown. Such is the dream that progressives dream.

“I think we do need to bring our revenue structure into the 21st Century and when it comes to transportation,” Lamont told the techies at the Trumbull Marriott. “I need a more reliable and predictable revenue stream that we can leverage and make the investments we need, and I think that starts with electronic tolling on some of our biggest trucks that are coming in from out of state using our roads, tax-free, creating tons of maintenance issues and we’ll see where it goes from there (emphasis mine)”

Aye… starts with taxing the guy behind the tree, out-of-state truck drivers, and ends with yet another broad-based tax on middle-class working people; this in addition to the  {former Gov.} Lowell Weicker income tax and Malloy's two massive tax increases, the largest and the second largest in state history. And we know where tax increases go -- mostly to satisfy special-interest groups that regularly vote Democratic.  These accumulative tax increases have boosted spending in Connecticut threefold since former Gov. William O’Neill took a hike in 1991, having been replaced by the father of Connecticut’s income tax.   

For decades, the message of Connecticut’s government to the state’s diminishing wealth pots, including its techies, has been – if you have wealth, run. And they ran; they are running still. Connecticut is bleeding wealth, and its wounds will not be cauterized by increasing taxes. Only permanent, long-term reductions in spending will do the trick.

Techies take note: Connecticut has become the entrepreneurial graveyard of New England. The only dreams that live here are those of its progressive tax obsessed politicians.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.



Don Pesci: How to fix Connecticut's fixed-cost problem

"Sisyphys'' (1548–49), by  Titian .

"Sisyphys'' (1548–49), by Titian.

Jim Powell asked in an eye-opening piece in Forbes magazine 67 months ago, “How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into One Of America's Worst Performing Economies?"

A partial answer, freighted with supportive data, has now been advanced in a piece commissioned by The Yankee Institute titled “Above the Law: How Government Unions’ Extralegal Privileges Are Harming Public Employees, Taxpayers And The State." 

Everyone, both inside and outside the state, is intimately familiar with the bad news most of us have internally affirmed during the past few decades. Consider the rise in the Connecticut’s “fixed costs,” a fixed cost being one that can be reduced only by extraordinary, politically unlikely efforts: “In 2006, fixed costs constituted only 37 percent of the state’s budget; by 2018 that amount was 53 percent.” In 2016, the Census Bureau reported that Connecticut was one of only eight states to lose population. Fixed costs are strangling the state’s economy and pushing taxpayers and workers out of state.

Chris Powell, who lately retired as managing editor of the Journal Inquirer newspaper, in Manchester, Conn., was asked some time past what should be done about “fixed costs,” to which he replied, “Unfix them.” A fixed cost is one that legislators who have pledged their troths to unions are disinclined to unfix for politically insidious reasons. So long as decision-making in matters of salaries, pensions and benefits remain in the hands of unions negotiating in secret with obliging governors, cowardly legislators subject to reelection will be more than happy to deed their budget responsibilities to others who will "fix costs" so that they then cannot easily be ameliorated by constitutional means.

During Gov. Dannel Malloy’s first term in office, taxes in 2011 increased by $2.5 billion, a record jump that included a 20 percent surcharge on corporate profits. Another $1.3 billion hike occurred in 2015. So onerous are Connecticut taxes that the Tax Foundation “rated the state as 44th in the nation for tax burden, and the second worse – 49th – for property taxes.” Coincidentally, the non-partisan Office of Policy and Management and the Office of Fiscal Analysis showed “a combined downward revision of $1.6 billion in projected tax revenue for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 compared to estimates provided just five months earlier.”

The state was taxing more and getting less, not a surprise to anyone familiar with the law of diminishing returns. At some tipping point in the tax scale, tax increases produce less revenue. Steadily increasing labor costs reduce a state’s ability to meet other more important obligations – especially when the state is averse to implementing long term, permanent reductions in spending.

The late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said that the trouble with socialism is that “sooner or later, you run out of other people's money.” The same holds true in a progressive state like Connecticut, in which labor costs continue to rise but further taxation is no longer possible because there are limits, economic and political, to taxation . If you cannot reduce labor costs through sensible and necessary measures, and if you cannot meet rising costs through tax increases, the only remaining option open to you, if you are a professional politician, is to commit hara-kiri and deed the intractable problems to your successor – the path chosen by Governor Malloy, who had declined to defend his ruinous policies by running for a third term in office.

The way out of the dark and forbidding forest is the way in – in reverse. Connecticut must move “fixed costs” into the fixable column overseen by elected legislators. This can be done in part by removing pensions and benefits from items negotiated during union-administrative contractual lovefests. Better still, why not allow elected legislators to set all presently negotiated items through statute? By eliminating union contracts and collective bargaining altogether, the General Assembly will simply be reassuming its constitutional obligations; it is the legislature, not the governor in conclave with unions, that is constitutionally obligated to appropriate and expend tax money. It is our elective system of government that holds legislators responsible for getting and spending, and this constitutional authority cannot be farmed out to unions and arbitrators without fatally damaging our republican form of government. Who died in the Constitution State and left unions, arbitrators and cowardly House and Senate leaders our bosses?

In a summary section of “Above The law,” the Yankee Institute provides common sense reforms that, if instituted, “will restore democracy to the Constitution State and secure fairness for taxpayers." These reform measures include:  ending the supersedence of labor contracts over state law; prohibiting unelected arbitrators from writing law; promulgating a law requiring unions to undergo regular recertification elections by workers; require the publication and public distribution  of all government union reports; limit collective bargaining to wages only; prohibit government employee layoffs based solely on seniority; allow all government workers  to opt into union membership every year; at the same time, allow workers to refuse union membership and represent their own interests; enact right-to-work laws for private sector employees now operative in 28 states; eliminate card check and make secret ballot elections the sole method by which workers may select or vote out a union; and lastly, enact meaningful and long term public pension reform.

A government that cannot regulate itself cannot sustain itself as a representative republic, but must eventually become a fixed, inalterable administrative state that abolishes self-rule through constitutionally prohibited means – such as distributing constitutional obligations to unelected bodies unanswerable to the people.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.

Chris Powell: More and more taxes to fund Conn.'s 'pension and benefit society'; roommate hate wasn't racial


What if half the effort being made by Connecticut Gov. Dannel  Malloy and the General Assembly to raise revenue for state government was put into trying to economize? For that matter, what if any effort was? 

But that is mere dreaming. The agenda of the governor and the legislature’s Democratic majority is not just to impose highway tolls, raise the gasoline tax, the sales tax, and the cigarette tax and authorize municipalities to impose their own sales tax, but also to expand casino gambling and authorize sports betting, the latter initiatives being regressive taxes, taxes that fall disproportionately on the poor, whom Democrats always profess to be serving. 

Advancing these plans last week, the Democrats overlooked the latest scandal of their administration. The University of Connecticut announced that a department head at its medical school was being demoted for not noticing that a professor had disappeared for months while still being paid his $200,000 annual salary. Police say he had been murdered by his wife. 

So the department head will lose her title and the $30,000 annual stipend that goes with it but still will be paid $300,000 in salary and another $83,000 per year in fringe benefits -- even more than is paid to the university’s “chief diversity officer,” who, at $220,000 per year, recently warned students that they might need mental health treatment if they encountered conservative political views. She was not demoted. 

It seems that the more state government raises revenue, the more oblivious it becomes to its failure to accomplish its nominal objectives, the more it functions mainly as a pension and benefit society. There is an election this year but it already seems too late.
* * *

DUE PROCESS PREVAILS: Hartford Superior Court last week refused to let racial politics interfere with justice. A white former student at the University of Hartford was granted probation for her disgusting abuse of her former roommate, who is black, though the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People clamored to have the perpetrator charged with a hate crime. 

The former roommates plainly did hate each other but, as Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy, who is black, told the court, there was no evidence that racial animus was behind the crime. The victim then concurred with the probation. 

A legal precedent that white and black college students can hate each other for reasons other than race is modest progress. That a black prosecutor refused to be demagogued by other black people into denying due process of law for a white person was heroic. 

* * *

A SETBACK FOR BOUGHTON: Among the candidates for governor, Danbury’s nine-term Republican mayor, Mark Boughton, may be the best prepared, having also been a teacher, state legislator, and municipal association official and possessing a calm demeanor and sense of humor. 

But a few months ago Boughton had surgery for a benign tumor on the brain and at a political event last week he suffered a seizure he attributes to poor diet and failure to take medication to prevent seizures. He says he will do better on those accounts while resuming his campaign. 

Will the incident hurt his candidacy or just make more people eager to run with him as lieutenant governor? Politics can be like that. 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn., and a frequent contributor to New England Diary.


Chris Powell: Hypocritical nonsense in debate over Conn. chief justice nomination

Arguing this week for Gov. Dannel Malloy's nomination of Associate Justice Andrew J. McDonald to be chief justice of Connecticut's Supreme Court, state Rep. William Tong (D.-Stamford), co-chairman of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee, fed the state House of Representatives a lot of nonsense.

"We are not in a position of second-guessing judges," Tong said. "We must honor the separation of powers. If we don't, we compromise the independence of the judiciary."

But if it's wrong for legislators to second-guess judges, why does Connecticut's Constitution give the General Assembly the power to appoint and reappoint them, just as the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to appoint judges? By what criteria should legislators decide judicial appointments?

Tong and other backers of McDonald, nearly all of them political liberals, maintain that experience, ability, and character should be decisive, not what nominees have done or are likely to do in office.

By this standard the country should have obediently accepted forever the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Dred Scott v. Sandford (once a slave, always a slave), Plessy v. Ferguson (racial segregation is OK), and Lochner v. New York (labor conditions can't be regulated by government), and should obediently accept forever the court's decisions in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (corporations have First Amendment rights) and District of Columbia v. Heller (individuals have Second Amendment rights).

Of course McDonald's supporters don't really believe their own argument. None would argue that President Richard Nixon's Supreme Court nominations of Judges Clement F. Haynsworth Jr. and G. Harrold Carswell, former segregationists, should have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate just because of their experience and good character, nor that Judge Robert H. Bork, nominated to the court by President Ronald Reagan, should have been confirmed, though he was a brilliant scholar and was faulted only for holding that constitutions should be construed as they were originally understood.

The Senate rejected those nominees for political  reasons -- they were seen as too conservative and interventionist -- and all of liberalism cheered. But Connecticut is being told that judicial nominees must not be opposed for being too liberal and interventionist.

As for Tong's supposed concern for the separation of the powers of government, Connecticut's Supreme Court long has been separating the legislature from its powers. That's what the court's recent decision purporting to find capital punishment unconstitutional was about, a decision in which McDonald concurred.

In fact the separation of powers of the branches of government applies only to the exercise of those powers, not their definition, which is left to the state and federal constitutions and to statute. Deciding on judicial nominations does not violate the separation of powers.

As for judicial independence, that applies to deciding individual cases, not to the wholesale rewriting of constitutions, as the state Supreme Court did in the capital punishment case.

With the latest long-term master contract for the state employee unions, Governor Malloy has put their expensive privileges beyond control through the ordinary democratic process for a decade.

Judicial terms in Connecticut are eight years, so if McDonald is appointed chief justice, the governor may have guaranteed liberal interventionism on the court for nearly as long.

That would be more of a legacy than most governors leave.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn., and a frequent contributor to New England Diary.


Chris Powell: Political sanctimony won't solve gun-violence challenge

An AR-15, which was easily bought by Nikolas Cruz at a gun store and then used to murder 17 people at a Florida school.

An AR-15, which was easily bought by Nikolas Cruz at a gun store and then used to murder 17 people at a Florida school.

Estimates are that 300 million guns are in private possession in the United States, 55 million Americans own guns, and that at any particular moment about 20 percent of the population is suffering some form of mental illness.

So the remarkable thing may be not that the country has mass shootings every week but that there aren't several every hour and that anyone lives beyond age 40, especially as the political atmosphere has become stifling with sanctimony about guns.

The country sure does have a gun violence problem. But the rhetoric about it often lacks much relevance.

The bodies hadn't even been hauled away from the high school massacre in Florida last week before Connecticut U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy was pacing the Senate floor denouncing Congress for having done nothing about guns. Gov. Dannel Malloy, whose administration gave early release to convict Frankie "The Razor" Resto, who quickly went on to murder a store owner in Meriden, angrily accused Republican congressmen of having blood on their hands. 

As is often the case, the problem with the quick denunciations arising from the Florida massacre is that none of the common prescriptions for diminishing gun violence would have made any difference.

More background checks? Desirable as they are, the perpetrator in Florida had no criminal record and his rifle was legally purchased at a gun shop. No "gun show sales loophole" was involved.

More mental-health appropriations? These would be helpful. But while many of the perpetrator's acquaintances regarded him as troubled and he had been expelled from high school because of misconduct, he rejected treatment.

Limit the capacity of gun magazines? This is trivial, since plenty of damage can be done whatever the magazine size and empty magazines are quickly replaced with loaded ones. 

Outlaw "assault weapons"? This usually means any rifle that just looks scary. But the only thing that matters about a gun is not its appearance but its mode of firing, and there are only three kinds of guns. 

There are fully automatic guns, semi-automatic guns and single-shot or double-shot guns The first kind reloads automatically and permits multiple rounds to be fired with a single squeeze of the trigger. The second kind also reloads automatically but requires individual trigger pulls for the discharge of each bullet. The third kind requires reloading for every one or two discharges.

Fully automatic guns are tightly regulated by the federal government and are not widely in public possession. Most modern guns are semi-automatic, as the Florida perpetrator's was. Outlawing them means outlawing most modern rifles and pistols -- that is, outlawing most of the guns held by the public -- and limiting public ownership to shotguns, bolt-loading guns, and derringers. 

If outlawing most guns is what the advocates of more restrictions want, they should be honest about it -- and they will need luck with confiscation. After all, when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns -- along with President Trump, that paragon of mental stability who also controls the country’s nuclear arsenal.

So unless the country chooses gun confiscation, it may be stuck with the public identification and preventive detention of the mentally ill and more armed security for its many soft targets like schools, theaters, and nightclubs.

Where 20 percent of the population is armed and another 20 percent is psychotic, inevitably there will be some overlap, against which the usual political sanctimony will be no defense.

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


Chris Powell: The road to fiscal confusion in Connecticut


Last Wednesday  may have  told the crazy story of state government in Connecticut. 

In the morning the Connecticut Mirror's Jacqueline Rabe Thomas reported that most state agencies had dismissed a request from Gov. Dannel Malloy's budget director to suggest savings in their budgets. Most agencies, Thomas wrote, suggested nothing or failed to reply at all, while some recommended increasing spending instead.

A few hours later the governor proposed a seven-cent increase in the gasoline tax, installation of electronic tolls on state highways, and  a special $3 tax on the sale of tires. He reserved the right to propose budget cuts next week without the assistance of his own administration.

But there  are suggestions from other sources. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, whose acronym CCM long has been mocked as really meaning "Conference of Crying Mayors," had gotten relevant a week earlier. Its executive director, Joe DeLong, and its president, Waterbury Mayor Neil O'Leary, told a study commission that state law should start excluding pension benefits and medical insurance from collective bargaining and binding arbitration of contracts for government employees. 

This was remarkable, since the government employee unions control Connecticut's Democratic Party, CCM represents many local Democratic administrations, and O'Leary himself is a Democrat.

The major candidates for the Republican nomination for governor also propose to curtail collective bargaining and binding arbitration for government employees. So the idea may gain legitimacy after the state election in November. 

The problem is not just the huge cost of state and municipal employees. More important is the cost to democracy, since collective bargaining and binding arbitration in government remove the bulk of public expense from the ordinary democratic process. Indeed, that is the objective -- to let elected officials avoid responsibility to taxpayers for the advantages conferred on government employees.

The biggest issue in state government is not its financial collapse. It is whether the public ever again will be master in its own house.

* * *

DEDICATED FUNDS AREN'T PERSUASIVE: Opposition to tolls is strong, and even advocates condition their support on a new state constitutional amendment guaranteeing that revenue from tolls and fuel taxes is reserved for transportation purposes. An amendment purporting to accomplish that will be on the ballot in November.

The rationale for reserving user taxes for particular purposes is that particular people who cause a particular expense should pay particularly for the benefit they receive -- that the transportation system's users should pay for it. But the rationale is not really so persuasive. 

For everybody benefits from transportation, whether he or she buys gasoline or tires or not, and while everybody pays sales tax on the purchase of goods and services, the use of those goods and services usually causes no particular expense to government. 

Further, for many years state government has kept 2,000 mentally handicapped adults living with elderly parents because there are not enough group homes, and there is no dedicated fund for  these people,  though they constitute a far more compelling need than the bus highway from Hartford to New Britain, the planned commuter railroad between New Haven and Springfield, and pothole repairs.

So why should any particular amount of tax revenue feeding a dedicated fund determine government's priorities? Shouldn't those priorities determine the allocation of revenue? And shouldn't elected officials reconsider government's priorities with every new budget?

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

A table of tolls in pre-decimal currency for the  College Road, Dulwich , London.

A table of tolls in pre-decimal currency for the College Road, Dulwich, London.

Don Pesci: All hail Chris Powell; Trump tax cuts may lift Conn., too

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities
 -- Voltaire


Chris Powell would blush to hear someone say it, but his retirement as managing editor of the {Manchester} Journal Inquirer in January will leave a gaping hole in Connecticut journalism. Fortunately, Powell’s voice will still ring out in columns. The press notice announcing his retirement was placed amusingly on the right side of the paper’s obituary page. {Mr. Powell is a frequent contributor to New England Diary.}

Powell’s columns, many of them analytical jewels, always have had in them just enough bite to awaken slumberous readers. Unlike some commentators, he has managed to keep himself out of his writings, which in the age of twitter may be a sign of saintliness. But of course a writer is always present in his work as, say, Cervantes is present in Don Quixote.  In the same way, a managing editor of a paper is present in his product. There are a number of fine journalists in Connecticut who have fallen out of Powell’s pockets.


President  Trump may survive moves to eject him from his presidency, a consummation devoutly wished by two of Connecticut’s fiercest anti-Trumpers, U.S. Senators Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy. The state’s junior senator, Murphy, will be up for re-election in the New Year. Connecticut likely will suffer from that provision in the new tax-reform bill that will prevent high tax states – we have the distinction of being the third-highest tax state in the nation, lagging behind New Jersey and New York -- from offering write-off provisions for state taxes.

There may, however, be ancillary benefits to Trump’s tax reforms. Many economists familiar with President  Kennedy’s tax reforms, somewhat similar to those of Presidents Reagan and Trump, anticipate increases in job production and GDP growth, a rising tide that will, as Kennedy once put it, lift all the boats – including Connecticut’s seriously damaged dinghy. The one thing Nutmeggers may not see in the New Year is an attempt to recover from the expected consequences of the new tax reforms through a reduction of state taxes.


The “Me Too” movement may ebb somewhat in the New Year, because nothing is so temporary as a temporary tax increase or a movement that has become fashionable in Hollywood. Proponents of chivalry will agree the movement has been cleansing in its effects and too long in coming. But Hollywood will survive this temporary setback to libertinism, because Hollywood always survives its breeches of good manners. It is uncertain at this point whether the “Me Too” movement will or will not signal a truce on the unending war between the sexes. Distantly related to the “Me Too'’ movement, some liberal Democrats who were not sufficiently enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign are now offering guarded apologies. Married to former a president, she too was a Me Too’er.


Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, whose approval rating in Connecticut is a few points higher than Hell’s minor devils, will not be with us in the New Year, but he will have left behind, as a memorial of his passing, a load of wreckage. Bets are on whether a gubernatorial library will be erected to preserve Malloy’s destructive tendencies during his two terms on office, including both the largest and the second largest tax increases in state history. In certain quarters, the leave-taking of the most progressive governor in Connecticut since Wilbur Cross – discounting former Maverick Gov. Lowell Weicker -- will be celebrated with a moment of telling silence. Progressivism, which is state-socialism without the Gulag, will survive Malloy’s passing, because progressivism always survives.

Most recently Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget guru, wrote a letter to his boss doubting whether legislators could restore cuts to a program that helps seniors and the disabled pay for Medicare insurance without seriously damaging a balanced budget that has mysteriously become unbalanced weeks after it had been written into law. Malloy wrote in reply that he was grateful for Barnes’s analysis, which “illustrates the difficulty of realizing significant savings on top of what we’ve already achieved with respect to overtime and ‘other expenses’ accounts. We must avoid a ‘fix’ to the MSP that relies on overly optimistic savings or unrealistic lapses, which would only exacerbate the larger, looming budgetary challenge we face.” The Malloy administration had during its run continually relied upon fanciful budget projections, thefts from this or that “lockbox” to be deposited in the general fund, and temporary “fixes” such as layoffs that Malloy’s SEBAC agreement would deny to future governors until 2027, the year when his union favorable agreement with SEBAC is due to expire.


No one on Connecticut’s media laughs at such preposterous posturing. Karl Kraus -- Austrian writer and journalist, essayist, aphorist, playwright, poet, perhaps the most significant European satirist since Jonathan Swift, seriously thought the fate of civilization “may depend upon the placement of a comma.” Asked why he wrote, Kraus said “I have to do this as long as it is at all possible; for if those who are obliged to look after commas had always made sure they were in the right place, then Shanghai would not be burning.”

It is a thought serious journalists might want to bear in mind during the New Year.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.




Chris Powell: Conn. politicians avoid tough decisions about transport and most everything else

Metro-North train arriving in  the Noroton Heights section of Darien, Conn.

Metro-North train arriving in  the Noroton Heights section of Darien, Conn.


Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy told a business group last week, is being brought low by its political culture of postponing tough choices. As a result, the governor said, the state now is without the revenue to maintain and improve its transportation system. Thus the governor suggested that the state hasn't raised taxes enough. He added that he is proudest of what he considers his toughest decision -- to increase funding of the state employee pension system.

Yes, state government has been avoiding tough choices for a long time but the governor himself may be the worst offender. For raising taxes is always the easy  ] choice and the Malloy administration's two record-breaking tax increases have only impoverished the state, feeding more spending and leading to more budget deficits.

Of course this habit hasn't been peculiar to Malloy. Elected governor in 1990 after promising to prevent a state income tax, Lowell P. Weicker Jr. quickly broke his promise upon realizing that preventing an income tax would require tougher choices -- confronting unionized state and municipal employees and restricting welfare benefits to reduce antisocial behavior.

It was the same with Gov. Jodi Rell, who proposed a huge tax increase in the name of solving all the problems of municipal education, as if those problems have anything to do with money. Even Democratic legislators let Rell's proposal fall flat.

The tough choice with state employee pensions isn't to fund them better but to phase them out completely -- not because they are so extravagant for most state employees but because state employee wage and insurance compensation by itself is more than competitive with private-sector compensation and because Connecticut's future governors and legislatures are never likely to have the political virtue to avoid diverting pension fund contributions to general purposes.

The tough choice with education isn't to spend more on it, as Malloy always has been inclined to do, but to stop operating it by social promotion, to act on the miserable student test scores showing that most high school graduates never master math and English because they don't have to master anything to graduate.

The tough choice with government employee labor policy is not to keep making the unions happy because they control the majority political party but to repeal the laws that prohibit controlling labor costs.

The tough choice with poverty policy is to stop doing what only perpetuates dependence.

Disparaging legislators who like to discuss transportation projects, the governor told the business group that it's "really fun to say we're going to spend more money." But the governor has had more such fun than anyone else during his seven years at the top of state government. He repeatedly has celebrated expensive inessentials like the bus highway between New Britain and Hartford and the commuter railroad between New Haven and Springfield and every week he produces excited announcements of state funding for goodies all around the state as if state government isn't running a huge deficit again and as if the governor himself isn't simultaneously warning of financial disaster.

The governor is entitled to his opinion of his proudest moment, but improving the security of government employee pensions may not win him much admiration from most state residents, who get no closer to pensions than the taxes they pay so that government employees can have them.

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


Chris Powell: When is character overrated in U.S. politics?


How much does character matter in an elected official? And how broadly is character constituted?

The suggestion of the recent turmoil in Washington, with members of Congress and congressional candidates being accused, investigated, resigning or urged to resign or withdraw, is that character is nearly everything in an elected official but it is narrowly constituted, mainly a matter of sexual conduct rather than worldview.

These premises may be prevailing because most of the politicians accused are representing or seeking to represent districts or states that are safe for their parties. The presumption is that one Democrat or Republican is as good as another.

But would people feel that way if great policy decisions hung on any particular resignation or withdrawal?

Suppose that upon his resignation liberal Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken, accused of buffoonish sexual advances during his career as a comedian before his election, was to be replaced not by another Democrat but by a Republican because his state had a Republican governor who would appoint an interim successor. Suppose also that Franken was to be replaced while the Senate was deciding whether to go to war against North Korea or whether to approve President Trump's nomination of a Supreme Court justice pledged to reverse the court's decision in Roe v. Wade.

How troublesome would a little butt or breast squeezing seem then, and how compelling Franken's would removal from the Senate seem, at least to people opposing such a war or reversal in abortion policy? Surely Franken's misconduct and removal would seem much more compelling to those who favored war and undoing Roe.

Of course, people's politics tempers their moral judgments. They are more likely to forgive their political allies than their political adversaries. Misconduct by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., left  a young woman to die in a car that he had driven off a bridge but he was instantly forgiven by his political allies and never forgiven by his political adversaries.

This tempering of judgments often becomes hypocrisy, of which the country is full these days, what with Republicans, usually advocates of states' rights, advancing federal legislation to force states to yield to the gun regulations of other states, and Democrats, usually opponents of states' rights, defending "sanctuary cities" and thereby advocating nullification of federal immigration law.

Sexual harassment and exploitation are big problems, and stopping them requires complaining about particular incidents contemporaneously in public. But satisfying as it may be to topple the powerful, sexual misconduct is not the country's only problem. Often the country has to choose among its problems, and its characters.

* * *

HAPLESS ON TRANSPORTATION: Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy never looked as hapless as he did last week bemoaning the likely exhaustion of Connecticut's special transportation fund and the suspension of many projects. It was as if he had nothing to do with the problem.

But somehow in his two terms he found hundreds of millions of dollars for projects of no urgency, like the bus highway between Hartford and New Britain and the commuter railroad between New Haven and Springfield. With Hartford on the verge of bankruptcy, he failed to stop the city from building a baseball stadium and a few weeks ago even reimbursed the city for half the stadium's cost.

Big changes in policy long have been required to save Connecticut. The governor has failed to make them.

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

Don Pesci: The legacy of two autocratic governors

“He deserves a going-out a lot more glorious than the one that the Democrats handed him,” former Connecticut Gov. and Sen. Lowell Weicker said of Gov. Dannel Malloy, who had been disinvited to budget talks between legislative Democrats and Republicans. “The legislature dumped him,” Weicker added. “I don’t think that necessarily stands to the glory of the Democratic legislators.”

Birds of a feather flock together.

There is little difference in governing style between Weicker and departing lame-duck Governor Malloy. Both are autocratic and manipulative; both relied heavily on tax increases to fill budget deficit holes; and both claim not to be guided by popularity polls, lofty governors transcending the grubby hoi-polloi. Both were highly unpopular as governors, Weicker because he muscled an income tax through the General Assembly, and Malloy as the author of both the largest and the second largest tax increases in state history. The tax hike in the current budget – which, for the first time throughout the Malloy administration, bears Republican fingerprints -- is a, relatively speaking, modest $1 billion.

Following his sole term as governor, Weicker declined to run for re-election. After two terms in office, Malloy, disapproval rating 68 percent, has declined to allow over-taxed Nutmeggers to vote against him in a ratifying election. Democrats during upcoming campaigns will be measuring the distance between themselves and Malloy in miles rather than feet.

The absence of an income tax, a levy mightily resisted by such moderate Democrat governors  as Ella Grasso, made Connecticut a haven for companies and wealthy residents like Weicker, an heir to the Squibb pharmaceutical fortune. After 1991, the year Weicker pushed an income tax through a dubious General Assembly, companies, perhaps anticipating massive tax and spending increases, sheltered their assets, reduced production, and battened down the hatches, awaiting a national rising tide that would lift all their boats. It never came. Republican Governors John Rowland and Jodi Rell offered ineffective resistance to a resurgent, progressive General Assembly. The recession malingered and recovery was pushed far into the future.

Economic advances during the as yet brief Trump administration – the stock market has increased by $5.2 trillion, about half the national debt  that Barack Obama left the Trump administration – point backwards to an anemic progressive regime. Current unemployment is the lowest in 16 years, and President Trump, sometimes a prisoner of his own hyperbole, likely is not overpromising by much when he says “if Congress gives us the massive tax cuts and reform I am asking for, those numbers will grow by leaps and bounds.”

The income tax had been falsely sold to the legislature as a revenue stabilizer.  Not true – the income tax is more volatile than relatively stable sales or consumption taxes. Since 1980, income-tax revenue in Connecticut has increased a whopping 28 percent, yet the state continues to suffer from repetitive deficits. That is because income taxes are more susceptible to wild swings during market cycles. In the income-tax period, state expenditures rose 138 percent, while income grew only 86 percent between 1980 and 2016.

This volatility has primed reckless spending. Income-tax revenue has decreased in Connecticut during cyclical downturns while spending has increased, creating repetitive deficits.  The spending imperative and the disinclination to cut spending long-term and permanently leads to other dislocations: the sweeping of so-called lockboxes and dedicated funds; the cowardice of legislators who, heavily dependent on union support for re-election, continue to charge the future to pay for unsupportable union salaries and pensions; municipalities hooked on state patronage; and the flight of businesses to less rapacious states – only part of the economic evils let loose when the General Assembly opened the lid to Weicker’s income tax.

In the Greek myth, when Pandora, warned not to so, opened the jar given to her as a gift from the gods, all the imprisoned evils of the world flew out, hope alone remaining in its very bottom.

Hope springs eternal.

This year, the General Assembly produced a fusion product after a Republican budget had been adopted by astonished legislators. The latest budget iteration bears unmistakable Republican fingerprints but is, never-the-less, a Democrat product. Republicans hadn’t the numbers in the General Assembly to deny Democrats substantial tax increases. They did successfully insert a Constitutional spending cap provision that had been a sweetener in Weicker’s initial 1991 income tax proposal; the cap, state Atty. Gen. General George Jepsen ruled several months ago, was never operative because the legislature had failed to provide requisite definitions. The current budget provides the definitions, engaging the cap. Republicans were also successful in capping bonding. A provision that requires legislative assent for additional dollars provided to unions in negotiations with the governor restores minimal legislative authority over budgets. Republicans dropped a measure in their own approved budget, vetoed by Malloy, that would have, if adopted, changed from contract to statute the process by which unions, in collaboration with governors, establish salaries and benefits. Connecticut is among only four states that surrender legislative authority over budgets to union negotiations with compliant governors.

Budgets shape the future; so do political campaigns. Two questions will be decided in the upcoming 2018 campaign: 1) What will the future bring, more of the same or beneficial change, and 2) Do Republicans know how to campaign?

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist.


'Undifferentiated life forms' in Conn.


From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

In an orgasm of political correctness and, well, silliness, Metro-North,  thepublicly owned commuter railroad that serves southwestern Connecticut and thelower Hudson Valley, announced that it will no longer note a purchaser's gender identification on month-long train tickets.

The railroad said that it had used such identification to make it more difficult for riders to let others use their monthly passes. Makes sense!  And one would think that police seeking suspects on trains or in train station might, from time to time, like to know the sex of suspects they seek. Gender-identifying tickets could help.

But Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy opined. "We should not be using antiquated gender norms as a method of personal identification.’’

The wonderful Chris Powell, managing editor ofthe Manchester (Conn.) Journal Inquirer asked:

“{H}ow can the governor be sure that there are no longer any circumstances in which it is useful to distinguish male from female? While the governor seems to think that the right of anyone to assume either gender at any time trumps the right of sexual privacy in bathrooms, he strangely has not yet insisted on erasing the divisions between boys and girls and men's and women's sports. ‘’

“But even if the governor really thinks that gender norms are ‘antiquated,’ there's not enough time left in his term for him both to run Connecticut's creaky old government and to persuade the rest of the world that there are no longer boys and girls and men and women, just undifferentiated life forms.’’

Chris Powell: Ditching 'antiquated gender norms' on Metro North



Metro-North, the biggest commuter railroad in the country, which serves southwestern Connecticut and the lower Hudson River Valley, announced the other week that it no longer will note a purchaser's gender identification on month-long train tickets.

The railroad said it used gender identification to discourage people from letting others use their monthly passes. But that did not impair people in lending their passes to others of the same sex -- and what harm would have come from that anyway? If ticket sharing increased ridership, the railroad could have increased the price of the monthly passes. Besides, unlike airline passengers, train passengers are not carefully screened. Screening them would require a lot more train staff and would impossibly lengthen boarding times.

But in praising the railroad for dropping gender identification on the monthly passes, Gov. Dannel Malloy drew a cosmic conclusion in pursuit of the political correctness that has characterized his administration. "We should not be using antiquated gender norms as a method of personal identification," the governor said.

Yes, some men want to be and dress as women, some women want to be and dress as men, and some people don't want to identify with either sex. But do such people number even one in every thousand? And what about everyone else, the overwhelming numbers who, antiquated as the governor may view them, continue to choose to identify as men or women, a choice in which they are supported by biology?

Given those numbers, how can the governor be sure that there are no longer any circumstances in which it is useful to distinguish male from female? While the governor seems to think that the right of anyone to assume either gender at any time trumps the right of sexual privacy in bathrooms, he strangely has not yet insisted on erasing the divisions between boys and girls and men's and women's sports. (That might take the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team down a peg.) And what would become of bird watching?

Of course public policy should not seek to make life harder for those who are uncomfortable in their biological gender. But even if the governor really thinks that gender norms are "antiquated," there's not enough time left in his term for him both to run Connecticut's creaky old government and to convince the rest of the world that there are no longer boys and girls and men and women, just undifferentiated life forms. He should leave that task to his successor, assuming that he, she, or it is another Democrat.

Higher education isn't that high

While the governor was hailing the supposed end of gender, his president of the Connecticut State Universities and Colleges system, Mark Ojakian, was striking another politically correct pose.

In a letter to students and faculty, Ojakian called "devastating" President Trump's phasing out the official amnesty given to about 800,000 young people living illegally in the country. Ojakian added: "We once again pledge our commitment to our students who feel targeted based on their immigration status."

"Feel targeted"? That sounds like what is illegitimate is not to enter the country illegally but to enforce immigration law.

It would have been one thing for Ojakian to say the university system supports the efforts of the students at issue to legalize their residency. But such students are not being "targeted" any more than any other lawbreakers are.

Instead Ojakian said in effect that the university system supports those of its students who claim that their pursuit of higher education puts them above the law. But higher education is not yet that  high.

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


Chris Powell: Using Charlottesville for a partisan political agenda


Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, that state's congresspeople and Democratic officials everywhere insist that everyone must speak out against the aspiring Nazis and Klansmen who went looking for a fight in Charlottesville the other week and were given one by street-theater-loving leftists as the city's police withdrew.

Many people are heeding the Democrats' calls, holding church services and "vigils" to declaim against "racism and hate." Even University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst felt compelled last week to issue a statement essentially declaring that she's not a Nazi, as if anyone had suspected her.

But no, we all don't have to speak out against "racism and hate."

For Nazis and Klansmen are not really numerous in this country. The few dozen who descended on Charlottesville may have constituted most of those who would even dare show themselves. The reaction to them is so disproportionate to their significance that it plainly has a partisan political purpose -- to keep discrediting President Trump for his inability to speak sensibly and accurately about anything.

But anyone who wanted to know that about Trump knew it long before Charlottesville. Further, people who live normal lives and behave decently can be safely assumed not to be Nazis or Klansmen. But people who demand that everyone certify  that he is not a Nazi or Klansman cast insinuation against everyone and engage in political intimidation. The sanctimony of the church services and "vigils" compounds this insinuation and intimidation, a merger of religion and politics that offends the political left when the right attempts it.

Even so, sanctimony is a great tool politically and it is getting out of hand. This week some environmental and religious groups planned a "vigil" at Hartford City Hall in support of an ordinance banning disposal of fracking waste. For apparently God isn't just against Nazis, Klansmen, and Trump; He stands with the left on energy policy too.

As they marched in Charlottesville the Nazi thugs carried torches for intimidating effect. The people holding "vigils" against "racism and hate" carry candles to reinforce their sanctimony. Invoking religion, the candles are more intimidating politically than the torches.

* * *

It's no wonder that Governor Malloy and leaders of the General Assembly like to attend "vigils" and posture against "racism and hate." It's a lot easier than a job they were elected to do: producing a state budget.

The state Senate's Democratic leader, Martin Looney, of New Haven, says municipal officials are wrong to complain about the delay of the budget. The budget is so late, Looney says, because legislators are trying to arrange "more aid to municipalities and more education aid."

Not really. The delay results from disagreement over the governor's plan to divert $400 million from teacher pension fund contributions, use the money to finance state government, and make municipalities replace it by raising property taxes. Most Democratic legislators would prefer to raise state taxes instead, particularly the sales tax.

The money here is not "aid to education" but compensation for members of teacher unions, who, as part of the majority party's biggest component, government employees, have to be bought off just as the state employee unions were recently bought off with a new contract that preserves their jobs and compensation for four years.

Without a budget the governor is reducing "aid to education" for all but the poorest cities and towns. It would be nice if this policy could last for a year or two so Connecticut could see if anything changes in student performance. For decades nothing about student performance changed as aid went up. Would anything change if aid went down?

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

Don Pesci: Connecticut awaits a Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck, who unified the German states in the 19th Century.

Otto von Bismarck, who unified the German states in the 19th Century.

The usual gubernatorial campaign in Connecticut begins with brave platitudes and ends, once office has been achieve, with whimpering platitudes.

We recall a triumphant Gov. Lowell Weicker warning during his gubernatorial campaign that instituting an income tax in the midst of a recession would be like “pouring gas on a fire,” then, having achieved office, hiring as his Office of Policy Management Director Bill Cibes, who ran an honest but losing Democratic primary campaign by agitating for an income tax. Before you could say, “Let’s pour gas on the fire,” Connecticut had its income tax. State businesses have taken note of the ungovernable growth in spending and now have their eyes fixed on the exit signs.

Republican Gov. John Rowland was wafted into office on a pledge to repeal Weicker’s incendiary income tax; once in office, the pledge was quickly moved to Rowland’s back burner, where it expired from lack of air.

Gov. Jodi Rell, who replaced Rowland when he was sent to jail for the first time for corrupt activity, proved to be  an imperfect “firewall” preventing progressive Democrats in the General Assembly from piling up debt through reckless spending. Having declined to run for a third term, Rell passed the gubernatorial reins to then Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy and retired to Florida, far from the hurly burly of tax increases and spending binges.

Enter Governor Malloy, who imposed on Connecticut the largest and second largest tax increases in state history, having hinted in his own campaign that the weight of debt in Connecticut would be more or less evenly distributed between state employee unions and taxpayers.

One political commentator in Connecticut, weary with all the folderol, has now declared war on platitudes and artfully misleading campaigns. Other journalists committed to telling it like it is may follow suit.

“There may be many differences between Republican and Democratic candidates,” Kevin Rennie tells us. “One unhappy trait, however, unites them. They all want to be governor and no one wants to say how they would solve the state's most pressing problems. With the state facing a $5 billion budget deficit this is the ideal moment to unveil detailed, serious solutions before an engaged public. Let a thousand ideas bloom. If they possess the talent to be a successful governor, tell us what you would do right now, in a forbidding hour for Connecticut.”

Prussian and then German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck put such misgivings more succinctly:  “A statesman cannot create anything himself. He must wait and listen until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grasp the hem of His garment.”

In progressive Connecticut, belief in God waxes and wanes in proportion to the trust that one places in blind fate and cowardly politicians; today, public faith in Connecticut politicians is at its lowest ebb. We pray to politicians when times are good and to God when politicians are bad, which is often. Bismarck again: “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.”

And Bismarck again: “Never believe anything in politics until it has been officially denied.” Official denials are rarely convincing, such as: “Just as he said during the 2014 campaign ‘there is no deficit, there will be no deficit,’ the governor has no clothes,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides in October, 2016. The state’s present biennial deficit, as Rennie notes, is hovering around $5 billion.

The  elections in 2018 promise to be somewhat different for a series of reasons: 1)  progressivism – the notion that if government is good, bigger government is better – has been a conspicuous failure; 2) mindful of Napoleon’s advice – when your enemy is making mistakes, don’t interfere – leading Republicans in Connecticut are fully prepared to exploit in a general election the opposing party’s tactical and strategic errors on tax increases; 3) in the long run, Republicans are committed to substantial reform, including wresting political power from unions entrenched within a solicitous administrative state, while the Democratic Party has been for a half century defenders of the status quo; 4) it is true that there is no Bismarck in the Republican Party gubernatorial line-up for governor so far, but the Democratic Party's gubernatorial roster screams “more of the same,” and its program for the future promises to be chock full of Bismarckian “official denials” that many political watchers will regard as desperate, despicable and laughably untrue.  

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist whose essays often appear in New England Diary.