Give independent voters the substance they desire
The July 4th parades mark the traditional opening of the 2018 Connecticut campaign season. Candidates make the rounds spouting focus-group tested platitudes about a future filled with hope and easy fixes.
We wonder if the voters are buying it. Those citizens who vote are in an ornery mood. One issue this time seems particularly acute.
The state’s chronic financial malaise has reached critical status. No matter how many compromises, budget adjustments, tax hikes, hiring freezes and furlough days the legislature and governor deploy, Connecticut’s financial health continues to deteriorate. Connecticut state expenses, fueled mainly by the need to pay for generous but historically underfunded employee pension and retirement benefits, are multiplying faster than revenues from taxes and state fees.
A number of Connecticut residents have lost faith. Many people who can afford to leave are escaping the high tax burden. Younger people are moving to bigger cities in other states where career opportunities are plentiful. Several major employers have relocated to states with better balance sheets and/or to cities that are more attractive to young professionals.
Compounding Connecticut’s pain is that these struggles continue at a time of national economic prosperity.
This dilemma has been decades in the making. However, addressing the problem in a strategic fashion has never been attempted. For years, governors and legislatures of both parties have nipped around the edges. They convene every two years to argue the details of a budget. Eventually, they get something that looks balanced on paper. The elected officials congratulate themselves for their efforts. Then we all wring our hands as the rose-colored revenue projections fall short, the pension payments swell, and the budget deficits return.
We need a comprehensive, long-term solution. Connecticut government requires a strategic overhaul of how it collects and spends pubic dollars. Balancing an annual budget is not a strategy. That is a tactical move. The way that the government conducts business, how it provides services and how it pays for those services, needs bold rethinking. The ad hoc Connecticut Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth produced such a plan, but the candidates aren’t talking much about it.
The trite bromides served up by Democrat and Republican candidates for governor and state legislature — from talking points supplied by opinion polls — are simply not going to cut it when it comes time to govern. There are no easy fixes for this state. Those of us who still take the role of citizen seriously are looking for leaders who can articulate the way forward candidly and provide a path to get us there.
Neither party has shone they can provide leaders with a plan to achieve this very important task. Both parties are prisoners of outmoded ideologies. Democrats say more taxes. Republicans say no taxes. Those are slogans, not solutions.
Both parties are focused on saying whatever it takes to win. Neither party seems particularly concerned about leveling with voters that fixing things will require a combination of labor concessions and tax reform. That needs to change.
Democrats in Hartford, liberate yourselves from being indentured servants to the public employee unions. Stop submitting to the union questionnaires that demand unbridled loyalty in exchange for election support. Be clear that public employee pensions and benefits must be reined in if the state has any hope of staying solvent — and for pensioners to have the assurances they will actually get paid. This could be a “Nixon-goes-to-China” moment for Democrats. It will anger union leaders, but the alternative — pretending all is well — is much worse.
Republicans, stop with the nonsense that simply cutting taxes will solve everything. And, stop portraying state workers as the enemy. Parading Grover Norquist around with pledges of no new taxes is counterproductive, as is promising the income tax will go away. Taxes are necessary to provide needed public services like roads, infrastructure, public safety, education, health care and social services.
If the major party candidates cannot break from their predictable patterns the attractiveness of the alternative indepedent gubernatorial ticket − former Republican Oz Griebel and former Democrat Monte Frank − will grow.
This independent newspaper is exasperated with the bumper-sticker banalities that the political parties and their candidates try to sell as solutions. Voters who identify as independents are a growing plurality in Connecticut. This group of nonpartisans wants real answers, not politics as usual, and will determine whom Connecticut elects as its governor and which party will control the legislature.
We long for elected leaders who have the vision, courage and stamina to confront our financial crisis and solve it.