Ballpark won't fix social disintegration

Having offered tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks and grants to Connecticut companies just for relocating within the state, moving from one town to another, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not in a good position to articulate the public interest as Hartford tries to lure away New Britain's minor-league baseball team.

But if the governor can't articulate the public interest here, state legislators and other candidates for governor should. For whatever the baseball team extorts from either city - like a new stadium from Hartford, or property tax breaks and other subsidies from New Britain - much of the paying will be done by state taxpayers.

That's because Hartford and New Britain, centers of poverty and dependence on government, are essentially wards of the state. State aid finances nearly half of Hartford's city budget and about 40 percent of New Britain's, so whatever the cities give to the baseball team will just increase their need for state aid and compel them to seek more, even as it does not matter to the rest of Connecticut whether the team stays or goes. Whatever the team's move would add to Hartford would only be subtracted from New Britain.

For 50 years, since the Constitution Plaza redevelopment project in downtown Hartford, Connecticut's urban policy has been based largely on the false premise that the big problem is physical infrastructure and a lack of entertainment venues. As a result state and city policy has relocated downtown Hartford three times in that half century. After Constitution Plaza downtown was moved west to what became the Hartford Civic Center and then back east to what has become Adriaen's Landing.

But despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on downtown relocation, Hartford, once the richest city in the country, has become only poorer and more dependent. Those attractions made few people want to live near them. They amused mainly suburbanites and out-of-towners for a few hours or a few days, and then people went home. Urban policy in Hartford has profited only a few developers and a hockey team that for a few years collected a state government subsidy of $32 per ticket before moving away.

For as it turned out, urban policy was never the problem; the problem was and remains social policy and particularly its coddling and subsidizing the destruction of the two-parent family. As a result, cities filled up with fatherless, neglected, and troublesome children who dragged down the local schools, incurred ever-more government expense in the name of remediation, and drove the middle class away, whereupon all by itself, unnoticed by oblivious government, the essence of what had been downtown Hartford moved with the middle class to West Hartford Center, where it now resides in a community that, being middle class, is attractive enough that it doesn't have to pretend that its troubles arise from the lack of a minor-league baseball team.

Social policy in Connecticut won't be changed overnight; indeed, dependence is now so ingrained in city culture and the state's political culture that it may never be changed. But like relocating downtown Hartford every few years, moving a baseball team at government expense from one poor city to another can never be more than an expensive distraction, as much as the politicians may need one.

Nice try, but ...

Noticing from the recent atrocity in Santa Barbara, Calif., that mass murders can be perpetrated not just with scary-looking "assault rifles" but also with ordinary pistols, realizing that the constitutional right to bear arms prevents outlawing pistols, but not realizing that the problem of gun violence is really the problem of social disintegration, some people are advocating outlawing the manufacture of ammunition.

But the right to bear arms presumes ammunition, or else guns wouldn't be arms at all. The country couldn't outlaw ammunition and maintain the right to bear arms any more than it could maintain the First Amendment while outlawing ink, paper, radio, television, and the Internet.


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