Panels urge Lamont to keep on spending
While the Democrats won the recent state election fair and square, if mainly by the default of the opposition, their swarming over the carcass of state government as one administration transitions into another is unseemly and delusional.
State government is billions short of the money it needs for ordinary operations but the policy advisory groups established by Gov.-elect Ned Lamont are clamoring for more spending. Worse, they are clamoring for more of what accomplishes little beyond the comfortable employment of the clamorers themselves. There are no hints about saving money or auditing policies for their miserable results in education, social services, and public administration.
Those who clamor seem to think that the new governor will just have to come up with the extra money somehow and betray the most recent pledges from his campaign, which were not to raise taxes as Governor Malloy did. Instead those who clamor expect Lamont to revert to his campaign's earlier comments, which endorsed raising taxes and imposing highway tolls on all drivers.
The proposals made to Lamont by his policy advisory groups "look like Dan Malloy 2.0 and then some," state Senate Republican leader Len Fasano said this week. "They include massive tax increases, massive increases in spending, and massive new promises − when our state cannot even uphold the promises we have already made."
Meanwhile Malloy has been using his final days in office to unveil his official portrait and announce more inessential grants to municipalities, including $5 million for "open space" preservation as if there is some rush of people and businesses into Connecticut and as if the state's economy isn't substantially smaller than when he took office eight years ago.
Malloy might have made things easier for his successor by declaring a financial emergency soon after the election and summoning the General Assembly into special session for cutting expenses but not services − that is, for arranging for government employees and contractors to start doing the same work for less − and for warning municipalities that, with less state financial aid, they soon would have to do the same.
But Malloy will depart without giving Lamont any political cover. The whole steaming, stinking mess of state government's finances will be dropped in the new governor's lap without any plan for remediation, just as it was dropped in Malloy's lap eight years ago.
How will Lamont handle the mess as he hurries to assemble his first state budget, due in just a few weeks?
The deficit projected for the next two-year budget period overwhelms the surplus recently amassed, and with another recession looming, Lamont has pledged not to spend the state's reserves on ordinary operating expenses. Nothing he said during the campaign explains the math necessary to produce the next budget, so it is likely to contain rude surprises on both the tax and spending sides.
By declaring a financial emergency immediately upon taking his oath of office, Lamont might prepare people to consider accepting disappointment as their civic duty − both the ordinary taxpayers to whom he promised "change" and the Democratic activists, most of them government dependents, who supported him in expectation of more of the same.
It's going to be a disaster no matter what, and Lamont may do no better than to seem in charge of it.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.
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