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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Hartford doesn’t need hockey; and state’s ‘values’ don’t help

    Some people think that Hartford's decline began in 1997 when the city's National Hockey League team, the Whalers, left for North Carolina. Gov. Ned Lamont seems to be one of them, though the city's plunge into poverty and dysfunction started at least 30 years earlier.

    For a few years in the 1980s and '90s the Whalers did manage to fill some downtown Hartford restaurants and bars on game nights as the team played at the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum. But most Whalers fans were suburbanites who quickly went back home, doing nothing to improve the city's demographics. Even with a National Hockey League team the city kept losing its middle class.

    Maybe NHL hockey could help Hartford a little more now since, thanks to a bailout from state government, the city has built a lovely minor-league baseball stadium near the coliseum, renamed the XL Center. With baseball in the warmer months and hockey in the colder ones, and with the housing the city is striving to restore downtown, maybe more middle-class people could be induced to live in the city again.

    But hockey is an acquired taste and the governor's enthusiasm for it in Hartford is not supported by history. The Whalers seldom filled their arena and the joke was that each game was like a Grateful Dead concert — the same several thousand people.

    When the other day the governor said his administration is “ready” for the return of big-league hockey to Hartford at the XL Center, with the possible relocation of the Arizona Coyotes, he couldn't have been serious. While state government is appropriating $100 million to renovate the arena, the project already is expected to run $40 million over budget, and a new team's likely demand for government subsidies has not been acknowledged, much less addressed.

    Indeed, in 1996, as the Whalers demanded that state government build them a new arena even as they couldn't fill the one they had, the Journal Inquirer calculated that between financial bailouts of the team, discounted and unpaid state loans, and free use of the coliseum, state government was subsidizing the team by $32 per ticket sold, or $1,400 per spectator per season. This shouldn't have been surprising, since the Whalers had only three winning seasons out of 18 in the NHL. (The Coyotes have had only two winning seasons in their last 10.)

    How much per ticket will Connecticut have to subsidize another round of NHL hockey in Hartford, and where will the money come from? The remnants of state government's federal emergency money are already being claimed many times over.

    Improving Hartford's demographics is a worthy project, but hockey isn't likely to accomplish even a tiny fraction as much as a few new supermarkets would, and subsidizing new supermarkets for a while probably will be necessary to make the city's notorious “food desert” bloom.

    State’s values

    Like other Southern states, North Carolina has been enjoying more economic and population growth than Connecticut, but three Democratic state senators here have an idea for reversing the trend.

    They note that North Carolina's Republicans have given their nomination for governor to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a nutty Bible thumper, so the Democratic senators — Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, Majority Leader Bob Duff and Deputy Senate President Joan Hartley — have urged Connecticut's economic development commissioner to appeal to North Carolina businesses to flee their state's impending nuttiness by moving here.

    Duff says, "A lot of people come to Connecticut because they like our values."

    Unfortunately those "values" lately include government employee union control of public finance, high taxes, high electricity prices, ever-increasing mandates on business, nullification of federal immigration law, racial preferences, abortion of viable fetuses, boys impersonating girls in sports, sex-change therapy for minors, the concealment by schools from parents of the gender dysphoria of their children, pervasive euphemizing and politics less competitive than Russia's.

    Bible thumping may be easier to live with.

    Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. He can be reached at CPowell@cox.net.

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