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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    Maybe Connecticut should outsource its government to Massachusetts

    Why shouldn't Connecticut just let Massachusetts dominate the emerging New England marijuana economy, make up all the regulatory rules and keep all the revenue?

    After all, isn't this the way we do things here in the new Connecticut? We just outsource all the good things, tax revenues and jobs, to Massachusetts and keep the bad.

    It started with the big corporate defections to the Bay State: Pfizer, followed by General Electric. Connecticut lawmakers may only get partial blame for that bleeding of jobs over state lines.

    But much more of Connecticut's subsidizing Massachusetts can be laid quite squarely on the shoulders of Connecticut's impossibly inept General Assembly — from gas and liquor taxes that drive consumers over state lines, to the imminent ceding of much of Connecticut's gambling business to Massachusetts.

    I can't get out of my head an image I have of the laughing executives in the MGM board room in Vegas, giddy that the fools in Connecticut fall for one stalling gimmick after another, while MGM keeps building its money-and-jobs-stealing casino just over the state line in Springfield.

    Somebody will be able to write a book someday about how masterfully MGM played Connecticut, not just the local politicians in Hartford but the Washington delegation that let MGM jerk around the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

    And now, with the fate of the gambling revenues sealed — projections show a looming cliff for tribal slot payments to Connecticut, once the giant slots machine opens in Springfield — Connecticut has moved to make sure we get no revenue at all from the marijuana industry that is about to explode in New England.

    Actually, the marijuana industry forfeiture has echoes of Connecticut's initial reaction to casino gambling.

    Petty and organized crime were going to spike, they fretted at the time, over the idea of developing casinos. Non-casino entertainment businesses were going to fail. It amounted to turning the state over to gangsters.

    Today, there is hand-wringing over marijuana being a gateway drug. The opioid crisis will worsen, driving accidents will spike and our children, red-eyed and distracted by munchies, will lose life's essential ambitions.

    I don't think there is any way Connecticut lawmakers could have ever pulled the trigger on legalizing a casino, back when that business was knocking at New England's door. Then Gov. Lowell P. Weicker did it for them, essentially by fiat, unilaterally signing a deal with the Mashantucket Pequots to give them a gambling monopoly in return for a share of the take from the slot machines.

    Not a single legislator had to vote yes.

    Lawmakers today can't bring themselves to vote yes to follow in the footsteps of Massachusetts and get on the marijuana program instead of being left behind, stuck with the problems and none of the jobs or revenue.

    Weicker's bargain, taking Massachusetts gambling dollars and sending its gamblers home with their problems, is about to be turned on its head, when Massachusetts starts vacuuming up Connecticut's gambling dollars while sending the losers back home.

    The same dynamic will be in play in the emerging marijuana industry. Who really thinks Connecticut residents aren't going to go buy pot in Massachusetts, paying a tax to that state and employing that state's citizens, while returning home to consume? Of course some may continue to patronize the shadowy black market here.

    The money goes across the state line, and the problems, if there are any, will come home to roost.

    There's no geographic chart yet of new marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts. The first ones are supposed to open this summer.

    But I am going to wager there will be one in Springfield, and residents of northern Connecticut will be able to do convenient one-stop sin shopping, gamble and buy a bag, after just a short jaunt across the state line.

    When Springfield finds its economic development legs and begins to profit as a vice purveyor, you will be able to see Connecticut's hand in its success.

    I'd like to send Connecticut lawmakers over the border, too. But I doubt Massachusetts would have them.

    Besides, that won't happen.

    We are, after all, in the habit of sending the good and keeping the bad.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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