Politics & Policy

Connecticut’s Progressive Nutmegs

Connecticut state capitol in Hartford (F11photo/Dreamstime)
Liberal policies are driving a great state to economic suicide.

In Henry Adams’s novel Democracy, C. C. French, a congressman from Connecticut, finds himself at a Washington dinner party, where he tries to make the case for government reform. He has barely started when the old patronage politician Silas Ratcliffe ridicules his ideas. “Your Civil Service Reform is just such another Yankee notion,” Ratcliffe thunders; “it’s a wooden nutmeg; it’s a clock with a show case and sham works.”

Today, Connecticut still has its Yankee notions, but the new ones are peddled by establishment Democrats rather than wide-eyed idealists. And the biggest nutmeg of them all is the idea that Hartford can tax itself out of its economic doldrums.

Back in 2011, Connecticut was facing a $3.3 billion budget shortfall. To fill this hole, Democrats in the state legislature passed, and Democratic governor Dannel Malloy signed, the most expensive tax increase in state history. New levies were imposed on everything from income to cigarettes to cabarets to cheap footwear.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Connecticut is once again facing a $3 billion deficit. What to do? Pass another tax increase, of course! It’s only the second worst in state history this time — we wouldn’t want to get too crazy. The legislature approved a budget earlier this month that tries to get more blood out of the usual stones, including heftier taxes on businesses.

RELATED: Dems Push Ever-Higher Taxes in Connecticut, Already the One of the Most-Taxed States

Only now, businesses have had enough. Three of the biggest corporations in Connecticut — General Electric, Aetna, and Travelers — issued unusually caustic statements warning that they might move elsewhere. Other states quickly came calling: New York, Georgia, Florida, and Texas all made overtures to GE. Indiana ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal with the taunting message “Friends don’t let friends pay higher taxes.”

So thorough was Connecticut’s humiliation that by the end of the week even the impenetrable Malloy was offering to dilute or delay new taxes. GE’s gambit had worked. And perhaps its threat to move was a cynical bluff. I’m not about to ask the readers of a conservative publication to feel sorry for General Electric, which goes spelunking through tax codes to avoid paying up and serves a clientele consisting primarily of EPA algae-fuel enthusiasts.

RELATED: GE Is Considering Leaving Connecticut Over Democrats’ Tax Hikes

No, the most poignant herald of Connecticut’s doom isn’t GE’s threat, but Indiana’s scathing ad. Not only was it epic revenge for Malloy’s pathetically grandstanding post-RFRA ban on state-funded travel to the Hoosier State, but it also contained the most concise summary of Hartford’s problems. “Indiana: A State That Works,” it said at the bottom. And that’s the issue: As far as its economy is concerned, Connecticut doesn’t work.

Connecticut’s pitch to businesses is as follows: Come pay a fortune for the privilege of being hamstrung by bureaucrats.

Connecticut’s pitch to businesses is as follows: Come pay a fortune for the privilege of being hamstrung by bureaucrats. Its overall tax burden is the third highest in the country, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, while its business climate ranks 42nd. State apologists reply that residents are paying for quality of life, but picket fences, verdant town greens, and elite schools with names like Loomis Chaffee can balance out only so many confiscatory costs.

Last year, Connecticut’s economy grew by 0.6 percent, compared with Massachusetts’s 2.3 percent and New York’s 2.5 percent. That’s a result of taxes and union rules, but also less visible factors. For example, according to the Yankee Institute, Connecticut requires licenses for more jobs than any other state in the nation except one. And it mandates 66 percent more benefits in its health-insurance plans than the national average, according to the Connecticut Policy Institute.

I could go on. Connecticut is so loaded down with anti-business obstructions that simple solutions aren’t possible. Its plight is similar to that of New Jersey, where even Governor Chris Christie’s full-throttle charge hasn’t been enough to turn the economy around. You could abolish the legislature and appoint a Republican Holy Roman Emperor of Connecticut tomorrow, and it would still take years to clean out all the rot. 

RELATED: In Connecticut, the Limits of Governing by Spleen

Last year, I wrote an essay for this website naming Dannel Malloy America’s worst governor. Asked about this honor during a televised debate, Malloy responded with an effusion of poetic brilliance by calling National Review a “right-wing tea-bag organization.” With Gallup ranking Connecticut dead last for job creation in 2014, I think this publication’s good name has been vindicated.

Honestly, though, who’s gloating? Malloy is atrocious, yes, the public face of an arrogant, incompetent, insulated, complacent Democratic party. But all Connecticut politicians retire eventually — either to Florida or to prison — and when Malloy finally bows out, the culture that wrecked his state will endure.

#related#No one in Hartford ever learns; no one ever diverges from mindless tax-and-spend. Anything not bolted to the floor is handed off to interest groups. The moderate Republican governors occasionally offered up as Polynesian sacrifices by the voters can only slow, not stop.

The ghost of progressivism past clanking down the hallway is never heeded. GE’s threats are unsurprising, not only because they make economic sense, but because they echo those of Pratt & Whitney, which shipped away untold jobs back in the 1990s because of Connecticut’s high costs. Malloy is a reminder of Governor Lowell Weicker, who rammed through a state income tax in 1991 and put the brakes on job growth for years to come.

Connecticut has been dismantling itself for decades. Having grown weary of teenagers carrying briefcases and summer temperatures that run even with those on the planet Mercury, last year I briefly entertained the idea of leaving Washington, D.C., and moving back to the state of my birth. Old friends reacted as if I were considering something manifestly absurd, like a unicycle trip across the Grand Canyon or a career in rhinoceros husbandry. Why would you come back to Connecticut when we’re all trying to leave? There’s a reason those Century 21 signs are springing up down the street.

For those of us who grew up there, that’s genuinely sad. After centuries of ingenuity, progressivism is the one nutmeg Connecticut can’t let go.

— Matt Purple is an editor at Rare.us.

 

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