NOW YOU KNOW
6:12 PM EST, February 8, 2013
In the end, he decided to pretend. Politicians will do that, trumpet that something is different than we know it to be. It's not what we expect in so many large doses from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who revels in his reputation for rude candor. The state's finances continue to challenge and defeat his hopes.
Insisting on spending more than he ought and satisfying allies and interest groups as an election beckons will cause a governor to engage in all sorts of hocus-pocus, hoping to divert the public's attention from the damaging details. Malloy has become Rellian in his detachment from economic reality in state budget-making. Whoever thought the Democratic and Working Families governor would don the blinders his befuddled predecessor must have left in her desk? Politics has lost none of its capacity for surprise.
The governor concocts a curious stew of favors and punishments. He lavishes money on administrators at the University of Connecticut while slashing funds for the indigent ill. On the eve of his budget address, Malloy unveiled a $1.5 billion Niagara of dough for UConn to spend on beefing up its science program.
This announcement came only weeks after Malloy and legislators struggled to find several hundred million dollars to balance the current budget, whacking away at programs for the most needy among us and others. So $1.5 billion for UConn seems extravagant and unaffordable, no matter how you dress it up as a portal to a brighter future.
It was only two years ago that Malloy rammed almost $1 billion through a compliant legislature for a new UConn hospital in affluent Farmington. A lot of money at UConn is wasted. In a survey of costs at 71 public universities, UConn placed at the top of the leader board in administrative costs per student. UConn cavils at the methodology of the damning survey, because that's what academia does. Even factoring in its objections, it's still assembled one of the nation's most expensive public university bureaucracies.
Malloy continues to reward UConn's lavish spending on its administrators. No wonder the fourth branch of government has no practical notion of the one of the governor's favorite phrases, "shared sacrifice." There's no phrase for that in the Husky bureaucracy's golden lexicon of privilege.
The trends in Malloy's budget are worrisome. Spending increases by 10 percent over two years. That's far higher than what the world outside government will expect to see in inflation and wage increases. Wages have been going to the other way. The median income of Americans has fallen by almost 10 percent in the past four years. In many ways, Americans have less money but are required to pay for more government.
In Connecticut, the challenges are more serious because our labor force has shrunk at a jarring rate. Various factors can contribute to that: retirements in an aging workforce, flight of jobs, stagnant economic growth and stubborn unemployment. They all play a role in Connecticut's economy. What they mean when taken together is fewer people engaged in economic activity that produces revenue for the state's coffers.
One of Malloy's favorite policy options is to borrow money to give to large corporations to move to Connecticut or stay here. A hedge fund run by a billionaire gets tens of millions of dollars to move from one spot in Fairfield County to one nearby. This is a program that might have embarrassed Marie Antoinette, but Malloy revels in it.
The governor's budget continues the larding of public funds on the rich beyond dreams, people he shows an unseemly desire to cultivate. Felonious former Gov. John G. Rowland developed the same bad habit. It often ends in tears.
The state's hospital presidents may be wishing they'd gone into the hedge fund, health insurance or corrupt Swiss bank business. Malloy can't give them enough. Hospitals that provide care for the poor take a beating in his two-year budget. Many have been forced to look for partners or purchasers. The whack they take in the budget could mean some will close or become mere feeders of patients to the ones that survive, changing the future of many communities in a state where the sun does not set on even temporary tax increases.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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