Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Another recipe for a Wish Sandwich

There was an op-ed piece in a local newspaper Sunday, Connecticut Democrats Seek to Reduce Government Costs underscoring in one swell fop, so to speak, Mao's question to Nixon in 1973 after RMN noted that the USA had been founded by a Revolutionary Movement, "how do you know one revolution was enough?" (for a great read, click here and be fascinated.)

The Nutmeg State, for friends from without, is somewhat contradictory in its politics. Both Senators, all five of our Congress(wo)men, and the preponderance of state house representatives and senators are from the same party-but this party has been unable to elect a Governor since William O'Neill was reelected in 1986. Connecticut, I'm told, has a reputation for New England thrift that has stood it in good stead for centuries--and as someone who grew up in New Jersey (exit nine for the a$$holes who always ask that question) I recognize multiple personalities in a state when I see them.

There's the Connecticut Gold Coast, Fairfield and parts of New Haven County. The Litchfield County area has very little in common with Hartford or Windham Counties and few paid any attention to New London County until the first of the two Native American casinos opened in 1993. The compact negotiated between the state of Connecticut and the two tribes operating the casinos gives the treasury in Hartford 25% of the receipts from the slot machines--no questions asked, hand held firmly out, please place the money face-up in order of denominations.

Just last week, one of the two casinos marked a milestone in having turned over three billion dollars to the state, since opening. I was so hoping for a press release from the office of special revenue telling all of us what exactly has been done with the money, but I've learned to never ask the question if you can't stand the answer, and I already fear, based on the scads of money the income tax has generated since it was instituted in 1991, that the answer to the casino bucks question might involve rubber sheets and salad oil and I'm just old for that.

Like the other forty-nine states of the Union, and the Federal government itself, The Land of Steady Habits is skint-actually worse than busted. Our reckless and feckless state leaders used stimulus funding to plug holes in the current operating left after magic book-keeping couldn't quite close the gap. You know the math already, like those 'two trains leave at different times from different cities at different speeds...' problems and the question is always what's the second train's engineer's name.

One party with veto-proof majorities endorsed a budget its allies, cronies and keepers crafted--the smaller party pouted and boycotted the 'reconciliation sessions' that were supposed to involve the Republican Governor and the Governor herself announced some months back she wouldn't seek another term making her a lame duck. All the ingredients for a happy ending in one place.

The House Democrats of Connecticut created a Commission on Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies (MORE) makes me wish I had their nerve in my tooth if I were to have a root canal. Its website notes it's "comprised of Democratic legislators, and municipal, regional, education, business, union and non-profit representatives" or, as one friend explained to me, 'the people who got us into this mess.' I don't think they were alone in that, we all helped, but I do think the membership for finding solutions might have been a little more catholic and inclusive.

When some of its recommendations are to 'relieve' cities and towns of the 'mandate' to post meeting minutes online (Public Act 08-3) when they should in reality have to also post the notice of meetings and agenda as well, I may be seeing an attempt to subvert the Freedom of Information Act. Too many of us hold those in elected office in low regard and assume, given the opportunity to cheat they will, to seriously think that the current legal requirement costs anymore than printing a notice to a piece of paper and posting it on a bulletin board in the town clerk's office (which is all that a municipal website really is). This is a terrible idea, lamely explained, of which all those who supported it should be ashamed. That they aren't speaks volumes about who we are and how we got here.

Another proposal I suspect will be embraced and followed with the same fervor of the 'hands-free' law the electors in Hartford created in 2006, is to add cell phones to the grand list of each city and town to 'enhance the tax base.' That the recommendation has gotten as far as the interim report by the Commission suggests, to me, that NOT very many of its members have read it, since I imagine all, or nearly all of them, have one or more cell phones, of course used only hands-free while driving to and from Hartford (they are part time legislators who must earn their livelihoods with other pursuits) and who could not be happy coughing up additional money every year to local authorities for something for which they currently pay nothing (unless they exempted themselves. Hmmm.).

A review of the entire document, and I cannot claim to have been meticulous in my reading but I went through it twice over the weekend, doesn't strike me as really cutting operating overhead, so much as adding 'revenue streams' by increasing user fees and direct and indirect taxes. There's some great sleight of hand in its proposals. For instance funding for the CT Commission on Culture and Tourism has basically disappeared, so increasing the hotel tax by three percent (from twelve to fifteen percent) and splitting the revenues between the municipality and the state is a little like taking six inches off the front of the blanket and sewing it to the back and telling me the blanket is now a foot longer. Brilliant stuff!

The best thing about the website and the self-congratulatory tone of its press releases on what it has proposed, not enacted (the legislative session is over and I guess I'm supposed to believe these proposals will be part of a special session rather than be election rhetoric for this fall's campaign) is right on the front page of the website. There's where you'll find a full alphabetical listing of all those who are responsible for this noble effort and magnificent gesture. I can only hope that voters, on both sides of the aisle, pay attention to those whose idea of helping to rescue this sinking ship is to drill a second and third hole to let the water out and make sure that no good deed goes unrewarded on Election Day.
-bill kenny

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