On the path of life, past the island of “liar liar pants on fire,” one comes to a place called the Land of the Big Lie. It is a location populated by far too many politicians.
Among its heralded residents is George H.W. Bush, who famously declared “Read my lips, no new taxes.” in 1988. He went on to support some of the largest tax increases in history.
Here in Connecticut, we are well accustomed to politicians who will say or do anything to get elected, even if it means lying. In 1990, former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker pontificated that adopting a state income tax “would be like throwing gasoline on a fire.” Weeks later, after winning the election, he proposed and then led the battle that gave Connecticut its present income tax.
Not to be outdone, in the fall of 1994 then Republican gubernatorial candidate John G. Rowland repeatedly promised that if elected, he would repeal Connecticut’s income tax. It was a promise that, despite a decade in office, he never attempted to keep.
Now, as the state of Connecticut faces what has become an extraordinary budget crisis, common sense, decency, and necessity would suggest that candidates across the political spectrum would strive to be honest with the voters.
But the three individuals seeking the Republican nomination for governor have, for the most part, chosen to go exactly in the opposite direction.
When the next governor is sworn into office in January 2011, he will face a budget shortfall of well over $3 billion. The legacy of failed leadership and bad decisions has finally caught up with us and as a result, Connecticut has never faced a fiscal crisis of this proportion.
Everyone who even vaguely understands Connecticut’s budget recognizes that the only solution will require a combination of budget cuts and tax increases.
Last year, when a legislative committee worked to identify even a billion dollars in cuts (which would only address a third of the present problem), their report identified that the state would have to “close six community colleges, two regional campuses for the University of Connecticut,and two prisons.”
In addition, it would have to “cut up to 20 percent in payments to cities and towns, nursing homes, and social service agencies,” as well as make similar deep cuts to “hospitals, child welfare programs, and mental health treatment facilities.” The fact is, not only would these cuts lead to higher local property taxes and higher tuition for families, it would actually cost state taxpayers more in the long run as vital services were severely cut and health and human needs went unaddressed.
Faced with this stark reality, the Republican candidates have decided to forgo honesty and instead have determined that their “best” course of action is to lie to the very people they want to represent.
Tom Foley, the leading Republican contender has repeatedly said “We can solve this budget deficit without any new taxes.”
Not be outdone, Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele has gone so far as to repeatedly say “I pledge to you the following: As your Governor I will veto ANY legislation that proposes to raise our taxes.” His running mate, Danbury Mayor Boughton adds that their campaign position is “No fees, no taxes, no tolls”
Oz Griebel, the most politically sophisticated of the three, has played a game of duck-and-cover and consistently said the state’s financial problems are the result of excessive spending, while refusing to answer questions about taxes. That said, when it comes to the tax issue, his most interesting comment so far has come when he cautioned against trying to get the wealthy to pay their fair share for fear they might all get up and leave Connecticut. He was recently quoted saying “the people who have the very most are the very same people who could most leave.”
These three Republican candidates may be naïve but they are not stupid. They know, as does everyone who is involved in state government, that some form of tax increases are in our future. But instead of engaging in an honest discussion about the difficult choices ahead, they seem content to stay in the Land of the Big Lie in the hope that voters will simply overlook their duplicity.
They would do well to listen to the advice of Thomas Jefferson who said, “He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him.”
Then again, maybe the responsibility ultimately rests not on the shoulders of these liars but on the voters who must decide what to do about it. As Homer Simpson said, “It takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen.”
We’ll know soon enough since Election Day 2010 is about 100 days away.
Jonathan Pelto served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1984-1993. He was Deputy Majority Leader and member of the Appropriations Committees during the income tax debate of 1991. He presently works as a strategic communications consultant.