Republican leaders presented their alternative budget this week and — knock me over with a feather — it contained no new taxes! “Political pundits, blogosphere dwellers and skeptics have maintained for months that it would be impossible to produce a balanced, honest budget that fills the massive state deficit without huge tax increases,” said House Minority Leader, State Rep Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, in a press statement. “Today, Republican lawmakers proved them wrong.”
Leaving aside the question if one can actually “dwell” in the blogosphere (Geek points to Cafero for revealing he’s a closet TRON fan) there is the more critical issue here: is this really a “balanced, honest budget” that “fills the deficit?”
Like the national GOP, the state Republicans have drunk the “it’s not a revenue problem, it’s a spending problem” Kool-Aid, and they believe that all of our problems can be solved by slashing and privatizing. Cafero even took it a step further: “We have a moral obligation to show this state there’s another way and that’s what the motivation was behind us. Because but for us, who?”
Tell me, is it possible for a GOP leader to make a speech about anything without bringing morality into it? Ever?
Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, added:“This . . . will help make living and working in Connecticut affordable again.”
The question is, affordable for whom?
Let’s get real here. According to CT Voices for Children, ours was the only state in which real income of the poorest 20 percent of families fell since the late 1980s ( a drop of $4,437 versus a gain of $1,814 nationally). In the same time period, Connecticut’s middle income families had the 2nd smallest gain in average income — and the smallest percentage gain ($3,103, 5.1 percent). By comparison, Connecticut’s wealthiest 20 percent enjoyed a 45-percent increase in average real income (2nd highest in dollar increase). Connecticut experienced the country’s fastest widening income gaps, both between its wealthiest and poorest families and between its wealthiest and middle-income families.
This is, of course, mirrored nationally, where the tax cuts initiated by Reagan and then followed up by Bush have done a spectacular job of concentrating wealth, not to mention adding to the federal deficit.
Whereas 25 years ago, the top 12 percent of Americans controlled 33 percent of the nation’s wealth, today the top 1 percent control 40 percent. That same 1 percent takes a quarter of the nation’s income. So much for that whole “trickle down” theory. If only the Republicans actually listened to George H.W. Bush, when he warned them about “Voodoo Economics.”
State and local taxes and fees in Connecticut have declined as a share of the state’s total personal income since 1997. The proportion of total income paid towards state and local government in Connecticut has fallen from a high of 14.7 percent in 1997 down to 13.9 percent in 2008. Meanwhile the 50-state average increased from 15.6 percent to 15.9 percent.
On both a state and federal level, this budget crisis is forcing us to looking ourselves in the mirror and contemplate who we are as Americans and a human beings. We’re being offered competing visions of “shared sacrifice” and they each show starkly different values and attitudes towards the elderly, the young, and the disadvantaged.
As on the federal level, it appears vastly more important to the state Republicans to perpetuate the ever growing income inequality, by balancing the budget on the backs of the disadvantaged (education, health, child protection, job training, youth programs, and welfare are among areas targeted) rather than expecting the wealthy to incur any additional taxes.
The GOP become vastly overconfident as a result of the mid-term elections, and is claiming a mandate that isn’t really there. But they will be kicked into touch. A recent ABC/Washington Post Poll found 72 percent of Americans want Congress to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) was booed at a recent town hall meeting after defending the extension of the Bush tax cuts from the criticism of a constituent who declared himself a “lifelong conservative,” yet had obviously woken up to the realization that “there’s nothing wrong with taxing the top because it does not trickle down.”
Meanwhile, we have the former financial director of a business claiming the budget is “balanced” when it has a $500 million plug for unidentified savings on top of the $2 billion in labor concessions yet to be agreed upon in the Malloy budget; not to mention $224 million in savings from reducing Medicaid fraud when the current state projections for this initiative only call for $30 million. As The Donald would say: “You’re fired.”
Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.