Recent headlines about state government paint a picture of an out-of-touch bureaucracy: the curious case of Treasurer Denise Nappier’s traffic stop and early-morning walk home, the revelations about the Department of Social Services paying benefits to dead people, or the still-unraveling conflict of interest issues affecting the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection Commissioner, Daniel C. Esty. At a time when residents are looking for leaders to provide solutions on the economy, the appearance of incompetence and possibly corruption is disconcerting.
New public opinion polling expressed this point another way this week, revealing that if voters had it to do over again, 52% would vote for Tom Foley rather than Gov. Malloy. Dissatisfaction with the status quo is high in the Land of Steady Habits. Actually CT residents are playing catch up; the same sentiment animated voters in most of the other 49 states in 2010.
Nonetheless, the message from voters is clear: get the economy to start creating jobs in Connecticut again — or else.
In this context, it is difficult to blame Gov. Malloy for his efforts to jumpstart economic growth, like his First Five program that has promised millions of dollars in state aid to CIGNA, ESPN, and TicketNetworks in exchange for pledges to create jobs in the state. Malloy added a powerful new bulletpoint to his economic resume on Friday as he announced the proposal to build a new $1.1 billion research facility, The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, at the UConn Health Center in Farmington.
Though every new job is welcome, this type of economic development comes with at a high price to taxpayers. They will be on the hook for much of the $864 million Bioscience Connecticut project that wooed the Jackson Lab to Connecticut plus an additional $291 million for construction, equipment, and operations at the new institute. It also reflects the high priority on creating jobs that politicians can take direct credit for creating.
This strategy, though beneficial to politicians standing for re-election in the short term, avoids addressing obstacles to private sector growth like high cost of living and doing business in Connecticut. Reducing the tax burden, streamlining the regulatory environment, and tackling transportation and energy issues are much more difficult than cutting ribbons and unveiling architectural renderings but more powerful in actually spurring broad-based economic growth.
These efforts also gloss over the steps backward on the business climate taken by the legislature over the last year, like mandatory paid sick leave or the tax increases.
The Michael Lewis book and now Brad Pitt movie Moneyball tells the story of how big league baseball scouts had the wrong priorities when assessing prospective talent and how dramatically the game of baseball changed when the right ones were made more valuable.
There is a lesson here for elected officials on creating job growth and for the public on holding their leaders accountable.
Economic development should not simply be code for subsidies. Creating the most attractive business climate in the world requires a tax code that is simple, broad-based, imposes the lightest burden possible, and provides certainty. It means utility prices that aren’t the highest in the continental U.S., a transportation system that efficiently moves goods to market and people to work, and more affordable insurance costs.
For the public, judging elected officials on the basis of how many jobs they created is the wrong measurement and doesn’t help win baseball games or affect real change in the economy. Credit is due when structural reforms are delivered, not big subsidies.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com