Most people have a friend that has a lot of good ideas. They’ve got ideas for all sorts of things: a revolutionary new gadget, the hilarious pilot episode of a TV show, or a gold mine of a business project. There is only just one problem — no money. With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Next Generation Connecticut announcement yesterday, he showed that for Connecticut, he is “that friend.”
In the pantheon of things state government could buy, Next Generation Connecticut is a pretty attractive option.The plan recognizes a key trait of the modern economy: those who do not have the necessary skills are hardest hit by globalization’s labor arbitrage and innovation’s replacement of labor with capital. Spending money to build those skills is both sensible and, quite likely, politically popular. The latter alone is more than sufficient to justify any government expense. The presence of the former is an added perk.
If there is a drawback to the plan, it is that Connecticut has no money to pay for it. I’ve previously written about how state government’s failure to address big problems before they get bigger forces state officials to make lousy choices in a crisis environment. Next Generation Connecticut demonstrates that this view is wrong. The truth is that they are simply choosing not to choose.
The plan’s certain approval by the Legislature and the Bonding Commission does not change the underlying fact that the state’s debt load is the heaviest in the nation. The issue is not that taxes are too low — state tax collections per capita are the fourth-highest in the nation.
It has been pointed out recently by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, as well as many others, that state spending must be reduced. Changing the way programs are designed — from education to Medicaid to state employee pensions — is the only way to free enough money in the state budget to pay for the worthy initiatives like Next Generation Connecticut.
The problem is that the same reasons Gov. Malloy used to justify $1.5 billion in borrowing could be used for a whole host of good ideas that we can’t afford. A case in point is the Department of Transportation’s list of “unfundable” projects. Rebuilding the Aetna Viaduct in Hartford, expanding I-84 and I-95 to three lanes, or improving I-95 in Fairfield County will take billions of dollars. The same arguments — “we should have done this years ago” and “this will pay for itself in the long run” — could applied to those projects, too.
The fact is that until state government is forced by voters to choose between good ideas and the style of money management necessary to pay for those ideas, nothing will change.
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