Why are Connecticut residents so quick to dump on their state? Richard Sugarman, founding president of the Connecticut Forum, raised precisely that question last week in a Courant op-ed. Unfortunately, Sugarman mostly sung Connecticut’s praises and never really got around to answering the question posed in his lead, so I’m happy to do it for him.
With the exception of one miserable year in New Hampshire, I’ve lived in Connecticut since 1984. The overwhelming majority of that time has been spent in the state’s rural northwest corner, though I did spend a year in Middletown while in grad school. But I’m also well traveled in Connecticut, having visited every major city and corner of what is now my beloved home state.
Obviously, I like it or I wouldn’t have elected to live here longer than any other place in my 57 years of existence. But as readers of this column know, I’m not reluctant to point out the state’s shortcomings either. In part, it stems from my reflex as a journalist to look at more than one side. But I also don’t want to fall into the trap of so many in my native Texas who, in their rabid fealty, fail to see any of the problems plaguing their own state.
There are many things to like about our state that have been documented ably by others, including Sugarman himself. From the shoreline to the river valleys to the northern hills, Connecticut is blessed with physical beauty — more modest beauty than, say Vermont, but far more attractive than other small eastern states like New Jersey or Delaware.
There is more to do here than many of the naysayers would like to admit — in part because of our great colleges and universities. There are first-rate art and science museums, great repertory theaters and one of the best aquariums in the Northeast. There are more scenic hikes than you can possibly count and, within easy striking distance to the north, the Basketball Hall of Fame and the haute culture of the Berkshires.
Our location between Boston and New York is often touted as a strength, but I also think it creates problems for us. There is no quicker way to develop an inferiority complex than to be sandwiched in between a couple of neighbors who have a lot more than you have. In the eyes of far too many people, Connecticut is little more than the concrete pipeline of I-95 — flyover country for denizens of the Boston-New York travel corridor.
And there are no tolls to make those motorists pay for the privilege; nor do they even pony up for our gross receipts tax because savvy out-of-staters gas up before entering the Nutmeg State.
Taxes are high compared to the Sun Belt, but they’re pretty competitive with neighboring states. Perhaps the biggest problem for business isn’t taxes so much as it is the regulatory burden they must bear — or what UConn economist Fred Carstensen has called “the worst permitting regime in the country.”
Our fiscal problems are legion and include what Carstensen and former U.S. Comptroller David Walker have called “some of the highest — if not the highest — total liabilities and unfunded obligations per taxpayer of any state in the nation,” including the second-highest unfunded pension liability after only basket-case Illinois. Gov. Dan Malloy’s budget guru, Ben Barnes, had called the state’s perpetual near-insolvency a state of “permanent fiscal crisis.”
Despite a recent uptick in employment, job creation remains slow, sales and income taxes are high relative to other parts of the nation, energy costs are out of this world and affordable housing is becoming scarcer by the month. And there is the matter of our roads, which were judged in a 2014 White House report to be tied with Rhode Island for worst in the nation. And there is the matter of our brutal winters, which can’t be blamed on the state government — as much as I’d like to.
To make matters even worse, we are a state of astonishing venality. We aren’t called Corrupticut for nothing. We’ve just seen a former governor sentenced to jail 10 years to the day after having been sentenced in his first trial. At one time, the city of Waterbury had three ex-mayors sitting in jail. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI has a permanent office at the Capitol. The sheer volume of corruption in the Land of Steady Habits has a corrosive effect on morale and makes us the butt of jokes — often at the hands those who live here themselves.
The above problems have no doubt contributed to the unfortunate fact that Connecticut is one of only six states to have lost population in the last two fiscal years.
Yes, there are plenty of reasons not to like Connecticut, but unlike the nattering nabobs of negativism quoted in Mr. Sugarman’s op-ed, I try not to think about them too much.
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