Back in the heyday of the Tea Party, the “12 cookies” joke made the rounds. It went like this:
A CEO, a Tea Party member and public employee sit at a table, with 12 cookies on a plate. The CEO grabs 11 cookies and tells the Tea Party member, “You better watch him. He wants your cookie.”
While the Tea Party, an astro-turf movement given life by the dark money of the Koch Brothers, may be waning, the dark thrust of the joke is fully ascendant. The rich and powerful are skilled at deflecting blame onto others while hoarding their wealth and strengthening their vise-like grip on government.
And not just nationally. I’m talking about Connecticut.
Facing a total budget deficit of $3.6 billion over the FY 2018-2019 biennium, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy presented a proposed budget to the General Assembly that relies heavily on sacrifices from working families, including more than $1.5 billion in concessions from state employees. It contains vital program and service cuts of almost $3 billion over the biennium.
Malloy’s budget will hit a lot of people hard, with its substantial back-door tax increases on public employees in state and local government and the working poor who would see a cut in their earned income tax credit. The only folks exempt from pain are the uber-wealthy and big corporations.
But the governor is hardly the only transgressor. Legislative Republicans, apparently stumped on how to treat folks fairly, have sponsored roughly 100 bills that attack workers’ rights and cut their pay and benefits. There’s even a bill, now dead on arrival, which would have taxed the pensions of state employees who move out of Connecticut.
Neither Gov. Malloy nor Republican legislators seem all that interested in proposing revenue streams. Some fair-minded proposals, many of them proffered by CT Voices, would include raising the personal income tax by a half a percentage point for top earners (which would bring in more than $200 million in revenue), taxing hedge fund managers’ “carried interest” income appropriately (which would generate $500 million in revenue), reviewing and reducing the state’s $7 billion in tax expenditures.
Need more revenue and savings generators? How about fining low-wage employers who abuse the taxpayer-funded safety net (another $300 million in revenue), establishing highway tolls or legalizing marijuana sales? Or cracking down on the state’s tendency toward recklessly outsourcing public services without any cost-benefit analysis?
Let me be clear. Taxing wealth fairly is hardly the equivalent of pitchforks and torches in the night. If millionaires and billionaires contributed a percentage of their income in taxes equivalent to that which working families already pay, lawmakers would have a $1 billion surplus at their disposal. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), Connecticut’s state and local tax system is the 26th most regressive in the nation.
That simple fact alone is reason enough to demand real tax fairness. Connecticut’s budget issues cannot be resolved on the backs of middle class families. Nor can they be fixed by passing the burden to local communities or by decimating the vital public services our citizens deserve.
Last year’s experience with austerity here in Connecticut proved that it is impossible to balance budgets — let alone improve the economy, create decent jobs, or reduce inequality — through cuts alone.
Blaming unionized public employees is convenient — and dangerously misleading, as a recent Economic Policy Institute study on Connecticut public sector compensation reminds us. But it’s a distraction from the real challenges we face.
Connecticut is facing stark choices that require courage and foresight from our elected leaders. It’s easy to protect the rich and t avoid fixing our regressive tax structure by screaming about the public employee’s cookie. It’s harder — but infinitely more beneficial — to remember who really holds all the cookies.
Sal Luciano is Executive Director of Council 4, a union representing 32,000 workers. Council 4 can be reached on Facebook and through its Campaign4MiddleClass on Twitter @C4MC. Sign up for email updates from Council 4 here.
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