Opinion: What will it take to make Connecticut wake up?

By Gail Lavielle

State representative, Norwalk-Wilton-Westport

NORWALK, Conn. – An article posted on Aug. 1 on the Forbes web site has gone viral. Titled “How Did Rich Connecticut Morph Into One of America’s Worst Performing Economies?” it’s an unapologetic look at the dismal state of Connecticut’s economy and the policies that have transformed it from being one of the most prosperous in the country into the only economy that actually shrank in 2012 – the one that now ranks dead last.

Written by Jim Powell, an economic historian and frequent Forbes contributor, the article has generated intense social media activity and an outpouring of comments. Perhaps because it appears in a national media outlet, it’s raising more eyebrows and generating wider interest than homegrown pieces about Connecticut that include much of the same information. It paints a grim picture of a state with every possible advantage that has been driven to its knees by unsuccessful policies that a one-party-dominated state legislature has championed for decades with unremitting consistency.

The article has clearly touched a nerve. Not a day has gone by that several people haven’t mentioned it to me spontaneously. One constituent said, “I feel bereft, like I’ve been betrayed by my own state. I can’t stay here.” Another said simply, “It’s over. Connecticut is finished.”

What has upset people so much? For starters, there’s a litany of Connecticut’s current abysmal rankings in everything from annual economic growth to per capita debt to business friendliness, as well as data on the exodus of people and businesses to other states in recent years. And then there’s a primer on the policies and practices responsible for these outcomes that reads like a guidebook on how to sink a thriving economy. These include:

• Consistent failure to focus on attracting investors and businesses in order to sustain an influx of new businesses

• Relinquishing Connecticut’s competitive tax advantage by introducing the income tax, sustaining one of the country’s highest gas taxes, and increasing the overall tax burden more and more steeply over time

• Relentlessly increasing state spending, nearly tripling the budget over two decades and expanding the number of state government employees significantly faster than the population for 30 years

• Making state and local government more expensive to run by mandating the use of unionized construction companies for public projects

• Allowing the state’s major cities to decline due to ineffective crime prevention, housing, zoning, and business tax policies

As a framework for managing a state, these policies and practices have weakened Connecticut’s economy – called one of the country’s strongest by The New York Times in 1984 – beyond recognition. They are not working, and for many, they simply defy logic. What frightens people the most is that there’s no reason to hope they will change.

Yet there is a way. Lawmakers and the administration must listen to the clarion call of competition and look to expand the tax base instead of the taxes themselves. Doling out large one-shot forgivable loans and incentives to a few select companies doesn’t help any business, let alone all of them, address day-to-day expenses over the long term – but lowering taxes and other costs and regulatory hurdles for all businesses does. The state must stop pushing taxpayers beyond their means by respecting the spending cap and significantly reducing spending by privatizing state services where it makes sense and reforming state employee union contracts. And that’s just a start.

What more will it take for the people of Connecticut to wake up and demand a reversal of the policies that have failed them? How bad do things have to get? One concerned citizen suggested that for the public to understand the need for sweeping change and usher in a more balanced state government, we’ll have to wait until our beautiful state becomes “Detroit on the Sound.”

But this doesn’t have to happen. The alarm clock is already blaring in our ears. Connecticut must wake up now and insist that state government change course before it’s too late. Only then can we hope to see a future that is brighter than the past.


17 responses to “Opinion: What will it take to make Connecticut wake up?”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Sounds more like the clarion call of national office ringing in Ms Lavielle’s ears. Is she so frustrated at not getting her way in the legislature that she is willing to trash the state that elected her in a national business publication?

    She just made it that much harder for every taxpayer in CT.

  2. Norwalk lifer

    Call your “friends” John Rowland, Jodi Rell and Bob Genuario and complain to them.

    Lowell Weicker instituted the state income tax, Bob Genuario ran on abolishing it. Clock ticking.

    This governor is struggling with the “mess” they left. And here I thought “Elephants had long memories”.

    Norwalk Lifer

  3. nwkprobate

    I’m totally panicking! This state is on a collision course with disaster.

    Bob Duff and the rest of the CT Legislature, quit spending taxpayer funds like it is Monopoly money!

  4. EveT

    Arguments straight out of ALEC, which coincidentally had their national convention just recently.

  5. Bryan Meek

    So, what is different about CT versus other states?

    There isn’t enough time or space here to write about all the damage being done right now.

    Here are a few items that no other states are doing. Maybe these should be revisited?

    This Governor introduced mandatory sick pay for employers. Result, hiring freezes, slower job and business growth. Businesses leaving the state.

    While even New York was cutting costs, Malloy has increased our spending by 20%. His revenue forecasts are outright lies and he has missed everyone. He borrowed billions and when left over with some change had the nerve to call it a surplus. If it was a surplus why have our credit ratings continued to go down?. Connecticut is the most indebted state in the country and has to pay more interest per person because of the lousy credit rating.

    Aetna has had a permanent hiring freeze in this state and recently announced they will not even offer insurance on the state’s obamacare mandated healthcare exchanges. This promises to make our health care coverage the most expensive in the nation as well.

    This governor decided to build a 9 mile bus highway from New Britain to Hartford at a cost of $500 million dollars. It is on top of an existing rail line. 3000 people take the bus each day from New Britain to Hartford. The Metronorth rail line carries 200,000 a day and is crumbling before our eyes, with deadly collisions, bridges failing to open and close.

    With UBS recently announcing the elimination of all 3000 jobs from Stamford and vacating a beautiful building adjacent to the train line, you would think there was available space for the taking for a large hedge fund like Bridgewater. Nope. Malloy decided to give them $115 million to build a new palace on the water in Stamford that will be a traffic nightmare for the local residents.

    These are just a few of the bad things happening right now, but I think it is going to get much worse for the state because we are headed to another multi billion dollar deficit next year and inevitable raising of taxes.

    It is very clear that the selective kickbacks Malloy is giving to favored businesses and his political contributors is not helping. We need sweeping, across the board business friendly policies to fix his mess. We need our local politicians, like Gail, to continue to advocate for sanity in government. There has to be a proper balance between government services and the private sector required to fund those. We are way out of balance right now and teetering on an edge of no return.

  6. jlightfield

    @Brayn Meek, you are right about the busy being one massive boondoggle. But let’s identify the real culprit here, CONNDOT submitted this Tiger Grant project when Rell was still Governor. Malloy’s administration should have cancelled it, but instead fell for but we have dollars approved therefor argument.
    Connecticut just can’t seem to focus on fixing Fairfield County’s transportation issues. Whether its our anti-super7 activists or our fractured legislative bloc, the result is the same.
    I still think the way forward is to form the 51st state called Fairchester and create a viable economic region.
    Malloy at least is incentivizing Fairfield County companies that aren’t in the business of construction. Rowland wasted millions in Waterbury and Hartford, can we say I-84 with fake storm drains? How many empty buildings can we attribute to Rowland and Rell?

  7. Ken

    Its clear to anybody not so blinded by partisan politics that the Democrats & Liberals in general are killing us. People might be able to try & defend Democrats by pointing out Republicans, but “Democrat” itself isnt the issue. “Liberalism” is & we havent had anything but liberals, Republican as well as Democrat in over 20 years in this state. Rell was a nobody, Rowland shoulda been a DEmocrat & our Republican legislators showed us in April just how spineless & liberal they are, with notable exceptions such as Dan Carter & Rob Sampson. Blame whosever you want but we ARE going down the tubes TODAY & its hapenning after DECADES of liberal policy expansion. I keep waiting for one of these bozos to try & invent a social program intended to fund all the other ones we cant afford in order to solve our problems. CT voters are to blame, DONT VOTE FOR ANYBODY already in office, we need new blood & aint gonna get it from Duff, Cafero, Wood or Perone. We need to flush the bad if we want good.

  8. Tim T

    Right wing talking points propaganda. Norwalk lifer has it correct. I would go a step further and point out that it is the right wing Republican “conservatives” that have destroyED CT as they did the country.

  9. Piberman

    CT voters have a love affair with Gov. Malloy and the public unions. CT voters has given Democrats a super majority in Hartford. Odds are that the love affair will continue for another 4 years. After all who isn’t proud of a state nationally prominent as a poster child for fiscal mismanagement, high taxes, top ranked public salaries, unfunded pensions and lowest jobs growth as businesses leave our state ? Who isn’t proud of a state that pays quarter million pensions to its employees. And spends hundreds of millions enticing firms to create new jobs real or imagined.

    At some point CT voters will realize that CT Democratic legislators are headed in the wrong direction – rewarding public unions while harming private citizens and firms. We’re not there yet. But we’re making progress. In CT everyone loves higher taxes. That’s why we’re “special”. So keep voting Democrat until it really hurts. We’re in the Vanguard for America demonstrating how ever higher taxes can utterly destroy a state’s economy. Now that’s quite a distinction. CT forever !

    We can be certain that some distant day when Republicans return to power everyone will say its heir fault. Gov. Malloy only inherited a “mess”. Actually it was the bicycle riders not the Republicans.

  10. Tim T

    Amazing how the Republicans take no responsibility for the years of Republican Governors …Typical.

  11. Bryan Meek

    Republican executives have their share of the blame, but for those of you challenged with Civics you should note that it is the legislative body that sets the spending levels. The Governor is a tremendous lobby for these, but in the end only executes on what has been authorized.
    None of this should distract from the fact that Malloy (who cares what party) raised spending 10% year over year. When other states are cutting costs dramatically, CT is going the other way. Our credit ratings, debt, and lack of private industry growth are the direct result.
    Democrat stalwarts need to swallow some pride and agree we are headed down the wrong path right now with no end in sight.
    Other states are building new superhighways like Richmond, Raleigh, Dallas. We get an expanded on ramp and bridges replaced 20 years after they should have been. If we are going to break the bank, we should be doing it on really, really big ideas instead of little maintenance projects.

  12. EastNorwalkChick

    It’s as if John Rowland or Jodi Rell never existed…..

  13. Bryan Meek

    You can blame GOP all you want who have never controlled more than 1/3 of state government for the past 40 years. Or you can accept reality that Malloy has made some very, very bad choices for the state.

    He needed to follow Cuomo and Christie and put some fiscal sanity into our government. Instead he is increasing it by 10% a year at a direct cost to our private sector.

    You can continue to fool yourself and play this game of partisanship that has gotten us no where, or you can admit what works and doesn’t work. Right now, it isn’t working and we have become a national joke because of it.

  14. Tim T

    Let us not forget the Republicans also seems to have forgotten about the disaster Bush created. This is typical of them and this is the reason no one takes the Republicans serious. They are a comedy act.

  15. Norwalk Lifer

    Connecticut is suffering, but those that bray, DETROIT, DETROIT, don’t help matters.

    It doesn’t make one intelligent to point out the maggots in the cream, you have to get the task of picking them out.

    The republicans are running on a platform of fear and loathing, not promise and new beginnings. I, too, have my issues with this governor, I actually felt bad for Jodi Rell, a former school board official with no college degree, having to take over for the convict John Rowland, who once was a “shining star” in the GOP along with Christie Todd Whitman, The GOP eats their own, and it’s unacceptable. I met Richard Luger, who was ousted by his own party in an airport, he is intelligent, amazing knowledge of foreign policy, and above all, a nice person to boot; What did the GOP do to him? booted him out in their “fantasy great purge”, So now, you have a quasi moderate, pointing to the state of affairs in Connecticut, citing some opine of the 30,000 foot view to validate criticism of this governor. Tell me who are you going to run for governor? who? give me one moderate, able bodied, human that you have in mind who would have the best interest of Connecticut in mind? I may not agree with Malloy on every thing he is doing, but I am smart enough to know, that he had to pick up a big broom once the GOP left the capitol.

    And for the record, if you wish to talk about economic growth, how about trying to attract more high tech to Connecticut? certainly California has peaked in their attractiveness and it’s moving to Singapore and Taiwan, it was just a matter of time, it seems many forget that aerospace and high tech fueled this area for quite a while, at least Dodd, who everyone hates, did his part to attract contracts for Sikorsky, oh, that’s right Sikorsky is closing now, where are the stewards of industry in this whole body politic? I don’t see any on the GOP side, just a lot of whining, gnashing of teeth, and finger pointing, Get to work.

    Norwalk Lifer

  16. Bryan Meek

    @Norwalk Lifer. “Fear and Loathing”? READ THE ARTICLE. Malloy and the legislature raised over 77 taxes and is using an accounting gimmick to hide $6 billion in liabilities. The state had an opportunity to get itself on sound financial footing in 2010 and except for a few bags of votes and extra voting hours in Bridgeport, we might have had someone with a fiscal clue elected. New York and New Jersey, hardly GOP strongholds, made the hard fiscal decisions and are in much better shape for it. The answer is pretty simple and that is to undo the damage from Malloy asap. This isn’t fear and loathing. It is reality.

  17. Ray J

    Hi, reviving this old thread because there is no more appropriate place ( that i know of ) to start a new discussion. If it’s worthy enough, please post with a higher visibility at your discretion.

    What’s with busting up the norwalk river dam , ( page A3 thurs 10/31 norwalk hour ). It states $970,000 of fed funds.

    Why here and now? Sandy, Irene, not even Gloria had any impact on our norwalk river. i don’t see salmon trying to run upstream so please don’t reiterate the “fish and wildlife” card.

    4 politicos weigh in with non-statements, so someone please quiz them? Don’t lets be like Alaska ( bridge to nowhere ) Is this pork barrel politics on such a small scale that it will be swept under the rug? A LA — Lets spend something we can get even if we don’t need it just because it’s there?

    If we have money to spend, why not protect the shoreline like NJ and NY are doing. That dam is reminiscent of our old mill pond dam and i’d like to think of it as a little bit of serenity we still have left.

    Please follow the money. It’s not even a $mill but what the hey???

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