Is it Casablanca? Is it Macbeth? No, it is just Hartford, specifically our state capital, even more specifically our state budget for the next two years. There is a cast of characters in Hartford trying to create a budget for the two years. In case you have not heard, the state’s revenue projections for the 2017 and 2018 budget years are $5 billion in the red. Last week we reported it was $1.7 billion. In one week it doubled.
We had not planned to write on the state budget process again so quickly; there was a lot of coverage last week. However, a series of events since then reminded us of Claude Rains’ character in “Casablanca,” Captain Renault, who exclaims that he is “shocked” to find out there is gambling occurring in Rick’s bar, where he himself frequently gambles.
Some legislators are expressing shock that our state’s tax revenues have declined so dramatically and so quickly. At the same time the Governor’s office announced that the state’s 100 largest-income taxpayers paid 45 percent less taxes than last year. That information, coupled with the fact that several of our town’s wealthiest individuals have moved their residency to Florida, and you understand why Palm Beach real estate is thriving.
There does seem to be a cast of characters in Hartford at the moment. And it can be difficult to keep track of who is playing whom. Watching the budget process unfold is like watching The Tragedy of Macbeth. The players have left the realm of sanity and “have eaten on the insane root/That takes the reason prisoner.” The question is how and when can we awake from this nightmare.
Governor Malloy has recently shown a unique leadership shift. To further our Shakespeare analogy, when we have previously looked at the Governor we were reminded of William Shakespeare’s line from “Henry IV,” “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
We always felt Governor Malloy was never completely comfortable in his role leading our state. Since he announced he would not be running for reelection, he seems relieved of the chains that have bound him to the unions and his own party. He has embraced the idea of a no tax increase budget. The unions and the Democrats now find themselves alone and on the defense without their champion to protect them. This is evident in the fact that they could not muster enough votes to support their own proposed budget, which the Governor did not support. The unions got an eye-opener when they realized the Governor was no longer going to protect their benefits and is calling for concessions.
There is enough blame to go around about how our state’s financial house has become such a mess. Indeed, our former Republican Governor John Rowland signed a 20-year agreement with the unions that guaranteed benefits regardless of state conditions. Our federal delegation has been strangely silent throughout this budget process as well. The fact that they are bringing less back to our state is troubling. It means the state has to allocate resources to items that were previously supported by federal dollars.
The real question is, “What can be done?” Perhaps now the Democrats are beginning to realize that our state, and especially our community, have no more appetite for tax increases. We also do not want an increase in spending. We must learn to live within our means, just as every household does. We also cannot keep going month to month, or even week to week, with new budget numbers coming out that are worse than the previous ones. A successful business does not budget year to year; it has a five and ten-year view of where they want to be. Our state must do the same.
What is happening in Hartford is worse than a comedy; it is a tragedy. At least Shakespeare’s ended. If we are not careful, ours could continue for some time. We implore our legislature and Governor to “act” before it’s too late. In the words of the Bard: “Action is eloquence.”