Powell: Cutting state aid to towns, Governor butchers sacred cow
Hysteria is exploding all over Connecticut because Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is canceling $50 million in state aid to municipalities, including $20 million for education. Even Republicans, who ordinarily posture in favor of cutting spending in general, if not so much in particular, are upset, since the cuts are disproportionately targeting wealthier and Republican towns and have come in the middle of the municipal budget year, as if wealthier towns can’t handle them better and as if there is ever a good time to cut particulars.
While the governor is being forced to make the cuts because of declining tax revenue, it’s still the best thing he could do for the state, because it challenges the status of municipal aid as a sacred cow of budgeting. In fact municipal aid is mostly just part of the “fixed costs” of government, which are becoming infamous for cannibalizing public services.
Municipal officials and legislators shriek that the aid cuts may force towns to lay off teachers. Of course that complaint assumes — as everyone in Connecticut’s special interest-dominated politics wants to assume — that school boards can’t or won’t extract concessions from their teacher and administrator unions.
The shrieking also assumes that the state law establishing the “minimum expenditure requirement” for school systems can’t be repealed. That law forbids most school systems from spending less than they spent during the previous year, even if their enrollment goes to zero. Connecticut’s school enrollment has been declining for many years and the law was enacted to make sure that money saved from declining enrollment was given as raises to unionized school employees rather than left with taxpayers.
That is, the highest aspiration of most people in state and municipal government in Connecticut is not to serve the public but rather to become a “fixed cost,” a cost placed safely beyond the reach of ordinary democratic budgeting.
While those who have become “fixed costs” have not noticed it and couldn’t care less about it, the governor steadily has been cutting support for the innocent needy.
“Fixed costs” constitute about half the state budget and two-thirds of municipal budgets. They largely involve personnel. There can be no saving the state without unfixing them. But unfixing them would require confronting the biggest political force in the state, the government employee unions.
Hence the terror being experienced by elected officials.
But the governor’s cuts in municipal aid indicate another terror for them, the continuing underperformance of state tax revenue. This underperformance disproves claims from both state government and the federal government that economic conditions are improving in Connecticut. If conditions were improving, tax revenue would be rising without tax increases and Connecticut would be gaining population, not continuing to lose it.
Where has Edsall’s apology been?
Randy Edsall is back as football coach at the University of Connecticut and at a press conference last week he apologized for his disgraceful departure from UConn for another coaching job in 2011, when he rushed out minutes after a bowl game without even saying goodbye to his team, the fans, and the state.
So if, as Edsall says, he long has regretted his conduct back then, what took him so long to apologize for it? Is his apology sincere, or is Edsall just talking on behalf of his new million-dollar salary at UConn? For that matter, is there any sincerity left in college football these days? Is any self-respect left in Connecticut?