OP-ED | Lawmakers Would Rather Be the Juice Police Than Deal With the Economy
We are nearing the end of this year’s legislative session, and I admit I’ll feel a little relieved once the statehouse empties out, because it’ll mean lawmakers can’t do any more harm.
Connecticut’s economy is in trouble. Our state’s economy was the only one — the only one — in the nation that shrank in 2012. (Numbers aren’t out yet for 2013.) We were last in economic growth in the nation. Last.
And this week a new Gallup poll came out that showed Connecticut residents are not feeling too enthusiastic about their home state. Only 31 percent said Connecticut is the best or one of the best possible states to live in, placing us in the bottom 10 states for home-state pride.
Maybe it has something to do with the cost of living here — our local and state taxes and energy costs are among the highest in the nation, while our personal income growth lags behind the national average.
And this week, we read about how New London almost ran out of money. Local elected officials were overly enthusiastic about their revenues and underestimated their expenses. Sound familiar?
I know I’ll be accused of preaching gloom and doom, but refusing to face the growing list of red flags will not make anything better. Before we can solve the problem we have to first admit it exists!
You would think all of this bad news would cause some concern among Democratic lawmakers, who hold majorities in the state House and Senate, and also fill every other statewide office. You would think they would be trying to figure out how to turn our state around, to re-energize our sluggish economy and give encouragement to the business community and Connecticut families.
But that hasn’t happened. Instead, our lawmakers seem determined to ignore the bad economic news, focusing instead on a supposed surplus — one that is rapidly disappearing — while remaining silent on the looming billion dollar deficit that forecasters say is coming next year.
Let’s celebrate the surplus by sending everyone $55 checks! As though that will help the state’s middle class, who are disappearing right alongside that surplus.
Legislators continue to make promises they can’t possibly keep — Retirement for all! Everyone can retire with dignity! Read the fine print — the fiscal impact statement on the proposed retirement savings bill says the program would cost the state up to $340 million over the next two years, and that’s before the guaranteed rates of return kick in on everyone’s investments, which could be fiscally disastrous for the state.
Everyone can get paid more! Our minimum wage is now on its way to be the highest in the country. Job losses? Inflation? Things that will hurt the working poor? Let’s worry about that later.
The state hasn’t done anything this session to respond to parents’ concerns about a burdensome testing schedule, or to local concerns about the costs of implementing the Common Core.
And instead of coming up with new and creative ways to help children who are failing in school, the state Senate instead wants the state Board of Education to write lesson plans about the history of labor unions, just in case any Connecticut teachers are clamoring for more state-designed curriculum.
What our children really need, it seems, is the state to act like the juice police, telling childcare providers and parents how much juice children can drink, and what kind of milk they can put in their sippy cups.
Maybe I’m being too hard on them. I’m sure they’ve done some good things these past few weeks. I know they mean well, and that most of them work long hours for very little pay.
But if we’re going to turn things around, the majority party needs to find the political will to face some hard economic facts. And they need to come up with fixes that last longer than a $55 check.
Suzanne Bates is a writer living in South Windsor with her family. While traveling across the country as an Air Force spouse, she worked for news organizations including the Associated Press, New Hampshire Union Leader and Good Morning America Weekend. She recently completed a research fellowship at the Yankee Institute. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.