OP-ED | That Sinking Feeling
There comes a moment during the filling up of the boat with water that cold reality sets in: just bailing it out isn’t working anymore, and the ship’s going down.
That’s how it feels lately. Every day some fresh horror burbles up out of the nation’s capital, while here in Connecticut we’re fast running out of money, patience, and hope. In both Hartford and Washington, the water’s up past our chests.
President Donald J. Trump stopped by our loser-filled blue state to address the commencement of the Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday, and took some time during his speech to rant at the media and claim, with his usual gift for understatement and selflessness, that “[n]o politician in history . . . has been treated worse.” He repeated that aggrieved sentiment in a misspelling-laden series of tweets Thursday morning.
Which is funny, because if this ship is taking on water, he’s the one who hammered a hole in the hull.
Oh, sure, I could list President Trump’s latest colossal screw-up, but I write these columns sometime around the middle of the week. By the time it’s actually published, Trump will have done something new that completely overshadows that last thing. Maybe he’ll build a Scrooge McDuck-style money bin with taxpayer dollars, or give Alaska back to Russia because it seems like a nice way to impress Putin. Who knows? But it’s going to be something.
For instance, he’s going on a trip overseas starting Friday, to the Middle East. I hope they have plenty of golf lined up.
Even if Trump’s trip is a brilliant success, it won’t stop the ship from taking on water. There’s a special prosecutor now, former FBI head Robert Mueller, who will be looking into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians, but also whether there was any obstruction of justice, the firing of James Comey, and more.
I have no idea what this investigation will turn up, but the constant flow of new scandals makes doing anything else almost impossible. The nation’s capital is paralyzed. The worst danger is that the president will ride this ship to the bottom, tweeting all the way, and dragging the rest of us with him.
Hard as it is to look away from the underground Pennsylvania coal mine fire that is the Trump administration, there’s even more bad news coming out of Hartford. It may seem dry compared to Trump’s drama, but the impact may be a lot heavier for us here in Connecticut.
First, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is playing hardball with the beleaguered state employee unions once again, sending out the first of potentially 4,200 layoff notices as labor negotiations putter on. Whether it’s layoffs, concessions, or some combination of the two, the effect on the already stagnant economy is going to be rough.
That’s on top of all the misery budget cuts, layoffs, and service cuts that have already inflicted on the state over the past six years. Every year brings more agonizing decisions about what has to go, and what we think we can live without. Yet the state still can’t get a handle on its deficit or on its bonding debt. Ratings agencies are taking notice.
Several ratings agencies have downgraded Connecticut’s bonds. This is ominous because the government right now is relying heavily on bonding to build various projects and fund things that aren’t funded in other ways.
If the bonds are downgraded, fewer investors will be tempted to buy them. That could get messy, with the upshot being that we’ll be unable to bond as much money. That means a lot more projects will stall out, there will be fewer jobs and less money in the economy, and our downward spiral will accelerate.
So here we are. Tax revenue is dropping like a rock, the economy is wheezing and groaning, and our ability to borrow money through bonding is diminishing. This is all happening at a time when Connecticut desperately needs new roads, rails, schools, and services.
Something has to change. We need tolls. We probably need to close a courthouse, a UConn campus, a DMV, and a prison. We need to pay less for employee benefits. Towns need to consolidate. And we almost certainly need to wean ourselves off of unreliable millionaire money, and raise taxes on the middle and upper-middle classes.
But as long as the government, the unions, and the rest of us are only looking out for our own interests, we’re stuck. There is no help coming from rapidly sinking Washington, either.
Do you feel that? It’s almost up to our necks.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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