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OP-ED | Why Are Nutmeggers So Rough On Their Own State?

by | Mar 20, 2015 4:30am
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Posted to: Opinion, Hartford


Why are Connecticut residents so quick to dump on their state? Richard Sugarman, founding president of the Connecticut Forum, raised precisely that question last week in a Courant op-ed. Unfortunately, Sugarman mostly sung Connecticut’s praises and never really got around to answering the question posed in his lead, so I’m happy to do it for him.

With the exception of one miserable year in New Hampshire, I’ve lived in Connecticut since 1984. The overwhelming majority of that time has been spent in the state’s rural northwest corner, though I did spend a year in Middletown while in grad school. But I’m also well traveled in Connecticut, having visited every major city and corner of what is now my beloved home state.

Obviously, I like it or I wouldn’t have elected to live here longer than any other place in my 57 years of existence. But as readers of this column know, I’m not reluctant to point out the state’s shortcomings either. In part, it stems from my reflex as a journalist to look at more than one side. But I also don’t want to fall into the trap of so many in my native Texas who, in their rabid fealty, fail to see any of the problems plaguing their own state.

There are many things to like about our state that have been documented ably by others, including Sugarman himself. From the shoreline to the river valleys to the northern hills, Connecticut is blessed with physical beauty — more modest beauty than, say Vermont, but far more attractive than other small eastern states like New Jersey or Delaware.

There is more to do here than many of the naysayers would like to admit — in part because of our great colleges and universities. There are first-rate art and science museums, great repertory theaters and one of the best aquariums in the Northeast. There are more scenic hikes than you can possibly count and, within easy striking distance to the north, the Basketball Hall of Fame and the haute culture of the Berkshires.

Our location between Boston and New York is often touted as a strength, but I also think it creates problems for us. There is no quicker way to develop an inferiority complex than to be sandwiched in between a couple of neighbors who have a lot more than you have. In the eyes of far too many people, Connecticut is little more than the concrete pipeline of I-95 — flyover country for denizens of the Boston-New York travel corridor.

And there are no tolls to make those motorists pay for the privilege; nor do they even pony up for our gross receipts tax because savvy out-of-staters gas up before entering the Nutmeg State.

Taxes are high compared to the Sun Belt, but they’re pretty competitive with neighboring states. Perhaps the biggest problem for business isn’t taxes so much as it is the regulatory burden they must bear — or what UConn economist Fred Carstensen has called “the worst permitting regime in the country.”

Our fiscal problems are legion and include what Carstensen and former U.S. Comptroller David Walker have called “some of the highest — if not the highest — total liabilities and unfunded obligations per taxpayer of any state in the nation,” including the second-highest unfunded pension liability after only basket-case Illinois. Gov. Dan Malloy’s budget guru, Ben Barnes, had called the state’s perpetual near-insolvency a state of “permanent fiscal crisis.”

Despite a recent uptick in employment, job creation remains slow, sales and income taxes are high relative to other parts of the nation, energy costs are out of this world and affordable housing is becoming scarcer by the month. And there is the matter of our roads, which were judged in a 2014 White House report to be tied with Rhode Island for worst in the nation. And there is the matter of our brutal winters, which can’t be blamed on the state government — as much as I’d like to.

To make matters even worse, we are a state of astonishing venality. We aren’t called Corrupticut for nothing. We’ve just seen a former governor sentenced to jail 10 years to the day after having been sentenced in his first trial. At one time, the city of Waterbury had three ex-mayors sitting in jail. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI has a permanent office at the Capitol. The sheer volume of corruption in the Land of Steady Habits has a corrosive effect on morale and makes us the butt of jokes — often at the hands those who live here themselves.

The above problems have no doubt contributed to the unfortunate fact that Connecticut is one of only six states to have lost population in the last two fiscal years.

Yes, there are plenty of reasons not to like Connecticut, but unlike the nattering nabobs of negativism quoted in Mr. Sugarman’s op-ed, I try not to think about them too much.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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(16) Archived Comments

posted by: Biff Winnetka | March 20, 2015  7:14pm

Terry,

You are 57 years old.  You can afford to play “Ostrich”.

The 20 year olds, trying to make it to 57 in this state, the ones who will be paying for all this misfeasance, can’t afford that luxury.

Write you next op-ed from the perspective of a 23 year old recent college grad who has spent his entire life in CT, would like to stay and raise a family here, and isn’t a trust fund baby.

They wouldn’t write about Connecticut’s “physical beauty”.  They are much farther down on Maslow’s Hierarchy than you are. 

posted by: ocoandasoc | March 20, 2015  7:41pm

There IS a lot to like about Connecticut. And that’s exactly why so many long-time residents get frustrated with the State, and why so many are leaving.
I lived in CT from 1974 until 2013, built a business and raised my family there. Starting in the late 70’s I became politically active because I could clearly see how the legislature was so badly managing the State. They doubled down on bad decisions on energy, education, labor, business, tax, transportation, etc. And when not enough voters reacted, they doubled down again. Connecticut is the nation’s wealthiest state, and one of the best educated. There’s simply no excuse for the levels of corruption and mis-management residents endure – except perhaps for the public apathy that has let it go so far. The legislature has become a creature of special interests, career politicians and their cronies. They see their primary duty as getting re-elected and then paying back the people who help them do so. This culture is now so ingrained that they see nothing wrong with it.
I got tired of being a voice in the wilderness and left. Many of us have. And more are leaving every day. The only ray of hope seems to be that more of the State’s citizens are finally waking up to what’s happening. But the majority either profit from the status quo or are in denial. And, in any case, it may be too late.

posted by: DanofiveO | March 21, 2015  6:54am

Terry, some of us critics love Connecticut. We have lived here our entire lives. We went to school here raised our kids here and really Terry who wants to move?  The problems we are upset about are that we are forced to pay for more government than we can afford and the combination of high taxes and no good work returning has left many of us destitute. Fred Carstensen has told us that the the recovery is just two years away, since 2008. At first we small business people and working class folks not on the public dole believed him and the democrats that it would work out and it hasn’t.
All the sunshine reports from Lembo on how there are no deficits, and then there ARE or the latest from Fred that our economy is going to grow 8%!! Is starting to feel like more like a crime being committed on us then even a laughable bad joke from a government bafoon.
Down here at the bottom many of us have been ejected from our formerly middle class lives, we have lost our homes or are about to and we can’t sell them because we are under water and property values continue to fall. The 60% of the budget that can’t be touched due to collective bargaining is draining the meager wages we can scratch up only to fund a beauracracy that won’t relinquish any for roads, education! children and families, mental health and helping our seniors all of which is on the chopping block. Residential construction and existing home sales have never come back. So we look at the democrats who we voted for perpetuating our decline with only higher taxes and harder time in sight and we are going to work very very hard to remove them and replace them with liberty and freedom minded Republicans with a small government philosophy who can help to restore what we are losing everyday. Never prior to the recession was I not able to contract home improvements for people and always had work but for the past 7 years it has been none existent. At one point I employed 14 people and paid far above minimum wage but I can’t imagine at time now I would ever consider it again and besides absolutely zero demand the strangling regulations and cost to do business here just aren’t worth it. I have had to travel to North Dakota and surrounding states just to find a job that will pay the vastly reduced subsistence cost of living we are forced to endure. Government should work for us and not on us!

posted by: Greg | March 23, 2015  9:25am

Lived in CT for all of my 31 short years, work here, educated here, etc etc etc.

I’m simply tired of this state being a crony fiscal experiment of which my generation will be paying the eventual bill.  I’m also tired of the woefully arrogant attitude that our high tax-high cost of living state is the price for the “privilege of living here” which is the general message from both legislators and the cocktail party crowd of a certain affiliation. “Don’t like it, move!” the upper crust white folk scream as they drive away in their Priuses after dining at nice restaurants in the affluent town centers; pretending to champion the “poor” and the “middle class” but clearly living a life Connecticut’s poor and middle class will never afford. 

So Biff states: “Write you next op-ed from the perspective of a 23 year old recent college grad who has spent his entire life in CT, would like to stay and raise a family here, and isn’t a trust fund baby”

Yes, how does an enterprising young couple buy a house in a town with a good school system, pay the taxes, and save for their own retirement and their kids college on anything less than a strong, two worker six figure income?  Oh, all while paying off student loans and actually having a life?

Maybe the legislature should ask themselves that question, and perhaps promptly realize there are plenty of other places in this country with good schools, nice neighborhoods, plenty of cultural amenities, and so forth. For as much as the aforementioned upper crust white folk love insulting anywhere else in the nation that isn’t the Northeast as being backwater hick towns, perhaps they can figure out why nobody wants to move here and immediately have a 20% premium attached to their cost of living, or conversely why lots of folks want to move elsewhere and immediately get a 20%+ discount. 

The price of liberal Connecticut arrogance is very high, Terry.  It’s demonstrated in each next budget deficit, each next tax increase, each next utility bill fee, each next unfunded mandate.  It’s the price of the privilege to live here.

posted by: OutOfOutrage | March 23, 2015  12:41pm

OutOfOutrage

We built a home 5yrs ago and our electric bill was $130 for July. It is now $340. Yeah we finished the basement but realistically we’re not using much more than we were then.  To me, that’s just another $2500 per year to live here.  Of course property values have steadily declined since then so I can’t even get my money back on the house. Most of my wife’s family (9 adults so far) have already gotten out and moved south.  If we could, we would leave tomorrow.  My wife and I both make good money but living here it sure doesn’t feel like we’re getting ahead and retiring here is insane so what’s the point of sticking around and funding all this nonsense?

posted by: Biff Winnetka | March 23, 2015  1:43pm

@Greg said…

“The price of liberal Connecticut arrogance is very high, Terry.  It’s demonstrated in each next budget deficit, each next tax increase, each next utility bill fee, each next unfunded mandate.  It’s the price of the privilege to live here.”

Preach it Brother Greg!!!!

posted by: NLZak | March 23, 2015  3:03pm

Before I start my comment, I want to thank the author for including my favorite Spiro Agnew quote in his writing.

@Biff Winnetka, I’m a 25 year old recent college grad and I’ve spent my entire life in Connecticut. I just purchased my first home and am looking forward to raising a family here and no, I am not a trust fund baby and am pretty much the opposite.

I’m looking forward to spending my life in Connecticut and can only hope it’s still as great of a State for my children as it is now. Part of the reason why I, and many people among my age, are staying in Connecticut is because there’s great cultural attractions (Bushnell, Long Wharf, Garde Arts Center), great waterfront and beaches, and a State that shares the values of equality which is more than I can say for many other States. While taxes are also a little higher, although we’re comparable to surrounding States, it’s because we get a higher quality of life and better government services than say, Alabama or other states. I like that I send in my tax bill and my garbage is collected, roads are cleaned and plowed, and public safety is staffed among other services. Also, since minimum wage is being raised it allows more opportunities to not be in poverty if I lost my job and needed to find something outside my field.

Now why are people moving out CT? At a guess, for the same reason my grandparents and elderly family left over the last 25 years. It’s cold in the Winter and it was more enjoyable for them to spend retirement in Florida, not shoveling, than in CT. That’s not a problem of the State, it’s part of living in New England.

posted by: whatsprogressiveaboutprogressives? | March 23, 2015  4:35pm

Look at all the stuff the wonderful general assembly is looking at for this legislative session: expand the state sales tax, tolls,casinos,etc., all due to one problem: an assembly and governor who just refuse to stop spending money that doesn’t exist. No they’re heading for the hills because Obama and company don’t want to pay promised medicaid money to the state.
Connecticut use to be a great place to raise a family. It has everything within two hours or less that anyone may want to do depending on the season. It use to have a good jobs base to support a then smaller sized government. Now that relationship has become inverted with diminished jobs based personnel needing to foot a greater per capita bill. But even with the positive of centrally located for whatever your interests are i.e. Patriots,Red Sox, Yankees, beach,skiing,Boston, New York, it still isn’t worth the price of admission given what our tax burden is now and what it will be in the coming years.

posted by: Truth_To_Power | March 23, 2015  4:44pm

Very well said Matt W. My wife and I are in the same boat. We make good money but each year it gets harder and harder to keep our heads above water. Our home is paid for, but has lost more than 25% of it’s value in the last 10 years while our taxes have increased by more than that. We pay $10k a year in taxes on our home, while our public sector working neighbors get regular salary increases, buy vacation homes in Narragansett, and plan to retire now that they’re in the mid- 50s. My wife and I will have to work until we’re 70 and STILL not be able to retire with any degree of comfort or financial security that we should have earned by now.

We don’t have ‘disposable’ income to speak of. Something is definitely wrong with the whole picture

posted by: ocoandasoc | March 23, 2015  6:21pm

NLZak: I agree that CT has a lot going for it in many respects, but the way the State is governed is not one of them. I’ve lived in nine states, and my garbage was collected, my streets plowed, and public safety provided in every one of them. Here in Nashville I get all those services plus a few others I didn’t get in CT, and my property taxes are 75% less. Plus no car tax and no income tax, and utility bills that are 40% lower. Healthcare is better and much cheaper, as well.
And if you think CT “shares the values of equality” I hope you live in a white suburb and don’t plan to send your kids to a public school in any of the State’s urban areas. Connecticut has the worst educational achievement gap in the nation. (Yeah, even worse than Alabama’s and those other Southern states that I’m guessing you’ve never lived in.)
If you’re a State or municipal employee, a trade union member working for a company that has State and/or muni contracts, or a teacher, Connecticut is a great place to be. Otherwise, it’s pretty tough financially.

posted by: Christopher55 | March 23, 2015  7:33pm

59 now,  moving South when I retire, sick of all the “takers” taking from the “producers”. Get rid of the earned income tax credit and all the other entitlement programs, and I might consider staying.

posted by: GBear423 | March 24, 2015  5:34am

GBear423

@NLZak- Glad that you are finding life so easy in CT, buying a house at age 25 is quite an accomplishment.  Most Americans do not reach that milestone so young.  My first Home was at age 38, though I did travel a lot in my youth. Thing about youth is you really do not pay a lot of attention to the world around you, sure the culture, the sites, the fun stuff. The services you speak of, what services are we all benefitting from that are absent elsewhere? I grew up in Alabama and I recall garbage being picked up on time, in fact even back in those days we had cans provided by the company that handled the refuse. We had public utilities, yes even running water, electricity too. and they were affordable, dirt cheap compared to CT rates. Taxes were low, mortgages were low, food and gas was low, and the roads, well they were paved on the main ones and most secondary, and even to this day are still better than in Connecticut. CT is tied w rhode island for worst in nation I heard.  One of the Highest in per capita debt (4th I believe), worst in unfunded liability ratio (2nd only to Illinois iirc), and is currently running a tab on deficits…  I am sure you may be a bit rushed in wishing the current situation for your kids.

posted by: Greg | March 24, 2015  9:15am

NLZak: You’re in pretty much the same position when I was your age (making me sound old), along with growing up here, etc.  At 25, I was extremely fortunate to have an income that allowed me to buy my place in a very nice, quality, expensive suburban Hartford town that is well managed with one of the best school systems in the state. I pay handsomely for that privilege, however, and like you I really don’t feel that bad paying my town for what I get. 

At the same time, I’m not under any delusion I could get the same quality of life in any nice suburb elsewhere in the country, and elsewhere in the country will probably be a hell of a lot cheaper with roads plowed, safe communities, good schools, etc. Oh, and with stronger property values over time and alive, vibrant communities compared to some spots here.

I’d like to challenge you a bit: For what you pay to your town and your state, are you REALLY getting your money’s worth?  Are you REALLY getting a state and community that is THAT much better than anywhere else in the country? 

What about the cities?  Are the residents of Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, Waterbury getting their moneys worth in streets plowed (no), good schools (definitely no), safe communities (no).  Why do we pay so much for such a rift between rich/affluent and middle class/poor?  You argue we have equality here, but do we really? 

Honestly though, if not for the fiscal tomfoolery I see day in and day out out of the Golden Dome and the needlessly high cost of living I’d be a huge advocate for this state.  Great location, great quality of life, great geography, I can be in the middle of the woods hiking with only a 10 minute drive…it’s simply a nice place to be and nice place to raise a family.

But in 5-10-20 years, you and I are going to be holding the financial bag for decisions made 5-10-20 years ago.  I have to think long and hard if i want to be around then…

posted by: littlemike | March 24, 2015  8:56pm

Yeah, just “try not to think about them too much” and the problems will all go away, right?  And then pretend that the state’s “physical beauty” is so unique that, well, it just wouldn’t be worth living anywhere else…and that “good schools, nice neighborhoods, plenty of cultural amenities, and so forth” are not available anywhere else, yeah, that’ll keep people from waking up and smelling the coffee. I woke up and moved to the Triangle, and every day I wake up in a beautiful house in a stylish neighborhood (nicer than before), drive through some of the most beautiful rolling countryside, am a short hop from a vibrant capital city (which is now the home of your former hockey team) between THREE nationally-known universities all of whom are in the NCAA tournament, can drive just a few hours either to the majestic mountains or the sparkling seashore…all for less than half the taxes, about half the energy cost, etc. I guess I “thought about those probelms a little too much,” but now I don’t have to think about them any more. I’m proud to be a Carolinian by choice.

posted by: Biff Winnetka | March 24, 2015  9:50pm

@littlemike

Congratulations for taking the “Red Pill”, unplugging from the Matrix, seeing that there is really something fundamentally wrong with Connecticut, and blasting off to NC.

Let the Blue Pill-ers like CT Jim deal with Connecticut’s eventual implosion.

posted by: JamesBronsdon | March 25, 2015  1:31pm

Plenty of reasons to love this state - geography, culture, people. (Of course, that’s true of many other U.S. places.) And plenty of reasons not to love the government of this state, past and present. Separate issues; separate discussions. The latter being something we could conceivably do something about.  And so worth discussing.