“How did rich Connecticut morph into one of America’s worst-performing economies?” Forbes Magazine asked in its August 2013 edition. Connecticut has become a bottom-quartile state by almost every measure of economic performance with contraction in its economy in 2011 and again in 2012, higher unemployment than the national average, and being last in the nation to reach “Tax Freedom Day,” which was May 13 this year.
How did this happen?
Jim Powell of Forbes asserted: “During the past two decades, some 300,000 more Connecticut residents have moved out of the state than have moved in … because investors, entrepreneurs, and other productive people want to go where they are welcome … and not exploited.”
Connecticut’s current administration and legislature have continued the downward trajectory of the state’s economy with more debt-funded growth of spending, the largest increases in taxes, and a continued hostile attitude toward businesses.
We must stop doing what isn’t working.
Connecticut has an opportunity in 2014 to make changes in management of its state government that are necessary to reverse its direction. This can be done as other states have demonstrated. Needed most are the will and courage of Connecticut’s elected leaders to make the necessary changes.
For voters, the need is for a broader interest in the state’s future than in whether the state is run by one political party or the other.
The following platform principles could provide the foundation of a new compact with the people. This is a call to action to both incumbents and their prospective replacements:
1. Install professional fiscal management disciplines. Clarify the state Constitution’s mandate for a balanced budget. Establish Generally Accepted Accounting Principles accounting with external audits, comprehensive budgeting, spending control systems, and biannual, zero-based planning of all programs and budgets.
2. Reform the state tax code to orient it toward economic growth.
3. Review and reform the regulatory environment to balance being “business friendly” while protecting the health, safety, and personal freedoms of individuals.
4. Enact pro-choice labor laws that enable employees to choose a union to represent their interests to employers yet protect employees’ freedom to choose not to be dues-paying union members.
5. Change funding of public-employee benefit plans from guaranteed benefits to contributions at levels consistent with practices in private businesses. Encourage individually owned, portable employee savings plans for pension and medical planning.
6. Reform public education, strengthening parental and local school district control of curriculums, hiring, and compensation. State government should let public funds be used by parents to choose their children’s schools.
7. Reconsider the state’s role under the federal Affordable Health Care Act to control Medicaid costs and services, to maintain individual choice of insurance coverage options, and to protect provider-patient relationships.
8. Sustain state laws and regulations for environmental protection. Continue current Department of Energy and Environmental Protection strategies while building a reliable and low-cost energy infrastructure that supports competitiveness of commercial consumers and needs of individuals.
Note the absence in this list of religion, abortion, contraception, women’s rights, gun control, racial issues, sexual preference, immigration, foreign affairs, and sovereignty. These are important, complicated, and long-term national issues, but in Connecticut this year the focus must be to improve management of the state’s economy, business climate, and public education.
Get these right and economic and employment growth will follow.
John H. Field is a retired senior executive of Union Carbide Corp. and a former member of the Board of Finance in Washington, Conn., who now lives in Litchfield.