Thursday, October 27, 2005

Open Forum

Connecticut's citizens are among the smartest in the nation, according to a new survey. Well, we knew we had to have something on North Carolina, even though they have all of our jobs and our old hockey team, too.

But if we're so smart... Why can't we get companies to stick around or open plants? Why is our economy struggling? Why can't we find a way to fix it?

If we're so smart, why can't we build useful public transportation, or more livable towns and cities? Why are we letting our state become a nightmare of sprawl and congestion?

Why is it that the best we can do for our capital city is an oversized convention center and an empty slogan?

Why can't the legislature get it in gear and pass meaningful campaign finance reform, or a contracting reform bill that won't be vetoed by the governor?

This post is reserved for all manner of complaining.


BDRubenstein888 said...

"smart" doesn't always translate into the best policies. Both parties have "smart" folks here but when politics rears its ugly head all bets are off in intellectual discourse.

Anonymous said...

The "smartest state" designation has nothing to do with the brains of elected leaders (or even all CT adults). It is about the quality of CT's public schools:

DeanFan84 said...

My two cents:

Job growth is non-existent in CT because housing is so expensive. Housing is expensive due to a lack of new construction. New construction is scarce because of our township governments, very high per pupil education costs, and CT's use of the property tax to fund education.

Go online and see what kind of a house 200K buys you in North Carolina or Georgia. Something big, new and beautiful. But what does 200K buy you in CT? Nothing! In most parts of the state it takes 300K just to buy a modest 1200-1500sf cape.

Q: What does someone need in order to afford a basic house in CT? A: a significantly higher salary! Employers are wise to this, and that is why no jobs are coming our way.

In the South and West, new construction serves as an active buffer against exorbitant home prices. Every first-time home buyer in North Carolina, or Georgia, has the choice of a new, or used home. This is not the case in CT.

In most CT areas the lack of new construction is not the result of a lack of buildable land. Instead it is actively squelched by town zoning and planning boards,-- who understand that with education costs of $10,000/year/kid, starter homes are a net loser to a municipal economy. (a 3 bedroom starter home provides tax revenue of $3-4,000/year, but might result in $20-$30,000/year of tuition costs.)

The dynamic is made worse by the fact that no single town can afford to be new construction-friendly when its neighbors are not!

My idea of a cure would be for the state to agree to reimburse a town for the first ten years of education costs that result from new construction of affordable homes. Or we could do wholesale tax reform where school monies would come from the county or state.

In any case simple economics are the problem. And hopefully the state government will address this crisis with either tax reform or economic incentives.

Chris MC said...

The primary problem we face - irrespective of the lack of economic vision and political leadership in the Governor's mansion over the last (pick 'em) years - is geographic.

Comparing us to places like North Carolina and Georgia and identifying high housing costs as the cause is about as perfect a case of mistaking a symptom for the disease as I can think of.

Q: Why (before the question of leadership) is Connecticut not New Jersey?
A: The Hudson River.

New England as a whole, and particularly Connecticut, is physically cut off from the rest of the country.

Simplistic formulations from the left ("let's subsidize everything and make it 'affordable', yippee!") fail to recognize the overriding fact that there is an over-abundance of land in the south and west, as farming and other undeveloped tracts that had little market value have recently been made viable economic locations thanks to the expansion of low cost freight, telecommunications, energy, and air conditioning. In other words, a lot of what these places are offering amount to false economies – an externalization of costs that we simply can't match. If this doesn't sound familiar, it should: here in Connecticut, it is called "Sprawl".

Similarly, (contrary to standard righty formulations) high wages are not the overriding obstacle to industry attraction and retention in a globalizing economy where China and India are driving wages down in both low-skilled and high-skilled (e.g. Bangalore is a hot bed of IT outsourcing) labor markets. The evaporation of manufacturing outfits in Connecticut is crucially linked to the fact that China's yuan/remimbi is artificially undervalued, erasing US manufacturing's productivity improvements – including labor givebacks (“subsidies”) – and with it the ability to be competitive on price (even after they have been forced to de-fund their engineering and R&D overheads). If that weren't enough, interest-free-no-repayment-necessary loans from the Chinese government are giving transnational corporations and Chinese nationals access to the latest in capital improvements and equipment at absurd discounts.

Simplistic and self-serving bromides from the right ("let's subsidize the privatization of everything with wild deficit spending and turn it all over to our profiteering cronies, and we’ll just grow our way out of this, yippee!") are the coda on twenty-five years of malformed economic theory and egregiously misanthropic policies that have placed legitimate competitors – Connecticut companies that could and did compete in the globalizing economy – behind insurmountable obstacles, and make locating or remaining here challenging for all the wrong reasons.

We cannot compete on those terms and under those conditions.

Claimer: This is not merely a philosophical screed. I have been dealing directly with this for twenty years.

Our absurdly outmoded "home rule" approach to governance and education funding, concomitant sprawl, misguided or misanthropic construction projects, and the failure to rise and meet macroeconomic reality over the last fifteen years are genuine home grown issues. They are undeniable symptoms of incompetence in the Executive Office of this State, and that is why we need a change in the Governor's mansion.

Genghis Conn said...

Chris MC,

A very useful analysis. Thank you.

So how do we become competitive again? I can't imagine there's an easy answer, and we have little control over what China or India does. Can we legislate economic recovery, or are we at the mercy of national and global forces?

Chris MC said...

Heh, like I have the answers.

I have heard Mayor DeStefano talk about the geographic problem in some detail.

The perspective Mayor Malloy brought to doing the RBS headquarters deal - making Stamford a nexus on the global stage for that industry - is a case study of what we need in the Governor's chair.

As far as the rest of it goes, that is a looong conversation. But the focus has to be on human capital - not trying to "be more competitive", which has become code for cutting wages and benefits, getting taxpayer-funded subsidies, and so on - and we have to see ourselves as competing on a global stage.

I am looking forward to reading the recently released CERC study "Benchmarking Connecticut's Economy". Based on the press conference, it appears to be very focused on high tech as the future for the State, and Jim Smith, the CEO of Webster Bank (the "largest independent commercial bank in New England") clearly intends the CERC study to frame the debate in the Governor's race (he pretty much said so in the press conference).

But, economic sectionalism is the Republicans' game, and "growth" is their mantra. It has proven to be bad for the country, and really bad for Connecticut. More of the same is not going to produce a different result.

In terms of national policy, the Republicans in control of Washington DC have proven that they will stop at nothing in pursuit of their radical agenda to privatize the US Congress. And that is why we in Connecticut start by getting rid of Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons, and Chris Shays.

Anonymous said...


Some suggested pruning on your blogroll - there have been no updates in five months on the 4th CD Watch and CT Politics Today sites. Also, the In Southington site appears to be gone, and Joe Lieberman's content has disappeared.

DeanFan84 said...

Chirs MC--

Thanks for the kind response.

I'm still sticking to my guns, and I'm going to reiterate that when home ownership starts at $300,000, YOU'VE GOT A PROBLEM.

Towns are all too happy to see McMansions built. Yet when it comes to small and affordable homes, because of education costs, they doing everything they can to prevent their development. (like three-acre minimum zoning!)

In trying to shoot down my argument you suggest that the impediment to new construction is a lack of land. This simply isn't true. Ever been to Durham, Middlefield, East Wallingford, or North Branford?

More laughable is your suggestion that the higher salaries needed to afford a house in CT isn't a barrier to industry attraction, retention and job growth. In what bizarro world do employers ignore such basics?

CT definitely needs to find some means to overcome town government and encourage the new construction of modest homes on modest lots.

MikeCT said...

The Simsbury Democrats have created some quirky Burma Shave style ads for the local campaigns. (Some background, in case you don't know what Burma Shave was.)