Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The State of the State

Sometime next year Governor Rell will run through a speech covering where we are and what her priorities are. But why wait till then?

The Economy
Unemployment numbers don’t tell the whole story. There’s a conflux of issues that drive a shortage of workers whether it’s the service workers that get bused in from New York state, or corporate office parks that struggle to find willingly businesses ready to lease. And if you’re a small industrial manufacturer either you can’t afford the location or the location is not near your workforce. So that’s the bad news. The good news is that Connecticut sits between two economic engines that have the same issues only bigger. NYC and Boston have higher housing costs and are much more urban. They are also international transportation gateways. Connecticut has moved way past it’s previous role as the scenic drive between NYC and Boston, and now can move into position as the central hub for business that wants to do business in both markets. But to get there, we have to have a high speed, an easy to use transportation system to move people and goods to either end points. Rell should get her congressional delegation together and work out a plan to acquire federal transportation dollars for a big vision project spurring the northeast economic corridor engine.

The Government
Rell should get behind, and so should the legislature, the simple concept of GAAP. It’s a move that’s long over due. The legislature may think property tax reform is a higher priority, but in looking at the 49 other states, it’s clear that the path to property tax reform begins with streamlining the bureaucracy. Outsourcing under the present department management structure has proven, most visibly with the DOT, to be a long series of major expensive mistakes. Rell must bring in top level reform minded executive talent. There’s an excellent mayor in NYC she could consult with on how to tackle this task. Every department should be held to some sort of financial accountability and superior performance should be rewarded. But it can’t happen if no one is paying attention, so make the performance transparent and open to public scrutiny.

Connecticut is turning into one big parking lot. Providing high speed access to NYC and Boston will not reduce internal traffic, so a look towards linking our cities to each other with trains or subways would be a good start. The sprawl of the suburbanesque towns who’ve added corporate parks and strip malls to fend off property tax increases is another problem. Connecticut needs more roads, more parking, more mass transit, and more dense urban planning. Incentivize towns to connect corporate parks with mass transit in some fashion and encourage parking lots near train stations. But more importantly, get control of the train tracks and get trains working more often and more reliably to more places.

There are other issues that some would be quick to tack on. Things like public healthcare, health insurance reform etc. For me at least, tackling social service issues while the fundamental operation of the state is in such disarray is kind of like sending out lifeboats with holes in the stern. These ideas are just a starting point.


Anonymous said...

Try again. There are too many contradictions and too much illogic here. Subways between towns? Do you have any idea how much a subway costs to build?

Anonymous said...

I only wish we could have seen the face of M.Jodi Rell when Don Williams told her that she could forget her car tax proposal. What a great time to be a Democrat in Connecticut.

Anonymous said...

Governor Rell will present a budget that makes significant tax cuts funded through real and less than legitimate cuts in government spending. This will force the the D controlled General Assembly to restore the spending cuts and restore the revenue base (not pass the cuts). M. Jodi Rell and M. Lisa Moody will try to start resurecting the CT Republican party on the issue of taxation.

As for talent to run the state, the Republican bench is so depleted and the pay scales for top managers will not attract outside talent. The funny thing about CT government is that the maintainers and secretaries are paid about a third more than even high costs states like Mass. while top managers/Commissioners are paid about the same. Also the clean government kick is making it a nightmare to actually operate an agency successfully. State government has been run into the ground and it will take a long time to bring it back to a place where it can actually accomplish anything. Tomorrow is supposed to be the deadline for when the Commissioners find out if their letters of resignation have been accepted.

Anonymous said...

The unfunded liabilities for pensions ($12 billion)and State Employee Retirement Health Care ($21 Billion)are silently, but significantly, having a large impact on the budget. And the impacts will continue to get larger more rapidly.

Anonymous said...

While those are real issues, the price tag assumes continuation of current practice and benefits. CT has the richest package of benefits. Changing the benefits would greatly reduce the unfunded liability.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:12:
100% correct.
That would be one nasty, dirty debate conducted among people (the Legislature) who now share in those rich benefits.
My bet is on they're trying to keep these issues as far away from the public's view as they can. However, they can't keep them away from the rating agencies and the the smart money so we'll all wait and watch to see when push comes to shove.

Anonymous said...

All this interconnecting of big cities through CT and roadways will make CT look more like Queens and less like Vermont. Quality of life? Kiss it goodbye.

I'm not anxious to look more and more like a series of bedroom communities for Boston and New York City, but maybe it's just me. Can't we do better than this?

As to secretaries receiving 1/3 more pay, I would guess there is a supply/demand issue here.

I once was on a staff working on a leveraged buyout that was stopped dead in its tracks due to the fact that a law firm partner working on the deal after hours couldn't provide information on the deal because didn't know how to use a photocopy machine. Sometimes those low level people come in handy.

Not so secretly glad you're not running for governor, Turfgrrl.

Anonymous said...

I have the greatest regard for workers at all levels. My dad worked for the state before there were unions so I know how abused employees can be without protection. It just amazing though that some starting secretarial positions make more than a starting professor with a PhD at UConn. Also the fringe benefit costs for some maintenance and clerical positions represent as much as 75% of salary. In Mass, the higher level secretary starts at about $33k and tops off at $46K. For the same position in CT, the pay starts at $44k and can go over $60k. The cost of living in Hartford is certainly not anything like Boston.

bluecoat said...

Fairfield County residents take note: while your property tatxes pay for your local police departments your state taxes pay for local police departments for 82 of the other 169 CT cities and townsembedded in JI story here

and long overdue:State Judge Rules Against HMOs
Companies Told To Release Data On Medicaid Fees
November 30, 2006
By HILARY WALDMAN, Courant Staff Writer

bluecoat said...

a little more on CT's Medicaid story:Study: Poor kids rarely see MDs
Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor

bluecoat said...

When you roll in the cost of the benefits package, the top managers and Commissioners in CT do quite well. The state/DAS even brags about the value of the benefits package when recruiting. That said, reducing the benies and upping the take home pay would be a Republican thing to do.

turfgrrl said...

Anonymous 10:29: The alternative to mass transmit links between big cities is the strip mall sprawl we are getting now. Preserving open space means encouraging growth in already dense areas, but I understand what you are saying.

Secretaries and PHD salary comparisons is a straw argument. C-level execs earning 400x of the average worker is the real discrepancy, but my take on it is that by making workers have greater employment choices, the end result is higher wages.

Anonymous said...

There is no straw argument here. State wage and benefit packages are way out of proportion for the services they are delivering.

Sure a small percentage of high level executives may earn 400X the average worker makes, and yes in those cases their wage and benefit packages are even more out of whack as well.

But we can no longer afford to pretend that the direct role the wages and benefits paid to the state workers ( which make up a huge portion of what is called "fixed budget costs" ) play in our taxes here in Connecticut is anything less than the direct role baseball players making $10MM/yr. play in making a night out at the ball park unaffordable for most of us.

Unaffordable national pastime, unaffordable taxes.... There is a real direct connection there not some straw argument. .

Anonymous said...

I can see the Republicans want to discuss State employee pensions of people making 30K and up. Why is it they don't talk about the major corporate tax breaks or the Millions earned by state CEO's that were big Rell supporters?

Thankfully, after the Nov 7th election, Republicans no longer matter and we can finally get some relief for the working families while the rich start paying their fair share.

Anonymous said...

the state sets wages for state workers not corporate CEO's..

Anonymous said...

The comment below deserves a response:

Thankfully, after the Nov 7th election, Republicans no longer matter and we can finally get some relief for the working families while the rich start paying their fair share.

I guess anyone who has a few bucks has never worked to earn that money?

This state has never had a problem getting the rich working families to pay at least their fair share. A much more real problem is that so many in this state don't pay anything. Unless one considers that a fair share.

But as was pointed out now after Nov 7th the Democrats of this state are in even more total control than they have been for years, so I say: Work your magic. Fix this state, you have no excuses now!!!! Go for it!!!!!

Anonymous said...

We are already the highest per capita taxed state in the country. Still we have bonded debt beyond imagination. Add to that we have unfunded pension obligations to our teachers and state workers that alone would sink some mid sized countries.

This mess was made by a Democratically controlled General Assembly and Republican governors who looked the other way while they spent us into this mess. And now you think the Democrats are going to fix this???? The same Democrats who made it, only more of them??

This is not Washington, this is Connecticut. We can't just print the money we need.....Even if we could, we would never be able to print enough to satisfy the run away spending in this state.....

Yah real great solution!!!! Tax the rich even more..... Any thought to living within our means?????? I guess not, that just isn't any fun......