Like many, I tuned in to listen and watch our new president deliver his inaugural speech. I was positively struck by repeated references to unity and how through it we can make progress and get back on track with what some would say we are all about — United States of America. It occurred to me shortly after his speech that when it comes to governance today in our state government, a great deal could be learned from his comments on unity. But I do believe there’s more, a lot more that is needed in addition to unity. Two additional components of the work needed in CT are more teamwork and more honesty, especially regarding the facts. When it comes to getting our taxes more competitive (down), enhancing some of our infrastructures other than transportation, and making education more robust on a global scale, it must be all about unity, teamwork and honesty about the facts. And the timing of the need for these has rarely been greater. Let me explain.
We have quantifiable, verifiable problems. Here are some of the facts. According to USA Today, our state is now ranked the eighth-worst in which to retire. We have one of the highest total tax rates in the country and the highest debt obligation of any state, allocating 31 percent of state revenue to bond, pension and retirement health obligations according to Moody’s Analytics. According to recent studies by two national moving companies, United and North American Van Lines, these facts combined with a so-so job market (with Amazon passing over Conn. for a second time to locate here) are two of the reasons we saw more residents move out than relocate to CT in 2020, all mainly led by those 55 years old and over. Our state ranked 50th in job growth in 2019 and last for wage growth for the last 11 years. The recent journalistic investigation by Hearst Media entitled “Lost to Gun Violence” told us that on average approximately one person has died the equivalent of every business day in CT of the past 11 years due to gunshot wounds. One a business day! And the deaths touched every age, race, gender and socioeconomic group. Next, take Hartford, our capital city. It has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation and according to wallethub.com, Hartford ranked 46th among state capitols in unaffordability, economic well-being, education, health and quality of life. Nearly 30% of its high school students don’t graduate on time and only 18% of students in grades three to eight test at age-appropriate levels in math and only 25% in reading. The list of negatives could go on but I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy and it pains me to write about these topics so I’ll stop here. However, it’s time to see things the way they really are and not the way we want them to be. And it’s time we follow the facts regardless of where they may lead or who is involved.
The Democrats have the numbers but need direction. We now have a Democratic governor and the Democrats hold a majority in both the CT House and Senate. In fact, the Senate tally represents enough for the two-thirds needed to override a veto while the House falls only three votes short. We have the numbers. However, some real direction is needed. Take the Senate for example. An analysis of the bills proposed during the first three weeks of the 2021 session shows that approximately 80% of the bills have been proposed by three senators and many of the proposals have nothing to do with solving our financial woes. Some are even duplicative, wasting administrative resources of state government. Even tolls are back on the agenda for a few. Further, Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and President Pro Tempore of the Senate (e.g., majority leader) have even proposed a mansion tax and a capital gains surcharge. Per the facts, our taxes are high enough!
Professor Jon Katzenbach of the Harvard Business School and author of The Wisdom of Teams informs that a team is a group of people coming together with complementary skills to work on a problem or opportunity. The Senate has 36 members vs the House membership of 151. Because of easier manageability in the Senate, here is where the unity, teamwork and honesty about the facts should start and in partnership with the governor. We need a unifying vision with just a few priorities, all the while keeping the pandemic at the top, to make the real difference and not include new taxes.
Tony Turner most recently served as a member of the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation and is the founder and CEO of My Voting Power Greenwich (MVPGreenwich), a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to enabling ease of voting and more informed voter decisions by 18-35 year-olds. He resides in Old Greenwich, CT