On June 12 of this year, right after the end of the regular legislative session and just before the end of the fiscal year, a group of eight Connecticut business leaders wrote to the governor and the legislature, begging to be given a chance to help end the budget stalemate and plan for the future. They were essentially ignored.
Now, all that is left of their grand plan to stop Connecticut’s politicians from allowing the state’s economy to drive off a cliff is a lonely blue underlined link on the Web site of the MetroHartford Alliance. It’s a sad little link just waiting for someone to click it.
If you do, you get a pretty easy to read three-and-a-half page letter signed by the leaders of eight regional chambers of commerce (including the three largest) laying out their principles for settling the still simmering state budget crisis and building a better foundation for the state’s economy.
You have heard most of the ideas before, but what the letter really offers the political leadership is the cover it needs to enact reforms. The chamber presidents offer to convene a public/private sector group that won’t be afraid to tell it like it is and produce a report focused on “results-based governance” free of a “sacred-cow bias.”
In other words, the business group is willing to tell the voters what needs to be done to salvage the state’s economy without regard to how the public might react to it. Private sector leaders don’t need to worry about how the voters feel about bold ideas. Theoretically, legislators and the governor would then accept the findings, turn the recommendations into legislation and vote it up or down. If the solutions were politically unpopular, they could tell the voters, “We didn’t want to do it, but we were told we had to if we wanted to prevent a disaster.” It’s a corollary to the “too big to fail” strategy.
There is another aspect to the business leaders’ initiative that is politically important. It offers to wrap up all the necessary changes under one umbrella. When it comes to the legislative process, it’s easier to get votes that way.
For instance, you may remember Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s pledge at the start of the session to end the wasteful “bloat of bureaucracy.” It was great use of alliteration, but as presented, it never had a chance. The governor’s approach was to list each spending cut she was proposing line by line. You can’t get support for spending cuts that way because each line item has a constituency with the votes to save it.
If the governor had packaged her spending cuts and some tax increases as the “Government Reform Initiative,” she would have had a better chance. Everyone is willing to vote for “reform” — no one is willing to vote against individual programs, or for specific tax increases.
Even without the establishment of a task force, the business leaders’ who have asked to be part of solution, have put together a wide-ranging list of issues that must be solved simultaneously “over the next five to seven years.” It’s a reform package addressing labor costs, privatization of state services, regionalization, health care, transportation and tax policy. It deserves more attention than the stone silence it has met so far.
The crisis continues. The business group is not going away. The state’s political leadership should respond to this offer of help because the way to build an economy and create jobs is to start by listening to those who do it for a living.