Hysteria and vilification quickly have become the hallmarks of Connecticutâ€™s campaign for governor, with Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski and their surrogates hurling contempt and mock indignation at each other.
Seizing on Stefanowskiâ€™s platform of phasing out the state income tax, which produces half of state governmentâ€™s revenue, the Democrats are warning that his election will destroy public education and medical services and require huge increases in sales and property taxes.
The Democrats are right that Stefanowskiâ€™s plan to eliminate the income tax is hollow. The plan says nothing about where and how spending cuts would be arranged and seems to presume that reducing the income tax will produce so much prosperity that tax revenue will actually increase.
While taxing less sometimes can produce more, there is no way that eliminating half state governmentâ€™s revenue will reimburse itself. But that will become clear soon enough, and there is no need to take Stefanowski seriously on the point, and maybe his own voters in the Republican primary didnâ€™t take him seriously here either. Instead his supporters could have figured simply that the more Stefanowski demagogically pledged to eliminate the income tax, the more he would bind himself at least to cutting spending and taxes generally.
Just freezing spending and taxes would be more than any Connecticut governor in modern times has achieved.
Neither can Lamont and the Democrats be taken seriously on taxes. Lamont is deliberately incoherent on the issue. Having endorsed raising the sales tax and imposing tolls and having pledged to obey the government employee unions, whose members consume most state and municipal tax revenue, Lamont also says taxes are too high.
Further, when Lamont and the Democrats say Stefanowski would destroy education, medical care, and the University of Connecticut, they really mean that all state government spending goes for sacred cows and there can be no economizing with them, nor even any auditing of them, though their excesses are often reported.
Besides, Stefanowski hasnâ€™t proposed eliminating the income tax all at once but gradually, over eight years. Making big cuts in spending and taxes so gradually would be possible with enough political will. State government would just have to stand up to government employees, contractors, welfare recipients, and others on the payroll, imposing on them the cuts that for decades have been imposed on taxpayers through constant state and municipal tax increases.
If itâ€™s OK always to be reducing the compensation of taxpayers in Connecticut, why should the compensation of the government and welfare classes remain sacrosanct, except that these classes constitute the base of the Democratic Party?
Stefanowskiâ€™s employment history and ignorance of state government and of Connecticut generally may justify hysteria, but his â€žplanâ€ť to eliminate the income tax doesnâ€™t. For change in spending and tax policy that radical would need approval from the General Assembly, which probably will remain closely divided politically and far from radical.
Even gradual cuts in spending and taxes will require supreme political effort. But a governor informed and courageous enough to articulate the public interest over the special interests might accomplish it. Is any candidate in this campaign so informed and courageous?
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.