Happy New Year!
It has the look of an eventful one for Connecticut. Just before Christmas, the state received sobering news that got little attention. As you were enjoying holiday festivities, the state’s labor department released job figures for November.
The November jobs census — subject to revision — confirmed what many are feeling. Connecticut has not been participating in the national economic expansion of the last several years. The state lost 3,500 jobs in November. Since June, the decline has surpassed 15,000 jobs. That’s a loss close to 1 percent of the state’s non-agriculture jobs.
As of November, the state has the same number of jobs as it did in December 2016. That’s also bad news. Almost every other state is adding jobs at a decent clip — and has been for several years. This year, the national economy is on track to grow at or more than 3 percent in each quarter. Something we have not enjoyed for several years. This is good news for the nation and much of the rest of the world.
Something different is going on in Connecticut. We gain jobs in some months, we lose them in others. The state is on a treadmill to more trouble. Eventually the resilient American economy will slip into another recession. It will probably not be as dramatic as the we endured from 2007 to 2009. However mild or severe, a recession will slam Connecticut. Our leaders are struggling with state finances during good times. They will be lost during a national slowdown.
As you read this, candidates for running for governor or exploring a statewide race in 2018 are in a frantic race to raise campaign funds in the final hours of the year. The candidates will have to disclose the fruits of their relentless fundraising efforts early in January.
Candidates have been hard at it while normal people enjoyed the holidays. They employ every gimmick they and their consultants can conjure. What a lot of devoted spouses this crop of candidates enjoys. They often attach their names to urgent and saccharine messages asking recipients to “chip in” a few bucks to help their spouses qualify for the state’s generous public campaign financing program.
Read enough of those solicitations and you will learn about candidates’ illnesses, childhoods and lives overcoming obstacles in their quest to serve. What you are unlikely to learn is a candidate’s realistic plan to solve the state’s repetitive financial troubles.
Free college and a single payer health care system are on offer. There are promises to repeal the state’s income tax. Do not believe these cloud cuckoo gambits to divert your attention. They are a load of nonsense on stilts.
I’ve never seen the public so engaged in the affairs of our state. People witness and feel the problems in their day-to-day lives. They understand in astonishing numbers that the past seven years have not worked. The public knows what it does not want. That’s why neither Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nor Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman will be on the ballot next year. Any of their allies will face the unhappy task of explaining the failures of the past seven years.
Voters may disagree about many things, but in Connecticut we know we want change from those people who have been defeated by the challenges facing them. The new year offers an opportunity for cautious renewal, if ideas to put the finances in order are accompanied by credible details.
Bad news takes the express, good news hops on the local. Whatever your political leanings, the one attribute every candidate needs is the ability to recognize and explain Connecticut’s manifold troubles. The winners in the first rounds should be those who can leaven those explanations with some reality about how recoveries happen. We know they take years of progress in small increments.
My own preference is for a candidate who understands that only economic growth will provide the money to pay for the services the state provides. Those unfunded liabilities will not get smaller in a state that keeps losing jobs and workers. Only an expanding private sector offers the prospect of reversing the lethal trends of decline. There is such a thing as a balanced state budget — even for more than one year at a time. Bring us the candidate who can explain where that road begins.
Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at [email protected].