Even before he departs the state for Massachusetts, where he will teach courses at his alma mater, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is being mythologized. But the Malloy myth has collided with Red Jahncke, who writes in “The Hill” that the newly manufactured myth is a tissue of half-truths: “One pre-election newspaper headline read ‘Malloy myth is dead wrong; he slashed state spending,’ and another excoriated Republicans for wrongly accusing Malloy of instituting ‘the top two tax hikes in CT history,’ as if this would absolve him of the several huge increases he imposed… This media revisionism falls apart in math class: ‘slashed’ spending would lead to budget improvements. Logically, reduced spending combined with tax hikes would lead to even greater budget improvements, yet the state is facing big budget deficits as far as the eye can see.”
The myth-producing newspaper, “deemed two-thirds of the state’s budget to be non-discretionary and therefore beyond the governor’s reach. The remaining one-third of spending has been flat under Malloy — or, ‘slashed,’ once inflation-adjusted.”
However, Jahncke points out, the newspaper prescinded “The Big Five” from its calculations. “Under ObamaCare, every state governor could expand Medicaid or not. Malloy did. Whether you support expansion or not, you can’t say it was mandatory. State spending on Medicaid grew from $2 billion to $3.1 billion under Malloy… Debt service (bond payments) grew from $1.7 billion to $2.2 billion, despite the record-low interest rate environment, as Malloy increased debt outstanding by $6 billion.”
The $600 million, nine-mile busway between Hartford and New Britain was, Jahncke writes, a “colossal boondoggle.” And Malloy’s cut in state aid to select (read wealthy) municipalities was not a cut in net state spending, but rather a progressive redistribution of funding responsibility: “It would hardly be genuine budget-cutting to offload more costs to local government, as Malloy sought unsuccessfully to do by cutting the annual $3 billion in state aid.”
On Malloy’s watch, Jahncke continued, already overgenerous pension and health care benefits for state workers “almost doubled from $2.0 billion in 2010 to $3.9 billion in 2017.” It is true that Malloy, on entering office, had inherited a “20-year omnibus pension and health care benefits agreement with state labor unions covering almost all employees” for which he was not responsible. But Jahncke presents a Gibraltar sized caveat: The reckless SEBAC agreement negotiated by his predecessors “had six years to run, seemingly handcuffing the governor. But, what did Malloy do? He agreed to extend the agreement for five more years. Listen to what Dan Livingston, the union coalition’s chief negotiator, said: ‘Now we have an 11-year agreement. I wish it were still 20. But 11 years is still unheard of in the country.’”
Surely Connecticut’s media has a moral obligation to dig below the surface of politics and uproot the truth. Everyone has an obligation to say the truth and shame the Devil. Instead, Jahncke charges, “The truth is the exact opposite of what was reported. It was Malloy’s failure to control ‘Big Five’ spending, which surged 40 percent from $8.7 billion to $12.2 billion, that left him no choice but to ‘slash’ spending on ‘regular state government.’”
When it was pointed out to columnist Chris Powell that two thirds of state spending was devoted to “fix costs,” Powell responded “Well, unfix them.” Connecticut’s Democrat politicians should be bending their efforts in this profitable direction. A “fixed cost” is, in fact, a cost of government that cowardly legislators do not want to fix, because doing so would upset a cozy universe in which pampered special interests have government by the tail. The General Assembly for years has been renting out its constitutional prerogatives to all sorts of special interests and then asserting in white-lie fashion that they have been acting with the public good in mind. But the public good is not the sum of the goods of various factions who always have used government to advance their own sectarian interests. The public good is the good of the whole polis, and that good is put at considerable risk by legislators, chief executives and judges who seek to advance the interests of various political factions they may favor, sometimes for semi-legitimate reasons or for reasons of personal gain.
It is often said that the media provides to the general public a first reading of history. But that first reading should be able to pass muster with reporters’ and editors’ eighth-grade history teachers.