Having just spent time with some excellent friends from Connecticut, I thought I would check for any interesting news from that location. How about this:
Several weeks ago the Tribune Co. of Chicago announced a plan to sell off its newspaper assets. Persistent rumors have it that one potential buyer might be Koch Industries, owned by Charles and David Koch, famous for making money in the oil business and spending it on libertarian-oriented causes. Tribune Co. owns a number of newspapers around the country, and most of the attention has focused on the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, but another of the newspapers is the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant.
So on Monday August 12, the Hartford City Council passed a resolution opposing the takeover of the Courant by the Kochs. The resolution is below. I particularly like the part about the "outside, extreme, partisan and sensational national corporate agenda" attributed to the Kochs.
Another theory here is that the Hartford Courant has long been a sleepy mouthpiece of uncritical statist groupthink that has somehow failed to notice what a mess Hartford's politicians have made of their city. Hartford is the capital of one of the wealthiest states in the country (fourth according to this list from Wikipedia from the 2010 census, after D.C., Maryland and New Jersey, with 2010 per capita income of $34,849). Yet Hartford itself has astoundingly low per capita income of only $16,798 according to the same 2010 census data. Measured by per capita income as reported by the census, it is the poorest town in Connecticut, and way poorer than such places as the capitals of our otherwise poorest states such as Jackson County, Mississippi (2010 per capita income $23,547), Montgomery County, Alabama (2010 per capita income $24,622) and Pulaski County (Little Rock), Arkansas (2010 per capita income $27,158).
How could Hartford be such a poor place in such a rich state? Perhaps it is decades of failed blue state policies of handouts and crony capitalism. Go there and you will find a downtown almost totally remade by government-sponsored urban renewal projects. It's not just that the resulting modernist buildings and concrete plazas are painfully ugly. More important, the city for all its subsidized corporatism has failed to attract and retain business. Much of the insurance industry for which Hartford was once known has fled to the suburbs, if not somewhere else in the country.
And how's Connecticut doing overall? It soared to relative wealth in the 70s and 80s, but now is falling back. Back in the 70s and 80s, Connecticut had no state income tax on wage and salary income, and the areas of southwest Connecticut from Greenwich to Stamford to Fairfield boomed. (In the 70s, New York's combined state and local income tax burden reached a top rate near 19%.) Then in 1992 Connecticut introduced its income tax. Now it's up to a 6.7% top rate. From Dowd Muska at Freedomworks:
Connecticut job growth has been nonexistent since 1991. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation reports that since the early 1990s "no other state . . . has had such stagnation in employment."
Is it just a coincidence that they introduced the income tax in 1992? Oh, in 2011 and 2012, Connecticut's economy actually shrank, reporting the worst economic performance of all the 50 states. In 2011 the big Swiss bank UBS threatened to move its U.S. headquarters back from Stamford to Manhattan. Connecticut "saved" those jobs (about 2000 of them) with a big interest-free loan in 2012. Well, guys, you'll never attract the high-tech and the start-ups with a strategy of high taxes and handouts to Swiss banks.
And where is Connecticut in the pension game? Pretty close to the bottom, although Illinois and California are worse. According to the Connecticut Business & Industry Association in an August 7 article entitled "What Connecticut Has In Common With Detroit":
Connecticut’s per person pension debt is 5th worst in the U.S., representing 18.6% of personal income (Source: Standard & Poor). Funding for the state pension accounts has been declining (for state employees, 51.9% funded in 2008 versus 42.3% in 2012; for teachers, 70% in 2008, versus 55.2% in 2012). (Source: Fitch Ratings, Center for Retirement Research). There are fewer active state employees and fewer teachers contributing to the retiree funds (1.4 active pension members per retiree or beneficiary in 2008, and 1.1 in 2012; 1.8 in 2008 and 1.5 in 2012 for teachers) (Source: Fitch Ratings, Center for Retirement Research, Public Fund Survey)
Well, it looks like the pols in Hartford have a lot to fear from having someone wake up the sleepy group-thinking Courant and shine a light on the incompetent policies that have led Hartford and Connecticut from boom into stagnation and decline. Here's an idea: call the potential new owners some really nasty names. Then you can go on keeping the poor poor without anybody really noticing.