This Viewpoint was originally published in CT Mirror on June 6, 2019.
After living for over nine years in the historic and beautiful Black Rock section of Bridgeport, my wife, Mary, and I are leaving the Constitution State. We are saddened to do so because we love our home, our neighborhood, our neighbors, and the state. However, like an increasing number of people, the time has come to cut our losses and move closer to family. In addition, it is not clear that current state and local leaders have the willingness and ability to make the tough choices needed to create a better future in Connecticut, especially in connection with unfunded retirement obligations.
Hopefully the below ideas will help to stimulate action on some much needed reforms over time.
Connecticut, Bridgeport and several other cities in the state face serious financial and competitiveness challenges that are not being effectively addressed. As a result, due to poor leadership and failed policies for many years, Connecticut has gone from a top five to bottom five state in competitive posture and financial condition since the late 1980s. In more recent years, this has resulted in an exodus from the state and a significant decline in home values.
Connecticut still has significant potential, but that potential will never be realized unless the state reduces tax and regulatory burdens, improves its transportation systems and critical infrastructure, rationalizes its welfare systems, addresses the serious educational opportunity gaps that exist, rightsizes state government, modernizes government human capital practices, and revitalizes its troubled cities.
In order to do so, Connecticut, and many of its major cities, MUST restructure current pension and retiree health care plans in a reasonable, affordable and sustainable manner. This represents the fiscal cancer that must be addressed in a timely manner at both the state and local level in order to create a better future. Deferring contributions and engaging in pension obligation bonding at this time are just two examples of kicking the can down the road on needed reforms.
Bridgeport also has potential but it needs to reject political machine-controlled and patronage-oriented government, significantly reduce its property tax rate, and capitalize on its comparative advantages. In order to do so, it should bring a first class resort/casino to the city, more aggressively pursue enterprise/ opportunity zones, revitalize its waterfront, capitalize on its deep water port potential, and consider filing for bankruptcy in order to restructure its finances.
Several other cities in the state also need to consider the bankruptcy option. After all, any municipality with a mill rate over 40 is not competitive and huge unfunded retirement obligations will only make things worse over time absent real restructuring.
As an example of the competitiveness challenge facing Connecticut and its cities, during the past eight months, Mary and I have already seen that the property tax rate on our new home in Alexandria, Va is one third of Bridgeport, electric rates are half, laundry and dry cleaning is less than half, auto and homeowners insurance are one third less, there are no mandatory automobile tolls, and gasoline is 10-20 percent less. In addition, the quality of life and public services in Fairfax County are as good or better than anywhere in Fairfield County and the quality of life in Alexandria is excellent.
And where did Amazon decide to put their second headquarters? Three and one-half miles from our Alexandria home! As a result, unlike Connecticut, homes prices are rising.
From an integrity perspective, Connecticut needs to join the 46 other states that ban convicted felons for public corruption from holding public office, adopt much tougher conflict of interest rules at the state and local level, and recognize the fact that public sector unions have too much political power and have run the state into a fiscal chasm. It’s time to get rid of the nick-name – Corrupticut!
Finally, since we will be exiting the state this month, I have resigned my position on Connecticut’s Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) that currently oversees three troubled municipalities (i.e., Hartford, West Haven and Sprague).
Reforms are needed to make the MARB more effective. For example, any municipality with a mill rate over 40 with large unfunded retirement obligations should automatically be subject to MARB oversight should the MARB deem it appropriate.
Based on this criteria, Waterbury, Bridgeport and New Haven and selected other smaller municipalities should be subject to MARB oversight. The MARB also needs to focus its efforts on municipalities with serious competitive and structural financial challenges rather than short-term challenges.
MARB should only provide temporary state aid to municipalities that achieve actual reductions in recurring spending and actual increases in their taxable grand list. It also needs to recognize that requiring tax increases in cities with very high and non-competitive tax rates will only make things worse over time. Its focus needs to be on real reductions in spending and stimulating economic growth so tax burdens can be lowered over time.
Ultimately, the state should cap property tax rates and provide meaningful property tax relief to seniors. This will take time but needs to be accomplished in order to revitalize troubled cities and retain seniors after they retire. After all, the number one tax concern for Connecticut residents is property taxes rather than income taxes. Such is clearly the case in troubled cities.
Mary and I truly hope that these and other state and local challenges will eventually be addressed for the sake of our friends, neighbors and the citizens of Connecticut, Bridgeport and other troubled cities. They deserve no less.
Finally, after deciding to leave Connecticut, I accepted a Distinguished Visiting Professor position at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD starting in August. I am looking forward to this unique opportunity to serve my country again and to help prepare our nation’s future leaders. As a result, it’s time for us to say, goodbye and good luck Connecticut, and Go NAVY!
David M. Walker is the former U.S. Comptroller General.
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I am sure that David Walker will not be the only one leaving Connecticut this coming year. Very sad indeed. While the leaders may change, our situation never seems to change. I am hoping that the new mayor in New Haven will get things under control once and for all. It won’t be easy after the mess he’s been left, but if we all pull together and support him, maybe things can start to turn around for New Haven!
We left Connecticut last year. After my husband and I working a total of 6 jobs and having reached our 60s, it was time to think of how much longer we could continue. With the possible tolls, we looked at our driving to these jobs and nothing added up in our life. – taxes taxes taxes. We decided we needed to move out of Connecticut. We moved to Arizona and have finally been able to breathe. Our life is finally not giving our pay to taxes. We miss the state and it’s beauty and shoreline but we don’t miss the high cost of living in a state throb does not care about its residents.
Our state is in a fiscal death spiral which is firmly in control by an unholy Democrat/Union alliance and their public relations arm in the local media. More taxes disguised as fees and tolls are ahead to feed the state union retirement benefit beast. State workers are the biggest employer in Connecticut and there is no serious effort to contain or even freeze spending. Instead of dealing with the fiscal issues in Hartford, we the taxpayers bailed them out. Hope springs eternal, but I don’t see things changing anytime soon.
The definition of insanity in Connecticut is to keep voting for Democrats and expecting different results.
I want to publicly thank David Walker for taking the time and effort to write a meaningful, obviously heartfelt and well-intentioned goodbye to Connecticut (originally published June 6, 2019). Sadly, too few will read it, too few will understand it, and too few of those who read and understand it will have the courage to respond publicly. Connecticut’s loss of people such as David Walker and his wife is a small but real blow to a state that is in many ways being pulled ever further downward by everything including apathy to corruption to national/global competition. Too few in Connecticut care, too few understand, too few are equipped to do anything positive. And too many of those who care, understand and have the wherewithal to take action will act by leaving — a rational decision, given the circumstances. We can all learn much from David Walker’s goodbye.
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