As an economist, I’ve grown increasingly concerned that Gov. Ned Lamont and his budgetary mouthpiece John Beckham suffer from a shared delusion about what is happening in Connecticut.
Do they even look at actual data about what matters for our taxpayers? It isn’t that hard. Just recently, the U.S. Census Bureau pointed out that Connecticut was one of 17 states where the median household has fallen.
Beckham was recently quoted bemoaning a “decade of sluggish economies and budgets” in years gone by. The truth is that Connecticut’s economy is more sluggish now than it has been since 2004. The numbers don’t lie: Connecticut’s GDP per person was 1.2% smaller in 2022 than it was in 2019. The typical Connecticut taxpayer is worse off now than when Lamont took office.
That dismal performance continued in the opening months of 2023, when our economy shrank by roughly half a percent compared to the start of 2022. Like a couple carnival barkers, Lamont and Beckham have been throwing around all kinds of distractions, like meager tax cuts, in an effort to convince everyone that the emperor has beautiful economic clothes. Connecticut families know the truth.
Lamont is not building an even modestly successful economy. He’s more in the tradition of former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who exited the governor’s office with an economy that did not improve at all over eight years (GDP per capita was basically flat). Say what you will about former Gov. Dannel Malloy, at least the economy grew by roughly 4% during his term.
How can we explain Lamont’s ongoing disaster on the economic front? His entire approach to policy is inconsistent, incoherent and shallow. I’ll provide an example. Lamont and Beckham seem to have some kind of ax to grind with public higher education. In a recent letter to Connecticut State Colleges and Universities leadership , Beckham doubled down on a plan to slash state funding for college students by roughly $110 million. Beckham’s office tends to arbitrarily and obsessively dwell upon past enrollments in public higher education. He’s seeking a consultant who will, in all likelihood, advocate for evisceration of our public universities.
The message is clear, Lamont and Beckham are enemies of Connecticut’s public higher education. It’s a weird hill to die on. Connecticut’s constitution, itself, establishes a unique commitment to funding of public higher education. But even more bizarre is Lamont’s willingness to pour millions of taxpayer dollars on unfathomable pet projects. For example, last summer, Greenwich’s Hudson Bay Capital received $1.4 million in “manufacturing assistance.” What does this company manufacture? They’re a hedge fund, and we’re not talking about the lawn ornament type of hedge.
Not to be outdone, Sikorsky arranged $75 million in corporate welfare early last year. A few months later, they lost a $1.3 billion contract to supply the next generation of helicopters to the U.S Army. A bit of advice, if you see Lamont at a roulette table in eastern Connecticut and he bets on green, I would not recommend following him with your own money.
It gets even worse when we consider what is happening in New London. There, Lamont has tripled the amount of taxpayer money he’s dumping into the Thames River at the behest of a European company. To be fair, said company is also working with Eversource, plausibly the most hated enterprise in our state. There are growing risks that all this $300+ million in largesse will meet with failure. The primary corporate beneficiary of our taxpayer dollars has seen its share price collapse by 40% since the start of this year.
We have enough evidence to understand the disastrous Lamont “economic formula:” squander almost unlimited funding on dubious or faltering projects so long as there is some kind of profiteer involved. Simultaneously, abandon Connecticut’s constitutional commitment to funding public higher education. When you consider this pattern, there really is no mystery when it comes to the recent decline in our state’s economy.
The Democratic party must be honest with itself when it comes to Lamont’s economic mismanagement. They can learn from what happened after Rell’s fumble on the economic front. The other party took over.
Brendan Cunningham is a Professor in Eastern Connecticut State University’s department of Economics and Finance, the Treasurer for CSU-AAUP, and a member of the Faculty Advisory Committee to the Board of Regents.