Blue State Blues: Residents Say ‘Enough’ to Tax Burden, Stifling Culture of Connecticut
All such adventures in statewide left-leaning rule produce similar tales, told in both citizen anger and an accountant’s ledger. Connecticut only managed to hide its maddening decline for so long due to its equally stunning tax base.
But those days are over -- and it’s not just the statism, it’s the culture. New London is “New Brussels”; the distance Connecticut’s utopian-minded leaders were able to maintain from the resulting chaos of their ideology is gone. Hope can survive where geography still promises quality of life, yet few are choosing to stay and fight that entrenched one-party rule when relief is just a U-Haul and a rough week or two away.
Below, three passages help illustrate the economic and cultural situation facing Connecticut.
Noted food writer and since-departed-for-South-Carolina resident Michael Stern set off a predictable, “tolerant” rain of bigotry when he announced his reasons for fleeing Connecticut in the Hartford Courant recently. Stern couldn’t have done a finer job illustrating the creeping, lockstep hatred than some other residents did in bidding him a terrible future in a “Tea Party” state.
Below is Stern’s op-ed, after which Stern expands for PJ Media on his life decision and his newfound relief in South Carolina.
Then, this article concludes with a message from Connecticut GOP state Senator Scott Frantz. Frantz's district includes all of Greenwich, plus parts of Stamford and New Canaan. These are some of America’s wealthiest per-capita towns, and thus home to a large percentage of the now-ravaged tax base that helped the state’s liberal governance stay afloat for so long. Frantz addresses the issues raised by Stern, and the fight he faces in Connecticut’s legislature.
Michael Stern op-ed, published in the Hartford Courant on Aug. 27 -- “I’m Not Leaving Connecticut, It Left Me”:
In 1968, I came to Connecticut to attend school. Yale was fine, but my real education took place in pizzerias on Wooster Street, at picnic-table clam shacks along the shoreline and in diners from Curley's in Stamford to Zip's in Dayville. So inspired was I by the state's sleeves-up eats that I made a career of reporting about regional food all around America.
I have seen a lot of the country, but no matter how alluring the scenery, the weather and the cost of living elsewhere, I always have come back home to Connecticut. My pride in living here has been downright patriotic. I truly believed that Connecticut was better than anywhere else.
That is why it hurts so much to leave.
Oh, how I will miss hot lobster rolls and apizzas! Beyond excellent food, I will miss riding horseback through the blaze of autumn; I will miss saddle pals from High Lonesome, Sunny Brook Farm, Happy Trails and Fairfield County Hounds. I will miss homes that are three centuries old, tumbledown stone walls, dairy farms and apple orchards, the Connecticut River and the Litchfield hills. I already miss the late Dr. Mel Goldstein. Heck, I might one day even miss good old New England winter!
But I must get out.
For me, Connecticut is no longer the best place to be. Rather than feeling proud when I tell people where I live as I travel around the country, I am embarrassed. I am not going to whine about the all-too-obvious economic reasons for leaving, such as backbreaking taxes, moribund cities and gutted home values -- all of which make Connecticut look like the next Detroit. What bothers me more is a matter of character. When I came here nearly a half-century ago, Connecticut was hard to define -- in the best possible sense. It was a place between New England and New York -- not just geographically, but temperamentally. Here I found equal measures Yankee sense and urban sensibility with heaping portions of Italian flavor and preppy-WASP seasoning, a full ration of African-American soul, and a soupcon of Jewish culture.
That mix of flavors still exists to some degree, now augmented by fresh (and delicious) waves of Latin-American and Asian influence: all good stuff. But a state is more than the sum of its contents. A state is attitude, manner and mien. And there's the difference. Connecticut's uncommon disposition -- a paradoxical stew of hidebound and unpredictable, refined and irreverent -- has been eclipsed by a dreadful sameness that makes living here all too much like living in New York or New Jersey -- according to Forbes, the only two states with tax burdens higher than ours.
OK, I said I wouldn't gripe about taxes. Instead, let's talk guns. I never thought much about firearms when I grew up in the Midwest. But Connecticut's heritage as home to such fabled names as Colt and Winchester inspired me to become a competitive shooter and vintage revolver collector. I used to feel quite superior to residents of neighboring states because Connecticut still had some respect for its people's gun rights. But the Sandy Hook shootings prompted regulation every bit as onerous as that of New York and Massachusetts. This is not the forum to argue that draconian gun control is political pandering, its only effect on lawbreakers to make it easier for them to prey on law-abiding citizens. But our elected leaders' demonization of guns and gun owners is one more good reason to leave. I do not want to live in a place where only the government and criminals are well-armed. That is known as a police state.
Placebo gun laws are just one symptom of Connecticut's descent into banality. The problem isn't strictly political, although ironclad Democrat domination is, for me, a big part of what's wrong. Without effective opposition to the ruling party, we have become indistinguishable from the lockstep political correctness that defines any inexorably blue state.
Cases in point: Dannel Malloy, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy. They all have been handily elected, so I grudgingly and sadly acknowledge that they are what voters want. For countless specific acts and statements during their tenures, they make me squirm to be their constituent; beyond what they've done and said is the matter of personality. There is nothing about these predictable politicians that is distinctive or imaginative, nothing feisty or original or iconoclastic or bold -- certainly not compared to the likes of Ella Grasso, Abraham Ribicoff or Joseph Lieberman.
The truth is that I mostly disagreed with those leaders' policies. But even when I thought they were wrong, I respected them as freethinkers. They and generations of nonconformist predecessors were symbols of a state like no other, a state where I was once so proud to live. Their leadership reflected the independent character that used to be Connecticut's hallmark -- character that I fear is becoming history.
I am grateful I was here to savor the unique spirit that defined Connecticut and, in some small way, to contribute to it. I leave with sorrow for its loss.
Michael Stern’s follow-up for PJ Media, September 15:
Having moved from Connecticut to South Carolina, I now buy gas for $1.68.9 per gallon. My costs for insurance, housing, and services are one-half to two-thirds of what they used to be. My tax bills are smaller and my paycheck is bigger. The recycling center is free and it takes everything. Even yoga classes cost less (and the state doesn’t tax them).
But for me, it’s not so much the cost of living that makes my relocation sweet. It is the fact that I have begun to remember what it’s like to be a citizen of the state rather than a subject of the government. In countless ways, I feel free. A lot of it is silly little stuff, like being able to burn brush in the backyard, but there are larger forces, mostly intangible, that constantly remind me how different life is here.
The big-picture dissimilarity is the politicians. Here, the attitude seems to be that public servants are just that -- public servants -- and we, the people, employ them. How different that is from the last decade or more in Connecticut, where so many of our elected officials act like it is their job to decide how people should live their lives, to create regulations ensuring they conform, and to tax them accordingly. “Power tends to corrupt,” Lord Acton famously proclaimed. “And absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Perhaps that is why our leaders have forgotten who’s boss.
On a microcosmic level, my brief encounters with “authorities” here in South Carolina have reinforced my belief that the tone of public life is different. Even at the Department of Motor Vehicles (where the wait was less than 10 minutes), I actually felt that the personnel were there to aid and assist me and to ensure my transition to citizenship was a happy one.
The people who work in the post office smile at customers; police tip their hats to say hello. Maybe it’s all just old-time Southern hospitality, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but I also see the positive attitude as one that thrives in a society where it is not the job of civil servants to rule people, but rather, to help them -- a society where citizens are at liberty to live their lives as they determine, without relentless intimidation by politicians and bureaucrats telling them what they can and cannot do and what they must pay for the privilege of doing it.
Yes, there is a lot I miss about Connecticut -- friends, mostly, but also the beauty of the Litchfield Hills and the grand antiquity of New England in general. I have yet to discover really good ice cream down here, and to be frank, the donuts are awful and hot dogs only fair. However, the barbecue is fantastic and fresh fruits and vegetables are beyond compare, and there is a pizzeria in town whose chef and proprietor grew up in New Haven and who proudly offers a New Haven special on his menu of true-Neapolitan pies. Is it up to the standards of Pepe’s, Sally’s, Modern? No, but enduring A-grade pizza (as opposed to Wooster Street A+), is, for me, a fair trade for living free.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
By Senator Scott Frantz
The Clash may have been on to life here in Connecticut. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" was the title of one of their more successful songs, perhaps because it brought a focus to that most pivotal of life decisions: How does one decide when enough really is ... enough?
Recently, author Michael Stern wrote an op-ed in the Hartford Courant: "I'm Not Leaving Connecticut, It Left Me." Stern suggested that Connecticut has lost its independent character and its edge: his unique, chosen home state had become uniform, lacking drive and the will to be different, and I suppose Stern's words could accurately describe the state we are in, applied both figuratively and literally.
What happened to our drive? Taxes.
During the past six years Connecticut residents have had their income taxes raised significantly twice, on top of large increases in dozens of other taxes and fees. Both raises are characterized as the highest increase in taxes in state history -- and astonishingly, both were made retroactive.
When the state’s first-ever Tax Panel began its work a year ago, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo acknowledged that Connecticut’s annual per-capita state tax burden of $2,500 was “well above” the $1,400 national average -- and was the third-highest in the country.
The cost of living in our beautiful state is expensive. After paying for food, gas, electricity, rent or mortgage, the high property taxes and income taxes are too much, tipping the scales towards "Go." The Atlas Van Lines Migration Patterns study for 2013 suggests that Connecticut is losing residents faster than any other state.
The Indiana-based moving company has reported where customers are moving to since 1993. In 2013, 60 percent of customers who crossed the Connecticut state line were leaving the Nutmeg State, while just 40 percent were relocating here.
The U.S Census Bureau backed up the Atlas Van Lines study, claiming that Connecticut saw 26,000 more people move out than in between July 2013 to July 2014.
Only West Virginia and Illinois lost more population during that period.
The rate of annual loss of residents to other states has been increasing as well. The 26,000 loss in residents from July 2013 to July 2014 was estimated to be a 10,000-person increase from the prior period.
The top places for relocation, as touted by a Hartford Courant story that ran earlier this year, were New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California. Whether the cause was people retiring or young adults trying to make it on their own, Connecticut residents judged those states to be a better place for making a go of their dreams.
How do we reverse the trend?
We need a much friendlier and predictable business environment with a lower tax burden -- and a better attitude in Hartford towards the private sector. That's the productive side of the economy. Given the freedom to spread her wings, Connecticut's private sector is capable of hiring millions and creating even more jobs in the future.
Good governance remains fundamentally simple: serve your residents and your businesses well, and they will not only stay but attract more to come. I've had enough of Connecticut residents needing to say "enough." It would be great to again hear people have reason to say they can’t get enough of Connecticut.