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A recent story in the Wall Street Journal foretells a grim financial future for Connecticut, the wealthiest state in the union by per capita income. Its great wealth, however, does not translate into financial stability. For this coming year, the state expects a $400 million shortfall in tax collections that will only compound its looming budget deficit of some $5.1 billion, attributable to the usual suspects: service on existing debt, a lowered credit rating, surging pension obligations, runaway health care expenditures, and a declining population. In both 2011 and 2015, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy sought to fill the fiscal gap by engineering two tax increases on the state’s wealthiest citizens, so that today the state’s highest tax bracket is 6.99 percent. Under the state’s tax pyramid, about one-third of the state’s $7-billion budget is paid by the several thousand people earning over $1 million per year.
But reality has finally set in. Kevin Sullivan, head of Connecticut’s tax commission, has conceded that “you can’t go back to that well again.” Determined progressives may claim the path to prosperity remains blue. But sooner or later, the bubble has to burst. Even the well-heeled individuals willing to pay high taxes for superior services will cut back their business activities or flee when fleeced. Massive government wealth transfers cannot succeed if those whose wealth is to be transferred end up leaving the state altogether. Indeed, in some cases, the departure of just one billionaire can lead to a hole in the budget, as with David Tepper’s departure from New Jersey.
But if Governor Malloy has thrown in the towel on higher taxation, he has not offered any alternative program that will allow Connecticut to escape from its economic doldrums. Yet there is a path forward. His state can return to financial health if it reverses its policy course and removes many of its vaunted restrictions on labor and real estate markets. Fortunately, states have no power over interest rates and the money supply, so in order to survive, they are forced to look inward to make the necessary changes.