In a recent op-ed, Ryan Rogers argues that there’s something wrong with voting against legislation—that a “yes” vote is somehow inherently preferable to a “no.” I’d say it all depends on the bill.
In my experience, it’s not legislation that failed but the disastrous bills that passed which damaged our state, beginning with Weicker’s income tax in 1991 and including Malloy’s two enormous tax hikes in 2011 and 2015.
The relentless increase in spending over that period, driven by budgets passed by 13 different legislatures almost wholly-controlled by Democrats, created our current fiscal crisis. Those budgets grew on average by over 7 percent a year, year after year: a sure formula for recurrent fiscal shortfalls.
The tax increases required to fund that spending have crippled our economy. Businesses are relocating (with General Electric the most alarming example) or simply closing up, discouraged as much by what they see coming as what they face now. Middleclass families can’t afford the tax burden, either. We all know people who have left Connecticut for better opportunities and a lower cost of living, and others who would leave if they could.
It’s particularly painful to see our young people choose to take their potential elsewhere. I recently spoke to about 25 UConn students; when I asked who planned to stay in Connecticut after graduation, only two raised their hands. That was a disheartening evening.
These destructive policies will end only when we have a legislature with the courage to say “no”: “No” to tax hikes, “no” to big budget increases and enormous, unnecessary projects, “no” to reckless borrowing, overregulation, and anti-business initiatives.
Prudence and thrift are bone-bred New England virtues—our weather and our rocky soil made sure of that. Survival and success here depends on knowing when to take chances and when to take care. These uncertain days are a time to hunker down.
When the moment was right for innovation and the opportunity available, I was willing and able to initiate a large and unusually successful state program. I first arrived in the Senate as part of a Republican majority, and was chosen as a freshman to chair the Human Services Committee. For several years, a home care program for seniors had been discussed but not worked out. I took charge of that effort, researching the subject, directing a dedicated staff, meeting with all the interested parties and the relevant officials, state and federal.
The bill I crafted and sponsored, designed to help seniors stay in their homes and to save the state the cost of institutional care, passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously, becoming one of the first such programs in the nation. That home care program has since served tens of thousands of seniors and saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars. I believe few Connecticut legislators can point to an achievement so entirely successful, both in controlling state expense and in serving the needs of our fellow citizens.
Even as a member of the legislative minority, I have been able to influence policy. As ranking member of two important committees—Human Services and Public Health—I have worked closely with the chairs and the departments involved to craft legislation that everyone can support. During my tenure on those committees, over 90 percent of all bills brought to a vote were approved unanimously.
As a member of the bipartisan Program Review committee in 2012, I pushed for the first state study of the opioid epidemic and the treatment available to addicted youth. That also resulted in a series of bills passed unanimously by the General Assembly.
We all want progress, but legislators—like doctors—must first resolve to do no harm. That means recognizing the limits of government, and the damage we can do when we force change that doesn’t make sense. Unintended consequences are always on my mind; certainly no one wished for the fiscal disaster underway in Connecticut, but progressive legislators brought it on all the same, by refusing to consider the cost of their extravagance.
There are two buttons on our desks in the Senate, red and green. We must use them like a stoplight, knowing when to move proposals forward and when to hold them up. Any driver will tell you that it would be nice to see green lights all the time, but it’s a red light at the right moment that keeps us safe.
Joe Markley is a Republican state senator in the 16th district.