So Much for Being Mad

We heard a lot about how mad the public is about the budget standoff, but Ted Mann says it isn’t actually true:

As legislators prepare for an anticipated vote on a Democratic budget later this week as time runs out on the 2009 fiscal year, some local lawmakers said the reaction by many of their constituents to the standoff between the majority party and Gov. M. Jodi Rell has been one of relative understanding, given the massive challenges the state faces to balance its books.
 
And while those dependent on state grants and aid, especially city and town leaders, have seethed at the slow pace of negotiations, the state has not been gripped by the generalized rage that accompanied the crisis to which the current one is most often compared: the 1991 deficit that led the legislature and Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. to impose an income tax.

To put it all in perspective, the tax protests began about a month after Gov. Weicker, the last non-Republican to govern the state, called for the income tax in February of 1991. 200 demonstrators gathered at the first one, followed by many many more. I found this interesting description of protesters from October 1991:

Some people pinned teabags to their clothes; others carried axes. One individual donned a skeleton outfit.
 
What sounds like an early Halloween party was actually a crowd of more than 40,000 seething Connecticut citizens who converged on the State House lawn in Hartford Saturday, yelling, whistling, and demanding that Gov. Lowell Weicker repeal the state’s first income tax.
 
Between shouts of “Ax the Tax,” and “Repeal, repeal,” the riled group accused Governor Weicker, an independent, of stealing from the working class. The potpourri of people – black, white, blue-collar, and white-collar – booed him when he arrived at the capital. Teabag-wearers – signifying the colonists who protested the British tax on tea at the Boston Tea Party in 1773 – carried signs reading “Taxation without representation.” (Spaid)

40,000. It’s hard to imagine, now. The comparison to the recent national “tea party” protests is striking–except that those rallies didn’t exactly manage to turn out 40,000 in Hartford. Conservatives knew how to do populism back in the 1990s. Compared with that rally, the recent rallies seem like echoes.

As for the budget, we’ll probably see a budget that has some mix of tax increases and spending cuts, though the Democrats are skittish enough that the cuts may be deeper, and the tax increases smaller, than they really want. It’ll pass, the governor will sign it, and life will go on.

At this point it would take an awful lot to really get more than just a narrow slice of people up in arms about what’s happening in state government. Agree or disagree with the tax protesters of the early 1990s, they were at least following along.

Sources
Mann, Ted. “As Budget Fight Drags On, Public Is Mad As … Well ….” The Day 21 June, 2009.

Spaid, Elizabeth Levitan. “Weicker Gets His Income Tax, But Citizens Fight It.” Christian Science Monitor 8 October, 1991.

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3 responses to “So Much for Being Mad

  1. I’m always asking people how they feel about local / state / federal gov’t.

    Over the past few months, the only consistent, unsolicited answer has been concern about the economy. The only other thing that gets unanimous support is anger toward Dodd. But that’s usually after I mention him… and everyone I know (D, R & U) is disgusted. Still matters who the GOP puts up though. Dodd hasn’t lost yet.

    As for the state stuff… I’ve heard very little whatsoever… though people do love Jodi.

    Frankly though, I suspect people will become more concerned when a budget nears and people start to see either spending cuts or tax increases. But until that happens, I just see it as a big game that is easiest to tune out because there’s so little substance.

    My one piece of advice to Donovan and Williams… virtually everyone agrees that spending cuts should be part of any solution. If D&W want to raise taxes and not cut spending… then I suspect people will start to get more than annoyed.

  2. Nothing has really happened yet. It’s hard to be angry at nothing. Except for a very few people. most people are probably unaware that the budget is delayed, much less have any idea what’s going to happen.

    I wasn’t living in CT in 1991, but it seems as if there were some key differences between then and now.

    The modern tea parties seem to be a sort of generic anti-government gathering. The anti-Weicker protests were protesting the implementation of an income tax and that’s it. At today’s rallies, since they aren’t really focused, you get a few crazies that tend to dominate the coverage.

    The 1991 proposal was going to hit everyone in the pocketbook. Everyone knew what it meant, and had some idea of what it would cost them. (and just to be silly, the percentage increase in state income tax would be infinite since zero is the starting point) The modern tea parties are protesting some sort of maybe future tax increases or debt.

    New visible taxes probably scare people more than increases on old taxes. Look at the way people really dig in against internet sales taxes, yet would likely remain silent if their local state raised sales taxes by 1%. Yet the latter would almost certainly affect them a lot more financially.

    In 1991, you had a new tax, you had a focused opposition, and Bush was in the process of making his lips damned hard to read. Today, it’s likely going to be a tax increase, maybe only on a small segment of the population supposedly.

    I’d wager that if there was a proposal to increase the income tax by 2%, it would not be as resisted as fiercely as a proposal to implement sales taxes on groceries would be. Even though the 2% increase in income taxes would likely hit people much harder.

  3. wtfdnucsailor

    Right now, the activists are complaining about inaction, the non profits are worried that the state will not fund at its usual level making FY2010 budgets a guess at best and unsustainable at worst, and cities and towns are passing budgets with historical revenue figures from the state. So far, no real program has been axed (Its not July 1), and no tax has been raised. It is difficult to get the general public excited when they are not paying attention. It will take an actual cut in a service that a citizen uses or an actual tax increase to get anything more than a murmer from the public.

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