What Are The Prospects For Progressive California?

In the New York Times last Thursday, Thomas Edsall had a piece titled “Is California a Good Role Model?” The piece summarized different views from pundits on the right and left as to the future prospects for California as it continues and adds to a growing menu of the latest progressive policy prescriptions — highest in the nation state income tax rates, highest in the nation sales tax rates, aggressive energy policies to address “climate change,” and so forth. A fair summary is that the right-side pundits chided California for having highest-in-the-nation inequality and poverty rates, while the left-side pundits responded that it also had strong economic growth.

I actually wrote a post on exactly this subject way back in February 2013, titled “Let’s Start A Pool On How California Will Do Over The Next Five Years.” That post began by describing three of the then-recently-enacted progressive policy favorites (highest-in-the-nation tax rates going up to 13.3% on incomes over $1 million, intentional increasing of electricity prices via a cap-and-trade system, and the high speed rail project). Would those things knock California off its high growth pedestal? You may be surprised with my take at the time:

I'm certainly not predicting an imminent collapse for California.  The consequence of making yourself way out of line in taxes and costs is not rapid collapse, but slow relative decline.

Before getting more specifically to the case of California, let me illustrate what I mean by “slow relative decline” by describing the case of New York. . . .

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New Jersey's New Governor About To Get Mugged By Reality

At this blog, when not commenting on events in my home town of New York, I've tended to look more toward Connecticut than New Jersey.  But New Jersey has just elected a new Governor, by the name of Phil Murphy, in the off-year 2017 election; and he took office on Tuesday.  Here is a link to his inaugural address.  So perhaps it's time for a brief look to the West.  

In terms of major aspects of public policy, New Jersey's recent history bears a great resemblance to that of Connecticut.  When I first moved to New York in 1975, New York had top combined State and New York City income tax rates approaching 19%, while New Jersey had no income tax.  New Jersey was booming.  It seemed that on a weekly basis some securities firm was announcing its move to the Jersey City waterfront, right across the river.  But New Jersey had a budget shortfall, and in 1977 then (Democrat) Governor Brendan Byrne proposed a "temporary" 2% income tax to close the gap and avoid increases in already-high property taxes.  Forty years later, the property taxes are still just as high or higher, and New Jersey still has the income tax, with the top rate all the way up to 9%.  Meanwhile, New York's top rate, including the New York City tax, has been reduced to a little under 13%, but only on income over $1 million; for income between $500,000 and $1 million, New Jersey now has less than a 2% income tax advantage over New York.  I can't remember the last time I read about a business picking up and moving to New Jersey to save on taxes.

Also during the same period, a string of mostly Democratic governors and legislatures entered into a string of wildly overgenerous pension promises to the state workforce.  (Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman, 1994 - 2000, bears a small portion of the responsibility.)  When the budget was tight, they "solved" the problem by just skipping the pension contributions.  Today New Jersey competes with the likes of California, Illinois and Connecticut for having the most irresponsible and worst-funded public pensions.  A report out in December from the American Legislative Exchange Council put the funding level of New Jersey's public pensions (at a risk-free interest rate) at 25.6%, 46th worst among the states.  This is way, way beyond the level where miraculous increases in the stock market or hedge funds can ever bail you out, and is deep into a death spiral.

And yes, like any decent blue state, New Jersey has a seemingly perpetual budget "crisis."  As not the least part of it, it has been underpaying its required pension contributions by up to about $3 billion per year -- this on a budget of about $36 billion per year.  And New Jersey's bond rating has been cut 11 times in the past 8 years, most recently to A3 by Moody's.  Hey, it's better than Illinois's rating!

Enter new Governor Murphy.  He is a Democrat.  And what credentials!  Harvard College!  Wharton Business School!  Goldman Sachs!  This guy is really, really smart!  And he may actually be "smart" in some sense.  I'll bet he had great SATs.  However, on the record of his campaign promises, you could be forgiven for inferring that he would have difficulty adding two plus two.

I should mention that Murphy is a complete standard-issue progressive, in the mold of an Obama or a Hillary.  Perhaps not quite as far off the scale as a Sanders or a Warren.  He is facing a nearly hopeless budget situation, with an immediate need for about $3 billion per year (almost 10% of the budget) to pay for past pension promises -- payments that will deliver absolutely nothing in the way of new or better services for the people.  What to do?  So far, his answer has been a collection of totally pie-in-the-sky promises of new and additional spending that can have no possible relation to reality.  Here is a list of just some of the items from his campaign web site:

And so forth.  And then, how about my perennial favorite -- infinite oodles of fresh cash to "Combat Climate Change & Make New Jersey A National Leader in Clean Energy"?  Yes, Murphy is pledging to wipe out all use of fossil fuels by 2050 -- not just the paltry 80% reductions promised by his confrères across the river and in California:

Murphy committed, within his first 100 days in office, to starting the process of creating a new State Energy Master Plan to set New Jersey on a path to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.  

This guy -- and remember, he went to Harvard and the Wharton Business School, and worked at Goldman Sachs for decades -- actually believes, or claims to believe, that spending oodles of government money to force a switch from less expensive to more expensive sources of energy somehow makes the people richer rather than poorer:

Murphy noted that moving to a clean-energy economy would encourage innovation and create jobs, as every $1 spent on early-stage clean energy research and development generates an additional $1.60 in output from other sectors of the economy. He said his plan would maximize this potential, in large part, supporting innovation and R&D in higher education.   

And don't forget the importance of "climate justice"!

Murphy said he also would ensure that the benefits of clean energy reach all communities as a matter of environmental and economic justice.  “Too often, conversations about climate change have ignored the disproportionate impact on lower-income and politically vulnerable communities, yet the environmental concerns in these communities are staggering,” said Murphy, noting that, in Newark, as many as one in four children have asthma. “We must ensure environmental justice as a core principle.”

Once you get into this groupthink, you're just not allowed to realize that tripling the cost of energy for the poor is the opposite of "climate justice."

All this (and lots more) with a budget already hopelessly under water.  Does he have any proposal to pay for it all?  Of course, there is the usual call for higher taxes on the top 1%.  ("In New Jersey, the wealthiest 1% continue to pay a far lower share of their income in state and local taxes than the lowest-income residents. Phil strongly believes that is unacceptable in 2017.")  Good luck with that.  Here's NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney on Fox Business today basically saying that the "millionaire's tax" is not going to work any more in the wake of the federal tax reform.  OK, the only other suggestion I can find in Murphy's stuff is the bright idea of getting the pensions out of investing in hedge funds in order to save on investment fees.  That might produce about 1% of the money Murphy is looking for.

New Jersey has come to the blue state dead end.  The new Governor, living in fantasyland, doesn't realize it yet.  Maybe he never will.  But he is about to get mugged by reality.  Meanwhile, his state will continue its long-term relative decline.  Maybe the voters will just keep voting for more and more of the free stuff while the decline continues and accelerates.

Tax Reform And The Blue State Model

It was not long before I started this blog in 2012 that Walter Russell Mead of the American Interest began writing about what he dubbed the "blue model" of government, and his prediction that that model was "on the way out."   When applied to the states, the term "blue model" referred to the combination of relatively high taxes, high state spending, and extensive regulation typical of Democrat-leaning states like California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.  Mead's prediction was that the combination of the information revolution and competition from lower-tax and lower-regulation "red" states would put the blue model under increasing pressure and force reform.

Almost six years later, the "blue" states have only doubled down on their policy model.  None of those states have seen any significant cutbacks on state programs.  During this period California and Connecticut have actually raised their income tax rates on top earners.  In the competition against other states, California appears to be doing relatively well, although its population explosion has slowed substantially.  In New York, Connecticut and New Jersey the population has been almost completely flat in recent years.  Illinois has actually experienced a population decline since 2010, but only a slight one.   Meanwhile, the big "red" states, like Texas and Florida, have grown rapidly.  But the very slow and gradual relative decline of the big blue states so far has not created any significant motivation to do anything different. 

Could that be about to change?  As of January 1, the state and local income tax deduction will mostly be gone.  Suddenly there will be a significant shift in the competitiveness between the high-tax "blue states" and the lower-tax "red states."  Will this lead to any serious rethinking of the "blue state model"?

I'm betting against it.  The basic nature of the blue state model is to put in place various government handouts and favors to specified groups, who thereupon become dependent on the handouts and favors and will fight to the death to keep them as is.  Given the overall disinterest of most of the electorate, the recipients of the handouts and favors come to exercise effective control over the political process.  

Consider a couple of examples.  Generous pensions for state and local government workers are a hallmark of the blue state model.  Not that the red states are pure on this issue.  But if you look at lists of states ranked by amount of aggregate unfunded pension debt, or by amount of unfunded pension debt per capita, or by percentage of pension obligations that are unfunded, the big blue states consistently appear at or near the bottom of the list.  A December 2017 Report just out from the American Legislative Exchange Council contains rankings of the states on all of those measures.  In funding percentage at the risk-free rate, Connecticut ranks dead last among the states at 19.7%; Illinois 48th at 23.3%; and New Jersey 46th at 25.7%.  California and New York do better on that measure, but they are kingpins of aggregate unfunded pension debt:  50th place and $987 billion in the case of California (hey, it's less than a trillion!); and New York at 46th place and $345 billion.  (To its credit, New York has been relatively honest in funding the pension obligations it has taken on.  However, it has taken on ridiculously generous obligations, particularly as they concern early retirement ages for workers in many areas.  The result is that pension contributions constitute a high and ever-increasing percentage of government budgets at both state and local levels.)

Are the blue states going to do anything soon to right their pension ships?  New York and Illinois have provisions in their state constitutions that make revisions of pension accruals for existing employees difficult or impossible.  (See my discussion of that issue here.)  In California, there is no comparable constitutional provision, but the courts have imposed a rule of law that may amount to the same thing as a practical matter.  Former San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has led an effort to enact a ballot initiative that would overrule the court-made restrictions; but after getting off to a slow start, that initiative was pulled in 2016, and its backers are talking about another try in 2018.  They will face major opposition from the public employee unions.

As a second example, consider obligations that blue states have taken on in union contracts.  Again, the red states are far from pure; but generosity to public employee unions is one of the hallmarks of the blue model.  Some insights into the nature of the problem can be found in a big New York Times spread today in the New York section, headline "What Would It Take To Fix New York Subway?"    The impetus for the article is that a recent series of things like derailments and fires has brought calls for an emergency program to "fix" the subways.  Mayor de Blasio, of course, has called for a new "millionaire's tax" to raise the funds.  (Funny how he seems to have the exact same idea for how to "fix" every problem we encounter.)  So, can we free up some money to "fix" things by bringing down the costs of operating the subway through automating the function of running the trains?  They are well on the way to doing that in London and Paris:

London is upgrading its fleet to become automated in the mid-2020s.  In Paris, driverless trains are in operation on two lines.

So how about in New York?

In New York, the L train [one of some 26 lines] is the only line where the new traffic control system has been fully implemented and where trains could, in theory, be automated.  But after a brief experiment using only one train operator in 2005, the M.T.A. had to bring back two-person crews to the L after losing a labor dispute.

Yes, we have at least some trains fully equipped for automated operation, but we use not one person, but two to run them.  The union insists!  Oh, and our costs of building new extensions of the subway system run five to ten times international norms.  So, sorry, no money is available for the emergency "fix."

Basically, what the "blue model" comes down to is spending far more money to get the same or worse results.  We spend far more than national norms on healthcare, for no better health outcomes; and far more (more than double) national norms per student on K-12 education for no better outcomes.  But the costs are all locked in place and nearly impossible to control or reduce.

So what will be the result of the tax reform?  My prediction:  the process of relative decline will be somewhat accelerated -- from very, very slow, to merely very slow.  Likely, new "millionaire's taxes," like the one de Blasio has been proposing, will go off the table.  But don't look for any immediate declines in the existing tax structure, unless there are a large number of departures of the wealthy suddenly announced.

UPDATE, December 27:  Turns out that the Daily Caller had a post yesterday on the amount of outmigration from the big blue states, headline "Nearly 450,000 People Fled These Three Deep Blue States In 2017."  The three states in question are California, Illinois and New York.  The post is sourced from Census data that came out on December 20.  Key quote:

Three Democratic-leaning states hemorrhaged hundreds of thousands of people in 2016 and 2017 as crime, high taxes and, in some cases, crummy weather had residents seeking greener pastures elsewhere.  The exodus of residents was most pronounced in New York, which saw about 190,000 people leave the state between July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released last week.

The outmigration from California was 138,000, and from Illinois 115,000.  In the case of California and New York, they were able to replace the departures with immigrants from abroad.     

Extreme Corruption Of The Political Process: Wisconsin

While this blog has devoted a good amount of space to criminal prosecutions of various pols on the take, I have long expressed the view that that kind of corruption is of relatively minor consequence compared to the "most extreme corruption."  The "most extreme corruption" is the use by government officials of the powers of the government itself to advantage one side of the political divide and disadvantage the other.

In that linked post from May of this year, I suggested that the Trump/Russia collusion narrative was nothing more than a "preposterous cover story" offered up by ex-CIA chief Brennan and other Obama administration intelligence officials to justify their extreme corruption of surveilling the Trump campaign and transition for partisan advantage.  Right now, that's looking like a rather good call.  I'll have plenty more fun with that one as more details emerge.  But for today, let's consider another instance of the same phenomenon, this one coming from the state of Wisconsin.

On December 6, 2017, the Attorney General of Wisconsin released a Report on the subject of "violations of the John Doe secrecy orders."  Here is a link to the full Report.  While the specific focus of the Report is criminal leaks of certain information from state government investigations that were subject to court secrecy orders, the Report also addresses the more fundamental basic corruption of large numbers of identified Wisconsin state bureaucrats.  Words are not minced.  For example:

DOJ [Wisconsin Department of Justice] is deeply concerned by what appears to have been the weaponization of GAB [Wisconsin Government Accountability Board] by partisans in furtherance of political goals. . . .          

Since you may not have followed the story of the Wisconsin "John Doe" investigations, here is some background.  Scott Walker (a Republican) was initially elected Governor of Wisconsin in 2010, and then immediately became subject to a campaign for "recall," forcing him effectively to run again in 2012.  He won that recall election (and then another full term in 2014).  In 2012, shortly after the recall election, a so-called "John Doe" investigation of Walker's campaign was initiated by various Democratic DAs around Wisconsin, with the assistance of a central state bureaucracy called the Government Accountability Board, which purported to have expertise in state election law.  A "John Doe" investigation in Wisconsin is an investigation under a particular state statute that requires that the investigation proceed in secrecy under the supervision of a "John Doe Judge."  

The supposed subject of these particular John Doe investigations was alleged violations of campaign finance law by the Walker campaigns and certain independent groups for improperly "coordinating" their activities.  During 2012 to 2014, despite the cloak of secrecy, there were frequent reports out of Wisconsin of extraordinary investigatory tactics being employed, including subpoenas numbering in the hundreds directed to every Wisconsin Republican of consequence, and numerous middle-of-the-night no-knock home invasions, supposedly to collect evidence of campaign finance law violations.  In July 2015, responding to a lawsuit brought by certain (unnamed) targets of the investigations, the Wisconsin Supreme Court shut the investigations down.  From a report in watchdog.org:

In a ruling issued Thursday morning, the [Wisconsin] high court ordered an end to the politically motivated investigation into conservative groups in Wisconsin that has been dragging on for more than three years. . . .  “It is utterly clear that the special prosecutor has employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing,” [Supreme Court Justice Michael] Gableman wrote in the opinion. “In other words, the special prosecutor was the instigator of a ‘perfect storm’ of wrongs.”

But the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision did not end the matter.  The prosecutors sought certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court.  Shortly before that Court was expected to rule on the request, a large trove of the supposedly secret materials collected in the investigations was leaked to the Guardian newspaper, which ran a big story in September 2016 that included a link to the complete collection of all the leaked materials.  Was the leak an intentional effort by Wisconsin bureaucrats to influence the U.S. Supreme Court?  (The U.S. Supreme Court denied the cert petition in October 2016, thereby ending the matter.)

And then we haven't heard from the matter for over a year, until the release of the Wisconsin AG's Report this past week.  Maybe it's just me, but I would call this Report a bombshell in its revelation of extreme corruption by a group of government bureaucrats -- Democrats -- using the machinery of the government, including its most dangerous secret investigatory powers, to advantage their side and disadvantage the other side.  Key quote from the Report:

After reviewing the emails exchanged between the attorneys at GAB, it is apparent that GAB attorneys had prejudged the guilt of Governor Walker, Wisconsin Republicans, and related organizations that they were investigating and this dramatically influenced their ability to give competent legal advice.  GAB attorneys did not act in a detached and professional manner. The most reasonable inference is that they were on a mission to bring down the Walker campaign and the Governor himself. 

There's much more, including:  the leak of the information was a criminal act; it came from the intense partisans at the Wisconsin GAB; and it was timed specifically to try to influence the U.S. Supreme Court.  I guess if you truly believe that the Republicans are evil, and that maintenance of power by the progressive faction is the most important thing in the world, you can justify just about anything.  

I've done quite a bit of looking to see if I can find any mention of this Report in any "mainstream" news source, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NBC, and so forth.  But, even though the Report has been out for four days now, I can't seem to find any mention.  Funny, isn't it?  

Question:  When all the facts are out, will the fundamental corruption of the federal intelligence agencies be even worse than this one?

Election Roundup: Thank God For The Lazy And Dumb

You have to be well over 40 today to have much personal memory of the Reagan presidency.  But if you do, we will recall the constant denigration of the man from the media and press as lazy and dumb.  He came from rural Illinois, went to a college (Eureka College) that no one important had ever heard of, tended to lay off work around 5 in the afternoon, and knew nothing of sophisticated economics or public policy!  Yuck!  Yet the economy boomed.  (As lazy and dumb as he was, Reagan somehow managed to focus on less regulation and lower taxes.  Maybe that had something to do with it.  Or maybe it was mostly that he just didn't do too much damage.)  Meanwhile, the scintillatingly brilliant Barack Obama (Columbia College!  Harvard Law School!  Constitutional law professor!  Obvious genius!) conducted for eight years what I have called the "War Against The Economy."  Somehow the economy was stuck in the doldrums for the whole time.

Which brings me to the results of the elections yesterday.  In our local area, we got Bill de Blasio re-elected as Mayor.  We also got two other city-wide officials re-elected:  Scott Stringer as Comptroller and Letitia James as something called Public Advocate.  At least those drew opposition from the Republican Party, but the Republicans didn't come close.  The Republican candidate for Mayor, Nicole Malliotakis, got about 28% of the vote.  In Manhattan, a guy named Cyrus Vance (if you're old enough you will recognize the name from that of his dad, Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State) got re-elected as DA with no opposition of any kind.  My local (Greenwich Village) City Councilperson, Corey Johnson, also got no Republican opposition, although there was a candidate from something called the "Eco Justice" party.  

For those last two races, if you didn't want to vote for these guys, one alternative was to leave that line on the ballot blank; but there was also a space at the right to fill in the name of a write-in candidate.  In both cases, I wrote in James Menton.  That's my dog.

De Blasio is about as crazed a progressive as you could find anywhere.  He famously took his honeymoon in Cuba during Castro's heyday, and during the late 80s worked for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua building the socialist utopia.  So four more years of this guy will be a disaster for New York City, right?  The New York Post put it this way last night:

Mayor de Blasio cruised to re-election Tuesday — and now New Yorkers are stuck with him for another four years.

The situation is not good, but it could be a lot worse.  The saving grace of de Blasio is that he takes lazy and dumb to extremes rarely before seen in such exalted political office. He's famous for getting up late, detouring to his gym in deep Brooklyn before heading back toward work, and arriving at his office some time around noon.  And then taking a nap in the afternoon.  If he were smart and energetic, he could do a lot of damage.  As it is, City government cruises along mostly on autopilot.  

De Blasio's campaign steered mostly free of issues.  As far as I could see, the two big things he emphasized were (1) protecting the high income New York taxpayers against federal tax increases, and then (2) socking those same people with a big increase in New York City taxes.  The first theme hit its peak in a big speech given by de Blasio just the day before the election, as reported by the New York Times:

For more than 10 minutes, Mr. de Blasio urged the audience to resist the Republican tax plan, which could do away with federal deductions for state and local taxes and in that way deliver a massive blow to the city and its taxpayers.  “President Trump’s tax plan takes dead aim at New York City,” he said. “It would undermine the success that we have achieved, and despite the hype, it would undermine the middle class in this city and, I would say, all over the country.”

And then there was the second theme, imposing a big tax increase of his own on the exact same people.  As the Post put it at the link above:

The mayor said he would push for a millionaire’s tax to help fix the city’s beleaguered subway system.

So, when the feds propose higher income taxes on New York's high earners, that's "delivering a massive blow to the city and its taxpayers" and "taking dead aim at New York City."  When he does it, it's social justice!  Like I said, this guy is not all that bright.

And what of the big promises from de Blasio's first campaign?  Those would be the promises to address income inequality and solve homelessness.  If you've been paying attention, you will already know that income inequality in New York did not improve at all in the last four years.  The two congressional districts covering the West and East sides of Manhattan -- one containing de Blasio's home and the other containing his office -- remain numbers one and three among the most-income-unequal districts in the country.   Meanwhile homelessness went up substantially even as spending on the issue about doubled.  Hey, it's only about another $1 billion or so per year -- barely a rounding error in the $80+ billion New York City budget.  Needless to say, these issues were not emphasized during the current campaign.

Across the river in New Jersey, it looks like they are not nearly so lucky.  They have elected a new governor from the Democratic Party, by the name of Phil Murphy.  The guy has not previously held elected office, so it remains to be seen, but he gives at least preliminary indications of being both smart and energetic.  Harvard College!  Wharton Business School!  A career at the high levels of Goldman Sachs!  And, he is a committed progressive!  New Jersey, you are in trouble.

I'll give just a couple of examples.  New Jersey's biggest problem is clearly its way-underfunded public employee pensions.  Although some might award the title to Illinois or California, New Jersey is in contention for the worst-funded public pension program, both as a percentage of liabilities and as a per capita burden on the state's taxpayers.  Current governor Christie has tried to negotiate to reduce the obligations, but, failing at that over union intransigence, has refused to fully fund the obligation.  Murphy says that he will fully fund the obligation.  Really, Phil?  According to this chart at Pension360, that will mean increasing contributions to the pension funds by something around $3 billion per year -- this in a state with an annual budget running about $32 billion per year.  In other words, increasing state spending by about 10% per year with no increase in services of any kind to the citizens.  He says he can do it by reducing fees paid to the money managers.  That will be at most a couple of hundred million per year.  Well, simple arithmetic never was the strong suit of these "smart" progressives.  Reality is going to come up and smack this guy in the face around about the first day he takes office.

Oh, his next big issue is making a public pension program available as an option to private employers.  In other words, doubling down on the single most glaring and disastrous failure of the government.

Smart!  Energetic!  Go for it, Phil!

UPDATE, November 9:  Yesterday, to celebrate his victory, Mayor de Blasio held a rare big press conference at City Hall.  The New York Times reports on the event in an article headlined, "Mayor Pledges to Create Fairest Big City in America."   As the headline indicates, he previewed that his big theme for the new term will be to create "fairness" in the City.  What exactly does that mean?  One thing is obvious: he is moving away from the prior themes of income inequality, poverty and homelessness -- things measured by metrics that keep getting worse on his watch -- and onto a new theme totally lacking any such potentially embarrassing metric.  It means whatever he wants it to mean!  

So how did the press conference go?  From the Times:

The news conference played out in much the way that similar events had during his first term. It started late: Mr. de Blasio arrived at City Hall after noon, after a visit to his gym, in Brooklyn. 

That's our Mayor!  I wouldn't say we're exactly safe for the next four years, but if de Blasio holds to form, the damage won't be too terrible.

Connecticut In The Grip Of The School Funding Fallacy

In the realm of the thoroughly disproved fallacies of progressivism, perhaps the very most thoroughly disproved of all is the idea that throwing more taxpayer money at failing unionized schools will improve the education of the students in those schools.  Just a couple of weeks ago, in a post titled "How Do You Measure 'Success' In K-12 Education?" I covered the latest of umpteen such failed efforts in the federal government (the $7 billion School Improvement Grants program), and here in New York City, (Mayor de Blasio's "Renewal Schools" program).   After multiple years and vast amounts of money, neither of those programs could demonstrate any positive impact of any kind in any metric selected, from test performance to graduation rates to college enrollment.

This is just one of those things where no amount of actual evidence can ever convince people that it's not working. Today, the state of Connecticut is about to head down the same path yet again.  The chance that Connecticut's new initiative will work is exactly zero.

Recall first the big news in Connecticut last September: In long-running (commenced in 2005) school finance litigation instituted by Yale Law School faculty, a judge in Hartford issued a 90 page decision declaring Connecticut's school finance system to be "irrational" and "defaulting on [the state's] constitutional duty" to provide all students with an adequate education.  I covered that decision here.  The court's decision did not set any specific remedies, and seems to contemplate a lifetime job for the judge in overseeing and meddling in the state's school finance system.  The court's decision is currently on appeal and temporarily stayed.

However, on Wednesday Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy made a budget presentation in Hartford.  According to coverage in the New York Times yesterday, Malloy said that he "broadly . . . agreed with the [court's] decision," and that "it would be better for the state to 'design and take our own medicine' rather than leave it to the courts."  OK, Gov, what's the big concept for fixing things?  You guessed it!  Throw more taxpayer money at failing unionized schools.

In the Times, their headline tells you all you need to know about their take on the story, which will not surprise you:  "Malloy Moves to Narrow gap Between Connecticut's Rich and Poor School Districts."   What exactly is the "gap" they are talking about?  Nothing in this article will tell you.  Do you get the impression that the state of Connecticut is granting more money to rich school districts than to the poor ones.  Undoubtedly, it is the intent of the headline writer, and of the article's author, to give you that impression.  But of course, that impression would be completely false; indeed, it would be the complete opposite of the truth.

Fortunately for us, Connecticut puts out some pretty thorough data on its public school funding.  Here is a chart with per student funding by district for each of Connecticut's districts for the 2015-16 year; and here is a chart of source of revenue by category (state, local, federal) for each of Connecticut's districts for the 2014-15 school year.  Put the two together, and you can get a pretty good idea of what if any "gap" might exist between the "rich" and "poor" districts.

For example, with a little arithmetic, we learn that, as of the most recent year available (2014-15), among Connecticut's "poor" urban districts, Hartford got about $14,900 per student from the state; New Haven about $12,500; and Waterbury about $9700.  Among its "rich" suburban districts, Greenwich got just over $1000 per student; Darien got about $950; New Canaan got under $600; and Fairfield got a big $535.  Gap?  Now, you may think that it is perfectly appropriate for Connecticut to give most to all of its state funding to its poorer districts, while leaving the richer districts mostly on their own.  But really, to call this a "gap" in favor of the richer districts couldn't be more ridiculous.

But maybe, you think, the "gap" they are talking about must be the gap that exists between the rich and poor districts after the rich districts top up their school spending with the vast local resources.  If so, you will be surprised to learn that total school spending per student in Connecticut does not not vary much as between the richest and poorest districts, and there is no obvious pattern that richer districts always spend more.  Some of the poorest districts spend at or near the top, and some of the richest districts spend less than some of the poorer ones.  Using the same six towns as before, total per student spending, this time for the 2015-16 year, was: Hartford $19,313; New Haven $18,248; Waterbury $15,219; Greenwich $21,331; Darien $19,318 (about the same as Hartford); New Canaan $19,576; and Fairfield $16,561 (well less than Hartford or New Haven). 

But as always, the only solution they seem to be able to come up with to fix the failing city schools is more taxpayer money.  From the Times:

Increases of around $10 million or more would go to 11 municipalities. Hartford would get the largest increase, more than $47 million, followed by Waterbury, which would receive a $43 million increase. Both cities have a substantial number of poor families. 

That $47 million increase for Hartford will (if it goes through) represent about a 14% increase in its annual state school funding.  For Waterbury, a smaller city currently receiving substantially less, the $43 million would represent almost a 25% increase.

But if more money translated into better and more successful schools, then why is it that Hartford, already spending $19,313 per student, isn't achieving about the same results as Darien and New Canaan, and well better than Fairfield?  Don't expect the Times to enlighten you on such questions.

Meanwhile, classic "blue" jurisdiction Connecticut is facing approximately its 30th annual budget "crisis."  The additional money for these poor urban school districts will have to come from somewhere -- either from the (already meager) grants to the richer districts, or from other state spending, or from increased taxes.  Any of these options will make Connecticut even less competitive in attracting new businesses and entrepreneurs, and in keeping its wealthy citizens from leaving for more attractive states.  Given that it is absolutely certain that the additional money will not improve the schools, would Connecticut's poor be better off instead with a better business climate that might attract more businesses and jobs?  Nobody in Connecticut thinks to ask such questions.