McKinney faults prof on criticism of Foley; it’s free speech, says UConn [NH Register]

September 22, 2014

By Mary E. O’Leary | New Haven Register

HARTFORD >> State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney doesn’t like what a University of Connecticut economics professor said about Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley and he has charged that the professor “likely” violated both state and university employee policies against promoting a political agenda.

The university however, through its spokesperson, views Fred Carstensen’s remarks about the consequences of Foley’s pledge not to raise taxes when he ran for governor in 2010 as protected speech.

“Professors are free to express their opinions under both First Amendment protections and the tenets of academic freedom. They speak for themselves, not the university. The university would not, and could not, try to censor the speech of any faculty member on any issue,” Stephanie Reitz said in a statement.

Carstensen commented in a Sept. 11 article in the Yale Daily News that discussed the impact of Democratic Gov, Dannel P. Malloy’s decision in 2011 to raise taxes in his first year by $1.5 billion in order to help close a $3.5 billion deficit he inherited.

“Foley would have given us the worst recession since World War II on the basis of what he said during the campaign,” Carstensen said. “There was no way that you could get out of the recession in Connecticut without raising taxes.”

Carstensen went on to say cutting taxes as a way to solve economic development problems was “absolute nonsense,” an opinion he has expressed many times before.

McKinney, in a letter to UConn President Susan Herbst, called the economist’s remarks “outrageous unsupported hyperbole.”

“His comments cross the line,” the state senator said in an interview. He said they were less economic analysis and more “political partisan commentary.”

“While Professor Carstensen is free to express his personal opinions and political views, he is not entitled to promote those personal opinions under the official authority of the University of Connecticut or use his title and position at UConn to promote a political candidate or agenda,” he wrote to Herbst.

Carstensen, in an email, responded that the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, of which he is the director, in its November 2010 edition, analyzed Foley’s position on dealing with the deficit and Malloy’s, who did not rule out a tax increase if needed to protect the social safety net.

The analysis, which was part of the CCEA’s regular assessment of the state’s economy, concluded that cutting $2 billion from the budget, about half of the deficit, would mean a loss of 23,900 government jobs and shrink private jobs by 15,000.

It predicted that state revenues would decline by some $314 milion, while the need for social services would increase by 2.7 percent and the state’s population would drop by 16,300 by 2012, further depressing the housing markets. “In the longer run, this analysis argues that such a severe cut would prolong or even jeopardize an already weak recovery,” according to the report.

Carstensen, in his email, said he talked with Foley in 2010 about his approach on dealing with the deficit and told him it was “simply undoable. That was not a political judgment — because he would be dealing with a legislature controlled by the Democrats — but an economic judgment.” He reiterated that driving up unemployment by 40,000 would make the job losses the worst since World War II.

The report is still available online at the CCEA website.

Carstensen, and other academics, are often asked by reporters to comment on economic proposals put forth by lawmakers and candidates running for office.

McKinney, in an interview, argued that it is hard to predict what politicians will do when they get into office.

He pointed to former Gov. Lowell Weicker promising not to support an income tax, which he ended up doing and former Gov. John G. Rowland, who promised to repeal that tax, which he did not do.

“How does Professor Carstensen know what steps, other than tax increases, Governor Foley may have taken — such as not increasing spending by nearly $3 billion and instead promoting growth through tax reform to make our tax system simpler, more efficient and more predictable for families and businesses?” McKinney asked in his letter to Herbst.

“How can Professor Carstensen justify these comments when statistics show that Connecticut grew more jobs in the 11 months before Governor Malloy took office than during any year under his administration, suggesting that it is his stifling tax increases and anti-growth policies that have stalled our recovery,” McKinney continued in the letter.

Carstensen told the Register that he has advocated tax reform for many years, but in the short run it “would not have generated any significant economic impact. … Our analysis relied on the specific positions taken by the candidates, not on speculations about what they might do.”

On the job growth realized in the last year under former Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Carstensen said she benefitted from two things.

He said the first was the federal stimulus money still entering the economy before sequestration “cost Connecticut as much as half of its potential growth.”

The economist said secondly, Rell and the Democratic-controlled legislature “spent every dime it could find and borrowed money as well to cover the current services budget.”

Together, he said they “completely stripped the cupboard bare — even taking the shelves out to use for firewood. Rell and the legislature left the state fiscally prostrate.”

Carstensen said this left a dire fiscal situation for whomever took office in January 2011.
Foley disagrees with aspects of other CCEA reports it has issued.

The CCEA in its November 2010 report and in September 2013 aruged in favor of bonding with long-range returns as a stimulus and allowing firms to use tax credits earned, but not used, to boost the economy.

Foley does not agree with the $300 million invested in the Jackson Laboratory, which the 2013 report praises, or with the decision to allow United Technologies Corp. to use $400 million in tax credits in exchange for keeping its headquarters and jobs in the state.

Foley said the $300 million investment for 300 jobs didn’t make economic sense, while Carstensen feels it ranks as the most important pro-growth event in two decades.

McKinney voted for the UTC deal because it also protects the 75,000 jobs connected to suppliers for UTC and argued with Foley about it in their only televised debate before the GOP primary, which he lost to Foley.

The gubernatorial contender said the tax credits were spending, since it is revenue that is not coming into the state, while McKinney said it amounts to letting people keep their own money.