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Ned Lamont Plays ‘Hide the Pension Bailout’

State governments can do many things with the federal aid they received under last year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). One thing they are expressly prohibited from doing is pouring that money into pensions for well-paid public employees. Connecticut is doing it anyway.

February 14, 2022

Gov. Ned Lamont’s just-released $48 billion two-year budget proposal funnels $2.9 billion in special deposits into the state employee and teacher pension funds. This is an amount equal to the federal aid the state received under ARP. These special deposits are over and above CT’s regularly scheduled $7.2 billion in state contributions to the two retirement systems.

February 16, 2022

Mr. Lamont outlined his plan for the federal stimulus money in February 2021, before ARP became law. “If additional federal aid for state and local governments is not enacted,” Lamont's budget proposal last year read, the state would draw down its rainy-day “budget reserve fund” (BRF) to fund its budget. But if “unrestricted” federal assistance came through, the state would use that money—rather than the BRF—to shore up the general budget. That would leave the BRF overstuffed. Under state law, when the BRF exceeds 15% of the annual budget, the excess must be moved into the pension funds.

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Blue State Blues: Connecticut’s Jobs Problem

Connecticut is a blue state, with a serious case of the job market blues.

In December, the state added just 600 jobs, a sad number, and even sadder because the likely cause is abandonment. That is, workers are leaving the state.

The December number leaves state employment at about 1,625,000, still about 75,000, or 4.4%, below its pre-pandemic level of 1.7 million in February 2020, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor. National employment is only 1.8% below its February 2020 level.

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The Pandemic Is Over. Pivot to the Economy.

In the early days of COVID, the key objective was herd immunity. Today, we are there, or very nearly so. We should declare victory. It has been a costly victory. It may be a Pyrrhic victory, unless we pivot rapidly from COVID to the economy.

It is time to address the economic damage wrought by the wholesale shutdown of the economy in response to COVID. At the outset, many observers, including this writer, expressed grave reservations about the shutdown.

The national debt has increased $5.3 trillion, or more than 30%, during the pandemic.

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The Big Apple Exodus to Connecticut Never Happened and Here’s Why

The suburban myth of a mass exodus from a virus-plagued New York City to the supposedly safe environs of Connecticut died with the recent release of Census Bureau interstate migration data.

While New York State lost over 400,000 residents to other states from April 2020 to July 2021, Connecticut attracted a mere 226 net new residents from other states. Incoming New Yorkers passed fleeing Nutmeggers.

And that’s the good part. Connecticut’s labor force plummeted by 100,000, or more than 5%, from February 2020 through November 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only two state workforces contracted more.

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COVID’s Last Gasp

It is darkest before dawn. COVID is surging, particularly in the Northeast. Yet, it is not a wild-eyed prediction to say that this will be COVID’s last gasp. While the virus will be around for a long time, it will cease to be a serious threat.

Why? Because of vaccines and because of two relatively unheralded medical advances.

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Confused About COVID? Who Isn’t?

A month ago, the nation had reached an 80% one-shot COVID vaccination rate for those over age 18, with 96% of vaccines administered being the 95%-effective Pfizer and Moderna shots. Forty percent of the very-vulnerable elderly, who were 100% vaccinated but whose early vaccinations from last winter were weakening, had received boosters. Pfizer had announced its 89%-effective home-use COVID treatment pill.

The nation seemed poised to emerge from the pandemic and move forward. We seemed very well situated to avoid the enormous infection wave swamping Europe.

Then, Omicron.

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Alarmed by the COVID-19 Surge in Europe? Don’t Be.

Americans should be thankful, not fearful. The U.S. is unlikely to see the kind of COVID-19 surge now occurring in Europe or be as severely impacted by the Omicron variant.

The U.S. has high COVID-19 vaccination rates. Eighty-two percent of those 18 and older and 100% of the uniquely vulnerable population over age 65 have had at least one shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of equal importance, over 96% of vaccine doses administered have been the strong 95%-effective Pfizer and Moderna shots.

The U.S. has been fast to deploy boosters, especially to those over 65, over 40% of whom have been boosted. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, while fast-acting, lose effectiveness over time. The elderly were vaccinated first, so they are most in need of boosters.

In Europe, vaccination rates are high, but many people have been vaccinated with less effective vaccines, primarily the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine which is somewhere between 63% and 79% effective.

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Biden’s Generals Are Fighting the Last COVID War

Biden Administration generals are fighting the last war. Last Thursday, they mandated that large businesses and health care facilities require that their workers get vaccinated for COVID-19.

The next day, Pfizer announced an antiviral pill to treat the virus. Pfizer’s pill is 89% effective. A Merck antiviral pill for COVID-19 (with only about 50% effectiveness) is already in use in Britain.

COVID-19 treatment pills destroy any vestige of logic or justification for Biden’s vaccine mandates.

No matter how someone contracts the virus, these pills prevent serious illness – hospitalization and death. With double lines of defense against the coronavirus – vaccination, and, now, these new antiviral treatment pills – mandates have become unnecessary.

Last Saturday, the Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay of the Biden business mandate, saying it raises “grave statutory and constitutional issues.”

Quite apart from the legal issues, the mandates ignore science and logic. The logic of vaccine mandates has always been weak and self-contradictory insofar as their implied purpose of protecting vaccinated people from unvaccinated people. If vaccines are effective (95% effective in Pfizer’s case), then, vaccinated people face little risk from unvaccinated people.

If the vaccines are ineffective, then why should anyone get them?

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Lunch Pail Issues for Voters to Consider

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont went to Washington last week. He visited the White House, with whose occupant he shares much in common, especially on the “lunch pail” issues of gas prices and jobs.

Biden’s policies have already pushed gas prices to record seven-year highs. Lamont’s gas price hikes are only an ambition right now. The Connecticut General Assembly has not yet approved Lamont’s proposed new gas tax, aka the multi-state Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) – emphasis on “yet.”

“Yet” is the point. Voters in next week’s local elections should keep in mind that General Assembly Democrats are watching. If local Democrats do well, Democrats in Hartford may gain the confidence to pass TCI.

For his part, Biden is taking rightful heat for high gas prices, since his anti-carbon policies are largely to blame. The day he took office, Biden cancelled the Keystone pipeline and froze oil and gas exploration leasing on federal lands.

Since July, oil has jumped from about $60 a barrel to about $85 and gas prices have skyrocketed. Is Biden concerned? Just the opposite. He has been worried that his multi-trillion dollar Build Back Better bill with its anti-carbon provisions may not come together before the Glasgow climate summit.

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A Citizen’s Action Plan to Keep CRT Out of Schools

Here’s a four-point action plan for citizens who want to resist the efforts of teacher unions and the Biden administration to force Critical Race Theory (CRT) into public schools.

The plan recommends four resolutions that citizens can propose that local school boards adopt and school board candidates endorse. With less than three weeks to election day, it enables voters to determine where school board candidates stand on this controversial issue.

Resolution number 1: This school board will not accept, nor utilize any material, from The New York Times’1619 Project,” which argues that slavery is the central theme of U.S. history, that 1619 is the year America “began,” and that the Revolutionary War was fought to preserve slavery.

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