No bill-signing ceremony addressed carnage in cities

Bridgeport, the Connecticut Post reports, last week had its 10th murder of the year, the victim being a 22-year-old man shot on the Fourth of July outside a public housing project where there have been many other shootings. Two other people were shot that night in the city, bringing Bridgeport's shootings for the year above 50. 

On Saturday three people were shot in Hartford. 

A few weeks ago the governor and state legislators held signing ceremonies to congratulate themselves on enactment of the General Assembly's big gun-control initiatives of the year, one outlawing "ghost guns" — plastic guns without serial numbers — and the other requiring locked storage of guns. 

The former bill was a solution in search of a problem, "ghost guns" being of little use in crime. The latter bill was a response to the death of a suburban teenager who often secretly fooled around with guns at a friend's house, eventually killing himself accidentally. 

Of course the recent carnage in Bridgeport, Hartford, and Connecticut's other troubled cities has not resulted from "ghost guns" or the lack of safe storage. Indeed, the carnage doesn't seem to have been noticed by anyone in state government at all. Last year Mayor Joe Ganim and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal urged the federal housing department to raze the troublesome Bridgeport housing project, as if the building itself is somehow causing crime, but nothing has been done — and nothing relevant to the carnage in the cities is likely to be done as long as state government considers white suburban kids fooling around to be of far greater concern than the disintegration of cities with heavily minority populations. 

The problem of kids fooling around will never be solved by legislation because it is not a problem of government policy but of human nature. Youth always has been and always will be youth. But Bridgeport, Hartford, and the state's other troubled cities were not always what they have become. Their awful demographics do relate heavily to government policy — welfare dependence, educational failure, drug prohibition, lack of medical and mental health care, excessive taxes, and such. No legislative initiatives addressed those demographics this year. State government's only effective policy toward the cities is to improve the compensation of their own employees. 

But even that may be in jeopardy. The Post reports that Bridgeport is about to borrow $120 million to try to replenish a grossly insolvent pension fund, hoping that earnings on the borrowed money will exceed interest payments on the bonds. This is essentially buying stocks on margin. The city tried it 20 years ago just ahead of a stock market crash and it was a disaster. The practice should be outlawed. 

Meanwhile in Meriden the Record-Journal reports that the city's pension system is badly underfunded too, and 7 percent of city residents' tax payments are being used to compensate for the longstanding shorting of the system. 

State government risks being stuck with pension responsibility in Bridgeport, Meriden, and other municipalities even as the underfunding of its own pension system is worse, with the system now consuming more than 20 percent of the state budget. 

Connecticut is not likely ever to be restored until it outlaws defined-benefit pensions for government employees — not so much because pensions are too generous but because elected officials will never have the political virtue not to divert pension funding to other purposes, and the public will never have the political virtue to notice and reprimand elected officials when they cheat on pensions. 

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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