Courtesy New Haven Register, Josiah H. Brown
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New Haven Register
Published: September 10, 2003
My own experience runs counter to the trend. My rural hometown is slowly gaining migrants while New Haven, where I recently purchased an apartment, has been shrinking. I passed up work elsewhere to be in Connecticut.
Beneath the headlines, several factors are operating.
Declining jobs in defense and insurance industries have diminished Connecticut 's appeal for some workers. We also have a relatively high percentage of departing retirees.
Job growth in low-wage states is causing Florida , the Carolinas , etc. to surge. Along with continuing suburbanization, this represents a challenge for Connecticut's cities, in particular.
But keep this challenge in perspective. We may be approaching a healthy demographic balance. Negative net migration does not equal declining population. Due to births and foreign immigrants, Connecticut's population has actually grown modestly. For the environment, highways, and demands on public services, moderate rather than rapid population growth sounds OK.
Dozens of Connecticut communities are thriving, notwithstanding serious, current economic pressures. It was New York that lost the most residents from 1995 to 2000. Stamford and its neighbors are a powerful draw. The high property values (albeit with high property taxes) in much of the state indicate that many want to live here. New Haven is attracting more than 1,000 suburban kids to its magnet schools.
That Connecticut fourth- and eighth-graders, on average, rank atop a national writing exam is encouraging. The troubling corollary is that sharp divides persist based on income and ethnicity.
This contradiction captures both the promise and pitfalls of the status quo. To fulfill the promise, we cannot stand still.
Ours is a prosperous state that can do better. We must not be complacent or deter businesses from investing here.
We can use this period to consolidate Connecticut 's long-term virtues. A few fundamentals are education, transportation, the environment, and a climate favorable to businesses. Connecticut enjoys lower tax rates than New York and New Jersey. The Wall Street Journal praises our workers' compensation policies.
There is enough collective wealth in Connecticut that a moderate, stable scheme of taxation should generate sufficient revenues to maintain our pillars of competitive advantage. These include a highly educated workforce and an attractive way of life in the Boston - New York corridor.
Our state's inviting communities, cultural resources, colleges, medical and research facilities, coastline and countryside are a legacy passed to my generation. All this is ours to cultivate, not to squander.
The emerging fuel-cell and bio-tech industries reflect Connecticut 's potential to mobilize engineering talent and research and development infrastructure. We must also retain established companies and jobs, which are at risk as shown in the state's loss of 12,100 non-farm jobs in July.
Instead of looking to gambling for growth, we should limit casino expansion and our shortsighted dependence on gambling revenues.
Municipalities need a sounder tax base. A commission led by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has been examining regionalism and "smart growth" to secure public services and transportation worthy of the 21st century. Railroads have to be part of the solution, and Connecticut taxpayers should get back more of our federal dollars in mass-transit funds.
Preservation of open space and waterways should be a priority. Commerce, tourism, and quality of life will benefit. None is at odds with a slowly increasing population.
Finally, without a strong education system, Connecticut would not enjoy the overall health and wealth it has attained. Yet within that system are alarming gaps.
We cannot allow a large fraction of Connecticut's citizens to remain bystanders on the path of American progress. Money alone will not ensure improvement. But neither can we provide adequate early childhood, out-of-school and in-school learning for all young people without a fairer balance. Wiser stewardship at the federal level would leave Connecticut more flexibility. Regardless, state government needs to assume a greater share of education costs, thereby easing property taxes. Let's make Connecticut the opportunity state!
In my 20s, I ventured out of Connecticut before returning. Now, I have two hometowns: Hampton and New Haven.
But I have only one home state, and there are many more citizens like me. We're not going anywhere. We're going to stay and work with our neighbors to make this state even better.
Josiah H. Brown grew up in northeastern Connecticut and now lives in New Haven , where he is associate director of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute (www.yale.edu/ynhti). Readers may write to him care of the Register, 40 Sargent Drive , New Haven 06511 .
Copyright 2003 New Haven Register