by Charles A. Monagan
Dec 28, 2012
08:23 AMOn Connecticut
The Great State of New England
I don’t know if it’s the times or the time of the season, but fantasy seems to be in ascendancy right now. We’ve just gone through the whole Mayan calendar thing. The Hobbit is now playing at a theater near you. The Hunger Games series is still going strong. Fantasy-team statistics clog the TV screen and encumber viewing during every football game. There are even all sorts of online petitions - fantasies all - calling for secession, deportation, recalling, amending or tar-and-feathering of elected officials, media figures, sacred documents and sovereign states.
So, spurred by the season, I’ve come up with a fantasy of my own. Stated simply, I propose that the six New England states erase the borders that separate them, dissolve their state governments and climb up into the dawn together, reconfigured as a brand-new state called New England.
The idea came to me as I absorbed the steady barrage of news in late fall and early winter regarding Connecticut’s sorry financial state. We were running a deficit of $300 or $400 million (depending upon which Democratic officeholder you believed) midway through the fiscal year, and even after a $1.5 billion tax increase. Some panicky emergency measures were taken to close the gap. The state treasurer had to set up a $550 million line of credit just to pay for ongoing operations. Unemployment remained stubbornly high, job-creation had been essentially stagnant since the 1990s, even casino revenues were plunging—for the first time in a long time, it was truly very difficult to see a bright future for Connecticut. And that’s when it hit me: To a greater or lesser degree, all the other New England states are having financial issues, too. What if we all joined forces under a new flag? I then began to look into what the new State of New England might actually be like, and that’s when I really got carried away.
With its population of 14,400,000, New England would immediately regain much of the clout, political and otherwise, that has eluded it in recent years. It would be the nation’s fifth-most populous state, falling just below Florida and above Illinois. Its 72,000 square miles would establish it as the 17th-largest state, with just slightly more acreage than Washington.
Politically, on the federal side we would lose 10 U. S. senators, but the remaining two would do no worse than weigh us equally with other large states. (Besides, watching the brutal musical-chairs contest among all the existing senators for those two remaining spots might be worth the cost in diminished numbers.) On the other hand, based on current seats, the State of New England would have the power of 22 U.S. representatives, all working toward a reasonably common goal—although each with local-district concerns as well. Even our profile in the Electoral College would be heightened—with 33 electoral votes, we’d be third among all states, behind only California and Texas.
Of course, the changes to state government would be even more dramatic. At present, the residents of New England are represented in their state capitols by a sprawling aggregate of 203 state senators and 1,087 state representatives. That’s way too many. Using as our model the State of Illinois—with its reasonably similar population, size, shape and economic makeup—our new state should be able to get by with something akin to its 59 senators and 117 state reps. That’s a lot less money spent on office furniture and official mailings.
There would be only one governor for the State of New England, too, again touching off a great race to the top among Democrats and Republicans alike. And once the new guv is chosen, imagine how different his or her new bureaucracy will be, and how much smaller. Right now, there are just about 198,000 full-time state employees in the six New England states. Illinois gets by with 106,000. Could we live with the savings that would come from such a reduction in workforce size and the necessary contract renegotiations that would accompany it? I think we could. Would there be further efficiences in having one DOT and one state police department instead of six of each, one tourism effort, one lottery, one set of rules for liquor prices and gasoline taxes? I think there would be. As for public education, what better way to ensure needed reforms than to break the whole system down to the absolute essentials and then build it back up again to reflect modern-day realities.
Speaking of education, reorganization of the State of New England university system would present an interesting problem. The University of Illinois has three major campuses; maybe the University of New England could operate largely from major hubs in Storrs, Amherst and what would be Durham, N.E. As to the athletic teams, I’m pretty sure I know who the women’s basketball coach would be, but most of the other coaching jobs would be up for grabs. And just think of how sought-after we’d be by the major athletic conferences.
And then there’s the question of school colors and mascot. We probably couldn’t use Black Bear, Wildcat, Husky, Minuteman, Catamount or Ram, but there must be a suitable New England symbol that everyone could agree on. Whale? Pilgrim? The New England Hellfire? Public input would be encouraged.
Other such decisions await, too. There’ll be the question of State Flower and State Bird and all the other symbols we all seem to crave for identity. We’ll need a flag with a new look that both suits our new status and can rally us together as we finally compete on even terms with New York. One license plate will have to cover the entire territory, along with one fishing license, one Miss America contestant, one state supreme court and maybe even just one official clam chowder.
But think of the riches. The State of New England would be home to four Ivy League schools, all the “Little Ivies” and dozens of other magnificent colleges and universities. From Greenwich all the way up to Caribou, we’d be able to boast of everything from hedge-fund HQs and MIT pranks to Patriots wins and potato farms. We’d have ski resorts, surf beaches, poker rooms, lobster shacks and the voters of Dixville Notch, who’ve been rising and shining every Election Day since time immemorial.
In fact, as I see it, there’s only one real problem with this freshly, and rather abruptly, hatched fantasy. Who would buy and read Connecticut Magazine if there were no longer a place called Connecticut? Oh well, the devil is always in the details.
The Great State of New England