As Gov. Lowell Weicker of Connecticut tries to wrestle his state out of debt, one Connecticut city, Bridgeport, is suing for bankruptcy, an ominous sign for other cities in other states. Governors in Maine, Illinois, New York and elsewhere are facing deficits just as monies dry up on all fronts. The new federalism of our Republican presidents is bearing its fruit.
I was in Hartford the other day doing some work in the state archives. Service was terrible, like the morale. Only three small ''retrievals'' are allowed each day from the archives -- but it took over an hour and a half for the first one to be brought, by which time a chance to order the second one of the day was missed.
Eating in the cafeteria, I overheard staff, the security and cleaning people complain of their uncertain prospects -- would they be paid, would they be cut back, would they be closed?
The same thing is going on in other state services, from libraries to health units. The physical infrastructure of the state is decaying. But if funds are diverted to bridges and roads, at the expense of libraries and schools and welfare, human capital is wasted, never to be regained, as children grow up in poverty and ignorance.
Jesse Jackson has been in and out of Hartford in recent weeks organizing a march to dramatize the needs of the cities. While Washington talks of ''bailing out'' Eastern European countries, or the Soviet Union itself, Mr. Jackson says that our own cities desperately need bailing out. Aid to foreign children is always commendable, but should not be given precedence over the needs of American children.
Beginning August 10, Mr. Jackson will lead a march from Bridgeport, the bankrupt city, to Hartford, the capital of the state, and of the nation's insurance companies. Mr. Jackson toured the poor section of north Hartford with the city's mayor, and contrasted the conditions there with the great buildings that serve as national headquarters of the insurance companies. These look like overgrown colonial capital buildings, or museums, or temples. They show that the private sector has been able to flourish while more people in America lack health insurance and services than do the citizens of any other industrialized country of the West.
I went across the street from the Connecticut archives to the new Legislative Office Building, where Mr. Jackson was holding a press conference. He argued that defense expenditures have not shrunk in proportion to the reduction of danger. ''What are we afraid of -- Russia? The Russians are in Washington, in the bread line.''
Mr. Jackson claims there are 169 distressed municipalities in Connecticut alone. He asked that Governor Weicker call a special session of the legislature to address their problems. Asked how much the actions he was proposing would cost, he answered: ''How much will it cost us not to do it? If what's being debated [in the legislature's session on the deficit] omits the people who are most in need, then we need a new debate.''
Asked if he would march the whole way up from the shore to Hartford, Mr. Jackson answered: ''Absolutely. Don't want to be in Maine fishin' while the people are out marchin'.'' Connecticut should be an interesting place to watch in August.
Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.