Our Connecticut state budget has become a biannual fiscal train wreck.
Given the depths of the budget crisis Gov. Malloy inherited two years ago, many of us encouraged our tough minded new governor, working with his fellow Democrats in the legislature, when he pledged to present the first honest budget in years. He said it was a GAAP-approved budget that would stabilize our finances with real budget cuts matched with revenue increases.
Instead we are about to approve another budget that is more of the same, more “Promises, Gimmicks, and Historic Shortfall,” screamed the headline on Keith Phaneuf’s excellent analysis in The Mirror last month.
The state website boasts that the Governor is cutting spending (next budget is up 5.6%); that the budget is balanced (OPM shows budget deficits as far as the eye can see), and GAAP-certified (only if GAAP stands for God Awful Political Pandering).
Do not let the Republican legislators cluck, “I told you so,” since they have been do-nothing armchair critics for years — not positing any substantive cost savings, even when they had 16 years of Republican governors to work with.
The Governor has promised state employees no more concessions; he has promised taxpayers: Read my lips, no new taxes. He has promised to hold education and the safety net and our struggling cities ‘harmless,’ but these promises require smoke, mirrors, and tons of borrowing.
Let’s put everything he took off the table back on the table and enact the first honest budget since Gov. Lowell Weicker righted our ship of state two decades ago. Perhaps you hated how he did it — he was the last governor to actually cut spending — as well as impose an income tax — and he balanced the budget for real. Fifteen years of spending increases later, here we go again.
I understand that the taxpayers have been hammered every couple of years by the drip, drip, drip of more tax increases, which is sapping the confidence from our state economy.
I know that the state employees have already provided concession upon concession, which is hurting morale — but none of these half-measures has solved the problem.
I appreciate that it was governors long ago who did not set aside funding to pay for pension and health care obligations, but it is current taxpayers and employees, not to mention recent retirees, who together must be part of the solution. What is to be done?
1) Stop talking about ‘current services budget,’ another name for a status quo budget in which increases masquerade as cuts.
2) Labor-saving technologies can provide better service at less cost, but only if the Governor is allowed to move employees to where they are most effective, and lay off those who are not.
3) Rather than cutting the social safety net, allow our amazing nonprofits to bid on the delivery of mental health and social services. History has shown that our nonprofit community service providers, free of the state bureaucracy, provide heartfelt service at less cost.
4) Stop paying companies to move into and about the state, while we impose a corporate income tax surcharge on those companies already here.
5) Our tax rates are already high, but revenues will be part of an honest budget. Expand the sales tax by eliminating exemptions, reduce the rate, and keep the earned income tax so working families are not disadvantaged.
6) Income taxes on upper-income folks cannot be off the table either.
7) Raise the retirement age for state employees, slowly but surely, which will reduce the current cost to taxpayers and give state employees assurances that their pension will be there.
8) Rethink the employee health care plan in the context of the new state health care exchange. Higher deductibles and co-pays in exchange for higher take home pay should be an option.
A few years back, I took to quoting Connecticut’s Mark Twain, who said that, “Staying out is easier than getting out.” Back then I was talking about the Iraq War. Now I am talking about staying out of debt, more debt per person than any state in the country, staying out of debt that pays for operating costs, debt that is the worst symptom of our business as usual state government, debts to our state employees, which may be impossible to pay, debts that discourage entrepreneurs from locating their business here or young folks from starting their families here.
Governor, I know that these prescriptions may be political suicide, and that they may make your successor look like a hero. But our state will be much better off with an honest budget that we know is built to last.
Ned Lamont of Greenwich won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2006 and ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010. He is the founder of Lamont Digital Systems, Inc.