Op-Ed: Connecticut, keep the spending cap

When I was a single, I spent too much money. Not on anything bad; I just spent too much. I went out for Chinese when I should have stayed in with a sandwich.

Then I got married. I’m grateful for my wife for a number of reasons – one of them is that she keeps our family finances on track. As someone who spent too much before becoming a husband and father who is now a little more careful, sometimes I wish our state government could marry my wife.

Op-ed submit bugOur government needs the same influence that I needed. Our government buys many good things, but it buys too many of them. Our government hires teachers and police officers, builds bridges and roads and takes care of people who need help, all good things. But it does too many things and in many cases too much of them.  The state budget has doubled in the past 20 years. Has yours?

Just as I needed to learn to be responsible, so does our state government. If anything, the spending cap should be stronger. Just look at the rise in state spending over the past two decades and you’ll see we’ve had far more spending than cap.

We got a spending cap to stop ourselves from spending irresponsibly when the new income tax caused money to flow more plentifully into state coffers. But for some, no amount of money is ever enough.

If I had continued to overspend, my family would have suffered. Similarly, if our state continues to overspend, many Connecticut families will suffer. The overspending – and the resulting taxes – is squeezing families out of Connecticut.

Instead of watching their grandkids grow up down the street, grandparents will move south. Recent graduates will leave for more plentiful opportunities in other states.

If we continue to spend irresponsibly, families will be forced apart. If grandma can’t afford to stay and the next generation leaves once we’ve educated them, the remaining middle generation will be lonely – in addition to being squeezed financially.

Of course not all overspending is champagne and caviar. Most of it looks fine until it is paired against an alternative. We need to prioritize. What’s more important: Good schools or six-figure pensions? Healthcare for the poor or Cadillac health plans for state workers? Metro North bridges or bribes for mega-corporations?

Our lawmakers have tried to solve our budgetary failures before by taxing more and spending more. But instead of solving the problem, we’re now in a “permanent fiscal crisis.”

The spending cap is a law that’s easy to evade. The real spending cap is the real world. If the people of Connecticut don’t start getting value for their tax money, they’re going to leave. Grandma and grandpa aren’t going to enjoy retirement down the street, but down in North Carolina. Our kids are going to work in Austin or Salt Lake City instead of Hartford or Stamford.

We’ll Skype them until we get too bored, broke and lonely – and then move to join them.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We need to make some choices, good choices. Our state needs to realize it can’t buy everything it wants – just like its citizens have – before it’s too late. Keep the cap.

Zachary Janowski writes for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, Connecticut’s free-market think tank.

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