Like a ship adrift at sea, our state is rudderless. Leadership seems bent on serving every interest except the public’s, and the inevitable outcome has been a nonexistent economic recovery and increasing financial insecurity for people all across the state.

Connecticut is the only state with a shrinking economy. It’s at or near the bottom of every ranking, and despite the state’s largest ever tax increase, we’re facing a $2.3 billion deficit in 2015-16. Reduction of our workforce has catapulted real unemployment over 10 percent, and no end is in sight. More and more people and businesses are leaving, forced out by intrusive, onerous policies and exorbitant taxes.

The administration tells us all is well, but Connecticut has lost its way. People want steady and reassuring leadership. It’s time to face the facts and fix the problems. Although we are midway through a budget cycle, this cannot wait and we must start right now.

• Make jobs the No. 1 priority by returning power to the marketplace. Halt the First Five program, and provide tax and regulatory relief to all businesses to help them reduce structural costs. Help small business owners by committing to a long-term plan to phase out income, pension, death, gift and conveyance taxes.

• Rein in spending. Restructure state employee benefits and pension plans, to reduce ongoing costs, slow down the growth of long-term obligations and protect their solvency. Eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit.

• Make our transportation safe, and make sure it works. Require an oversight board for Metro-North. Fix the deficient roads and bridges and antiquated rails that hundreds of thousands of people use every day before spending more on new, speculative projects. Use the current surplus to return the $100 million already removed from the Special Transportation Fund and prevent further raids.

• Repair the backbone of our public education system. Double down on early literacy, and reallocate education funding as necessary. All children, regardless of their socio-economic circumstances, will have vastly improved prospects if they can read by the end of third grade. This will also significantly improve student learning outcomes in higher grades.

• Restore the integrity of our campaign finance system. Repeal the law allowing unlimited campaign contributions by political parties to candidates for state office and contributions of more than $100 by lobbyists or state contractors.
There is much more to do to turn the state around, but all of these things can –  and must — be done now. With political will, none are impossible. It will require public acknowledgement of the severity of the problems, frank conversations with stakeholders like state union leaders and educators, an honest exchange of ideas across the political aisle and an open door to collaboration.

The ability to make those things happen is the true test of leadership. There has never been a time when Connecticut has needed it more.

Brett Orzechowski is the former CEO and publisher of The Connecticut Mirror.

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