state legislators, my colleagues and I are charged with two basic tasks – forming sound public policy, and finding a way to pay for such policies in a responsible manner.
Our continuing fiscal crisis, however, has once again caused good public policy to suffer at the expense of funding our government’s unsustainable spending habits.
The legislature’s Environment Committee has voted favorably on HB 1061, an Act Concerning the Fiscal Sustainability of State Parks. The bill calls for the creation of a parks sustainability fund by giving Connecticut residents the opportunity to donate $5 to state parks when paying motor vehicle registration fees. As the House Republican ranking member on the Environment Committee, I supported the bipartisan bill, along with two key amendments.
First, the committee approved a Republican amendment that will create a type of “lockbox” for the funds raised. The goal is to create a mechanism that actually protects the parks sustainability account from the yearly “sweeps” used to pay for other government expenses.
Indeed, most of the dedicated accounts we have created in the past – e.g. Save the Sound fund, the Special Transportation Fund etc. — have been raided to pay for general government expenses. Whether this mechanism will finally protect this “dedicated” fund is still unknown.
Second, I offered an amendment that would redirect all “bottle bill escheats” — i.e., consumers’ unclaimed bottle deposits that now exceed $25 million per year — into the state park sustainability account and/or the clean water fund, and away from the current policy of pulling these monies into the general fund to pay for, among other things, Connecticut’s government-funded elections program.
The goal of my proposal was simple – let’s protect state parks, instead of state politicians and state coffers. Unfortunately, the committee Democrats defeated my amendment by a 12-15 party line vote.
In a similar connection, I also proposed an amendment to another bill, which seeks to expand the bottle deposit program, to instead phase out the bottle deposit regime entirely and replace it with a statewide single stream recycling program.
Indeed, the bottle deposit mechanism we created in the 1970s is yesterday’s solution to yesterday’s problem. Most people are recycling voluntarily now at their curbside, so we as a State should accelerate that trend through single stream capture of all waste and recyclables — a policy that most municipalities are already pursuing. To my surprise, however, this motion was also defeated by a 12-16 party line vote.
Indeed, we had the opportunity both to protect state parks and promote recycling by repurposing existing environmental funds and programs back toward their intended goal. Sadly, my Democratic colleagues have, to date, opposed both efforts.
What is the “takeaway” from these actions? Are my colleagues who voted against these proposals anti-environment? Of course not. The men and women who serve on the Environment Committee are all dedicated, well intentioned proponents of environmental causes.
Their rejection of these measures, however, demonstrates both a tacit approval of the continued misuse of certain programs as a hidden tax used to fuel Hartford’s insatiable spending habits, and more generally how poor fiscal management erodes sound public policy.
Indeed, as our chronic fiscal crisis lands us in deficit yet again, we will almost certainly see increased taxes and fees coupled with cuts to schools, needed mental health programs and sound environmental programs. The legislature’s decades-long practice of spending more than we make has left us with no good choices.
Simply put, budgets matter. We must stop the unsustainable borrowing and spending because it ultimately comes at the expense of helping people and protecting the environment.
Rep. John Shaban, a Republican, represents Easton, Redding and Weston in the 135th House District.