Connecticut’s understanding of the harsh realities of its financial crisis is becoming sharper with every passing week. This one started with cities and towns contemplating the long-term impact of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s plan to have them pay one third of their teacher pension costs: a net loss for some this year growing to more than a five-fold increase in costs over the next 15 years.
The same economic reality is bearing down on the state’s community colleges and regional state universities, the faculties of which were outraged to be apprised only days in advance of the adoption by the Board of Regents for Higher Education of a plan to consolidate administration and operations as a money-saving move. CSCU President Mark Ojakian has now scheduled a multi-stop “listening tour” to hear input on specifics.
Even the youngest of Connecticut’s citizens – its preschoolers – are being buffeted by the economic winds. A wait list of 3,400 needy families hoping to receive child-care subsidies is likely to swell to 5,000 by this summer. The state’s independent living centers are also in a world of hurt from past budget cuts and say they are in danger of closing entirely should both the state and federal government cut more.
The issue of school funding is also a fly in the economic ointment, since the state Supreme Court will not be hearing the appeal of a landmark school funding decision until this fall – months after the state legislature has to approve the bi-annual budget. Meanwhile, two Democratic leaders are proposing a $53 million increase in state education spending along with a new approach to calculating what the appropriate level of spending is.
On the revenue side, one thing is certain: the idea of a state mileage tax on motorists is out. The debate rages, however, on whether business should be paying higher taxes or labor should be giving back some of the benefits that are threatening to bust the budget. (One bill now headed for the state Senate would cut down the work for one labor group — bartenders. Another is designed to promote pay equity among men and women.)
With so much strife connected to the state budget and its implementers, is it any wonder that Gov. Dannel Malloy has decided not to seek reelection to a third term? “I’ve obviously had to consider what the future might look like for myself and my family, for the Democratic Party, and for our great state,” the governor said as he made his Thursday afternoon announcement in a Capitol hearing room.
Not everything is closely tied to the politics of the state budget, however. The desegregation of Hartford schools is a perennial concern, and will be again this year when the state Department of Education runs a school choice lottery but is declining to say whether it will include more seats in desegregated magnet and suburban schools or continue to impose a limit on the number of seats it will pay for.
The vocational-technical school system is also under scrutiny by several different agencies who are examining some $4.9 million in contracts awarded to two Rocky Hill-based firms.
Interest — and concern — continues to build in the federal government’s plan to build a high-speed rail line on the Northeast Corridor. A grassroots movement that originated in Old Lyme appears to be having an impact on the plan.