As the calendar turned from June to July last week, the legislature, controlled by Democrats, failed to accomplish the single most important job it had this session – drafting, negotiating, and calling the legislature back into session to debate, and eventually vote on a two-year state budget.
Instead, the Democratic leadership ignored the zero-tax increase balanced budget prepared by the Republicans and chose to relinquish its duty to the governor, who now must run the state by executive order – a chilling proposition for towns, school districts, and core government services.
Most years, debate about the state budget is largely parlor talk among Hartford insiders; the average hard-working taxpayer would need a heavily translated version of the financial jargon and political intricacies to understand the process.
However, when General Electric announced its unprecedented departure from its longtime Fairfield headquarters for a move to Massachusetts citing the fiscal mismanagement and crippling anti-business policies included in the 2015 biennial budget, Connecticut residents began to pay closer attention.
That was on the heels of report after report confirming the extent of Connecticut’s debt and our governor’s own budget director admitting Connecticut remains in a state of “permanent fiscal crisis.” Now, after being in Connecticut for more than 150 years, Aetna has, after witnessing firsthand the failure of this majority party leadership and their doomed fiscal policies, joined the exodus and decided to relocate its headquarters to New York.
Our local businesses and families have also experienced the harmful effects of depleted revenue receipts, an unequal Education Cost Sharing formula, and unfunded pension liabilities as the fiscal mismanagement directly affects their jobs, their children’s educations, and their life savings.
It comes as no surprise that the Office of Fiscal Analysis reported income tax revenue is down $1.1 billion and sales and corporate taxes are projected to fall by $450 million. Meanwhile, pension contributions to state employees have doubled since 2010 while most state employees pay little or no deductible and a $15 co-pay for health care.
As a member of the House Republican caucus, I am proud that we presented a fully vetted budget that funds core services and closed the deficit without increasing taxes. Since the unaffordable cost of state government is among the main reasons Connecticut cannot pay its bills, we proposed streamlining state government and saving money by asking for real concessions from our state workforce comparable to private sector jobs.
As a state, we can no longer afford the onerous benefits demanded by and given to public employee unions, which they have received because the majority party refuses to allow their contracts to be voted on by the legislature. By rule enacted by the majority, union contracts negotiated by the governor become law unless voted on by the legislature within 30 days.
Democrats displayed a shocking lack of leadership in this process from day one. Being the majority party in the House, they control major legislative committees by majority rule and control the agenda on the floor of the House. Rather than roll up their sleeves and get to work, they failed to produce a budget by the Appropriations Committee deadline in March and stubbornly refused at any point to consider any portion of the budget that Republicans crafted.
This year’s session concluded at midnight on June 7 without even a discussion on the most critical issue we had to face. A special session on the taxpayer’s dime was then planned for June 29 to vote on a budget just in time for the June 30 deadline. There was only one problem. The Democrats did not have a budget prepared to vote on and refused to call the Republican budget.
Folks, let’s make no mistake about this, the Speaker of the House and Democratic leadership failed Connecticut families and businesses by ignoring the issue that has become the top priority for state government: Connecticut’s economy.
Whether it’s sheer arrogance or just a general disdain for taxpayers, failure of this magnitude is utterly beyond comprehension. Clearly, it is time for a change in the leadership of this state. Until that happens, you can expect more of the same, including higher taxes and more residents and businesses leaving Connecticut, despite the best efforts of myself and the minority party in the legislature.
State Rep. Richard Smith represents the 108th district, which includes parts of Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford and Sherman. He is Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s General Law Committee, and a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Labor and Public Employees Committee.