Don’t shift Connecticut’s unfunded liability problem onto our children
Eroding revenues, red ink and poor fiscal management continue to undermine Connecticut’s state budget. Unaltered, the present approach will make it increasingly difficult, even impossible, for our children and future generations to have a state government that fulfills its fundamental and constitutional duty to provide for a healthier, safer and more equitable society.
But the problem is about to get far worse.
The fiscal crisis facing Connecticut is severe, but rather than step up and truly address the crisis, Gov. Dannel Malloy and many state legislators continue to turn a blind eye to their responsibility, especially when it comes to addressing the failures of the past.
Since he took office in January 2011, Malloy’s fiscal policies have been based on a reckless strategy of coddling the rich, outrageous acts of corporate welfare, record cuts to Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, reducing the availability of vital public services and undermining public education … all while shifting more and more of the burden to pay for public services onto Connecticut’s regressive and anti-middle income property tax system.
Denying the very real fiscal problems that are facing the state, Malloy and his political operatives have bounced back and forth between denying the very existence of state deficits and lamenting the arrival of a new economic reality.
Many will remember that upon his arrival in the governor’s office, Malloy whined about the fact that he had “inherited” a $3.7 billion budget shortfall following the fiscally irresponsible policies of Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democratic-controlled Connecticut General Assembly.
However, rather than use his time in office put the state back on track, Malloy’s irresponsible budget tactics have further exacerbated Connecticut’s fiscal problems.
Proof of this growing disaster can be found in the reality that as the Malloy administration prepares to propose Connecticut’s next state budget, the state is faced with a projected biennial budget shortfall in excess of $3.3 billion and growing.
And by failing to resolve Connecticut’s year-to-year budget problems, the situation facing the state’s pension and retiree healthcare obligations has become particularly severe.
Now, having squandered the opportunity to institute a special income tax surcharge on Connecticut’s wealthiest taxpayers to pay down some of the massive debt and unfunded liabilities, the options are fewer and the problems are bigger.
If history is any lesson, Malloy’s “solution” to Connecticut’s fiscal crisis will be to propose another state budget plan full of gimmicks, but this time the issue will be compounded by a plan to dump even more of the responsibility for dealing with the state’s catastrophically high debt and unfunded liabilities onto our children and future generations.
It is certainly no secret that behind closed doors Malloy and his team are developing a proposed FY18-FY19 state budget built on more cuts to vital services, shifting even more of the burden for a college education onto the backs of Connecticut’s students and their families and significantly reducing the amount of municipal aid, thereby further increasing property tax rates on Connecticut’s middle income families.
What is less understood is that Malloy will likely propose walking away from Connecticut’s near term obligation to confront the state’s $74 billion debt and unfunded liabilities.
The truth is that for decades Connecticut state government has refused to properly fund its state employee and teacher pension and benefit plans.
Making matters even worse, Malloy and the legislature have been using the state’s credit card in inappropriate ways, including his decision to use borrowed funds to pay for his failed, but much heralded, corporate welfare program designed to pick winners and losers and reward companies he favors.
Now, all of these “chickens are coming home to roost.” Yet rather than step up and take action to reduce state debt and adequately fund Connecticut’s pension and benefits funds, Malloy may propose “kicking the can down the road” by shifting even more of the burden onto Connecticut’s children and future generations, a maneuver that will dramatically increase the cost to taxpayers over time.
The harsh reality is that when faced with the critically important obligation to do what is right, Connecticut’s elected officials – Democrat and Republican – have remained committed to a motto that reads, “Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”
The result of such a tactic is not only exacerbating Connecticut’s fiscal problems, but condemning our children and future generations.
If Connecticut voters are not outraged, they aren’t paying enough attention.
Jonathan Pelto of Mansfield was the state representative for the 54th District from 1985 to 1993. He is also the author of the blog, “Wait? What?”
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