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December 28, 2016

Will Jim Smith’s advice be heard?

By Sen. Rob Kane

“Heed the will of voters and adopt strong cap definitions that will control state spending.”

That was the sound advice given by Webster Bank CEO James C. Smith to the Connecticut Spending Cap Commission.

The panel, on which I served, was tasked with crafting recommendations for an enforceable cap on state-government spending.

Smith, a highly respected leader and a thoughtful voice in Connecticut’s business community, noted Constitution State voters were loud and clear back in 1991, the year the job-killing state income tax was signed by then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.

In response, 80 percent of Connecticut voters demanded restraints on spending.

Without a lid on government spending growth, voters knew the income tax and a host of other state taxes eventually would escalate to a crisis point.

How right they were.

That spending cap never was enforced, taxes have gone higher to cover government’s costs, and it’s officially crisis time in Connecticut.

Which brings us back to the Webster CEO’s simple and direct message to the decision-makers in Hartford: Do what the people of Connecticut told you to do in the first place a quarter-century ago.

Put some teeth into the spending cap, and things just might start to turn around.

Unfortunately, this month, the Spending Cap Commission was unable to reach consensus on a cap definition.

One proposal would have resulted in an additional $635.9 million being exempted from the spending cap next year.

Moving more money outside the spending cap is not what I would call a cap.

I voted against the proposal, and it failed.

So where do we go from here?

Republicans will continue to push for fiscal discipline at the Capitol.

A strong, iron-clad spending cap will have a positive domino effect.

  • It will send a message to the private sector that lawmakers finally have gotten serious in Hartford.
  • That message will create the stability and predictability that job creators crave.
  • That confidence in the business community will spark long-term investments and job growth.
  • That economic activity will produce more taxpayers rather than more tax increases.

Imagine a Connecticut that not only has addressed its spending addiction, but defeated it for good.

This isn’t just a pleasant thought.

That confident future can happen, and it will become reality when enough like-minded, fiscally responsible lawmakers are sent to Hartford.

The good news?

With each biennial election, more and more of those common-sense individuals are being sent to the Capitol.

That alone is reason for optimism.

Jim Smith’s advice – and the will of the people – just may be acted upon after all these years.

*Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown (www.SenatorKane.com) represents the 32nd District towns of Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Middlebury, Oxford, Roxbury, Seymour, Southbury, Washington, Watertown and Woodbury. He is Senate ranking member on the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, which oversees state government spending. He can be reached at Rob.Kane@cga.ct.gov and at 800-842-1421