A Responsible State Budget Proposal For Connecticut

February 16, 2009

I am impressed – and relieved – that Governor M. Jodi Rell is proposing a two-year $38.4 billion state budget that neither cuts education funding for municipalities nor raises taxes on Connecticut’s already struggling families.

As a member of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, I am looking forward to working with my legislative colleagues in a bipartisan manner to ensure that the budget we ultimately pass responsibly addresses our fiscal problems, preserves necessary government services, and paves the way to revitalize our state economy when these difficult times end. Governor Rell’s proposal is an excellent beginning to that process.

Of course, it is not possible to resolve the state’s grim fiscal problems and keep the government running without shared sacrifice. The reality is that state government is facing a budget deficit that could grow beyond the currently projected $8.7 billion in the next two years. Meanwhile, unemployment is at 7.1 percent and businesses are continuing to close their doors. People are concerned because, as bad as things are now, they rightly fear the situation could get much worse before it gets any better.

As Governor Rell said in her budget address, it is time for state government to do what every family in Connecticut is doing: cutting back and doing more with less. Her budget acknowledges the need for fiscal restraint by calling for no increase in spending next year, and just a 3.5 percent increase in the second year.

However, holding the line on spending and sparing us from tax increases while preserving state education funding for municipalities requires making changes elsewhere. Among other things, Governor Rell’s proposed budget calls for: seeking concessions from state employee unions; eliminating and consolidating state agencies
and commissions; eliminating about 400 state jobs and not filling another 448 currently vacant positions; increasing premiums for adults on HUSKY healthcare insurance; making changes to ConnPACE; closing two courthouses; consolidating the probate court system into 36 regional districts; increasing the cost of state fees and licenses; closing Cedarcrest Hospital in Newington and relocating patients to Connecticut Valley Hospital; delaying and cancelling state bond authorizations; and making necessary changes to binding arbitration.

Furthermore, the Governor is proposing to reassign about 70 state troopers to patrol jobs. Her budget proposal includes incentives for municipalities to regionalize services when feasible. She wants to create a Middle College System by merging the state’s vocational-technical high school and community college system, along with the state’s Office of Workforce Competitiveness, to bridge the gap between high school and higher education. Also, the Governor’s proposed budget calls for creating a state version of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps – The Connecticut Conservation Corps – to hire unemployed people to do useful things like clean beaches, trails and parks.

Clearly, the Governor’s proposed budget is a valiant attempt to not only responsibly address our current fiscal problems while continuing to provide necessary government services, but also a plan for permanently making state government more effective, more efficient, and smaller. That is good news for Connecticut’s taxpayers, and in the weeks ahead, I will work to convince fellow legislators that we need to begin passing state budgets – beginning with this one – that focus on providing necessary government services at a cost the taxpayers can afford.

For example, Governor Rell wants to repeal and modify mandates on municipalities – and delay the implementation of some that are pending. Specifically, she wants to require a two-thirds vote of the legislature in order to impose any costly new mandates and she wants to suspend for the next two years implementation of the recently passed law requiring in-school suspensions. I wholeheartedly agree with her. Imposing mandates on municipalities inevitably increases the cost of government and, thus, property taxes. If the General Assembly cannot clearly demonstrate that the benefit of imposing a mandate outweighs the cost, then we should not impose that mandate.

I would like to know what you think about Governor Rell’s proposed budget and your ideas for resolving the state’s fiscal problems. I can be reached at my legislative office in Hartford at 860-240-8800, or via e-mail to [email protected].