Tough Times Call for Tough Measures

February 6, 2009

Governor M. Jodi Rell is calling for a $38.4 billion two-year state budget that aggressively addresses the state’s dire fiscal problems and positions the state for a speedy recovery when the recession ends. Clearly, she has been paying close attention to what our beleaguered municipal officials, taxpayers and small business owners have been saying.

First, the Governor’s budget proposal does not call for tax increases – and maintains existing funding levels for towns. This is important because reducing state aid to municipalities could lead to local property tax increases. Secondly, Governor Rell is calling for streamlining government to make it more effective, efficient and affordable for the taxpayers who support it.

Governor Rell understands that the challenges posed by our current fiscal problems present state government with a rare opportunity to make changes designed to benefit taxpayers far into the future. The Governor is offering a budget plan that calls for no spending increases next year. Her plan also calls for eliminating and consolidating state agencies and commissions; canceling a significant amount of pending state bonding; seeking concessions from state employee unions; eliminating many existing and vacant state employee positions; and creating an office to detect and abolish waste, fraud and abuse throughout state government.

The Governor is looking to the future by calling for the merger of the state’s vo-tech and community college systems to create a Middle College System that would help students bridge the gap between high school and higher education. She is responding to employment needs by calling for the creation of a Connecticut Conservation Corps to provide work to the newly unemployed, and maintain our public parks, trails and beaches at the same time.

The needs of our cities and towns are prominently featured in Governor Rell’s budget proposal. For example, she wants to provide financial incentives to towns that voluntarily regionalize services and purchases when doing so is feasible. She is proposing to suspend binding arbitration for two years, and restrict the binding arbitration process to cover only wages and benefits, not other workplace issues.

More importantly, Governor Rell is responding to local government officials’ desperate pleas for relief from unfunded state mandates. Her proposed budget includes a provision requiring a two-thirds vote to impose any new expensive mandates. Furthermore, she wants to delay the implementation of two costly mandates – requiring in-school suspension and treating 16- and 17-year old violent offenders as juveniles.

No doubt, many aspects of Governor Rell’s budget proposal are viewed by some as controversial and will certainly generate a great deal of vigorous debate. As a member of the General Assembly’s Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee, I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with fellow legislators in a bipartisan manner to do what is best for our state.

It is clear that Governor Rell is responding to the public’s call for austerity and accountability. Like her, I believe that these tough times call for the courage to make the tough decisions that will keep our state moving forward.