A Responsible State Budget Starts with Reducing Spending

April 13, 2009

By Senate Republican Leader John McKinney (R-Fairfield)
& House Republican Leader Lawrence F. Cafero (R-Norwalk)

As published in the Hartford Courant, April 12, 2009

In order to achieve a responsible budget resolution for the state, political leaders need to put aside partisan differences, forget all of the name calling and posturing that has characterized the first three months of this General Assembly session, accept the facts as we find them, and get down to work in an open and bipartisan way.

The facts as we find them are as follows: In February, Gov. M. Jodi Rell presented a balanced budget proposal that made difficult choices without tax increases and without any cuts to education or municipal aid. Since then, our economy has worsened and our deficit has grown. Now, with less than two months remaining in the regular session, the legislature has failed to balance the budget deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30, and has made little progress on the two-year budget from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2011. Meanwhile, as Connecticut residents wait for a resolution, municipalities and businesses have been forced to cut costs and layoff workers; more than 50,000 Connecticut residents have lost their jobs in the past year; and families all across our state are being forced to do more with less.

Last week, after three months behind closed doors, Democrats unveiled their budget proposal, which includes the largest tax increase in Connecticut history — $3.3 billion. What it did not include were any meaningful reductions in government spending. In fact, working to close an $8.7 billion deficit, Democrats rejected $500 million of the governor’s proposed spending reductions and offered only $100 million in new reductions of their own.

The proposed tax hikes would significantly hurt middle class taxpayers and small businesses. It includes a phase-out of the $500 property tax credit and the elimination of several sales tax exemptions, including those for child car seats and college text books. It increases income taxes on individuals earning more than $14,125 and married couples earning more than $25,125. It also raises the highest income tax rate by 59 percent to 7.95 percent, and establishes a 30 percent surcharge on the tax liability of every profitable Connecticut-based company.

What is even more alarming than the tax hikes, is the admission by the senate president that he never intends to bring his proposal up for a vote — a not so subtle admission that his proposal was nothing more than a political document.

We feel that the only responsible way to address our budget crisis is to look first at the spending side of government. Over the past six years, state government has grown 36 percent from a budget of $13.6 billion in 2003 to $18.5 billion this year. At the same time, state auditors and independent news outlets are uncovering examples of government waste and inefficiency everyday. When the state Department of Social Services auditors report, as they recently did, that the state has been sending benefits checks to deceased people, the residents of Connecticut have a right to expect their government to get its own fiscal house in order before reaching into the pockets of taxpayers for a bailout.

Another example of government inefficiency is Riverview Psychiatric Hospital. Riverview is the only state-run hospital in New England and it is simply too expensive to operate. According to the state child advocate, it costs $862,000 per child, per year to treat patients at Riverview, largely due to the generous state-benefits packages paid to employees. The child advocate found that Riverview’s patients could be treated for about half the cost at one of several private hospitals that offer the same quality care. These hospitals include the Institute of Living in Hartford, Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield and Yale-New Haven Hospital. Why aren’t we using these resources?

There are examples like this throughout state government and that’s why we need to look first for ways to cut costs, consolidate agencies and programs, and eliminate waste and inefficiency. To date, the legislature has not demonstrated the political stomach for this difficult, but necessary work. That must change, and fast.

We need to exhaust all responsible options for streamlining state government. Most importantly, this needs to happen in a completely open and bipartisan way. Connecticut is at its best when all parties are at the table contributing solutions on behalf of the people we represent. That’s how we reached a bipartisan resolution on the “No Tax Increase Budget” in the last biennium, and it needs to be the way we reach a bipartisan resolution on the budget for the next biennium.