Connecticut at a Crossroads

September 1, 2009

When I took office at the start of 2009, I was excited to embark on a new role in public service and take on the many challenges facing our great state, particularly the more than $8 billion budget deficit hanging over the next two fiscal years. However, that hopeful excitement was dashed to disappointment this week as the legislature signed off on a budget that fails to deal responsibly with our economic crisis.

The budget passed by both chambers of the General Assembly in the early morning hours of September 1st is filled with a number of damaging new policies. Where we should be cutting costs, we will spend more – $800 million more – over the next two fiscal years than we have in 2009. It also increases dozens of different taxes and fees, drains the Rainy Day Fund and borrows more than $1 billion to make up the rest.

And the unfortunate reality is that this didn’t have to happen. For months and months legislative Republicans have been calling for a balanced budget that cuts spending, consolidates government agencies and commissions and provides a blueprint for a leaner, more efficient state government going forward. Like so many of you, if you can no longer afford to take a vacation or buy that TV or car, you don’t. Instead, you cut costs and hold off on new spending. This budget fails to apply the same common-sense principle to state government. And sadly this practice of living beyond our means isn’t new to Connecticut where our government spending has outpaced taxpayer income by 64% since 1987.

At the start of this legislative session I was proud to be appointed to a new commission created specifically to identify inefficiencies, wasteful spending and potential solutions within state government. I felt my experience with this process in local government could lend a unique perspective to the Commission on Enhancing Agency Outcomes (CEAO). Unfortunately, the Democratic majority leadership refused to seriously consider reinventing Connecticut state government’s operations –the only real opportunity for this legislature to reduce spending. Yet the CEAO has not met since April 24th – its second meeting!

While rhetoric flew all summer long as the Democratic majority dragged their feet, Connecticut’s economy suffered. Jobs were lost and businesses closed. Despite that, supermajority Democrats in this legislature focused on preserving powerful special interests and expanding rather than reducing the size and scope of state government. Instead, the majority chose the path of least resistance, relying on a one-time infusion of federal stimulus dollars, irresponsible tax increases and borrowing.

Connecticut is at a crossroads. I am saddened that Majority Democrats failed to act responsibly to avoid the potentially catastrophic years ahead. The legislature had plenty of time to do the responsible thing and trim the fat in Hartford. The legislature failed. This is why I am particularly disappointed that Governor Rell did not veto the bill entirely. While she did vow to use her line-item veto power to remove the pork-barrel spending and other new earmarks, it isn’t enough. Those cuts will only shave $8 million from this massive budget and I believe we all missed a tremendous opportunity to reexamine our state spending and put Connecticut back on the right financial path.