Making The Case For Not Closing The State’s Budget Gap At The Expense Of Towns & Cities

December 8, 2009

Dumping the state’s persistent budget problems on top of Connecticut’s town and city halls might make life somewhat easier, at least temporarily, for the General Assembly but it would cause a lot of pain for elected local officials and the people they serve.

Personally, I believe there are better ways to address the state’s fiscal problems, such as reinventing state government to make it smaller, more efficient and more cost effective. That is why I support the plan recently unveiled by Republican legislators to close our projected $466.5 million budget deficit by cutting most line items by 7.8 percent and abolishing our new taxpayer financed campaign fund. Doing so would allow us to leave intact the state funding already promised to Connecticut’s towns and cities – and allow us to follow through on our promise to cut the state sales tax by 0.5 percent on January 1st.

Governor M. Jodi Rell wants the General Assembly to meet in special session on December 15th to consider her deficit mitigation plan, which includes a proposed $84 million reduction in state aid to municipalities. I agree that the General Assembly should meet as quickly as possible to fix our budget problems before they become even worse. However, I do not believe that Connecticut’s towns and cities can absorb such a large reduction in expected – and promised – state funding without raising local taxes. Who can afford higher taxes when this recession has already cost 85,000 Connecticut citizens their jobs?

It is important to note here that Governor Rell is sympathetic to the needs of municipalities and referred to her proposal to reduce their state aide as “the most difficult cut of all.” In an effort to alleviate the pain of her proposal, Governor Rell created a bipartisan advisory panel to recommend ways to cut municipal costs and provide towns and cities with relief from expensive state mandates. I was appointed to that panel by Senate Minority Leader John McKinney. Towns and cities have been asking for relief from unfunded and underfunded state mandates for years, and I believe that the General Assembly must lessen this burden even if legislators adopt a deficit mitigation plan that does not call for reducing state aid to municipalities.

Meanwhile, it should come as no surprise that Connecticut once again finds itself drowning in red ink. Just three months ago, I joined other Republicans in voting against the $37.6 billion two-year budget pushed through by the General Assembly’s Democrat majority because it is impossible to solve the state’s fiscal problems by increasing taxes, borrowing and relying on one-time gimmicks.

This time, the General Assembly has to work together in a bipartisan manner to make the tough, smart, responsible, decisions necessary to resolve our state budget problems. Ironically, the General Assembly is being asked at the same time to fix the state’s new campaign finance program, portions of which were struck down by the federal court on the grounds that it is unfair to minor party and petitioning candidates. The state is appealing that decision. I agree with Republican legislators that, rather than fine-tune a program that essentially allows state politicians to bill the taxpayers for their election campaigns, we should preserve the ethics reforms built into the new state law but abolish the funding mechanism. We would immediately save $30 million!

I admit that, right now, life is far from merry in Connecticut and I assure you that not a single legislator relishes the idea of spending the days leading up to the holidays meeting in special session. However, delaying would be irresponsible. Unemployment in our state has reached 8.8 percent, and Moody’s has already downgraded the state’s credit rating outlook from “stable to negative.” Connecticut’s families and businesses have the right to expect the General Assembly to do the right thing – and do it fast. I look forward to the opportunity to work with my colleagues – both Republicans and Democrats – to responsibly resolve our fiscal problems.

As always, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issues that are important to our state. Please feel free to share your concerns about our state budget problems, and your ideas for solving them. I can be reached at my legislative office in Hartford at 1-800-842-1421, or via e-mail to [email protected].