Finally! A Step in the Right Direction

April 21, 2010

“The entire process begs the question, where is the bipartisanship? The fact of the matter is there are areas of each (budget) mitigation plan that Republicans, Democrats and the Governor agree upon. So why not craft a bill that includes these areas of agreement? At the very least we can begin to reduce the deficit and give the people reason to believe that a bipartisan solution is attainable.”

That is what I wrote last month when discussing the painstaking process it has been for the legislature to agree on a plan to rectify the state budget shortfall for the current fiscal year. The good news is that on April 14th legislative leaders took this common sense approach and in a bipartisan manner passed HB 5545, which alleviates Connecticut’s $350 million budget deficit for FY 10. While there is still a lot of work left to done as we look ahead to the next two fiscal years, we can look at this budget mitigation plan as a positive step in the right direction.

Here’s a little background on how we got here. Last September, the General Assembly passed a new two year budget. If you recall one of my biggest complaints was that rank and file members did not get to see a copy of the 730-page bill until just hours before the vote and was not something I could support because it relied on undetermined cost savings which were never realized. By mid-October the budget was already out of balance, and since that time the partisan rhetoric over what should and should not be done regarding the deficit reached a fevered pitch.

Plans offered by the Democrats (who hold supermajorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate) in December and again in March, that didn’t allow for any Republican input, were quickly vetoed by the Governor because it increased taxes instead of cutting spending. There were times throughout the last eight months where it felt as if some would rather just ignore the problem, hoping it would go away or solve itself.

HB 5545 changed the tone in Hartford because for the first time in quite awhile all sides came together. The bill included a mix of spending cuts, fund sweeps and other account transfers. Is it a perfect bill? No. But the legislation ensures that the 2010 fiscal year can be closed without raising taxes on already overburdened families and businesses.

The bill reduces hunting and fishing license fees as well as admission and camping fees to state parks. These fees were in many cases doubled under last year’s budget. Remember what I said about giving legislators – and the public- ample time to read a bill as important as the budget? Here is a perfect example of why. If the budget process last year was an open process, where people actually knew what was in the bill before the vote, it is my guess that the fee increases would have never been included.

People take great pleasure in the experiencing the beauty and all the wonderful activities associated with Connecticut’s outdoors, and they were rightfully angered that they were being subjected to these new fees. After all, the state has invested millions of dollars in open space preservation over that last decade for residents, and people who visit our state, to enjoy.

While last week’s budget mitigation bill did not lower the fees to their original levels, the reductions are significant. I have been contacted by many people who bought their license prior to the fee reduction and they are upset they cannot get a refund on the difference. That is true and is also the reason why I am proposing an amendment that would make anyone who purchased a 2010 fishing license prior to April 14th eligible for a credit on next year’s license purchase. Considering most people have already purchased these licenses, it only makes sense that they get refunded.

While examples such as license and admission fees demonstrate that this budget mitigation plan is not perfect, it was unanimously passed in the Senate and was signed by the Governor. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.