Connecticut’s Ongoing Fiscal Crisis & The General Assembly’s Responsibility To Solve It

May 23, 2010

By the time you read this, it is very likely that the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee will have approved the spending side of a new state budget. As a member of that committee, I can assure you that unless the budget-writing committee’s proposal calls for significant spending cuts and a new way of operating state government that does not rely on gimmickry, sleight of hand, and massive tax increases, I will have voted “no”.

Connecticut’s fiscal situation is precarious. According to the most recent estimates issued by the state Office of Policy & Management, state government is looking at a $365.5 million budget deficit for this fiscal year, which ends June 30th. That is a very optimistic projection. Right now, it seems likely that there will be more red ink – and not just for this year. The national recession, along with state government’s lavish spending habits, has taken its toll on Connecticut’s fiscal health. Those in the know predict that we are quite likely facing very large budget deficits for at least the next few years.

The only responsible way to address our problems is to reinvent state government. By that I mean we have to shrink its size and scope. We can do that by streamlining the way we provide programs and services and taking advantage of every opportunity cut spending and keep costs down. Also, we have to be willing to say “no” to spending money on good ideas and new programs that we simply cannot afford. If that means doing more with less, then that is what we have to do. As any family and business operating on a strict budget can tell you, living within one’s means is not easy – but the alternatives are worse.

Consider the consequences of raising taxes. Further burdening state citizens who are already struggling to make ends meet is both unrealistic and cruel. Demonizing so-called wealthy residents by demanding that they dig us out of the hole by paying higher taxes is not only unfair, but counter productive. Only a desire to live here – for now – is keeping relatively well-off residents, along with the taxes they pay, in Connecticut. Those who own property out of state can easily establish residency elsewhere; others will simply pack their bags and leave.

As we continue to witness, businesses shut down when they can no longer afford to keep their doors open, or relocate when it is in their best interests to do so. The consequences are immediately catastrophic to the individuals who lose their jobs. Over time, losing businesses and jobs hurts all of us by eroding our state economy, spreading the pain in shockwaves across the state. This leads to a drop in state tax revenues, as we are now experiencing. Clearly, raising taxes on the people and businesses still here will only aggravate our already dire problems.

Right now, the General Assembly’s majority leadership is paralyzed. While the Democrats hold the overwhelming majority of votes in both the House and the Senate, its individual members cannot reach agreement among themselves as to how to proceed. We Republican legislators have offered a variety of ideas over the years – especially since the beginning of the state’s economic downturn – to control costs, cut spending, and reinvent our government so that it is more efficient and affordable. We will continue to do so as we struggle to abolish the budget deficit, pass a responsible state budget and restore prosperity to Connecticut.

I continue to be cautiously optimistic that state lawmakers of both parties will ultimately join together to make the difficult, probably politically unpopular, decisions that must be made. To be sure, making difficult decisions will require legislators to be brave and willing to make at least some people angry. So be it.

But it bears keeping in mind that every day the General Assembly allows to pass without making those difficult decisions further hurts our state, and the people who elected us to look out for their best interests.

As always, I want to know what you think. I can be reached at my legislative office in Hartford at 1800-842-1421 or via e-mail to [email protected].

Senator Rob Kane represents the 32nd Senatorial District, which includes the communities of Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Middlebury, Oxford, Seymour, Southbury, Thomaston, Roxbury, Watertown and Woodbury. He can be contacted at his legislative office in Hartford at 1-800-842-1421, or via e-mail to [email protected]