Setting Priorities

February 25, 2013

I believe the three most important items coming before the General Assembly in the upcoming session are: 1) the budget, 2) the economy, and 3) the Newtown tragedy. 

The budget, as proposed by the Governor, is much too high, not transparent, includes too much borrowing, has false revenue estimates incorporated within, has tax increases, it raids fund balances, and contains devastating cuts to Connecticut hospitals.  The budget proposes a 9% increase in spending over the next two years.  That is absolutely incredible when you consider the terrible condition of the economy here in our state. Even many prominent Democrats have spoken out publically against the Governor’s budget.  That is indeed unusual.  It is an exercise in what I call “fuzzy math.”

The second item, of course, is the economy.  I have seen periods of time that were as bad as this, but not for as long as this.  This has stretched over 5-6 years or more which I believe is unprecedented.  People are unemployed or under-employed.  There are no jobs for young people.  Even their parents are struggling with job loss, job uncertainty, fewer hours and higher taxes.  Everyone in Connecticut is being squeezed. 

As someone who has been in business in Connecticut all of my adult life, I can honestly say that the business environment has never been so poor.  Companies are overtaxed and over regulated.  It sounds like an old cry coming from us but it happens to be the truth.  The relationship between government and business in Connecticut seems to be almost adversarial.  This is especially true among certain regulatory agencies such as DEEP and the Department of Public Health. 

Connecticut tries to counter this anti-business environment by picking winners and losers in business.  By this I’m talking about the huge infusion of taxpayer money to certain selected business such as Cigna, Jackson Labs, Starwood Corporation, Pfizer (about 10 years back), and so many more.  As you know, some of these corporate gifts were instituted under Republican governors but it has become even more prevalent under our current Governor.  There were some of us who voted against these even when the governors of our own party were controlling the Executive Branch.  There are also some big ticket items instituted by previous governors that have failed, such as Adriaen’s Landing, The Meadows, the baseball parks in Bridgeport and Norwich, and many, many others.  This type of spending continues with the busway from New Britain to Hartford and the relocation of the UCONN campus from West Hartford to Hartford.  The Governor has also proposed $1.5 billion in new spending at the University of Connecticut.  As you may know, I am a strong booster of the University of Connecticut but that type of expenditure at this time is very difficult to justify. 

Number three is the Newtown tragedy.  As you may know, I am a member of the taskforce studying this situation.  We were divided into three workings groups: (1) gun violence, (2) school safety, and (3) mental health.  I believe for the short run, the best way to protect our school children is to improve school security.  That will be effective immediately.  About one-third of American schools already have armed protection and it would seem as though we should be investigating it for the other two-thirds as well.  However, I believe that decision should be left to the local school boards.

In the long-term, what would improve the situation is better mental health services.  In recent years, we have made serious cuts in mental health services and we do little to identify potential problem individuals in our society.  I am specifically a member of the working group on guns and I would propose several initiatives.  For one a mandatory sentence of five years or more for anyone who perpetrates “straw purchases.” I would eliminate any plea bargains for gun charges.  Prosecutors routinely plea bargain away gun charges when they are prosecuting criminals. 

I would also eliminate the early release program which was started recently.  It has already been a disaster and allowed some of the most violent felons back onto our Connecticut streets before their normal release date.  It has resulted in at least two murders that I am aware of.  If we cannot entirely eliminate the early release program, we should at least make certain that it is not available to any inmate who is incarcerated due to gun violence. 

And lastly, I would reinstitute the Gun Trafficking Taskforce and I have proposed a bill to that effect.  This taskforce is a coordinated effort between the local, state and federal authorities and involves the state police, local police, the Coast Guard, other federal assets and it worked extremely well.  It was virtually shut down due to funding cuts a few years ago.  If brought back it would help get illegal guns off the streets in our state.

Being a good leader is about setting priorities and following through on them.
It’s how I ran a successful business for 40 years and it is how our leaders in Hartford should govern.