State Sen. Toni Boucher: Connecticut’s economy at risk [Danbury News-Times]

April 26, 2013

Editorial as it appeared in the Danbury News-Times

Louis D. Brandeis’ said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”

As the state legislature debates a new two-year budget, former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker teamed up with Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis (CCEA) to present a comprehensive analysis of the key economic challenges facing our state.

Their publication is titled Connecticut at Risk: Will the State Navigate to Prosperity?

The report starts on a positive note describing the state’s impressive history and future potential, citing Connecticut’s prominence in maritime and defense industries, its highly educated workforce, its excellent higher education institutions, the natural beauty of its shoreline and Mystic Seaport.

Connecticut also has low poverty and crime rates, a high level of health care coverage and rich cultural and recreational assets. In the past, Connecticut has always exceeded the rest of the nation in all major economic indicators.

However, the bulk of the report details the negative environment the state has created for job growth and population retention.

Connecticut has the worst job record of all states since 1990, -0.3 percent, and has lost nearly 5 percent of its employment base since 2008 while the cost of state government grew by nearly 300 percent.

The report states, “Shockingly, fewer people are employed in the state today than in 1990 even though the state’s population increased during the same period.” It further states, “Prior to the recession, Connecticut’s growth in real GDP per capita was average in comparison to other states, but more recently it has fallen below average.”

This change stems in part from an overreliance not only on the financial services industry, but also on federal funding. The state has also seen a fall in its income growth and ranks second slowest in personal income growth in the country.

All of these trends point to a calcification of Connecticut’s economy that will leave it unequipped to succeed in increasingly competitive world.

As the report states, “globalization and technological innovation have made the world an increasingly flexible, mobile, and interconnected place. Businesses and people are not as restricted as they once were. Many jobs and industries allow employees to work from almost anywhere in the world, which is why it is increasingly important for a state to maintain a strong competitive posture.”

Competitive posture goes hand in hand with the state’s financial condition, which this publication defines as the attractiveness of a state as a place to live and do business.

The report states that “Connecticut also fails on this metric and is losing population, talent and wealth as a result. Income migration problems have already begun to emerge.”

In addition to wealthy individuals who have the means to leave, the loss of Connecticut’s young workforce, ages 18-34, is among the highest in the country.

The report found that “Connecticut’s major investments in higher education succeeded in retaining a far higher proportion of its best academic performers — only to see the majority leave the state within a few years of graduation because of the absence of job opportunities.”

Connecticut by the numbers

The tax burden, outstanding debt, unfunded pension and retirement health care costs are $50,900 per taxpayer, the highest in the country.

Connecticut is ranked 47th in the country for doing business, 48th in the cost of living, and spending is the third highest of any state as a percentage of GDP.

Connecticut also has the second highest energy costs and the second slowest growth in personal income in the nation.
The report concludes that “the state will be unable to reach its full potential over the long term if it fails to address adequately its underlying financial and competitiveness challenges.”

It recommends a dramatic change in policy, including GAAP accounting for transparency in the budget process, and reigning in rising debt and interest expenses.

We must stop underfunding pension and health plans by restructuring them.

We must diversify industry into technology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, energy, digital and information technologies, improve infrastructure, roads and power grids, simplify and streamline the tax code, reduce burdensome regulations, strengthen the education/workforce pipeline, use demographic and performance data to inform policy decisions, and adopt clear outcome based performance metrics.

Connecticut’s government can no longer afford to operate in anything but an economically efficient manner.
State Sen. Toni Boucher is a Republican from Wilton whose 26th District includes Bethel, Redding and Ridgefield.

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