Senator Frantz: “The Budget Has Just Been Kicked Down The Road.” [Greenwich Time]

June 5, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Greenwich Time on June 5, 2013

Greenwich Dems, Reps spar over state budget
By Tim Loh

One day after the state Legislature passed a hotly contested budget, some of Greenwich’s leading Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday engaged in a bit of shadow boxing.

The $37.6 billion, two-year spending plan shouldn’t directly benefit or harm Greenwich taxpayers. It won’t raise income taxes or alter state aid to municipalities or local school boards.

But state residents will soon pay 3 to 5 cents more per gallon of gasoline. Corporations will face two more years of income-tax surcharges. And lawmakers will push ahead with efforts to regionalize certain levers of power — for example, by phasing out local car taxes that are especially low in wealthy towns such as Greenwich.

What’s more, roughly $6.4 billion in expected federal aid to Connecticut will be placed into a separate account to stay below a constitutional cap on spending increases.

Local politicians see this as either as a savvy defense of the state’s social safety net and an example of fine fiscal planning, or as a misguided and shortsighted bout of political chicanery.

“The state only sees this town as a cash cow,” said First Selectman Peter Tesei, a Republican. “They have implemented laws that really are aimed at undermining the overall quality of life that people chose to live here for.”

Asked what he’d like to convey to Greenwich residents, Tesei said people who haven’t lately voted in local or state elections should get more involved.

“What is taking place in Connecticut is an effort to redistribute resources,” he said. “Unless you are actively participating and educating yourself, you’ll continue to be fleeced by our state government.”

Frank Farricker, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, fired back in disagreement.

“This budget saved enormous amounts of social safety net programs that Republicans would gladly cut in the name of `fiscal sanity,’ ” he said. “None of (the Republicans) offered even something remotely approaching a budget that was anything less than good for people who make a lot of money.”

Farricker, who also chairs the Connecticut Lottery, praised the measure to introduce the electronic lottery game keno to state restaurants and bars, hopefully netting some $30 million over the next two years.

“It’s perfectly reasonable to not be in favor of increased wagering in the state,” he acknowledged. “But you’ve got to admit that with New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all having keno as an integral part of their lottery system, the fact is that we were leaving that money on the table when we were needing it.”

He added: “Keno is not a gimmick. It’s sound business.”

However, Greenwich’s state senator and three House representatives are all Republicans.

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-36, suggested the spoils of “budgeting gimmicks,” “fund sweeps” and unnecessary borrowing will be felt over the long-term.

“The budget has just been kicked down the road,” he said. “Eventually, it’s going to be a real fiscal challenge to get us out of this pickle.”

State Rep. Stephen Walko, R-150, said Democrats are dissembling when they say they’re holding the line on taxes.

“Make no mistake about it,” he said, “the citizens of Greenwich and the state will be paying more in taxes.”

Walko added he’s opposed to phasing out local car taxes, as he would be to most any attempt to yield local control to a higher body.

“It would take a lot to make the leap to county government,” he said. “But that leap, however big, just got smaller.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Livvy Floren, R-149, served as a conciliator of sorts. Though she herself opposed the budget, she downplayed notions that it will bring about much change to Greenwich.

“The impact on Greenwich?” she said. “It will not be very big. It will be small to non-existent.”