Sen. Kane: Connecticut’s Spending Problem is Not Under Control

May 14, 2014

(From the Waterbury Republican-American)

Forum panelists agree state has a ‘spending problem’

The state of Connecticut has “an acute spending problem,” according to area legislators discussing the state’s fiscal issues.

“All of our conversations in the legislature are about revenue — whether it be Sunday sales of alcohol, tolls, online gambling, keno, you name it,” Sen. Robert J. Kane, R- Watertown, said Tuesday during a panel discussion titled “Fiscal Sustainability: Critical to Connecticut’s Growth” held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. “We always have these revenue conversations, but never about spending.” Kane said that in response to Donald McPartland, the panel’s moderator and chairman of the Waterbury Regional Chamber’s Public Policy Committee, asking him to comment on those four words — “an acute spending problem” — voiced earlier in the program by James C. Smith, Webster Bank’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“Hopefully, forums like this … will spread the word that the spending problem is actually a large one,” said Kane, a ranking member of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. Other panelists were Sen. Joan V. Hartley, D-Waterbury; state Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes; Spencer Cain, president of Cain Associates and former chief budget analyst of the state’s Office of Fiscal Analysis; and Keith Phaneuf, state budget reporter for online news journal The Connecticut Mirror. Kane said the transfer of $65 million from the general fund of the state’s $19 billion budget for fiscal year 2015 to outside accounts to get below the spending cap contradicts Barnes’ earlier claim that state “spending is under control.”

Hartley said the state must identify its priorities on spending and then make commitments to supporting priorities that lead to job growth, namely spending on transportation infrastructure.

“Everything else is not a priority,” she said. “We cannot be all things to all people.” The event was the second in a series of “Fiscal Sustainability” forums with Barnes, Cain, Phaneuf and two local legislators held across the state to discuss dealing effectively with the state’s long-term obligations before the fall’s gubernatorial and legislative races. Earlier in the program, during his talk on the “Malloy Administration Approach to Issues,” Barnes said he thinks projections of $19 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2016 are a bit low. “I think it’s probably going to be higher than that,” he said. Nonetheless, Barnes said economists can forecast revenue all they want, but the focus should be on spending because that can be controlled. A 7.7 percent increase in spending for fiscal 2016, as forecasted by the state Office of Policy and Management, will probably not happen, Barnes said.

“My God! If we go out and drink whiskey all session long and don’t give a crap about what’s going to happen to spending, we will gross 7.7 percent and will be in a horrible deficit,” he said. The state’s current spending growth is about 2 percent from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal 2014, and year-to year spending increases during the Malloy administration have been about 2.6 percent, he said. “We’re going to control spending like we did in the past,” Barnes said. In response to a question on managing the state’s rainy day fund, Hartley said any state surplus — which now stands at $43 million — should be put into that fund. “I don’t believe we should be taking surplus … and putting them into appropriations, because then the question becomes for next year how are you going to fill that gap?” she said.