Capitol Connection: No More Coins Under the Sofa Cushions

December 9, 2014

The state budget is out of control. Overspending has sucked our operating funds dry and pushed state officials to desperate measures, shaking their piggy banks empty and flipping the proverbial sofa cushions on a hunt for spare change. Recent reporting from the governor’s own budget director indicates that our state has now entered into “permanent fiscal crisis,” and there’s nothing left to scrape up to pay our bills.

The situation is serious, but the first and most important step in getting our finances back on track is getting our state leaders to stop living in a fantasyland.

Just a few months ago, officials were denying that there was even an inkling of financial strain. But now, after the elections, officials reveal that we are actually in a crisis. How does that happen so quickly? The truth is it didn’t happen quickly, and anyone who says otherwise is living in an imaginary world. State budgetary problems have been ongoing for quite some time, but sadly, so has the illusion of financial stability.

Well before the election, we saw signs of problems with the budget. Republicans warned that although the governor’s budget appeared balanced, it excluded some major obligations and relied on revenue that was not guaranteed. We also warned that over $179 million was already being borrowed to help cover operating expenses, essentially using the state’s credit card to cover the cost of daily necessities. If the state were to eliminate all these budgeting tactics and unhealthy borrowing practices, estimates showed a deficit exceeding $600 million.

During the Election
In October, the governor’s administration reported the state budget was in balance. And for the first time in 9 years, the governor’s office also reported absolutely no deficiencies. But on November 1, just days before the election, nonpartisan analysts found $83.8 million in deficiencies in the state budget. The governor brushed this aside and still asserted that “on a net-basis we’re in great shape.” He stuck to his fairytale story, telling reporters: “We won’t end with a deficit…We’ll end the year with a surplus.” And even Comptroller Kevin Lembo took a trip to the land of make-believe, confirming a day before the election the governor’s reported $300,000 surplus.

Less than two weeks after the governor was reelected, fantasyland began to deteriorate. The governor’s budget secretary Ben Barnes was forced to share bad news: we are actually facing a deficit, not a surplus. Instead of ending the year $300,000 in the black, we are looking at almost $100 million in the red. Secretary Barnes explained, “We have entered into a period of permanent fiscal crisis in state and local government, it seems.”

Now that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are accepting the truth that Connecticut needs serious financial help, I hope we can work together to reshape the way our state government manages its budget. There may be no more coins under the sofa cushions, but there are ways to work with what we have. We just need to keep our minds open, without letting imaginations run too wild.