Column: Indefensible state budget [Record-Journal]

June 8, 2015

Record Journal

By narrow margins in the House and Senate, legislative leaders eked out a state budget last week that isn’t just unfriendly to business and bad for private-sector job growth, it’s outright hostile. But while the results could easily prove disastrous for the state economy, Democrats who supported the plan claim it was the best option for staving off harmful cuts in social services and investing in transportation. I suspect most state residents, however, will see the flawed budget for what it is – an act of desperation born out of a dangerous inability to make tough decisions.

By approving another $1.5 billion in tax increases – including a $700 million hike in business taxes – lawmakers knowingly risk driving out some of Connecticut’s largest corporations and thousands of high-paying jobs. Attempts by Democratic leaders to defend an indefensible tax plan didn’t exactly help matters.

Responding to General Electric’s legitimate concerns about having the budget balanced on the back of business without the structural changes needed to prevent future revenue shortfalls, House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz accused the company of whining.

“We go after GE for one moment and it’s ‘Oh, they’re going to leave the state of Connecticut,’ ” he was quoted as saying.

Though citing no evidence to support the claim, the Senate’s top Democrat Martin Looney said the Fairfield-based corporation was using the tax increases as an excuse for layoffs it was already planning. Did legislative leaders not think a $700 million tax increase would prompt an outcry from the business community? Are similar public statements from Aetna and the Travelers also just a ruse?

According to an Aetna spokeswoman, the company pays $65 million a year in state taxes – an amount that will increase by 27 percent annually once the budget is fully implemented. “Elected leaders have failed to address the state’s budget obligation responsibly. But it’s Connecticut’s businesses and residents that will pay the price,” the Aetna statement read, also criticizing the tripling of the computer and data processing tax.
I’m not suggesting the state should let corporations get away without paying their fair share, or that slashing social services and letting our roads and bridges fall apart is a good idea. Democratic leaders are correct, the budget does need to fund services. But the legislature opted for another massive tax increase without seeking a single concession from public employee unions, which have benefited from far better compensation and job security during the economic downtown than their private-sector counterparts. The budget approved last week does nothing to reduce the size of state government or prevent future deficits. On the contrary, it actually increases the number of state employees.

And while most legislation is subject to a bipartisan committee process, Democrats negotiated the budget without allowing Republicans a seat at the table, a point made in frustration by Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano during last week’s debate.

“We knock; not allowed in,” Fasano said. “So we end up with a lopsided, one-sided document for which many people in the state of Connecticut – press, and otherwise – point, and say, what are you doing? I can’t answer that question.”

That’s no way to get things done.