Capitol Connection: A Small Step in the Right Direction

March 31, 2016

From of the Office of State Senator Kevin Witkos

Budgeting is full of tough choices. And sadly, given Connecticut’s current state of financial crisis, it’s getting tougher.

Connecticut is a great state facing difficult times. But this past week came a vote that marked a small step in the right direction, moving our state towards recovery and prosperity. Republicans and Democrats came together to pass legislation that mitigates the state’s current $220 million budget deficit. We collaborated on targeted budget cuts, all while restoring funding for hospitals and core social services and eliminating cuts to town aid.

No one wants to see vital services or programs cut. But when we face massive state deficits and declining revenues as taxpayers leave our state, we have to cut from somewhere. It’s a delicate balance. We must trim bureaucracy and the size of government, but we also need to preserve the core functions of government including public safety, health care, infrastructure and essential social services.

This week we began to do just that. Our state was facing deep and painful budget cuts that would have without a doubt impacted services for some of the most vulnerable including those with developmental disabilities, mental health needs and those cared for at state hospitals. Republicans opposed these drastic cuts and proposed an alternative budget plan with targeted cuts to line items throughout the budget. Democrats then joined us with their own proposals.

With all our ideas on the table, Republicans and Democrats worked to come up with a bipartisan plan to cut in ways that least impacted services. Certainly there were some cuts that were less than ideal, but when it comes to budgeting we have to prioritize.

I applaud the efforts of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to take on this task together, but I also see this as only a baby step because of what lies ahead. Connecticut is facing a deficit of almost $1 billion in fiscal year 2017. To fix the problems on the horizon we need more than cuts. We need long-term structural changes to put our state on a new trajectory.

Structural changes must include capping state bonding to reduce future debt, implementing an enforceable state spending cap, cutting back on overtime expenses, and making modest changes to state employee health benefits and pension contributions to avoid significant, painful layoffs that will place more strain on Connecticut’s job market and unemployment benefits. State employees did not cause these deficits in and of themselves, but they must be part of the solution.

We also cannot increase taxes. That strategy has not worked over the past six years. The two largest tax hikes in state history have driven taxpayers out of our state, leading to declining tax revenues and requiring those who live here to pay more.

Fixing the current budget shortfall was a success. But I also urge caution. The future is full of more tough decisions. Democrats need to join Republicans in pursuing structural changes, or we will find ourselves in this same position over and over again.

I hope what we accomplished this week will be a prelude to long-term solutions for our future.