GOP budget state’s best bet [Rep-Am Editorial]

April 28, 2016

Republican American Editorial weighs in on the Republican budget proposal

Connecticut’s Republican legislative caucuses have proposed a budget for fiscal year 2016-17, which begins July 1. GOP lawmakers say their goal is to ensure stable finances for years to come. “Simply closing the projected deficit for one year is not enough. If we want to resolve the problems facing our state, we have to think long-term and think about the policies that will shape our future,” said Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven.

The Republican budget proposal is the best one to emerge from the Capitol, and it should be adopted. With Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, having responded graciously, one can hope this budget has a chance.

Connecticut is in dire straits. The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates the 2016-17 deficit exceeds $930 million, and that the state faces 2017-18 and 2018-19 gaps totaling $4 billion. The situation threatens Connecticut’s economy. As Sen. Fasano put it, residents and businesses “live in constant fear of future painful cuts and growing tax burdens.”

Notably, the GOP budget would take on state labor costs, which account for approximately one-third of state spending.

The budget “assume(s) $281.1 million from personnel savings that the Malloy administration is anticipating from layoffs, retirements, normal attrition and elimination of standing vacancies,” the Republican-American reported. It would institute a three-year wage freeze; Gov. Malloy is negotiating wages with state-employee unions. The legislature would approve all labor contracts, which probably would add transparency to the process. As we noted in a June 1, 2015 editorial, a transparent process is unlikely to produce deals that give the state away to Big Public Labor.

Additionally, the budget calls for changes to state-employee retirement and health benefits, according to Hearst Connecticut Media Group and Associated Press reports. The state would have to renegotiate deals that prohibit these changes before 2022. The unions have resisted, but the Republican-American previously reported on public support for a renegotiation. Pressure from the Capitol and the public might compel them to come to the table.

Other worthy aspects of the GOP budget include an annual bonding cap of $1.2 billion, which is “about 60 percent of the level of financing issued last fiscal year and expected to be issued this year,” according to the Connecticut Mirror; 12 percent cuts to the budgets of many state agencies; and the elimination of public financing for campaigns.

The Republican proposal is not perfect. It would cut — but not cancel — an initiative to fund municipal aid via sales-tax revenues, which municipal leaders warned could lead to tax increases at the local level. It also would maintain the absurd practice of using borrowed money to make debt payments.

Nonetheless, the Republican plan is the best bet for Connecticut’s future.

Gov. Malloy and Speaker Sharkey thanked Republicans for their proposal, and said they are willing to work with the GOP. It’s a promise they should keep.