For Towns – No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

January 24, 2017

When communities that give the most in taxes to the state also cut back to balance their own budgets, the Governor takes aim at any funds they have left!

Good news – Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen’s office earns a gold sheriff’s star for helping our state crawl out of the red inkwell. (Courant – States, Feds Settle with Moody’s; Connecticut to Receive $31.5 Million) AG Jepsen held companies accountable for misleading investors and won settlements for Connecticut. Congratulations!

Bad news – Connecticut cannot continue relying on Sheriff Jepsen to ride in on his trusty steed, Litigation, to save budgets in distress. There just aren’t enough handlebar moustache-twirling villains to keep paying the state’s bills.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. If we don’t take proper action, it definitely will be a train.

Instead of new revenue – tolls, recreational marijuana, tax increases – it’s time to take a hard look at spending. Legislators must review each budget item and decide – Is this the best way to spend state taxes?

Politicians and voters compare state budgets to their household budgets. If living expenses, not income, go up, you decide what is and isn’t necessary and rein in certain costs. Turn down the thermostat and wear more sweaters. Switch from the name brand to store brand. Maybe get rid of cable all together?

Government’s choices are different. It can’t exactly clip coupons. It must examine where it spends state resources and see if it’s getting its money’s worth. Do programs produce the expected results? Are better, more affordable options available?

We aren’t living in an old West melodrama. No hero is coming to save the day. Legislators must stop playing the damsel in distress and save Connecticut.

Voters elected us to take on this responsibility. Our constituents are tired of taxes and bloated government. The small businesses that make up 70 percent of our economy are struggling at best, closing at worst.

Municipalities and schools made difficult budget decisions and tightened their belts. They asked employees to contribute more for healthcare and pensions. They created health savings accounts.

Now it gets ugly.

Rather than follow towns’ example, our Governor wants to take town funding and give it to large cities that demonstrated poor fiscal management. He says town problems pale in comparison to the state. He ignores towns’ hard work to achieve financial stability and a blueprint the state and distressed cities could follow to resolve their own budget problems.

Right now, many towns in the 26th State Senatorial District receive only one or two cents for every dollar sent to the state. If that small amount of funding is going away, the onerous, unfunded mandates dictating where towns allocate dollars must go with it!

We cannot tie municipalities to the train tracks with unfunded mandates and take away all escape options, including any certainty about the funding they will receive from the state.

In a recent Hartford Courant letter to the editor, state Tax Commissioner Kevin Sullivan said a slow economic recovery in Connecticut created lower than expected revenue growth. While revenue collections grew each year following two historically high tax hikes, they were not enough to cover the growth in the state’s fixed costs.

Likewise, state unemployment is down to 4.4 percent, but Labor Department numbers show Connecticut lost 3,200 over the course of 2016. Additionally, Connecticut – called the “poster-child for out migration” by some – lost population for the third straight year reducing the labor force.

Unemployment is down, tax revenue is rising, but we continue the freefall of budget deficits, and employment and population decline. State uncertainty about budget allocations makes local budget planning from year to year nearly impossible.

Municipalities have shown we can change that light at the end of the tunnel from an oncoming train into a better, more financially sound future. Not through lawsuits, tolls, or tax increases. We must address our fixed costs, enact pension reform, and create sustainable, truly equitable funding for education and municipalities.

As we look to the horizon, it’s time for legislators to take responsibility and save the day. Our villain is the state budget deficit and runaway spending.

Let’s saddle up, Connecticut. There is work to do.

Sen. Boucher represents the 26th State Senatorial District, which includes the communities of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.