Senate GOP President: Don’t Underestimate This Moment

November 6, 2017

Op-ed as it appeared in the Hartford Courant


This week something happened in the state of Connecticut that is nothing short of historic.

A state with a Democrat-controlled legislature and a Democrat governor passed a truly bipartisan budget that establishes a foundation that strengthens our state not only today, but also in the future.

Let’s remember how we got here.

There is no budget by either party that could have both passed the General Assembly and not been vetoed by the governor. Although a Republican budget did pass with bipartisan support last month, we did not have the numbers to override the governor’s veto. Still, that brave bipartisan vote ignited a new way of thinking.

For the last several weeks, we legislative leaders — for the first time since I’ve been at the Capitol — put aside party labels, locked ourselves in a room and talked as leaders and friends about the direction of the state of Connecticut and how collectively we could orchestrate a budget that fulfilled our expectations for a new Connecticut.

With unique challenges come unique solutions. When you have leaders committed to a single goal break down their walls and speak openly in search of common ground — that is how you achieve good policy. That is how you create a sound budget.

The resulting budget is a compromise, absolutely. In negotiating, we were faced with tough decisions, and no leader got everything he or she wanted. Some Democrat tax proposals, totaling no more than 1 percent of expenditures, were included despite strong Republican opposition. But what Republicans did get in this budget are structural reforms to government that have eluded lawmakers — and even Republican governors — for decades. These are the policies that will heal our state over time.

There are many historic budget principles in this budget.

It finally defines the state’s constitutional spending cap, which was approved by voters over 25 years ago. That means the promises made to voters in 1992 will finally be enforceable. This is a strong constitutional cap. This is something not even Republican governors could achieve. Yet it is a promise that lawmakers were able to deliver on this week, together.

The budget also includes a bonding cap of $1.9 billion and significant municipal mandate relief.

We all believe that legislators have a fiscal responsibility to their constituents to vote on union contracts. Therefore, this budget requires a vote on state employee contracts so that lawmakers have a voice when it comes to one of the biggest parts of the state budget. We also established tools in this budget that will give future governors and legislatures the ability to review labor contracts, which although negotiated in a different fiscal atmosphere may not be sustainable today.

This plan also recognizes that we cannot build our budgets on spikes in revenue and therefore implements a volatility cap.

Under this budget, many residents will begin to experience a more affordable Connecticut. Many retirees will see their pension income tax and Social Security income tax disappear. Estate taxes will be reduced. Seniors will have a reason to stay in Connecticut and not flee to other states. Property taxes will be held down because this budget refuses to shift a devastating new burden onto towns and cities. A fair education funding formula will be implemented. Our state’s transportation funding will be bolstered and stabilized without the need for tolls.

Will this budget resolve all the issues our state is facing today? No, because no single budget could correct years of irresponsible fiscal policy. However, what this budget does is establish principles that will ensure the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. These are polices that will bear fruit long after current leaders leave the Capitol. They will keep government in check for the long term.

Let’s make no mistake. We will be back to deal with the budget again in the spring and will continue to fight for reforms needed to fix those problems that still remain. What’s important is that we have started not only a foundation for change, but also a bipartisan conversation among all leaders who wholeheartedly recognize that change is needed and that we are the legislature that can do it.

Len Fasano is Senate Republican president pro tempore.