I have often described the political process in Hartford as one where the governor proposes a budget or a new law. But the state legislature -- both the House and the Senate -- moves it forward or not. It can also propose a budget of its own, in other wards it is the decision maker. The Appropriations Committee makes the spending decisions while the Finance Committee sets tax rates. In a real sense they are the arbiters of Connecticut's policies and determine the direction and the health of the state.
The governor and the majority democrats control power at all level of state government, including these two committees, and using their super-majority position they rammed through a two-year budget this year that was short on spending reduction and long on increases in taxes. This was in fact the largest retroactive tax increase in the state's history. The Democrats passed the budget despite the fact that the Republicans offered one of the most detailed, balanced budgets they have ever proposed. The Republicans offered it in a gesture of compromise and it contained no tax increases, but it was rejected out of hand.
The offer was rejected by the governor who stated that he would follow his own path. This path has led to rolling deficits, higher unemployment in the state and has necessitated more borrowing because anticipated new revenues and promised union concessions did not materialize.
Now that the state's back is up against the wall, the administration invited us to meet and welcomed our help. Many observers advised that since we did not create this mess, we should let the majority party suffer the consequences of their tax-and-spend decisions.
Despite the urge by some to follow this advice, I believe that it is our job to work together, to bring forward an equitable solution and prevent irresponsible, imprudent fiscal policies to continue hurting Connecticut.
The governor recently proclaimed that the state must live within its means.
Yet it has not done so during the worst recession in memory. There was a spending spree on wages, benefits and new entitlements such as the earned income tax credit which provides an average of $500 to those not paying state incomes taxes. This new program, which costs more than $110 million a year, is an example of the increase in state spending the state can't afford.
Now that reality has set in, the concept of "living within one's means" has been rediscovered. As the state balances this year's budget deficit through a more open and conciliatory process, a new two-year budget looms large and will call for even more difficult decisions. Prudence should be the guiding principle as massive deficits are predicted and reaching across the aisle will be more necessary than ever.
As a deep sadness envelopes our state over the loss of innocent young lives and heroic educators, we can't help but be moved to help strive for a greater good.
We look to the New Year with sincere hope that a new standard of conduct has been set where working together, compromise and trust across the aisle is the order of the day.
Only then can Connecticut bring itself back from its own fiscal cliff and start to repair the financial damage it has suffered.