From the Crow's Nest / Ed Chrostowski
Legislators must face state budget realities
Published 1:04 am, Thursday, March 18, 2010
Connecticut's government programs and agencies have grown faster than the State's ability to support them, given the drop in revenues that comes with zero growth in population and jobs.
That's a fact to which a number of legislators and media pundits now fully subscribe as they have only recently acknowledged publicly. The reality seems to come to them finally as a sort of epiphany. What took this "revelation" so long to dawn on them?
Well, as it sits in regular session now in Hartford, the General Assembly must become aware that if current trends in spending and revenues continue, there is a strong likelihood that Connecticut could face an annual deficit of at least $3 billion for the next several years. That, of course, is not sustainable.
Now is the time for some political will and courage. If cutting back on programs and services is painful now, imagine what it would be some years hence when an empty treasury would demand much more severe reductions. Nor will the nickel and dime approach, while perhaps a little helpful, be adequate in conditions that demand bold, sweeping action.
Instead, we have Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposal to eliminate 75 school-based health centers, possibly saving a million dollars. Or how about the call by Tom Foley, Republican candidate for governor, to save money by dropping health care coverage on wigs for chemotherapy patients?
Add the Governor's scheme to add another gambling game (Keno) and a move to permit liquor sales on Sundays. Already on the books also is an expanded bottle bill, conceived to boost the State's take on unredeemed deposits paid by consumers and heretofore kept by distributors.
How did that work out for us? Well, revenues from the bottle bill so far have been less than half of what was anticipated. Clearly, the bill should be regarded more as an environmental measure than a revenue stream. Keno would do no better. It would compete with the State's other games for gambling dollars. Liquor sales should be permitted on Sundays, not because they would be a great financial bonanza for the State, which they wouldn't be, but, in all fairness, because other merchants who sell everything else from antiques to zucchini (not to mention booze at bars) can do business on "the day of rest."
So what then can be done? Connecticut doesn't need more taxes that tend to stifle business. It needs more taxpayers. To that end, appropriations for educational incentives and institutions ought to be retained at as high level as possible. Cutting them back now may seem like an economy in the short run, but can be a key long-term. A trained work-force always will be an attraction to business and industry.
Needed also is more hard-nosed negotiations with unions representing State employees. Instead, we have politicians counting the votes they can reap from unions. Some perks are too generous. There have been reported cases of State employees able to retire with a half-pay pension after only 10 years on the job. That's hard to match anywhere.
Most of all, probably, the legislature needs to enact a bill implementing the spending cap authorized by an amendment to the State Constitution, overwhelmingly approved by the voters almost two decades ago but never officially applied.
Instead, the State has been operating under a statutory cap that has more holes than a moth-eaten fedora and any number of legislators pushing favorite programs through every one of them.
The alibi constantly offered is that a constitutional cap is too rigid while statutory limitations permit the flexibility required to meet changing needs as they arise. Well, Connecticut is now at a crossroads where a dire need has arisen, an inescapable requirement for a bit of frugality. Judiciously exercised, the right kind of thriftiness can space us the excesses of extravagance while still preserving for Connecticut what is essential for the sustenance that will enable the state to grow and to thrive.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, 26th District Republican, recognizes the prudence in a constitutional spending limitation and has introduced a bill to implement it. Now what Connecticut needs is legislators who must be wise enough to see the need and who have sufficient self-restraint and enough self-confidence to realize that saying "no" once in a while won't cost them the support of voters in the next election.