Recent actions by the Connecticut General Assembly to rescue the public financing of political campaigns shows that lawmakers can act fairly quickly when a shared cause, and their own interests, are at the center of the debate. Because so many candidates for the legislature are relying on public financing for their campaigns (rather than having to raise significant sums themselves), they considered it of paramount importance to keep the public program intact, despite several judicial setbacks.
A federal appeals court struck down certain parts of Connecticut campaign finance law, including a component that awarded additional public funds if a candidate’s opponent opted out of the system and spent large sums on his or her campaign. The legislature passed a bill, later vetoed by Gov. Rell, to increase the grants given to gubernatorial candidates. Democrats in the House and Senate, with one exception, voted to override the Governor’s veto. All Republicans opposed the override.
There are, however, more pressing issues facing the citizens of the state of Connecticut than campaign dollars. One issue is the enormous budget deficit that the legislature will have to confront after this November’s election. Projections continue to show state-budget shortfalls of nearly $4 billion in each of the next two fiscal years. Connecticut also has amassed an unimaginable $60 billion in unfunded liabilities for state employee health and retirement benefits, and other costs.
These numbers are not only alarming financially; they are chilling to economic growth and job creation. Employers, investors and entrepreneurs are wary of investing in a state that continues to borrow rather than deal with the messy work of controlling spending and balancing a budget. The threat of significantly higher taxes to close the budget gap and pay off our borrowing debts makes any reasonable rate of return on investments problematic.
This fall, when candidates for governor and for the legislature talk about the need to create jobs in Connecticut (and it’s a familiar campaign theme) ask them how they would close the budget deficit without driving investment and jobs out of the state. Some may let their guard down and say what they actually believe–perhaps, for example, that Connecticut has a revenue problem and that we have to raise taxes on those two old reliable tax targets, the wealthy and large corporations. If so, voters should challenge the candidates to explain how additional tax increases would encourage people to invest and create jobs here.
Also ask candidates if they would support proposals to make Connecticut’s government smaller and more affordable while actually improving services. It can be done, despite what some may say. A Connecticut think tank, the Regional Institute for the 21st Century, has been studying ways state government can save significant dollars and improve the quality of services offered by the state.
All voters in Connecticut should get candidates to pledge that they will make the tough decisions needed to get our state back on track. This election is too important, and we can’t waste the opportunity to change direction.
Joe Brennan is senior vice president of public policyforthe Connecticut Business and Industry Association, on line at cbia.com.