Over the last decade every state has gone through some analytical process asking itself if there is a better way to deal with state revenues. There is no right way or best system that would be universally workable for everyone. But there are some good suggestions for things that work, as well as evidence of things that don’t work.
We have long known our state/local revenue structure is unbalanced, unfair, lopsided and adds to the constant need of smoke and mirrors to reflect something that resembles a balanced budget and over-stresses our towns in their efforts to pay their bills. The public asks for a fair fix and politicians campaign on it. Then they hold the hearings, initiate another study, convince people a study is as good as action and then ceremoniously ignore the findings. When all is said and done on the issue, way more is always said than done.
The 2003 Blue Ribbon Commission, the 2005 Program Review Tax System Study, OLR research reports and other titled inquisitions just served as pressure relief valves. The problem still exists, and we currently have the M.O.R.E. Commission and a DRS Tax Incidence study in play – and lots of talk about fixing the problem.
When will we end that cycle? How about now? Here’s a 10-step program to revenue system recovery:
1. Admit we have a problem – Commit to fix it…really – even with a phase-in with a hard opt out.
2. Work for the long term with less ad-hocracy and a more permanent, smart, deliberate approach.
3. Create an accountable, nonpartisan, transparent entity to get the work done.
4. Adopt guidelines and a core set of principles as a lens through which to evaluate progress.
5. Get real data, facts, analysis and people who understand them working in a setting where the knowledge wheel is not reinvented every year.
6. Spend the 2014 Legislative session building a knowledge and action foundation to work for change.
7. Use the 2014 political season to press candidates to really define their program to fix a “forever” problem – not just a call for another study. Then, educate, impress and inspire voters with good plans.
8. Get the best ideas into play for the long legislative session in 2015.
9. Hold some feet to the fire – that has not been done very well before
10. Make it happen –
Simple … for anyone but elected officials, I imagine.
* In 2010 the General Assembly considered creating a Revenue Accountability Commission to gather real information and suggestions. It was not enacted. So dust it off now, and get it going.
* Many of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s recommendations are still valid. Put them into play.
* The National Conference of State Legislatures published principles for effective revenue systems – many states used them for guidance. So should we.
*Add a real guiding set of principles for spending – transparency, efficiency, outcome measurement, making upstream investments.
All of this can happen. Many other states have actually done more than talk about it. It’s our turn. Maybe it’s not simple or easy… But for sure it is necessary.
Leo Canty is a Windsor resident.
STATE TAX STUDIES
NCSL REVENUE PRINCIPLES http://www.cga.ct.gov/2005/pridata/Studies/pdf/Tax_Forum_Snell_Principles_Handout.PDF
REVENUE ACCOUNTABILITY COMMISSION