Three years ago this month, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes stated Connecticut had “entered into a period of permanent fiscal crisis.”
That fiscal crisis, which was decades in the making, looms to this day, and continues to present state and local policymakers with difficult decisions.
Between shrinking revenues from taxes, the continued growth of fixed costs (including long-term pension and debt obligations), and declining bond ratings, Connecticut faces a multitude of fiscal challenges that could pose problems to the state’s financial and economic health for decades if not addressed.
However, to properly address these challenges we must first understand them and know what problems our state must solve. This starts with understanding the data.
Unfortunately, Connecticut state finance data, historically, has been scattered across agencies and departments, and has frequently been inaccessible or unapproachable for general public use. As Connecticut’s fiscal challenges grow, and the urgency to address them rises, so too does the public’s need and desire for accessible and transparent data and information.
Our organization has witnessed this growing need and desire firsthand. As we’ve traveled across the state over the past two and a half years, speaking about school finance and meeting with thousands of Connecticut residents, we have increasingly heard more and more calls for greater, more accessible, and more approachable information about Connecticut’s financial state and fiscal challenges.
These calls are what led us to develop, and officially launch this week, a new, interactive website (www.ctstatefinance.org) devoted to providing an in-depth, yet easy-to-understand, look into many of the fiscal challenges that Connecticut faces.
Designed to serve as a nonpartisan, comprehensive resource for transparent, accessible, and approachable information about the State’s budget and finances, CTStateFinance.org presents — for the first time — state financial data and information concerning revenue, spending, and long-term obligations in one place, and in a way that helps make these often complex and detailed issues not as intimidating.
Whether you’re a state or local policymaker, community leader, or simply a Connecticut citizen, understanding how Connecticut’s fiscal challenges have evolved and how they are impacting our state is vital to improving Connecticut’s fiscal and economic health because despite a new bipartisan budget — that includes significant union concessions as well as caps on state spending and bonding — Connecticut’s fiscal challenges are far from being addressed or solved.
One need to look no further for proof of these ongoing challenges than the estimated $203 million deficit the new budget is running for this fiscal year alone. Or the fact that the State’s fixed costs have risen $3.6 billion (to $8.6 billion total) since fiscal year 2000 and now make up over 47 percent of the State’s General Fund expenditures. Or that Connecticut’s debt service payments have increased more than 112 percent since 2000.
Connecticut’s fiscal challenges are real and have deep and complex roots that are, as witnessed by the recent budget stalemate, not easy to address. These challenges will not be solved in one budget cycle or with one magic answer. But our state can overcome these obstacles, and Connecticut’s financial and economic health can improve. However, for this to occur we must first take the time to understand the challenges before us.
Once we understand the obstacles our state must clear to improve its fiscal health, then we can make truly meaningful steps toward addressing the issues — built up over generations — that are plaguing Connecticut’s finances.
Then, and only then, will Connecticut’s “period of permanent fiscal crisis” meet its end.
Katie Roy is the director and founder of the Connecticut School Finance Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to identify solutions to Connecticut’s school funding challenges that are fair to students, taxpayers, and communities.