Gov.- elect Ned Lamont and the incoming state legislature will face a bleak financial landscape as they work together to craft Connecticut’s budget for the next two fiscal years. Put bluntly, there are two ways to deal with our state’s severe fiscal shortfall: start making structural changes now to the way the state collects and spends money or use the “Rainy Day Fund” to kick the can down the road. We hope they will choose the more difficult path and tackle the systemic issues that have caused and exacerbate the problems we face.
To his credit, Lamont appears to lean toward the former; he wants to use his mandate to try to ensure a better and more stable future for Connecticut. As for legislative leadership, well, based on what we’ve heard so far, it’s hard to tell.
After creating the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth in the course of adopting a budget in the fall of 2017, the legislature chose not to act on most of its recommendations for returning our state to financial health. Instead, they referred much of the commission’s report to staff for further study. That was a logical move for legislators in the months leading up to an election. The commission made it clear that it felt the needed actions had to be taken together, not one-by-one, in order to be effective … and a number of those actions promised to be unpopular.
Commission members continued their efforts — as private citizens since the Commission was officially disbanded when its report was complete – and have issued Report 2.0, which refines and sharpens their original recommendations. We strongly encourage legislators to use this report as their starting point for budget deliberations.
We would add a further suggestion to the commission’s recommendations: why not outsource some current state activities to towns and regions?
Municipal clerks, for example, are well practiced in handling a variety of licensing. Why not let these offices take over a range of basic services — handling motor vehicle license renewals or vehicle registrations, for instance – now performed by the state? If a small town didn’t have the wherewithal to handle the task, it could combine efforts with neighboring communities. This would provide more convenient service to residents by reducing travel and waiting times. While this wouldn’t relieve all state funding of these functions – towns would have to be at least held financially harmless – it would allow the state to reduce its workforce over time through attrition, not layoffs, and thus costs. This franchise model would allow other services provided by both towns and the state to be integrated for even more savings, efficiency and better customer service.
Likewise regional organizations can step in where the state lacks resources to fund projects that will benefit residents. As the commission has recommended, granting regions the ability to pursue projects and – with specific voter approval – fund them by direct regional taxation would ease the burden on the state while accomplishing something the region’s residents want.
Tough choices are especially hard to make when an election’s around the corner. As we enter 2019, though, our state elected officials will never be farther from the next time they have to go in front of voters. When they do, will they want to have taken the easy way out, papering over the problem for the next legislature to face or will they want to be able to say they’ve taken concrete steps to fix Connecticut’s finances? We hope they will proudly opt for the latter.
Stewart “Chip” Beckett III is minority leader of the Glastonbury Town Council, Jon Colman is a former member of the Bloomfield Town Council, and Dave Kilbon is East Granby’s former first selectman and currently chairs the town’s Board of Finance.