Under pressure to end a long running stalemate over the Connecticut state budget last year, lawmakers made a number of decisions that continued the destructive trend of unraveling the human services safety net. The continuation of recent years’ cuts to state subsidy funding for School Based Health Centers (SBHC) is among the most destructive of these reductions. With the new legislative session underway, we are hopeful lawmakers will find a way to halt this trend and reject the governor’s current proposal to reduce the budget further, by 5.84 percent, on top of the 2.14 percent cut to the SBHCs in last October’s approved budget.
MARC Community Resources, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization providing residential and day services to individuals with intellectual, physical, and developmental disabilities throughout Middlesex County, recently received notification of denied tax exemption on several group homes, as well as two-day programs owned and operated in Cromwell. This tax forces community nonprofits like MARC, burdened by years of state budget cuts, to choose between costly litigation and paying taxes on property that is exempt by state law. Either of these options takes critical funding away from essential services for MARC’s program participants.
The proposal for substantive change presented by the Connecticut Board of Regents to the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and College, (NEASC) called “Students First” offers many promises but little evidence and even less that is new except more budget cuts that diminish local campuses and the services they provide to their students and communities.
Last week the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth released a much-anticipated report that provides a business perspective on the causes and suggested responses necessary to cure our state’s economic woes. Overall, we support the report’s clear call for state investment to spur economic growth with a focus on education, workforce development, transportation, regional development, and core city revitalization. However, we fear the compressed time frame within which the Commission worked resulted in inconsistent — and in some cases unsound — recommendations, many of which are grounded in four fundamental errors. First, the vision and goals articulated at the outset of the report upon which the Commission bases its recommendations for “short-term, medium-term and long-term actions that will enable improved competitiveness and higher growth” omit any mention of the toxic impact of existing racial disparities and income and wealth inequity in the state.
It would be easy to miss a major victory in the cause of improving mental health services and awareness for Connecticut residents on the CT form 1040 this year. At the end of the form, there is a list of causes to which taxpayers can donate all or a portion of their state tax refund. It’s a who’s who of well-known causes: wildlife, breast cancer, military families, AIDS research, college funds, safety net services, organ transplants … and now mental health and substance use.
Many members of the General Assembly have promised to address the state’s declining population through public policies that both keep people here and attract newcomers, but we have yet to see much in the way of concrete solutions that aren’t going to cost the state money we don’t have. But one solution that has the potential to improve the state’s economy, draw in and keep talent, all at little to no cost to the state government, is paid family and medical leave.
Illness is often unpredictable. When a person without insurance seeks care for a broken bone or the flu, they receive treatment regardless of their ability to pay. That is because we live in a compassionate society — but the treatment is not free. Taxpayers end up shouldering the burden through higher state taxes or increased provider costs. Economists call this phenomenon “free riding.” Many people are willing to risk going without health insurance knowing that they can get care (and others will pay) if there is a true emergency. … Connecticut can improve healthcare access while controlling the premiums insurance holders pay. I propose that all residents of the state take responsibility for their healthcare costs by either buying insurance or contributing a fraction of their income to healthcare savings accounts.
In this 4-minute video, Tom Fiorentio, president of the Arc of Connecticut board of directors, talks about state employee overtime and other issues related to the state’s funding for care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Recently I wrote about the difficulty, even impossibility, of funding Connecticut’s ever-growing pension liability. The article elicited a number of comments, and all agreed that something must be done. Here are my own recommendations for reform. First, a relatively small but significant first step in reforming the system would be to freeze pension benefits for all existing state employees not covered by union contractual obligations. These employees would include non-union members and employees of the state’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It would also include all administrators in the University of Connecticut system.
The majority of workers in Hartford and other Connecticut cities are paid less than $15 per hour. That information is found in a 2016 report of the Boston Federal Reserve. An even larger percentage of women and persons of color in those cities earn less than $15. Surprisingly, more than 30 percent of all Connecticut workers earn less than $15. Who are low-wage workers? They are home health and nurse aides, substitute teachers and classroom assistants, fast food and other food service workers, ticket takers, ushers, dishwashers, janitors, cleaners and housekeepers, Bradley airport baggage handlers, cashiers, retail clerks, child-care workers, hotel desk clerks, and dozens more.
As Connecticut struggles to embrace policies and programs that promote innovation and entrepreneurial exploration, neighboring states appear far more focused on long-term strategies for establishing a viable pipeline of workers able to meet marketplace demands. Connecticut should take note: Our state is failing its residents by not adequately focusing on early education needs, by not ensuring a well-lighted path to higher-education opportunities and by not doing everything in its power to make sure a college education is accessible and affordable.
If there’s a quote I’m tired of hearing, it’s the one groundlessly attributed to Einstein, which defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Of course there’s a reason the saying is so common, at least in Connecticut: a lot of crazy repetition goes on at our state capitol. Take the fiscal policy of the Democratic party since they’ve had total control of state government.