There is a shortage of good ideas at the Capitol this summer as lawmakers try to put together a budget for Connecticut, but there is no shortage of bad ideas. One of those bad ideas is a plan to allow cities and towns to levy a new tax on restaurant meals as a means to increase tax revenues to municipalities. There is no rhyme or reason to this concept, it is just another random scheme to help lawmakers pay for the promises they have made in the past to get themselves elected.
As Connecticut senators vote on a labor “concessions” deal, the irony is that even greater savings can be achieved without any deal at all. Gov. Dannel Malloy claims to have extracted $715 million in wage savings over two years through a “wage freeze.” Yet, without any deal, he could achieve $770 million in wage savings. The simple truth is that wages can only be raised by contract. No contract, no raises.
I woke up recently to the headline that the governor of Nevada had signed into law the Nevada Promise Scholarship which would provide tuition-free community college to eligible students. Thus Nevada joins Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee in providing increased access to higher education for low income students through a robust community college system. Connecticut has taken the opposite route. Instead of looking at ways to increase access, the solution that is being proposed is dismantling the community college system by centralizing and creating a hierarchy with one president overseeing 12 colleges.
Summer jobs for teenagers have been canceled, state college and university charges keep rising, and every area of public life is affected by the state’s budget crisis — all in the second wealthiest state in the country, with the second highest level of inequality. Connecticut’s budget shortfall is projected at about $2 billion per year. Yet, the wealthiest residents face a lower effective tax rate than the rest of us, and hundreds of millions are lost every year through corporate loopholes, special exemptions, legal tax avoidance, and outright tax evasion. If the wealthiest households paid at the same rate as the rest of us, more than $2 billion per year would be raised, erasing the deficit!
Let me start by stating the obvious: Our state’s budget process is broken. We live in a time of perpetual fiscal stress, and have been unable to deal with structural issues that face the state. Our existing budget framework is just not up to the job. We need to scrap our balkanized budget process and adopt a new approach that sets top policy goals and funds them within available revenues.
In a June 19, 2017 press release, Sens. Len Fasano and Kevin Kelly decried the partisan nature of Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy’s recent hearings on health care. Fasano and Kelly called for a bipartisan forum that includes insurance and healthcare professionals. Appropriate as that would be, the press release itself was a highly partisan statement that undercut the call for bipartisanship.
Let’s start with the harsh reality: beginning the new fiscal year without a state budget will result in human services agencies across Connecticut cutting services and closing doors. Yet since January, leaders of community nonprofits have offered a way to save $300 million over the biennium while re-investing that savings to people in need, by shifting more services from more expensive state government agencies into the nonprofit sector.
As the Malloy administration and state legislators negotiate a new FY18-FY19 biennial budget, many residents will directly be affected by the cuts made to public programs they depend on. There is, however, one decision that can still be made that would not increase the deficit, and be greatly appreciated by Connecticut residents—enactment of the bipartisan Passport to Parks.
ByRoy Berger, Eliot Brenner, Alice Forrester and Michael Patota |
Any family enduring a budget crisis is faced with a difficult task — prioritizing where to cut back on expenses. They must decide which expenses are unnecessary, which can safely be postponed, and finally, which are absolutely essential. Ultimately, the new sofa will be cancelled and replacing the tires on the family car will be delayed. These sacrifices will be made for one reason: to ensure money is available to pay for what is essential, such as food, rent, or life-saving medications for their children. The governor and state legislature of Connecticut currently face a similar task.
As we try to address our state budget crisis, one option proposed by the Senate Republicans should be off the table: sweeping $136 million over the next two fiscal years from the utility ratepayer-funded Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund to the state’s General Fund.