What are we doing in Hartford?
That’s a question I’ve heard a lot from constituents over the last couple of months—constituents concerned about the state’s financial troubles and how it affects their lives.
And, yes, the budget debate at the Capitol does affect you.
If you’re just tuning in, here’s a recap on what’s transpired so far: It was more than a year ago that my colleagues and I expressed worry about the gloomy direction of Connecticut’s finances. We said it was time we drew the purse strings. Unfortunately, this was not a message that a majority of legislators agreed with.
Sure enough, the national and state economies hit the skids. The situation grew far worse than we, or anyone for that matter, could have predicted. We were left to face a two-year budget deficit of nearly $9 billion. It gets worse: Your legislature hasn’t fixed it.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell came up a budget plan to close the gap—a plan that wouldn’t increase our taxes. She made tough decisions in building it, and while I don’t agree with all of her choices, I applaud her intention. The legislature’s majority party issued its budget, a plan that would increase taxes by mind-boggling proportions in a time when residents and businesses simply can’t afford it.
My colleagues and I issued our “no tax increase budget,” a plan that, like the governor’s, required hard decisions. But we considered the state’s struggles an opportunity to reinvent government, to whittle the bloat that had our state budget more than double since the early 1990s. We kept state and municipal aid to cities and towns the same as last year—an important point to remember, as selectmen and mayors who visited the Capitol repeatedly told us they could stomach flat funding while trying to get through this crisis.
Are any of the plans perfect? No, but ours comes closest to what you’ve asked for—a new approach to how government spends your money. Calls and emails from my constituents overwhelming favor a smaller government that’s more accountable.
So what happened? We ended the legislative session without adopting a budget. That’s right—our legislature, which spent months on issues such as frog dissection and blower ball machines, couldn’t meet its most important obligation.
State lawmakers are now in special session to deal only with “budget-related issues,” as the majority’s leadership said, but there’s no guarantee that bills calling for even more spending—you read it correctly—won’t come up for debate.
The majority has pledged to pass a budget by June 30, but that’s months too late. Local leaders, trying to build their budgets, told us repeatedly that they needed to know how much state aid they would receive. Without a state budget in place, they’ve been forced to estimate. If the municipalities don’t get as much as they planned on, property tax increases at the local level to cover the gap are a distinct possibility.
So, yes, the state budget does affect you.
IN THE DISTRICT
I’d like to take a moment to congratulate two teenagers on achieving the rank of Eagle Scout. I recently participated in two Court of Honor ceremonies, one for Matthew Purnell, Troop 50, Stafford Springs, and Chad Zawistowski, Troop 387, Somers. Also,
Congratulations to the Class of 2009!