On July 1st, Connecticut’s fiscal year started without legislative agreement on a budget. This inaction occurred despite the fact that our state continues to face deeply complex and challenging fiscal hurdles to close a $5 billion biennial deficit. The majority party in Hartford that brought us to this fiscal brink has failed to find a consensus even within its own caucus.
While a great deal of bipartisan work occurs in Hartford every year, the two parties have yet to find middle ground on how to create a responsible budget. Many Democrats have focused budget priorities on greater spending, increased taxes and further growth of government. Republicans have sought to keep tax rates at a responsible level, opting not to increase taxes and to lower/eliminate some like estate and gift taxes. Each year, Republicans have pushed for more accountable and efficient government, specifically seeking to modify state union contracts and benefits…a goal Democrats have yet to embrace.
This year, Republicans put forward a responsible full budget for the biennium that did not raise taxes, kept schools and municipalities funded, protected the social service safety net while lowering the cost of running state government. Even after the dramatic drop of $290 million in projected income tax receipts in April, our revised budget remained responsible. While Republicans asked for formal debate and a vote on our budget, the Speaker of the House denied our requests.
Remarkably, Democrats had no budget to present as of the end of the fiscal year due to discord within their caucus. A growing number of Democrats believe we should not raise taxes in this budget. Yet, thirty-five plus Democrats are adamant that, “the wealthy are not paying their fair share”, and that higher income taxes are a must. This group in the majority party also looked to other revenue schemes…tolls, recreational marijuana, sales tax increases, pushing teacher pensions to the municipalities, and another casino…to balance out an increase in spending.
The biggest gulf in how R’s and D’s seek to resolve our budget impasse stems from state employee salaries/benefits. For years, Hartford Democrats have had a total allegiance to state employee unions. Simply, union bosses run the show when Democrats control both the legislature and the governorship. Joe Aresimowicz is not only Speaker of the House, but a union leader in Connecticut AFSME, as well. His chief of staff is married to the executive director of the Working Families party. The Senate President Martin Looney’s father was a New Haven union organizer. The unions turn out votes for Democrats, and their political work is rewarded with rich benefits and lucrative contracts…the most generous in the U.S.
Our state simply cannot afford this special interest spending that includes:
- Guaranteed salary increases of 3% each year
- Defined benefit plans
- Platinum health care plans with no deductibles and very low monthly premiums
- Free retirement medical care
- Medical co-pays of $15
- Retirement pensions that include overtime calculations. In some cases, state workers ramp up a regular salary of $75K to over $100K in retirement.
- No-lay off and anti-privatization clauses in their contracts
While these abusive policies hurt our state, Democrats have little political will to make meaningful changes.
Yet, despite this budget impasse, I believe we can change this trajectory with a two-fold approach.
- Set a responsible budget that gets spending under control and creates more accountability and efficiencies in our state services.
- Demand Governor Malloy renegotiate better terms with state union leaders.
To his credit, Governor Malloy prevailed upon union leaders this session to open up existing union contracts for the 45,000 current state union employees for renegotiation. These contracts represent 40% of the budget. However, this tentative agreement does not go far enough. Five Democrats have joined Republicans in asking for further concessions (Reps Steinberg, Hampton and Reed; Senators Hartley and Doyle). While we respect the work our state workers do, benefits must be brought in line with other states and the private sector.
With clear action, we will prove to our residents we are serious about setting a more predictable and sustainable fiscal path going forward.
Please, I encourage you to stand with me now and advocate with all your legislators for more fiscal common sense. I encourage you to stay current by reading the CT Mirror, sign up for my email blasts, and attend my town hall meetings. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and know that working together we can and we will move our state forward. Terrie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
An original version of this article ran in the Darien Times on Jul. 26, 2017