I recently saw a YouTube video, “Connecticut Anthem”, written and sung by Nekita Waller. She recounts memories of growing up in Hartford and the pride she feels at being Connecticut born and raised. “We cannot give up believing in Connecticut…it’s a state that I believe in.” Like Nekita, I love and believe in Connecticut.
Daily, we benefit from all the good within our state…our scenic landscape and coastline, our excellent schools, well-educated residents, and cultural institutions, our history, and our vibrant diversity. It is important to keep this positive perspective as we discuss the deeply rooted and critically important challenges we face today in Connecticut.
Our state’s greatest challenges are fiscal in nature, and reflect an anemic rate of economic growth. Simply, our costs far exceed our revenues. Our fiscal situation is unsustainable due in large part to:
- Enormous unfunded pension liabilities
- High lucrative state employee fixed costs, rising at 5% per year
- Declining revenues from departing citizens, particularly the wealthy, seniors, and businesses
We remain the only state in the country to not regain all jobs lost in the 2008 recession. Yes, we are in dire straights. Yet, together, we can turn our situation around.
The vast majority of legislators head to Hartford to conduct the people’s work with sincere intentions. That said, the state unions have built powerful relationships with legislative Connecticut Democrats and our current governor. The latest union agreement (July 2017) has put an unnecessary stranglehold on our state finances and severely limits our ability to resolve our fiscal situation.
What is interesting to reflect on, though, is how Connecticut Democrats have focused their “fury and activism” almost solely on national issues, while we hear nothing from them regarding our dire state situation. They neither take responsibility for it, nor take the steps we desperately need to fix it. We certainly hear nothing from them on their blind loyalty to union leaders.
Now, I do thoroughly understand the frustration with our President in Washington. His blatant disregard for appropriate behavior and seeming lack of respect for consensus-building process and policies is deeply troubling to me. However, President Trump did not create Connecticut’s fiscal situation, and he’s not going to fix it. In fact, if Governor Malloy and Connecticut Democrats had successfully managed our state finances over the past eight years, they would not even need to mention “Trump” to deflect away from their failed state policies. Poor decisions have put our state in constant fiscal turmoil.
Perhaps worse, the Democratic candidate for governor, Ned Lamont, is on record to continue tax hikes and party loyalties to state union leaders. Conversely, Republican Bob Stefanowski has pledged to reduce taxes and seek greater flexibility with the unions to deliver state services more efficiently and effectively.
There is another reason to be optimistic – in the October 2017 budget, there was a provision that established a bi-partisan Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth. (You go to: https://www.cga.ct.gov and to search for the final report)
This commission was tasked with developing and recommending policies to achieve a truly comprehensive and balanced solution. Made up of a diverse and bi-partisan group of 14 stakeholders, they met over four months in a deep dive into our state’s situation. In March 2018 they issued a committee report that offers a broad set of policy considerations to put Connecticut on the road to recovery. Among them:
- Enact revenue neutral rebalancing of state taxes
- Create a Joint Budget Committee of the legislature with power to set limits on revenues and expenses
- Give legislature responsibility to define state employee fringe benefits by removing them from collective bargaining process
- Undertake series of growth initiatives led by the executive branch
- Develop plan to cut $1B out of annual operating expenses
- Reinvest in transportation and cities, and build a major new STEM Campus
Importantly, the FSEG Commission report emphasizes conditional linkage among their recommendations. Thus, while there are many aspects to like, there will be other proposals that will be disagreeable. But, comprehensiveness requires compromise to achieve a better future for Connecticut for all.
I have organized a detailed and thought-provoking presentation by the two chairmen of the FSEG Commission, Robert Patricelli and James Smith. Please join me on Monday, October 15th 7 pm at the Darien Library. There will be plenty of time for questions.
Together, let’s bring historic change to Connecticut.
This post originally appeared in The Darien Times.