Local legislators react to the State of the State address

State of Connecticut

By TAYLOR HARTZ
STAFF WRITER

Gov. Dannel Malloy, (D), delivered his State of the State address to the Connecticut General Assembly on Wednesday, Feb. 3, where he revealed his five-principle plan for strengthening the state economy.

Malloy outlined a step-by-step process for creating a sustainable and enduring budget in the post-Great Recession economic environment.

“We live in changing times,” began the Governor, who said that like businesses and families in Connecticut have, the state government must begin “adapting to a new economic reality.”

The Governor said he chose to focus on how the state creates its budget when developing his plan.

In the week following his address, Southington legislators have expressed support for Malloy’s plans.

State Senator Joe Markley (R) released a video message on Feb. 4, the first day of the legislative session, where he said the Governor’s plans were music to his ears.

“It’s what I’ve been saying throughout my political career,” said Markley, “We can’t budget by looking at how much we want and then asking the tax payers to foot the bill.”

State Representative David Zoni (D) said Malloy’s address “presented a realistic and pragmatic budget proposal,” that he hopes will take the state down a more “frugal” path.

The first of Malloy’s five principles was to limit spending. He explained that the state currently operates on a “current services” approach, where it is assumed that services offered this year should continue to be funded next year.

In the governor’s proposal, the budget would be based on actual revenue projections, rather than current spending numbers.

“This budget is not based on how much we want to spend, but how much money we actually have to spend,” said Malloy.

Next, Malloy asked the assembly to face the reality that Connecticut “has one of the worst funded pension systems in the nation.” He proposed ways to refinance debt, and change the state’s most expensive Tier One pension plan to a pay-as-you-go system.

The governor brought Sec. Benjamin Barnes together with a team that includes the treasurer, the comptroller, representatives from the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), and state employees, to develop the more sustainable and affordable pension system.

When it comes to funding government services, Malloy defined several items as “core government services” that should be prioritized for funding.

“Every existing line item cannot be considered a core service to be funded in perpetuity,” said Malloy. He went on to say that functions falling outside those core services should be considered based only on merit.

He believes the state should focus on protecting the public, building a strong economy, ensuring a social safety net, safeguarding our environment, providing a public education, and administering equality in justice.

To ensure that prioritized items are being funded, Malloy hopes to require detailed, timely updates from state agencies that describe “how they are spending the people’s money and precisely what that money is accomplishing.”

He hopes that this will require state agencies to be more transparent and offer more cost effective services when they are being asked to do less with more.

The final step in Malloy’s proposed process is one of bipartisanship. The Governor hopes that legislators will work together across the aisle to create a budget through compromise and cooperation. This includes working with both parties, creating a budget earlier, and avoiding budget implementers at the 11th hour.

“The measures I’ve laid out today aren’t about cutting just to cut spending,” said Malloy, they’re “about changing how we budget in order to preserve that which we hold dear.”

While Malloy’s proposed cuts will result in a reduction in the state workforce by more than 1,000 employees, he stated that he does not take these cuts lightly. Malloy pointed out that the state’s private sector has grown more than 80,000 jobs in the last five years and that the Small Business Express program worked with 230 small businesses to create or retain more than 4,400 jobs in 2015.

“The times dictate that there are limits on how much state government should be spending,” said Zoni, “even on the most worthy programs.”

Zoni said he hopes the General Assembly will pay close attention to this during what he thinks will be “a complex budget process for legislators.”

Markley said he hopes budget discussions will follow Malloy’s advice to see how much funding is available, and plan accordingly.

“It’s the right approach to the budget, finally,” said Markley.

Malloy said he plans on holding a series of town hall meetings across the state to have an open discussion of ideas, and the governor hopes the General Assembly will cooperate to develop a realistic budget.

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