Commentary: Running out the clock in the legislative session

Rep. Rob Sampson (R-Southington, Wolcott)

Rep. Rob Sampson (R-Southington, Wolcott)

Regular readers of this column know that I spend a lot of time making the case that state government needs to begin getting its priorities straight. However, year after year has gone by, and legislative leaders along with Governor Dannel Malloy have continued to spend way beyond the means of our state’s overburdened taxpayers. Now, as predicted, they are out of gimmicks and shell games to hide their mismanagement of state government.

By the time you read this the regular session of the legislature will nearly be over, but there is little doubt that the serious work of governing will remain unfinished.

At the time of my writing this, we are two weeks from the close of this session with little to show for it. There remains a $930 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2017. Can you imagine just how we could have such a huge deficit after passing the two largest tax increases in state history in the last five years? This is the legacy of Malloy and his friends who continue to hold the majority in the House and Senate.

Both the legislative majority and the governor have now offered their plans for 2017, but neither solves the problem. Legislative Democrats couldn’t even stomach to put on paper the painful cuts necessary to produce a balanced budget, offering a document that only covers half the gap.

The governor’s proposed alternative is to shift the cost to property tax payers by cutting state funding to towns—primarily funding for education called ECS (Education Cost Sharing). This will cause towns to drastically raise property taxes to make up the difference. Proposed cuts to ECS include $592,000 from Wolcott and $921,000 from Southington. Some towns were completely zeroed out for ECS in his budget package.

I wouldn’t say it’s good news, but my feeling is that neither of these plans will be adopted. Rather, it appears that it is their intention to patch and spackle their way past the November elections so they can raise taxes again once the votes have been cast. Malloy and the Democratic leaders in the legislature continue to refuse to acknowledge the deeply damaging effects their higher taxes and higher spending have had on the families and businesses of this state and no doubt are prepared to raise taxes yet again.

As a responsible alternative, my fellow Republicans and I continue to offer constructive ideas on how to get the state’s finances back on track. The first step would be to simply start living within our means by abiding by the constitutional spending cap. We need to do more than patch today’s problem, but lay out a long-term path to alleviate budget deficits, provide for stable municipal aid year after year, encourage business and investment to return to our state, and ultimately provide for tax relief to Connecticut citizens.

None of this will be easy. The temptation exists for all parties to do the minimum to take care of today rather than address the big problems facing us down the road. Just a few weeks ago, there was a bipartisan agreement in March to patch the $220 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year.

While I was somewhat pleased to see such an agreement was achieved because of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, in the end I voted against it. I was happy to see the leadership of both parties work together to piece together a plan to cover the current year deficit while simultaneously restoring funding to hospitals and non-profits.

The issue is that yet again, no structural or significant changes were made and everyone knew even then that that the current huge budget crisis would be immediately upon us. This is no way to run our state government. We need people with courage who can make the tough decisions now. If not, down the road, even tougher decisions will be made for us all.

I remain one of a small group of legislators at the Capitol who wants to see real change in the way our state runs. I believe that we can indeed reduce state spending while retaining a solid state employee workforce and providing services to our citizens. I also believe that we absolutely need to. Our state is losing population and economic steam as a result of overzealous tax and regulation policy and we must reverse it.

As I keep saying, the answer lies in getting our priorities straight.

Rep. Sampson represents the 80th district of Wolcott and Southington.

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