Commentary: Connecticut’s budget process must be changed

Rep. John Fusco (R-Southington)

As May begins, Connecticut’s General Assembly has been strategizing for weeks in hopes of crafting the best budget possible for our state.

So far, only two budgets have been introduced. Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Republicans both released detailed plans, and in a break from decades of tradition, the Appropriations Committee was unable to reach consensus and failed to put forward a plan.

Echoing the sentiment of our constituents, Republicans have been critical of the budget processes of the past, and the lack of transparency and collaboration between parties. Democrats have controlled both houses of the legislature for more than 30 years and have refused to allow Republicans into the negotiation process, instead delivering a one-sided plan and asking Republicans to vote for a document they didn’t have any input on.

This outdated structure calls into question whether the current framework has any potential to effectively address or promote realistic solutions to our state’s fiscal problems. There lies little doubt that increasing taxes and spending is not a viable solution.

The governor’s plan is to cut funding to municipalities and, in addition, hold them accountable for a third of the unfunded teacher’s pensions. It would be hard to predict the full impact of that decision becoming a reality, but given the ongoing economic struggles of our state the word “devastating” comes to mind.

People and businesses are leaving Connecticut at an alarming rate. The proof of this is reflected in the state’s current revenue shortfall which recently widened even further after tax receipts came in lower than expected. State comptroller Kevin Lembo reports the current-year deficit to be $393.4 million. The next biennium budget deficit is currently projected to be about $5.1 billion.

Those facts alone are justification for a new approach to how Connecticut constructs and implements a budget. We’ve watched spending grow to the point where the state income tax now represents more than 50 percent of the revenue for our budget.

Within the last six years we’ve been handed the two largest tax increases in state history and still the deficit continues to grow. Continued tax increases will most assuredly produce the same results. The state must take on the responsibility of living within its means.

Late last week, the Republican House and Senate proposed the “Confident Connecticut” budget that attempts to take on that responsibility. However, there will be no easy solution, and many of the proposed cuts in spending will be met with opposition. It is fair to say that the longer we wait the worse it will get.

For more details on the Confident Connecticut budget please go to tinyurl.com/lhf7qx9

The process is underway, and it will remain fluid over the next several weeks until we can reach consensus on both the level of debt and solutions to repair the damage. Consensus will be difficult if the process doesn’t change.

When Democrats failed to bring a budget up for a vote in appropriations committee, they publicly blamed Republicans for not supporting the measure despite their plan being devised behind closed doors and without Republican input. No Republican, not even the committee chair or the ranking member, was involved in direct negotiation of their bill.

Because they haven’t been able to find common ground within their own caucuses with regard to tax and spending increases, they have been quick to point out that the June deadline for a budget agreement is self-imposed and irrelevant. It is important to remember they do still hold the majority and quite likely, as in years past, will concentrate on devising a budget that is internally acceptable and can pass without Republican support.

Republicans, of course, remain ready and willing to lead. We also remain hopeful that a bipartisan agreement can and will be reached, and that there will be those who will commit to joining us in our determination to not raise taxes, maintain current state aid to our municipalities, uphold our agreements to fund pensions and, most importantly, begin the hard work of creating and maintaining a sustainable fiscal balance moving forward.

Rep. John Fusco represents Southington in the 81st General Assembly district.

Leave a Reply