About The State Budget

November 9, 2017

Yes, the biggest threat to Westport was averted, thanks to my persistent opposition to the Governor’s attempt to get well-off towns like Westport to pick up the expense of teacher pension costs. When he temporarily convinced Leadership to include it in the budget, I built a coalition to fight it, resulting in that version of the budget not being called for a vote, even though we had all assembled for that purpose. The Governor vowed that he would veto any budget which failed to include this cost-shifting but, ultimately, he was obliged to relent and signed the budget. It was one of the toughest fights I’ve had in my seven years in the Legislature. Protecting Westport is my #1 priority.

We should also be encouraged by the bipartisan nature of this truly consensus budget, hopefully ushering in a new era of cooperation between the parties on critical issues, in stark contrast to the situation in Washington. As a Moderate, I’m excited by the prospect of continuing to govern from the middle, not from either extreme, in the best interests of the people of Connecticut.

As I’ve said before, it’s not enough just to pass another two-year budget, particularly when it doesn’t address the longstanding problems and will soon result in further deficits. But I’m encouraged that this budget does include the seeds of what I hope will develop into long-term solutions. Changing the trajectory of Connecticut’s future will depend on two things: reviving the state economy in a way which will restore business confidence and offer good job opportunities for all our citizens; and finding some way to address the unfunded pension liability which is the real source of our cascading deficits.

It’s also my job to find real solutions, so I secured language in the budget to create a taskforce charged with pursuing a concept tried successfully in Europe, but generally unknown in the United States. The Pension Real Estate Trust concept involves donation of specific State-owned properties to an independent trust charged with optimizing the value of these real estate interests, with the resulting revenue stream dedicated to working down the unfunded liability – not going into the General Fund. It’s the only idea I’ve heard of (that’s legal) which would help us mitigate the impact of the liability on the budget.

But it’s also true that this budget is not only far from perfect, it is full of regrettable decisions, which will have significant impact on many who lack good alternatives. This budget reflects our collective desperation, after many years of ballooning deficits and resulting budget cuts. We may congratulate ourselves on avoiding raising income taxes or sales taxes, which would have been counterproductive. But that left us with these terrible choices on what to cut, knowing full well we’d be increasing risk for many of our most vulnerable citizens and eviscerating a number of programs we know are important and effective.

We did make some progress on a number of fronts to incorporate structural changes that will help us in future budgets such as instituting a constitutional spending cap that was first approved by voters over two decades ago. We will have a $1.9 billion cap on bonding and will work within those budgetary means for projects and programs funded through state borrowing. It will also be mandatory for the legislature to vote on union contracts, giving us more of a say and direct input into contracting for the best interest of taxpayers and the state.

We’re not far away from the start of the next legislative session. Rather than relax until then, I pledge to act as if we are a full-time legislature, using the intervening months to establish the agenda for next year. We may have passed a budget, but we still have miles to go in creating an economic plan for the long-term – the only way we’ll restore Connecticut to its former vitality. I intend to work with colleagues, the business community, our municipalities and other experts to fashion programs which will lift all boats, restore consumer and market confidence, and put us in a path to reverse some of the worst cuts we’ve just be forced to make.

Yes, we can now move forward without the specter of a budget impasse hanging over us, which was creating uncertainty for both the business community and our residents, many of whom are dependent on services which the State provides.

So, we’ve got a budget. But I won’t celebrate until I’m convinced we have a plan which will assure we won’t be back in the same situation every two years. Let’s get back to work.