Joe McGee of the Business Council of Fairfield County recently stated, “What the recession has done is unmask a structural imbalance in Connecticut’s fiscal policies that has been building for years.” It has been clear to employers, taxpayers and a few elected officials for some time that our state has been heading for financial ruin due to the inaction by the General Assembly to confront reality. Our current budget deficit per person is nearly twice that of any other state, $1,700.00 (Nonprofit Quarterly, February 2010.) And, deficits continue to mount: $518 million by June 30, 2010, nearly $1 billion in 2011 and $4 billion in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
For a time, the legislative majority leadership’s reluctance to confront reality could have been attributed to their belief that the financial crisis was just a momentary blip from which we would quickly recover. Today, there is no excuse for their denial. We must stop spending money we do not have because our beleaguered taxpayers and the bedrock of our state, our remaining employers, cannot afford it. Connecticut already carries the heaviest per capita tax burden of $5,464.00 (Forbes, March 12, 2010) in the contiguous United States, along with the heaviest per capita state debt of $4,490.00 (Forbes, January 20, 2010.)
What has become apparent is a desire on the part of some in the legislature’s majority to protect state unions at the expense of private sector jobs. Their agenda calls for further increasing taxes on businesses, individual citizens and private sector bonuses. Yet longevity payments, which are state employee bonuses based on years worked rather than productivity, have been a longstanding practice. No wonder our state’s business climate is seen as unfriendly, to the extent that management for United Technologies recently voiced a desire to go “any place but Connecticut.”
Recent events at the State Capitol highlight the need to make the difficult, responsible decisions necessary to end this fiscal crisis – regardless of how politically unpopular some of those decisions are. The latest chapter in the state budget impasse saga occurred last weekend when the Senate majority pushed through a so-called deficit mitigation plan calling for raising taxes by $180 million, but cutting spending by only $65 million. Keep in mind that the Senate passed this plan 21-15 shortly before 5:30 a.m. on Saturday after defeating plans offered by Governor Rell and the Senate Republicans, both of whom called for deeper spending cuts. Later in the day, the House decided against meeting in session to take up the Senate majority’s deficit mitigation plan. Why? It became clear that the House would not be able to marshal enough votes to override Governor Rell’s promise to veto the Senate majority’s woefully inadequate deficit mitigation plan.
Remember that there are enough members of the majority in both the Senate and the House to override any gubernatorial veto and pass a budget of their own.
So, where do we stand? So far, the only proposals taken seriously by the General Assembly’s majority leadership call for tax increases, instead of significant spending cuts. If we cannot work together to address the state’s existing $500 million deficit, how can we hope to pass a responsible, balanced budget for next year and head off the $11.4 billion deficit projected over the next three years? Democrats and Republicans must come together to resolve Connecticut’s ongoing, dangerous, fiscal crisis. At least half of the details included in our various plans are the same. Let’s agree to meet on common ground, and build from there.
Our state has lost 101,000 jobs between January of last year and January of this year. Unemployment is at 9.1 percent; the last time it was this high was 1976. State government is the largest employer in Connecticut, and our state workers are among the highest paid government employees in the nation. It should be noted that for every one dollar in private pay and benefits a private employee earned, a state or local government worker received one dollar and forty-five cents and that salaries were 30% and benefits 70% higher than private workers were. (Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2010.)
The bottom line is that Connecticut citizens are calling for immediate responsible action, but too many legislators are not listening. So let me repeat what you have been writing to me. You are saying you want an end to tax increases. You want the state to cut spending! You want the legislature to pass a deficit mitigation plan and a new state budget that does not further burden taxpayers and cost Connecticut more private sector jobs.
It is my fervent hope to report soon that Hartford has heard you, that common sense has returned to Connecticut and that taxpayers can look forward to better times ahead.
Senator Toni Boucher (R-26) represents the communities of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton.