Boucher OP-ED: This is Not the Time to Give Up on Connecticut
Connecticut is stuck under a financial landslide and the party that controls the ability to bring the legislature in to vote on a budget is paralyzed by inaction and floundering in chaos.
Just how bad is it?
The Tax Foundation states that Connecticut “has the highest per capita income in the country, yet it’s currently without a budget for the new biennium. Its credit rating has been downgraded once again, it’s losing major employers, and it’s having a difficult time coming up with new revenue. This should serve as yet another sign that the state needs real reform to fix structural issues in the tax code and budget.”
Connecticut owes more than it owns. It has only $11.3 billion to pay $75 billion worth of bills. State employee retiree health care debt is another $12 billion. This amounts to an approximately $50,000 per taxpayer burden.
Our state’s unemployment is the highest in the Northeast and we have only recovered 70% of the jobs lost since 2008 while other neighboring states have recovered 200-300%. Our top 1.0% of income earners are fleeing to lower or no income tax states. Houses are for sale at the historic levels and home equities have plunged.
It’s infuriating. It’s embarrassing. Not only have the people of Connecticut been let down, on July 1, the state cut millions of dollars in funding for hospitals, education, social services, and aid to towns. The results will be devastating.
Republicans, who won a historic numbers of seats last November, have proposed a way out of the mud. However, as Republicans in Hartford attempt to push Connecticut out of a financial landslide, Democrats are unable to move and stand in the state’s way out the mess they created. Like deer caught in the blinding light of an oncoming vehicle’s headlights, Democrats inaction on the budget is making towns, schools, and nonprofits hostages to a process that has no end in sight.
Imagine how this looks to companies with one foot out the door and credit agencies, which already downgraded the state’s bonds, are on high alert for further signs of weakness. It only reinforces the decision by the state’s highest taxpayers who are fleeing the state, and deals a blow to seniors who have seen their life’s savings in their home’s equity slip away.
A handful of moderate Democrats are trying to wake up their colleagues and get their feet out of the mud. They are saying, “Serious questions need to be answered and serious concerns addressed. There is so much missing information and overly optimistic and massaged data in all of the budget and contract proposals that are being presented.”
One Democratic representative agreed with her minority republican colleagues for the need to address retirement benefit and other debt costs “that’s choking us to death.” Unfortunately, Democrat leadership is offering more of the same. They committed to meeting in the near future to pass a large sales tax increase as an answer to the state financial woes.
It does not have to be this way.
The Republican budget alternative begins the process of digging Connecticut out of the mud and takes the state in a new, better direction. It creates a new education funding formula, stabilizes funding for towns and schools, and preserves core government functions. This budget proposal protects special education, the disabled, and hospitals, which are currently suffering without a state budget. It prioritizes transportation without tolls or new taxes, and starts the process of exempting social security from state taxes, while phasing in the federal exemption of the estate tax.
Democrat leaders can call legislators into special session tomorrow to vote on this budget. It would show businesses and the credit rating agencies that Connecticut is serious about putting its fiscal house in order. It would show taxpayers that we are able to make the difficult decisions to fix our state’s economy.
My Republican colleagues and I are ready and waiting for that call. We have the traction to get Connecticut out of the fiscal mud.
Senator Toni Boucher represents the 26th District, which is comprised of the communities of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.