Lavielle OP-ED: 2017 Budget⎯Misplaced Spending Priorities, Phantom Revenues, NO Long-Term Changes

The following is a press release from the office of Gail Lavielle, in response to the 2017 state budget.

On Friday night, May 13, the state House of Representatives convened in special session to vote on bills adjusting the 2017 state budget, which was running a $935 million deficit. The special session was required because Governor Malloy and legislative Democrats had differed significantly in their budget philosophies and were unable to reach agreement on proposed bills in time for the May 4 statutory deadline. State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-143), who voted against both the budget bill and the budget implementer bill, issued the following statement:

“Connecticut’s persistent deficit cycle reached a new low this past year. The biennial budget that majority legislators passed last spring fell into deficit almost immediately, and has had to be fixed four times since then by the legislature. After the state’s two largest tax increases ever, the current year’s budget is almost $300 million in deficit, and billions of dollars in deficits still loom in the future. It’s disappointing that despite months of negotiations, the 2017 budget produced by majority lawmakers does not make the long-term structural changes necessary to set Connecticut on a sustainable financial path.

“The 2017 budget is built on misplaced spending priorities and phantom revenues. It relies on one-time revenue sources and fund sweeps, decimates funding to hospitals, substance abuse programs, and services for the sick and the disabled, and cuts local education and municipal aid when most towns and cities have already set their budgets.

“Constant revenue shortfalls this year showed clearly that the state can’t collect all the taxes it has imposed, both because people and businesses have left or because personal income has dipped, as low-wage jobs replace higher-wage jobs in our economy. Yet this budget relies on arbitrary assumptions that revenues will grow not only from lawsuits filed by the state Attorney General, car sales, real estate transfers, and fees, but also from more cigarette and alcohol sales and gambling. This budget is ripe for new deficits just around the corner.

“This didn’t have to happen. House and Senate Republicans produced a plan that balanced next year’s budget and included a long-term framework of structural changes that would help Connecticut finally break out of its deficit cycle, and showed this could be done without raising taxes, hurting the neediest, or increasing the burden on cities and towns. Unfortunately, however, the budget passed on Friday was largely just a short-term, illusory fix.

“Many town and city officials are deeply concerned that the cuts to their education and municipal aid funding will mean higher property taxes down the line, and they no longer trust promises of state funding for the future. If they continue to send money to the state without getting any back, why, they ask, should their communities be obligated to follow state mandates? I introduced an amendment on the floor of the House that would have offered relief from a comprehensive range of school and municipal mandates, including prevailing wage requirements, the uniform regional school calendar, and contractual labor roadblocks to voluntary regional service consolidation efforts. Mandates cost our towns both money and time, while bringing nothing to the state. Yet all House members in the majority voted against mandate relief.

“I also supported several amendments introduced by my caucus that would have imposed rigorous caps on spending and borrowing, substantially reformed state employee benefits, and restored education funding to our towns and cities, as well as money for rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, and services for the intellectually disabled and people with traumatic brain injuries.

“The people of Connecticut deserve a budget that takes their priorities seriously, a budget that is based on plausible, realistic revenue assumptions, a budget that respects their intelligence. Above all, they deserve a budget that sets the state on a sustainable, predictable path that will restore economic stability and opportunity for families, businesses, and towns. Unfortunately, Friday’s vote has put these objectives on hold.”

The budget passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 74-70, and the implementer bill passed by a vote of 73-70. All Republicans present and eight Democrats voted in opposition to both bills. The implementer bill included the policy provisions necessary to implement the budget.