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Time For State To Pay The Piper

State Budget Plan B is the reckoning for living beyond government's means

The Hartford Courant

May 09, 2011

The jaw-dropping impact that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's "Plan B" budget revision would have on state services should come as no surprise least of all to those politicians, lawmakers and governors who have been the architects of a sprawling and expensive edifice of government that taxpayers can no longer afford to maintain.

Mr. Malloy proposes another $1 billion in cuts and savings from laying off about 10 percent of the workforce if his negotiators can't come to terms with state employees' unions over worker concessions of $1 billion in each of the next two fiscal years.

The demands on workers to restructure compensation and benefits are tough but fair. State employees have great benefits and pay compared with many in the private sector.

But more to the point, the state can't keep up with payments for them. A recent study by the Pew Center on the States found that Connecticut had $26 billion in liabilities related to retiree health benefits in fiscal year 2009, none of which was funded. The group also says that "Connecticut's management of its long-term pension liability is cause for serious concern."

What's In Store

If there is no deal with the unions and we should know soon the governor's Plan B calls for layoffs of nearly 5,000 workers (saving $455 million) and additional spending cuts of $545 million.

This would be in addition to spending cuts of nearly $800 million and tax increases of some $1.5 billion already factored into next year's budget to help eliminate a projected deficit of $3.5 billion.

Budget Director Ben Barnes has worked up a list of layoffs and cuts with reluctance, he said totaling $1.67 billion from which budget-makers can choose in filling the $1 billion hole if there is no agreement with the unions.

The proposed Plan B cuts would tear through some state agencies like the recent tornadoes through Alabama. Hardly any office escapes the devastation.

Funding is eliminated for the office of the State Child Advocate, for example. Regional offices of some agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles would be closed. The state Department of Education would lose 83 percent of its 1,706 employees.

Another prison would be closed. The state library in Hartford could close. So could the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The beloved Governor's Horse Guards would go out to pasture. The state police helicopter would be sold. The Chester-to-Hadlyme and Rocky Hill-to-Glastonbury seasonal ferries, which have shuffled people across the Connecticut River since before the Revolutionary War, would stop.

Mental health services and Medicaid coverage would be affected.

Why We're At This Point

It sounds harsh, and it is. Services and programs of which Connecticut is justly proud that make life better for the most vulnerable and make us all more secure will have to cinch up their belts.

In truth, there is just not enough money now to pay for all that government.

This reconciliation with economic reality was a long time coming.

State government has been sailing along in the same old way, expanding and offering larded benefits and high salaries think of the top security officers at the University of Connecticut, Cadillac health care benefits for retirees and their families for life, public safety officers retiring at more than 100 percent of their salaries while many workers in the private sector have lost their jobs and retirement security or seen their companies go out of business.

The state, as it should, is now being forced to do what private businesses have had to do to stay afloat: trim expenses through layoffs and cut back health coverage and retirement benefits that have become unsustainable.

The private sector has had to abandon government's practice of overspending and over-promising as if there were no tomorrow.

For Connecticut state government, the day of reckoning is here.

Plan B announced its arrival.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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