It's difficult for lawmakers and governors to agree on a budget when times are tough. There is less revenue to meet equal or greater needs. Budget talks can be protracted — witness California and Connecticut today and remember the Nutmeg madness in 1991, Lowell P. Weicker's first year as governor.
Often, differences are hashed out behind closed doors. Deadlines come and go.
But just because elected officials retreat to the bunker to negotiate a spending and taxing plan in secret doesn't mean it should be done that way. Transparency and accountability, after all, are two of democracy's most important virtues.
It has been nearly a month since this state's new fiscal year took its bow. Since our leaders couldn't get their work done on time and there is no new budget for the biennium, Gov. M. Jodi Rell is dishing out monthly portions of revenue to run state agencies. August's spoonful of cash, she says, will be shrunk proportionately to reflect declining revenues.
Meanwhile, she and legislative leaders have been meeting from time to time — once last week — at the executive residence to try to hammer out a budget deal. A gag order is in effect. The public doesn't know whether they're close to agreement or are even speaking the same language. Major decisions regarding billions of our tax dollars are being made — or not — in a locked clubhouse. Butt out, Mr. and Mrs. Connecticut.
Legislators and the governor may find there is less pressure in doing the public's business in the dark. Maybe that's why it's taking so long. But their behind-the-scenes dilly-dallying is beginning to take a toll.
In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, a total of 88 percent of those sampled say the failure to adopt a state budget by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. Most blame the Democrats in the legislature, but Mrs. Rell's budget-handling approval rating has gone down by 16 points since February and her corresponding disapproval rating has gone up by 20 points during the same period. And the governor's overall approval rating, while still sky-high, has dropped eight points since May.
Clearly, the public wants lawmakers and the governor to quit bickering and come to a budget agreement.
We hope the new consensus forecasting law, passed Monday over Mrs. Rell's veto and requiring both sides to agree on a projected deficit number, will force the budget process forward if nothing else will.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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