Budget Crisis With huge deficit looming, state leaders must reframe the issue
Hartford Courant Editorial
September 13, 2010
The leaves have barely begun to turn, but the lobbying on next year's state budget has already started. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, lobbyists for local governments, has begun pressuring gubernatorial candidates to maintain state aid to cities and towns, or else municipalities will have to consider raising local property taxes.
The group has a point, and so do most of the other recipients of state funds that will soon follow with their own pleas to be spared the budget ax. Every line item has a constituency, and each will argue why its appropriation must withstand expected cuts.
Some weighing of programs against each other is inevitable. But cut-thee-and-not-me is not how the budget debate should be framed this year. The state faces deficits of well over $3 billion in the next two fiscal years. The rainy day fund and stimulus money are gone; a nip here and a tuck there aren't going to do the job. The legislature's efforts to prepare for this fiscal swoon have been feeble. In short, the party is over and the check has arrived.
We have no money, we shall have to think, to borrow a line attributed to Winston Churchill. The new governor and legislature must rethink government, make it more efficient and less expensive.
Connecticut must look at things like closing a prison or two, sending more clients to home care rather than nursing homes, consolidating leadership in higher education, using more online government services and more regional rather than municipal services, among many other things.
If it is then necessary to raise taxes, there will at least be a record of cost-cutting to point to.
The upcoming budget will be a major test of leadership, and also a great opportunity to make the state leaner and more competitive. Business as usual isn't going to make it happen.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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