State Of The State: Big Ideas, But No Big Solutions
February 04, 2010
Gov. M. Jodi Rell had warned that her State of the State speech Wednesday would contain no big surprises, but there were two:
1. Her welcome idea for a bipartisan commission to look for efficiencies in state government and for a four-person board to accept or reject the recommendations by Dec. 1. The General Assembly would vote on the recommendations early next year.
It's hardly a new idea, and it would have been nice if made a year ago, when the hour looked darkest. Also, appointing commissions is often a substitute for leadership. Still, this one might come to some good.
As the governor said, the state is already at least $500 million in the red, just seven months into a two-year budget. There is no simple, single, painless fix. A commission made up of representatives from all three branches of government could (in theory) map out what to consolidate and what to eliminate to save money.
2. Her taking a page or two from President Obama's book. The commission seems modeled after Mr. Obama's idea for a bipartisan fiscal panel whose recommendations Congress could accept or reject with an up-or-down vote. Sadly, that bill failed to get support in the Senate. The Connecticut legislature should show more courage than that.
Though Mrs. Rell offered other intriguing ideas, there were indeed no big surprises in terms of budget solutions — as expected given her impending retirement and fall elections. And that's a disappointment. She did not use her enormous political capital to, for example, push for some of the efficiencies her proposed commission might suggest, such as consolidating economic development agencies or other departments to prepare Connecticut for a much leaner state government.
Her speech did strike the right tone, however, in calling for the Capitol to "replace acrimony with accommodation" and for everyone to "act like adults." Unfortunately, she didn't encourage the spirit of accommodation by later adamantly ruling out any talk of more taxes ("I say no"), as unlikely as they might be in an election year.
Neither did she encourage "a new effort to work together to honestly confront" problems by making two proposals she must know the predominantly Democratic legislature will reject — because it did last year when she made them.
One is to give her more budget-cutting authority than she has now. The other is to introduce Keno, a lottery-type game, to Connecticut. By proposing to balance the state budget with a new gambling scheme she knows lawmakers are unlikely to sanction, Mrs. Rell throws the budget problem back at them and at whoever succeeds her next year.
But there is one point on which she and Democratic legislative leaders appear in harmonic convergence: They've both proposed ways to ease the credit crunch for businesses.
Mrs. Rell once again borrows from Mr. Obama in suggesting a loan pool created from an unusual river of funds. She would cancel $100 million in bonding that was authorized by the legislature but never funded by her Bond Commission. That money would be used instead to leverage $400 million from banks around the state for loans to small and medium-sized businesses. Her Connecticut Credit Consortium plan echoes Mr. Obama's Small Business Lending Fund, which would channel money from the government's bank bailout fund to small businesses.
Among other promising ideas:
•A loan forgiveness program for students who earn degrees in green technology and certain other careers that would benefit the state — on condition that the students stay in Connecticut after graduation.
•Requiring half of future state surpluses to be automatically deposited in the rainy day fund. That presumes, of course, that Connecticut will once again see fat surpluses. One can always hope, though the state can't rely on such hopes.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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