This short legislative session has been a big letdown because of a failure of leadership.
The General Assembly was scheduled to officially adjourn at midnight Wednesday with an agreement between Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Democratic legislative leaders to close a budget deficit for fiscal 2011, which starts July 1.
The pact, however, avoids most of the tough choices that would put the state on sounder financial footing as it braces for a budget shortfall projected at $3.8 billion in fiscal 2012, which starts in just 14 months.
The budget agreement reached this week would cover half the fiscal 2011 deficit with federal stimulus funds — which won't be there this time next year.
The state would also raid funds for energy conservation and other worthy causes — and borrow $955 million, to be paid off by extending part of a surcharge on monthly electric bills that was to expire soon. Connecticut's electric rates are already among the highest in the nation. Businesses, particularly manufacturers, will take note.
The governor and legislative leaders also agreed to delay $100 million in contributions to state employee pension plans — which will have to be made someday.
The budget agreement does cut some $15 million out of prisons. That's a relatively easy choice because of the decline in the prison population.
But the total budget hasn't gone down. At $19 billion-plus, it's larger than ever before.
Yes, the revenue picture is improving — slightly. But these are volatile times, as this week's stock market swoon proved. Next year, the legislature must address a breathtaking budget deficit for fiscal 2012. Any business would be looking hard at jettisoning inefficient programs and combining duplicative services. Yet this session, leaders conspired to take easy outs.
They failed to make the major agency consolidations and spending cuts needed now. They couldn't bring themselves to shut down the nice but nonessential commissions on women, children, Asian-Pacific-Americans, Latinos and other minorities.
Connecticut needed at least one strong leader to make tough and unpopular choices — someone with the backbone of former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. That leader was missing this session.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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