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Balancing State's Books With Borrowing Irresponsible

Hartford Courant Editorial

May 10, 2013

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took to the airwaves this week, insisting on radio station WNPR that "we're going to end up with a very good budget, a very sound budget, that continues us down the path to restoring fiscal health in the state of Connecticut." Good news, if true.

But in mid-April, two respected analysts said Connecticut is in terrible fiscal shape. Former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker, now head of the Comeback America Initiative, and UConn economics professor and think-tank chief Fred V. Carstensen both warned of the dangers of failing to rein in bonded debt. Their advice ought to be taken seriously.

Yet legislators have shown no sign of moving in that direction. Indeed, the Democratic-controlled Finance Committee has given the thumbs-up to a plan to borrow more money to balance the state budget, further adding to the debt burden.

Republicans, who are in no position to do much more than complain, have done so. Senate Minority Leader John McKinney noted that the committee's plan amounts to nothing more than "paying credit cards off with credit cards" and he's right. You don't get rid of debt by borrowing more.

Connecticut is already among the top five states with the highest debt per capita. We don't need to add to it.

Democrats have replied to Republican calls for spending cuts by demanding specificity. House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey challenged the GOP to "articulate exactly where they would like to cut spending" and not just "snipe from the sidelines." He's right, too. Generalized calls to "cut spending" initially get wide support, but fizzle when specific programs and services are mentioned.

There are few places left to cut, however, that are politically safe.

One special concern of Messrs. Walker and Carstensen's is the state's obligation to retirees. "Connecticut has some of the highest if not the highest total liabilities and unfunded obligations per taxpayer of any state in the nation," their report says. The governor and legislature have started to make headway on this, but too little, in the report's view.

The report doesn't say exactly how lawmakers should approach this third rail of Connecticut politics, but the implication is strong: "Connecticut's current fiscal path is unsustainable." Indeed, it is. Fixing it will undoubtedly require unpopular and in some cases painful decisions. The time for partisan carping and sniping is long past. All ideas from all parties are welcome.

Where Are the Republicans?

"Sniping from the sidelines" and doing the politically safe thing perfectly describe the Republican position. For the first time in six years, the legislature's minority party is not offering a budget alternative to the Democrats' plans.

Perhaps it's because both House Republican leader Larry Cafero and Senate Republican leader John McKinney are thinking of running for governor next year and would rather not be pinned down.

Maybe they're failing to produce an alternative because it's easier to blast Democrats' spending and borrowing plans without producing an alternative budget blueprint that actually works. They're probably delighted to let the Democrats crash and burn while dealing alone with a big deficit and a bad economy.

Yes, the GOP runs the risk of Democrats criticizing and disregarding a Republican budget, as they have in the past.

But if any of it made sense, the public just might give Republicans credit for it.

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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