Jonathan Pelto

It’s Budget Day in Connecticut … a day when each and every person who is concerned about state government turns their attention to Hartford. With great fanfare, pomp, and circumstance, the sitting governor enters a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly and lays out their budget proposal.

Today, it is Governor M. Jodi Rell’s turn and she has spent months preparing for this moment.  Like any proposed budget, today’s document is a comprehensive blueprint for the state for the next two years and, at the same time, a unique political statement and document.

As budget proposals go, this one is far more on the “political document side” of the spectrum then anything we’ve seen in Connecticut—perhaps in living memory.

In her address to the State on Monday night, Rell began her speech by introducing her upcoming budget by saying…

“It is a budget that sets a fundamentally new vision for state government.

A smaller government.

A less expensive government.

A more efficient government.

And most importantly, a government that is more in line with what you—our taxpayers—can afford.”

Now, those are bold words!  Fighting words!

At this very moment, as they hand out still warm copies of her plan, it is clear that Rell has brought political rhetoric to a new high (or low depending on your outlook).

Over the coming hours, days, and weeks we’ll know much more about what Rell’s budget really contains, but some basics are already clear. 

While she will stick to her claim that her budget includes no new taxes, the fact is that this budget is just about as far as one can get from a plan that promotes a “smaller, less expensive, and more efficient” government.

Rell’s budget is a fraud and a sham.

It is not even remotely in balance.

She undermines program after program by raiding funds that are meant to tackle some of the most significant challenges facing our state.

She proposes to borrow money to provide one time revenues for on-going expenses.

She makes extraordinary cuts to some of the most vital and essential state services, cuts that will undermine the quality of life for tens of thousands of Connecticut residents.

She decimates Connecticut’s commitment to education and especially to our responsibility to provide higher educational opportunities for our citizens. At the same time, she balances her budget on unattainable “government reorganizations” and “employee savings” that can only be achieved by dramatically reducing the number of front line workers either through layoffs or worse, an illogical and counterproductive early retirement program.

Finally, one of the most shocking aspects of the Governor’s budget plan is her intention to use Connecticut’s share of the Federal Stimulus legislation to supplant rather than supplement Connecticut’s existing governmental resources.

From transportation and infrastructure funds, to additional dollars for Medicare, primary, secondary, and higher education, the Governor’s proposal seeks to reduce state allocations for those activities and then “fills the hole” with new federal funds. 

Despite President Obama’s historic commitment to tackle this historic economic crisis, the next impact of Governor Rell’s proposal will be to ensure that few, if any, new jobs are created and little, if any, new support will be offered to the thousands of Connecticut families who are suffering.

The Federal Stimulus Package (in all of its present variations) is, in fact, designed to assist states with their deficits – but more importantly – it is designed to target funds to stimulate the economy, create jobs, and make key investments in vital areas of governmental activity.

By using the new stimulus funds to simply supplant existing expenses, the Governor undermines the most fundamental goal of President Obama and the Democrats in Congress. 

By taking this action now, she can and will blame Congress and Connecticut’s congressional delegation if (1) the final package is less than what she has put into the budget and/or (2) the package requires spending in specific areas that would prevent her from using all the funds to simply supplant existing revenue.

Rest assured that should there eventually be a need to increase taxes, Rell will be quick to blame the Democrats here and in Washington by portraying any stimulus fund restrictions as the reason tax hikes may now be needed.

While Connecticut is facing an historic budget problem, this catastrophic economic crisis requires a far more aggressive and sophisticated effort than just grabbing a few hundred million in new federal dollars and dumping it into the state’s budget gap.

The Governor’s political pandering; raiding of funds, borrowing for current expenditures, and attempt to dismiss and undermine the federal effort is certainly understandable from a political standpoint. But her lack of leadership is completely reprehensible if our state and nation are truly engaged in getting through these troubled times by preserving essential state services, creating jobs, and helping the ever-increasing numbers of people in need.

Jonathan Pelto is a former State Representative, a Democrat, and is President of Impact Strategies Inc., a public relations company that specializes in issue advocacy.