A recent op-ed published by CTNewsJunkie and written by Jonathan Pelto appealed to gubernatorial candidates to tackle the tough decisions facing Connecticut. Mr. Pelto wrote that the next Governor would be forced to make the “deepest cuts” and the “largest revenue increases in our state’s history.” In his view, this is the only solution because the budget is the problem. We believe the problem is the economy and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs. To solve the problem AND balance the budget, you’ve got to look deeper and focus on jobs and the economy.
The issue of proposing the deepest cuts to state services in our history is actually not new and is one that has been proven to be fatally flawed. In 2009, Governor Rell proposed again and again to eliminate vital public services to the outcry of Connecticut citizens. It was not simply the refusal of a handful of constituents angry over the loss of their pet program. Citizens came to the state capitol by the hundreds, in the snow, to loudly express their profound anger and fear over proposed cuts in services to every type of program imaginable. Cuts in funding for LifeStar, programs to help those with AIDS/HIV, early education programs, licensed practicing nurse training programs, day care centers, losses in public safety staffing levels and the closing of hospitals and treatment facilities represent a range of the services the people from all over Connecticut feared losing.
Luckily, the General Assembly heard their voices. They also were informed by studies which showed that cuts in services pushed the economy further into recession. As a result of slashing public services over the past year, Connecticut lost another 50,000 private sector jobs. With more job losses, and less services to help families in need, the economy would be doomed to spiral downward. Even by eliminating all appropriations from the state budget, Connecticut would not be able to balance the books. Cuts are not the answer.
Mr. Pelto proposes using a scalpel to restructure the essence of the way government functions. Leaders and members of SEBAC have been trying for months to get the administration’s ear on government efficiency. We were able to sit down last week and discuss our 18 point plan which includes short and long-term ideas on ways to run government more efficiently and save precious dollars. Our proposal is comprised of a long list of win-win ideas to put Connecticut’s families back to work and get the economy growing again including identifying efficiencies for state workers, reducing duplicative bureaucracy, implementing flexible healthcare spending accounts, and implementing the state Contracting Standards Board.
Many have suggested that services be shifted to community-based nonprofits. While our non-profit providers often do a good job at the services they provide, they are and have been dramatically underfunded. To save money, they either grossly underpay their workforce, or are forced to work with inadequate staffing levels. Now that the state is in fiscal crisis, this is even more acute. Is that better for those workers? Is it better for the people receiving the services? Is this better for Connecticut’s economy? Certainly not.
Many commentators have been particularly critical of those employees who work for the state. Mr. Pelto takes aim at public service workers and suggests that the state reduce unnecessary bureaucracy by shifting decision-making from management to frontline workers. We agree and suggested as much to Governor Rell last week when we met. That is why we feel strongly that the next Governor must reactivate the Agency Innovations Review Panel and engage with our public service workers in order to solve this crisis. No one knows better how to reduce waste and increase efficiency than the workers who experience public service every day. They simply need to be heard.
Revenue is a crucial piece to solving the budget deficit. Mr. Pelto points out that closing corporate tax loopholes and broadening the income tax structure is a necessary step in bringing Connecticut closer to solving the fiscal crisis. A fair and reliable resource stream must be a part of the General Assembly’s package this session.
SEBAC has proposed several other programs to help balance the budget but more importantly to stimulate job growth and economic recovery. Some of the ideas we’ve proposed include: using new federal funds to rebuild the state’s transportation infrastructure; implementing a Jobs Corps and using the energy and talents of unemployed workers to help rebuild our economy while helping them find new permanent jobs; continuing day care for the unemployed who are seeking jobs; implementing a comprehensive telecommuting and at-home work assignments to save the state money from reduced fuel consumption and improved use of workers’ time on the job; shifting focus from management to direct scarce resources on direct services provided by the front-line workforce; reinvigorating job sharing and other flexible work programs such as voluntary schedule reductions; and implementing flexible healthcare spending accounts.
Our state’s public service workers are ready with great ideas to help get Connecticut’s families back to work and our economy growing again. We came to the table last year with nearly a billion dollars in real savings toward the budget deficit. We’re ready again with concrete proposals to save the state money, improve government efficiency and increase jobs. We remain committed to working with legislative leadership, the Governor and the gubernatorial candidates to ensure that Connecticut’s future is a bright one full or economic promise and prosperity for all.
Sal Luciano is Executive Director of AFSCME Council 4.