What Connecticut urgently needs is leadership — we need leaders who see the real economic crisis that we’re in, and we need leaders who have the resolve and intelligence to do something about it.
With the avalanche of bad news that preceded the legislative session — you’ve heard it all by now: shrinking population, unhappy residents, unhappy businesses, and a stagnant economy — I really hoped Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and our legislative leadership would start the session this year with a resolve to fix some of Connecticut’s deep-seated economic problems.
Instead we were left with an absolute mess. A budget that passed by slim margins in both chambers, and for which few seem to want to take credit. Take a look at the Facebook pages, the Twitter feeds, and the web pages of many of the Democratic representatives and senators who voted for the budget — very few have spoken out in its defense.
Those who do defend it — like Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford — use as a defense Connecticut’s first-place ranking on the Human Development Index, and its ranking as a national leader in education.
Those are good things, things we should be proud of. But they are a snapshot of where we are now, not a bellwether of where we are headed.
If our economy continues to perform similarly to last year, we will not be at the top of those indexes in the years to come. If our economy slides even further into the doldrums — as, by all accounts, it will if the budget stands as is — we will be in even worse shape.
One of the signs of Connecticut’s economic problems is the shrinking number of children in most of our cities and towns.
While the state’s population as a whole has declined slightly, the number of children in the state has declined at a much faster rate, and that decline is expected to continue.
In the Economic Report of the Governor, which was released with the budget, there are projections that the number of children is expected to drop by10 percent by 2025.
Some towns expect an even steeper drop. A report commissioned by the Simsbury school system said school enrollment was projected to decrease by 25 percent from 2010 to 2021.
This demographic shift, which Lewis Andrews wrote about this week for Real Clear Policy, reflects both Connecticut’s low birth rate, and how its high cost of living is driving families out of the state to lower-cost states.
What is the use of having the best standard of living and best schools if no one can afford to live here?
This budget does nothing to address the high costs for middle class families. Instead it adds to the tax burden for Connecticut families.
One of the ways it does this is by making healthcare much more expensive, which is completely irresponsible.
When Ben Barnes said the state was taxing hospitals because it’s “where the money is,” what he was really saying is that he was willing to tax the sick people who use the hospitals, and who are held captive by the state’s tax and spend policies.
Businesses can move, hospitals can’t. They are here to serve their communities. As they pay more in taxes, that cost will either be passed on to their patients, or they will cut even more jobs.
Sen. Looney seems to think his budget provides tax relief because of his plan to shift sales tax revenue to about half the cities and towns in the state. He was surprised to hear that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the largest lobbying group for cities and towns, isn’t jumping for joy over his plan.
That’s because it isn’t a good plan — it was a hastily cobbled together plan that rewards Looney’s hometown of New Haven, and many of the other large cities in the state. It is not a plan based on sound policy and forward thinking.
If Looney was serious about reducing property taxes, he’d eliminate binding arbitration, and he’d reduce prevailing wage mandates. But he’s not — he’s interested in sending more tax dollars to the chosen few, while closing his eyes and ears to the monumental problems facing the state.
This budget sets the state up for a billion-dollar deficit for the next budget. Where will the money come from then?
This lack of stability and predictability is one of the reasons that business leaders and many residents have lost faith in their government. They pay high taxes already, and cannot see a future where the need for higher taxes ends.
Another reason is that even as people speak up, legislative leaders plug their ears, shut their eyes, and choose not to listen.
Business leaders are saying they want to leave. People are voting with their feet and they are leaving. Small businesses struggle to stay afloat.
What we need is leadership. We need leaders who will keep their eyes and ears open to all of their constituents. Leaders who are willing to admit there is a problem.
We need leaders who are willing to make the structural changes necessary to our budget so that our state’s economy can be vibrant and come alive again, so that families will stay, and others will want to move here.
If the “leaders” won’t lead, then it’s time for the backbenchers to step up and demand changes to this budget. Enough of them had to hold their nose to vote for it — now’s the time to admit it was a mistake, and start again.
Suzanne Bates is the policy director for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy. She lives in South Windsor with her family. Follow her on Twitter @suzebates.
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