The 2016 legislative session, which opens next week, is shaping up to be a year of retrenchment.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is promising no tax increases and the state is facing what looks to be a $560 million budget deficit. That means deep spending cuts are likely on the horizon.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Tuesday that the state has to get serious about recognizing the need to change how government operates at both the state and local level.
“We cannot operate government without demanding efficiencies that will realize the kinds of savings that we need to keep the budget in balance year to year and reduce our reliance on property taxes,” Sharkey said.
That means taking steps to require performance measures for grants that are doled out to cities and towns.
For Sharkey that means requiring towns to combine their emergency call centers. He said it’s absurd that the state allows every single town and every single municipal police department to run their own call center.
“That’s low hanging fruit,” Sharkey said.
On the education side, Sharkey wants schools boards to adopt a common school calendar so the state doesn’t have to spend as much as it does now on transportation. It’s a proposal that’s been made for the past three years, but has been largely ignored.
Sharkey said the state should not be giving transportation money to the school districts that refuse to cooperate and adopt a common calendar.
He said the state needs to get serious about regionalism and “performance-based budgeting.” Then it can start saving money by creating efficiencies and not giving money to municipalities or state agencies that don’t meet the performance criteria.
“Cutting and slashing things may not be the smartest way of doing budgeting,” he added.
Sharkey, who is both criticized and praised for being a broken record when it comes to touting regional cooperation, argued that the time to make these changes to the budget is right now “when we’re seeing the effects of doing the same old thing.”
The new economy is not going to support the old way of Connecticut’s budgeting, he said.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes agreed. While speaking at an event sponsored by CT Voices for Children, Barnes said that the economy has changed “and our tax system may not be the appropriate one for the new economy.”
Barnes admitted during that speech Tuesday that budget analysts may need to reduce revenue projections further in April after income tax receipts are due. He said the likelihood that revenues will go down in April is “much higher” due to the fundamental changes in the state economy.
“The economy is changing, businesses are adapting, and government must too,” Malloy said Tuesday in a press release touting the progress the state has made toward “lean government.”
State government has shed 1,000 jobs since Malloy took office in 2011, but Barnes said it need to focus on greater accountability for the outcomes produced by state spending.
“We need to make sure that we are doing wonderful things,” Barnes said.
Sharkey predicted that accountability and performance-based budgeting will play a big role next week in Malloy’s state-of-the-state address to the General Assembly.