Republicans at the Capitol have offered their own counterpoint to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s initial plan for the current budget deficit, but it’s not any easier to swallow. Are there any good choices out there anymore? And if not, where do we go from here?
Once again we’re running a deficit, and we’ve long since run out of cheap and easy ways to fix it. At the beginning of March, Gov. Malloy said he would lay off a portion of the state’s workforce before June as part of a plan to fill that gap, while also asking legislative leaders to make their own suggestions within the week. Republicans unveiled their plan last Tuesday. Democrats, at this time of this writing, are still working — their plan was delayed until at least Friday.
So let’s examine the GOP’s ideas.
What the Republicans are proposing feels a little less draconian than Gov. Malloy’s plan to lay off a “significant” portion of the state workforce. They are looking for state employees to take two days of furloughs, to reduce lawmaker pay by 10 percent, to reduce funding for the public affairs network (CT-N), to eliminate legislator printing or “franking” privileges for the rest of the year, to cut money for charter schools and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and to get rid of $24 million that was supposed to go to cities and towns to reduce property taxes, among other cuts to many different funds.
They would also, interestingly, restore the governor’s controversial hospital cuts, which is something Democrats have been looking to do as well. Hospitals clearly have great lobbyists.
There’s a lot that doesn’t sit well. Furloughs aren’t a great way to deal with a budget deficit, since the money saved by the furlough is partially offset by the economy-wide ripple effects of lost wages, services, and taxes. However, those ripple effects would be disastrously larger should the state actually lay people off, so while furloughs aren’t a great solution, they may be the best option out of a whole raft of bad ones.
There’s also that hospital funding restoration, which sticks out like a hastily treated sore thumb. I’d be fine restoring some money to the smaller hospitals, especially the ones actually losing money, but it seems silly for a state in dire financial crisis to subsidize large hospitals with healthy profit margins, like Hartford Hospital and Yale-New Haven Hospital.
There are other issues. Reducing lawmaker pay from its already low levels seems like asking for even more corruption, CT-N should be protected because it’s otherwise impossible for ordinary citizens to keep an eye on the government, and suspending municipal property tax relief funds just spreads the misery around instead of solving the problem. The rest of their proposed cuts would cause a lot of pain, to be sure, in just about every part of the government.
Basically, everything but revoking franking privileges has its downsides. I’d be fine if legislators could never send out those “information” pamphlets that read and look like campaign ads again. That’s the only choice that feels cut and dried.
That said, I respect this plan. There is no possible budget cutting measure that will not have some very nasty downsides at this point, and a lot of the potential alternatives to the Republicans’ proposals would be much worse.
For instance, furlough days instead of layoffs is probably the less destructive way to go, though it may make things worse in the future. Hopefully that idea will survive. Lowering legislator pay is also potentially less harmful because most legislators have other jobs. As for the rest, Republicans have made valid choices for things they think are priorities and things they think could survive cuts, if not gladly.
In short, Republicans put in the work of government.
It’s another sign of how the Republican minority has been working these past years to give the public an alternative to Democratic governance, instead of simply blocking and booing from the sidelines. It’s refreshing.
It’s also startling to think that the Republican Party in Connecticut can produce astute legislative leadership while also flirting with voting for Donald Trump, at least if polls are to be believed. The distinction between the different pieces of the party will matter should Republicans ever manage to win a majority in either chamber.
In the meantime, Gov. Malloy cut $65 million from the budget, and asked for legislative leaders to find the rest by the end of the month. The budget crisis rolls on. If Democrats can’t find a way to right the ship, Republicans may get a real chance to govern before long.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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