Something remarkable happened last fall in a crowded conference room in Meriden. Municipal leaders from across the state gathered to discuss community-based economic growth with reform from the General Assembly. The committee, on the heels of a discussion point, were taking a short break when Leo Paul, First Selectman of Litchfield, began to speak.
Paul pledged his support to the collective work of the group, despite the conversation having little to do with his own community. As Paul’s comment trailed off, the Chairman silenced sidebar discussions to move the agenda forward — but before the committee had a chance to regroup, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin stepped forward with an objection. Bronin expressed that since Litchfield could garner no benefit from the prior discussion, it was not resolved and the committee could not move forward. For Bronin, true resolution required an increased impact on the town of Litchfield — a testament to municipal leaders’ commitment to collectivity.
To call this exchange “remarkable” might seem like an overstatement. With its small geographic size, Connecticut is extremely economically interdependent. Working together for the greater good is a crucial concept that municipal leaders from diverse communities not only grasp, but embrace in open quorums.
The problem, however, comes when members of the General Assembly refuse to accept this same practice of collaboration. While municipal leaders eagerly embrace bipartisan participation, state leaders take on a rather narrow and self-motivated approach.
This sectarian approach is seen time and time again in session — for example in the case of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed “Robin Hood” budget that would redistribute wealth to underprivileged communities. Every caucus in the General Assembly responded in their singular and restricted perspective — only aiming to save their districts and preserve their ideologies.
This divide runs so deep that legislators have committed to vote down any budget that sends more money to a specific community.
Leaders from both sides have expressed that they want the same thing for Connecticut, but simply differ in their views on how to reach their “collective” vision. While these statements sound valuable, they are not true. In fact, the budget impasse continues because legislators do not share a common vision for Connecticut — some legislators think preserving aid to their community is a legislative victory even at the expense of neighboring towns. Some want to bail out distressed cities. Others want these cities to fail.
Self-preservation has become a competition in which victory is declared only through the failure of the opposition.
As Steven Covey declares in his best seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “begin with the end in mind.” When municipal leaders put forth their recommendations, they work together toward a positive outcome for all of Connecticut. With a willingness to reach across parties and communities, municipal leaders cooperated to reduce rural and suburban property taxes while stimulating economic growth in urban centers — a clear display of the collaborative leadership that Connecticut desperately needs.
When state legislators lead with inflexible self-serving approaches, there is little room for our state to thrive as a whole. When economic success for one town yields economic strife for another, the entire state fails. Collaboration, not single minded competition, inspires an attitude toward shared responsibility and mutual benefit. In order to move forward toward progress and prosperity, Connecticut legislators must put aside their limited self-preservation and embrace a more collective and collaborative approach.
Joe DeLong is the Executive Director of CCM, which is Connecticut’s largest nonpartisan, statewide association of towns and cities, representing 158 member municipalities. CCM’s goal is to improve everyday life for every Connecticut residents by sharing best practices and objective research to help our local leaders govern wisely. CCM advocates at the state level for issues affecting local taxpayers, and pools its buying power to negotiate more cost-effective services for communities.
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