–By Ned Lamont
There must be a plaque on Governor Rell’s desk which reads, “The buck doesn’t stop here.”
Her recent op-ed piece in Sunday’s Hartford Courant was a classic example of blame-shifting for the state’s ongoing budget crisis. Crying, “the legislature made me do it,” is a thin excuse for someone who has held the title of CEO of the State of Connecticut for the past five years– five years during which our state should have been implementing a strategy to lift Connecticut from the bottom of the heap in job growth and new business start-ups.
In her budget address to the legislature this past February, Governor Rell stated that, “the bloat of bureaucracy is no longer affordable.” But that so-called bloat was never affordable, it was ramped up on her watch, and it has now become a long-term problem we are forced to solve with short-term fixes that will weaken Connecticut’s competitive position in future years.
The Governor’s op-ed piece would have you think that she is the only one in Hartford who wants a more efficient government, yet only last week she announced that she had exhausted all possible cuts in the state budget. “That’s a fantasy,” Republican columnist Kevin Rennie writes on the same page; “when state officials give up their drivers, we will know that every cut has been made. Their drivers will be the last to go.”
More importantly, when the state has a strategy to upgrade information technology to reduce costs and increase efficiency, when we have balanced the costs and effectiveness of drug treatment versus incarceration, and home health care versus nursing homes, when we achieve fundamental health care reform (can you say Sustinet?), when our capital spending is strategically targeted and not spread out like peanut butter — then maybe the Governor can say with a straight face that we are getting serious about managing our spending.
Governor Rell writes that Connecticut cannot tax its way to prosperity, but her budget instead tries to borrow, securitize, and cost-shift our way out of this severe deficit.
1) Borrowing: her biggest ‘labor savings’ simply borrows from the state pension fund by incenting our best workers to retire with additional pension bennies, and by failing to fund our pension obligations. Connecticut has one of the most underfunded state pensions in the country, but it will fail on someone else’s watch, so…
2) Securitize: Latin for more borrowing. How about a new gambling game which ‘taxes’ those citizens least able to pay, and then we sell the future revenue stream to a gambling company.
3) Cost shift: let’s pay our Medicaid doctors a little less; not to worry, small business can make up the difference with higher premiums.
Her cuts are piecemeal and ill-considered: cuts in internet access to our libraries and schools, cuts in economic development money, cuts to the Connecticut Innovations Fund, the Connecticut Economic Resource Council and the Connecticut Technology Council — all of which are at the forefront of attracting and keeping good paying jobs and businesses. While we may unilaterally disarm, other states competing for our jobs and workers are not cutting these types of initiatives.
HIS Global Insight recently ranked the states which are best able to weather the recession and return to pre recession job levels. Connecticut ranked dead last in regaining lost jobs: sometime “after 2015.” The high cost of housing, an aging transportation system, a gaping educational divide, high energy costs, one of the oldest populations and highest property taxes- these are all in the mix when it comes to holding Connecticut back. But don’t despair. We also have a much envied quality of life, a strong university system in the heart of the knowledge corridor, a well educated labor force, and access to capital ready to invest in the future of our state.
We need to maximize our advantages and address our deficiencies – starting with an honest budget. The budget buck passing needs to stop here and now; the Governor still has time to get all the stakeholders around the table and make smart, tough choices which do not shortchange Connecticut’s future. We don’t need armchair critics. That’s why for the past year William Cibes and I engaged business and labor and nonprofit leaders from across the state who came together around a strategic framework for our state’s future, which you can read more about at CTBlueprint.org.
As Warren Buffet commented on the national recession, “When the tide goes out, you can see who’s been swimming naked.” Sadly, Connecticut has been swimming naked for a long time, most recently under Governor Rell’s leadership. This economic downturn should have been our wake up call. Don’t let the Governor hit the snooze button once again.