Connecticut’s Misplaced Priorities Root of Gridlock

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Now, more than three months into the state’s longest budget impasse in recorded history, the priorities of both the Democrats, their party’s governor, and the Republicans have been made clear.

Connecticut does not have a budget three months into the fiscal year – we are the only state without one. Towns and cities await the looming fiscal blow that will land in October as they try to manage without anticipated funds from the state. Because Gov. Malloy vetoed the bipartisan budget the legislature approved Sept. 16, the bureaucracy run by Hartford stumbles along under the minimalist executive order that will manage our affairs.

What we do have is the adjusted State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, or SEBAC agreement. These contracts guarantee employment for state workers for four years, guarantee raises and extend costly healthcare and pension benefits for a decade. The Democrats made state workers their number one priority when they approved SEBAC, negotiated solely by Gov. Malloy, in July without a single Republican vote.

Republicans made our priorities clear by crafting a two-year budget that did not raise income, sales or property taxes and was supported by enough Democrats in the House and Senate to pass the legislature. It was the ninth such budget plan Republicans put forth since April and it preserved funding for towns and cities and education.

Republicans were forced to make some tough but necessary decisions in our budget proposal in order to close a $3.5 Billion deficit. It requires state agencies to do more with less funding and recognizes that if we are to live within our means, certain programs will have to be trimmed.

Our budget has been assailed daily by various constituency groups because of these cuts. But the lesson of the last seven years is that huge tax increases, such as the ones Democrats voted for in 2011 and 2015 and proposed again this year, will not solve our ongoing budget deficit cycle.

The reaction by University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst and others associated with the school to cuts in the Republican-driven bipartisan budget was predictable but contributed little, if anything, to solve the state’s fiscal crisis. Among public schools nationally, only two spend more as a percentage on administration.

President Herbst gasped at the prospect of losing any funding and characterized the cuts as nothing less than an outrageous frontal assault on the flagship university. UConn would be better served if she spent more time trying to make her institution more efficient and less bloated than engaging in political gamesmanship.

University officials declined to offer any constructive alternatives to the Republican budget. President Herbst has not said whether she would prefer another huge tax increase on taxpayers, or cuts to social services programs that aid the elderly, poor and ill. Instead, UConn launched a $30,000 ad campaign, the president said the picturesque Avery Point campus was at risk of closing and, in a purely symbolic gesture, students began eating food off paper plates in dorms at Storrs.

Unless the legislature acts soon, a plan to recoup millions in federal funding for state hospitals is at risk. Gov. Malloy has repeatedly targeted the hospitals to gain revenue to balance his budgets and that has cost jobs and hampered these institutions from investing in technology and delivering healthcare to their patients.

We no longer have the time or luxury of engaging in false narratives. The budget that was passed offers constructive solutions to deal with the state’s fiscal crisis. It ought to become law. Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to come together to override the governor’s budget veto.

By Rep. Themis Klarides, House Republican Leader