July 31, 2017
To the Editor,
As of writing, the State of Connecticut is now four weeks without a budget for the next biennium after the closing of the fiscal year on June 30th – a situation so unprecedented that chaos and aimlessness of this magnitude has not been seen in recent state history.
What makes our current predicament so unprecedented is not just the fact that a budget has not been signed into law, but also the circumstances surrounding this year’s budget stalemate and the shocking abandonment of duty by the party that has held a majority in the House for 30 straight years. Having experienced many difficult years in Hartford, I’ve made some observations on how this year is unique.
For one, Connecticut remains mired in a historic and seemingly permanent fiscal crisis as a result of misguided budgets over the past few decades – this is no longer news to most people. Our cycle is to spend money we don’t have, raise taxes to cover the difference, and then suffer the consequences of taxpayers leaving for more tax-friendly states. Now, Connecticut’s economic recovery lags painfully behind the rest of the country, while major companies announcing their departures from the state have become all too common.
Voters across the state began to realize how years of bad budgets have hurt their family finances, their children’s education, and their businesses, which is why there is more partisan parity in the legislature this year than in the past. A razor-thin House majority makes it more difficult for the majority party to push through legislation, which is why concerning bills like the toll bill could not pass. It also puts pressure on certain Democrats who campaign on being fiscally responsible moderates and are wary of allowing a budget that increases taxes.
Another notable development is how closely families and businesses across the state are tuned into the intricacies of a budget process normally followed only by Hartford insiders. Because of the severe and direct impact of the state budget crisis on Connecticut families, I regularly speak to constituents who express fear and anger over the legislature’s failure to do its job of passing a budget. Passing a budget that can turn the state around affects people’s livelihoods and so it befits them to become well-versed in the process.
I can tell you the majority leadership’s dramatic abandonment of their duty to pass a budget has never been seen before. Even though I have long supported the fully-vetted, no-tax increase, balanced budget proposal submitted by House Republicans, only the majority party may call votes on the floor of the House, which limits our influence to pass a budget. That power resides with the House Speaker, who thus far has steadfastly refused to call our budget or even discuss it on the floor of the House, in spite of the majority party’s failure to produce their own budget at multiple deadlines.
Significantly, never in recent memory has the state been without a budget because of the Speaker’s refusal to call a vote on a budget. While previous budget crises have resulted from various governors vetoing budgets passed by the legislature, four weeks into this fiscal year the legislature has not even discussed the issue.
With those unprecedented conditions, it makes it even more heartbreaking to read reports of how the state budget crisis has hurt local communities. Towns are scrambling to make up for shortfalls in their own budgets left by the withholding of expected municipal aid. Road repair services were cancelled, major capital purchases are being put off, and at least one Connecticut community will be forced to delay the first day of school.
This passive choice to drift aimlessly in the midst of ugly budget cuts that have real-time consequences on people’s lives and business prospects is unconscionable. That’s why I have joined the House Republicans in using every legislative maneuver we are aware of to try and force a vote on a budget that will get us back on track. Thus far, our efforts have been rebuffed by the majority party – even the so-called “moderates” have ignored our proposals and blocked them from receiving a vote.
Taxpayer advocates in the legislature have been iced out of the process in favor of those who cater to union interests.
Right now, we are adrift in an economic storm without a budget, without a direction, and without a will to succeed or accept new ideas. Something has to change.
State Rep. John Frey represents the 111th Assembly district in Ridgefield. He is Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s Transportation Bonding Subcommittee.