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Rep. Smith: Crunch Time

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The following is a letter to the editor from State Rep. Richard Smith dated Sept. 23, 2017.

Crunch Time

To the Editor,

Connecticut is in a financial crisis.

Yes, I realize the painful obviousness of that fact and how exasperatingly often we say it, but everyone from policymakers to journalists to taxpayers must remember this unpleasant fact when thinking about and discussing the state budget.  Keeping that fact in mind also helps put into context many of the decisions made in the Republican budget that passed both chambers of the General Assembly last week with bipartisan support.

The breaking point in the budget process followed months of discussion between Governor Malloy and majority Democrats about how to collect sufficient revenue to pay Connecticut’s bills.  The solutions they tossed around – predictably – included a combination of new taxes and transferring state costs onto municipalities and property taxpayers.  Throughout the summer, we heard about a new tax on cell phone bills, sales tax hikes, taxes on seasonal homes, cigarette taxes, and hospital taxes.  That would all have coincided with an implementation of the governor’s desire to shift teacher pension costs onto cities and towns, which would have led to local property tax increases.

Five Democrats in the House and three in the Senate took the unprecedented step of joining with all legislative Republicans last week to pass a budget because repeated attempts to resolve our financial crisis with record tax increases and funding cuts failed.  The Republican budget operates with the knowledge that many Connecticut families and businesses would struggle to afford more taxes, and so it eliminates the deficit without relying on new revenue, and prioritizes funding for municipal aid, education funding, and programs serving our most vulnerable citizens.

The Republican budget also makes difficult choices that force state government to live within its means while our economy recovers from the damage caused by irresponsible budgeting in the past.  Recently, people have shared their concerns with me over cuts to higher education, elimination of taxpayer funding for political campaigns, and asking teachers to make higher contributions to their pensions.

Unfortunately, the ongoing financial crisis necessitated making touch choices about prioritizing our extremely limited resources.  To those criticizing funding cuts in our budget, I would ask you to juxtapose those concerns against several core government services that were on the chopping block, but were preserved in the Republican budget.  Programs like Care4Kids, which helps low-income families afford childcare, faced budget cuts.  Only the Republican budget fully funds Meals on Wheels and drug rehabilitation centers.  Prioritizing services for the IDD community was also deemed far more critical than funding political campaigns.

Since the budget passed last week, those Democrats who voted against it and their union supporters have waged a full-scale attack against the budget, as they are accustomed to giving state employee unions everything they ask for while paying for it with tax increases for everyone else.  In response to the Republican budget passing with bipartisan support, they are throwing literally everything at the wall to see if it sticks.  That has all led to some very disingenuous claims, distortions, and outright lies about what the budget actually does and does not do.

I believe in the importance of openness and honesty in budget deliberations which can often get muddled in insider jargon.  That is why I intend on being completely honest about what this budget does.  For example, I do not dispute the fact that this budget grants UConn only $1 billion (down from $1.2 billion) and eliminates the Citizens Election Program.  I can justify both of those by stating my priorities lie with protecting the most vulnerable among us right now, and then trying to reform faulty programs like CEP later.  To higher education advocates, I say, families in my district have had to make sacrifices as a result of the budget crisis, and now those programs have to as well.

I don’t celebrate it, but it has to be done.

In our third month of the fiscal year without a budget, it is now crunch time.  As the budget heads to the governor’s desk, keep in mind families and businesses across this state have already felt the effects of our state’s budget crisis as we are all in this together.  We have learned that there is no taxing our way out of this hole.  The Republican budget that passed with bipartisan support recognizes the hard choices that need to be made, choices that some may have a difficult time with.  Ultimately, this budget chooses to prioritize taxpayers, senior citizens, programs for at-risk citizens, and better budgeting in the future.  I believe that if the governor signs this budget into law, we can be much more confident in our future and the potential for this state to be as successful as it once was.