Over coffee, Westport legislators try to perk up public interest in state budget
Updated 5:22 pm, Friday, April 15, 2011
Around noon Friday, a stream of patrons passed through the doors of the Starbucks coffee shop at 925 Post Road East. Two of them happened to be Westport's state representatives, Democrats Jonathan Steinberg and Kim Fawcett.
After ordering their coffees, they sat at a table where they laid out a stack of handouts on the state budget.
This passed unnoticed by most of the other customers. In fact, only a few residents actually came to Starbucks for the constituent meeting the legislators had planned.
Undeterred, Steinberg and Fawcett convened with the handful of interested citizens for a discussion of state finances as the General Assembly nears a vote on the state budget for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years.
As the state faces an approximate $7 billion deficit for the next two years, the representatives offered a stark assessment of the predicament facing Gov. Dannel Malloy and the legislature.
"Since we're already in the process of making some hard choices on the cuts side, we don't have a lot of options," Steinberg said. "He [Malloy] has already talked to department and agency heads about looking at a 10 percent cut in their operating budgets, but that may be insufficient."
Fawcett was more emphatic. She said the cuts outlined in Malloy's proposed $40 billion two-year budget are inadequate. An Appropriations Committee member, she plans to vote against the spending package when it comes before that panel next week.
"I don't think that we went through this budget with the fine-tooth comb that we needed to," she said. "I don't think we cut everything that we could."
She suggested the elimination of a state-administered informational phone service and the privatization of roadside rest stops as expense-cutting options.
Both legislators had a circumspect response to Malloy's announcement Thursday that called for reinstating $300 of the state's $500 property tax credit that he had previously proposed to eliminate under the new spending and revenue package.
"The legislature advised him that it would probably be a good thing to restore it, and he listened," Steinberg said. "Problem is, every time you take something out of the budget package, something else has to make up for it."
Steinberg and Fawcett said the General Assembly could vote on the 2012-13 budget next month, although the legislative session is scheduled to run until June 8.
Befitting the informal setting, conversation between the legislators was free-flowing.
Sal Liccione said consolidation of government agencies would be an effective tool to reduce state spending. "Why have seven commissioners to do the job, when you might only need three?" he asked.
Routine, rather than ideology, brought Mary Maynard to the gathering. "I never miss a vote," she said. "It's a knee-jerk reaction."
Steinberg and Fawcett added that they hope for a better turnout at their next constituent meeting, which they said will likely be scheduled in the last week of April at Town Hall.