Opinion: Legislature detached from fiscal crisis
Connecticut is in the grip of the most serious financial crisis since the Depression, but the supermajority controlling the state House and Senate seems to be out of touch with the reality of the situation.
The legislature's latest bewilderment is a $19.28 billion proposed budget for the next fiscal year that actually increases spending by $350 million, with no identifiable means to pay for it. This proposed spending increase is especially puzzling after the state had to borrow $900 million to cover a shortfall at the end of the last fiscal year. This year the state is running another $514.8 deficit and may have to borrow again.
The legislature holds nearly all the spending power in Hartford but in recent history it has been unable to act in any responsible way. Before the recent downturn in the economy, the state legislature boosted spending at unsustainable rates. The General Fund budget for fiscal year 2005 increased by 9.0 percent, fiscal year 2006 by 5.4 percent and fiscal year 2007 by 8.9 percent. Compounded, that amounts to something close to a 25 percent increase in just three years.
Last year, confronted with budget shortfalls, legislators failed to make mid-term adjustments in the second year of the two-year state budget, leaving the state to plunge into a deficit. The current year budget opened up with a $500 million deficit, almost as soon as it was enacted. Now, majority party legislators are proposing to increase spending, which can only be characterized as baffling.
Meanwhile, voters understand the need for a spending freeze. Any rational citizen facing repeated shortfalls at home or at work would freeze (if not cut) spending until the economy improves and revenues increase. A freeze alone won't close future deficits, but it would be a long overdue acknowledgement by our representatives of the state's economic peril. Minimally, the legislature must consider this painful but necessary step.
The longer the majority party avoids the economic realities, the worse the problems becomes for the next legislature, the next governor and the next generation of Connecticut residents.
Ken Bernhard is a partner at Cohen and Wolf, PC and Westport's former state representative.