I am relieved that after months of discussion and debate over the dire state of Connecticut’s finances we finally have agreement in the legislature on a state budget for FY2017-19.
The historic nature of this agreement cannot be overstated. To illustrate, just consider the events of the past session. Beginning in April the Republicans released a two-year budget before a state labor agreement (SEBAC) was reached. April ended with the Democrats failing to propose a budget in Committee. Next they chose to vote on SEBAC without a budget in place. In June, the Democrat majority adjourned without publicly presenting a state budget ever—the first time in history. Meanwhile, Republicans proposed TEN revised budgets—culminating in the GOP bipartisan budget passed out of both chambers, later vetoed. Then the GOP rolled up their sleeves, again; this time joined by Democrat leaders and helped negotiate a compromise budget to withstand Gov. Malloy’s veto. This second historic budget passed both chambers with veto-proof margins! You’ll be reading a great deal about this budget in the coming weeks, but here are a few highlights.
First, we finally have a Constitutional Spending Cap! This is an achievement that has eluded legislators for 25 YEARS, and seemed impossible just last summer, where I served for weeks on the Spending Cap Commission. We have reduced taxpayer spending in key targeted areas by tens of millions of dollars. We prioritized programs like Care for Kids and employment programs for our developmentally disabled high school graduates. We have bolstered funding for senior meals by $2 million. We also reduced municipal mandates, like fixing the arbitration process and prevailing wage limits, which will save tax dollars in every municipality. Many programs are being reduced and very difficult choices remain. This is inevitable, legislators must work to slow and eventually reverse the growth in taxpayer spending. Our beloved state needs a budget that is fully affordable, prioritizes spending and reverses out year deficits–built by spending choices of Democrat legislative majority for decades.
On a district level, I am especially pleased with several accomplishments. First, the budget includes an early initiative I worked on, the Passport to Parks program, which makes parking in our network of state parks free to CT residents and provides additional stable funding to run our forest & park system and other conservation programs. Second, the district will receive 95% of our towns’ education dollars. And third, with the assistance of the CT DOT and U.S. Coast Guard, we have an improved East Haddam Swing Bridge schedule. As the Ranking Member of Appropriations, I have been intensely focused on the fiscal crisis facing our state. In the last few weeks, I was part of a small core group of legislators who worked intensely and created the first-ever, truly bipartisan negotiated budget. I am proud to have served the 34th District as part of this small group.
Lastly, by focusing intently on policy and looking past personality, I hope we have forged a new and cooperative working relationship with our peers across the aisle. However, make no mistake — we are not out of the woods yet. There is still much work to be done – including the very real chance we will be right back at the negotiation table again if revenues continue to decline. But, I’m not ready to give up on Connecticut.