May 15, 2017 4 COMMENTS
OTHER VOICES

State, local leaders have chance to reinvent CT government

Bruce Carlson

Throughout history, crises have been crucibles for ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Connecticut is at such a point financially. We need ordinary people to take action in ways that have not occurred in recent memory, and to stay focused on what is good for Connecticut, rather than what is good for the individual or for any one political party.

The dimensions of the state budget crisis are daunting, but they must be faced. By choosing not to run for re-election, Gov. Malloy is unshackled from needing to assuage the traditional Democratic base and take the necessary steps to help solve the budget crisis.

This is his time to build his legacy and become remembered — not for the two largest tax increases in Connecticut's history, but as the governor who set the state on track to flourish in the next decade.

Since success in building a new, balanced budget is going to require cuts that will be painful and additional revenue generation, we should look beyond what will get us through the next two years, and create a "2020 Vision," Connecticut's plan for the next decade.

This is the moment for legislators as well. They are not running for re-election this year. The pain caused by rightsizing Connecticut's spending to match its revenue-raising potential will diminish if, in a year, the public sees that we are finally no longer facing deep deficits and that the plan is working.

Right now, we don't care where the good ideas and leadership come from, all we want is for leaders to lead. It may well be that the legislative leadership will need to quickly take their caucuses through the five stages of grief, as it seems that many are stuck at denial and anger, and everyone, or at least a majority, is going to have to accept the crisis we are all confronting.

It will take time, but this time is essential to making good decisions. It may not be good policy to miss the deadlines for budget creation, or even the new fiscal year on July 1, but it would be better to come up with a long-term solution than to create another budget that will be out of balance before the ink is dry.

Municipal government and its leaders must be part of the solution. The choice is whether they want to have it done to them, or have it done with them and help guide the changes coming down the pike.

We have heard and read over the last few months that inefficiency at the state level should not lead to cuts at the municipal level because our cities and towns have been well run. What isn't said or recognized is that even if a town might be well run, it exists in a massively inefficient system.

How can we sustain 169 town governments and nearly as many school systems? The opportunities for economies of scale are simply lost; and even more so when a town government and its local school system operate on two separate budgets. The taxpayer can no longer support this system and the billions of dollars passed down from state government to prop it up.

Cuts in municipal aid do not require towns to raise property taxes. If a town chooses to do that, that is its right. However, creativity and charting new courses might create better choices.

For instance, there are 25 school districts in the whole state of Maryland, with nearly 50 percent more students in its system than in Connecticut. Are the students in Maryland being shortchanged by this?

We have great technological opportunities to create efficiencies in towns, but they are not being utilized. When a Connecticut company like See, Click, Fix, which helps towns stay on top of non-emergency issues, has trouble making in-roads in Connecticut towns, but is widely accepted by municipalities outside the state, it tells me that our towns are not motivated to find efficiencies.

There are plenty of guideposts already set for how to save money at the local level, whether it is the M.O.R.E. Commission report or the work of the Capitol Region Council of Governments and its member towns. The state and federal government have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to connect all 169 towns by state-of-the-art fiber optics systems. In many towns, this investment sits like the treadmill that a family buys with the best intentions, but goes unused in the basement. It is time to brush the dust off this system and put it to use to deliver today's efficiencies.

The Connecticut Technology Council can contribute by creating a forum where we showcase the technologies available to help municipalities save money. Some of those technologies are in companies in Connecticut, and others are outside our borders. But we would be delighted to play our part on the technology side and introduce municipal and state officials to successful technologies being implemented around the country.

This is the moment. This is the moment that all of our elected officials have an opportunity to go from ordinary to extraordinary.

Connecticut's future is in your hands.

Bruce Carlson is the president and CEO of the Connecticut Technology Council.

Comments

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SBC

05/18/17 AT 08:24 AM
First an assessment.
Without an assessment of needs of the CT's 169 towns & cities, it would be difficult to apply technology to pacify budgetary cuts and constraints. This would be a separate endeavor by itself and no small one at that - towns, small and large are complex entities that seek to efficiently manage their civic needs in education, security, public health, etc. Towns are already facing the consolidation and cuts in public health services by CT-DPH and are doing so reluctantly in that centralization effort. #GovtTech can offer many solutions but without an assessment, the effort may be futile. As a technologist, I can see the promise, opportunities, and risk. SeeClickFix is a small remedy for civic maintenance, as is RecDesk (parks & recreation assets management) and both are CT companies. Many of the #GovtTech solutions are still in the nascent stage and to interpret as a panacea would run the risk of a costly govt transformation. First an assessment.

CTTransplant

05/17/17 AT 12:59 PM
You had me up until you said, 'Cuts in municipal aid do not require towns to raise property taxes. If a town chooses to do that, that is its right. However, creativity and charting new courses might create better choices.'

I agree that municipalities can become more efficient, I also think that you could craft a very good argument that they exist in an inefficient system. However, that statement is extremely false. Implementing 'creative' plans and 'charting new courses' takes time. Right now municipalities do not have any time. Each town is different but according to many town charters, they have to pass budgets a month in advance of the start of the fiscal year. What municipalities have is huge uncertainty in regards to revenues. Many municipalities are referring to their budgets as 'expenditure reports' because a budget requires expenses and revenues. Because of the uncertainty of revenues, coupled with the mil rate cap on motor vehicles to 32 mils and the shift of teacher benefits payments to towns (millions of dollars), MUNICIPALITIES HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO RAISE TAXES. In some towns, municipalities do not have taxing authority until a mil rate has been set. So until this uncertainty in revenues is cleared and actual budgets can be passed, towns will be forced to spend their reserves and wait on the legislature.

Malloy will be responsible for another record year of tax increases, but this year it will be at the town level.

Had Enough

05/17/17 AT 08:43 AM
The real underlying problem is the size of state government. At last count there were approximately 54,000 state employees, all with benefits and retirement packages no business can afford. The fact that we have so many towns and school systems operating independently could be part of the solution if we were to take a lot of the state run functions and reverted back to a county run system. Imagine 7,000 employees in each county! They would be tripping over each other and could clear the highways with snow shovels. That puts into perspective how our state government has grown into an obese political pig that the more you feed it the more it eats. Sadly I have several former state employee friends who have all moved south and enjoy these rich benefits, live like kings, and never look back, never mind paying taxes that we are burdened with to keep up their royal lifestyles. Granted there are a lot of great and dedicated state employees, but when the state is the largest employer by nearly\ three times and all of the corporations have diminished that should have been a wakeup call years ago. There is no excuse for such big deficits, and it's a shame that the state unions have wielded their political clout over too many politicians who's only concern is to be elected.

bytheshore

05/17/17 AT 08:43 AM
Good comments and ideas Bruce. I agree that merging municipal resources makes a lot of sense.

Here's one more idea to add, although I'm sure more controversial: how about the state of Connecticut merging with a border state, say Rhode Island, for the same reasons? If we did that, we'd only need one legislature and all the departments and managers that go along with them.

Right now the state is headed towards a Puerto Rico-like bankruptcy. Now is the time for bold ideas, while citizens and politicians all are getting the message that action needs to be taken.
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