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May 23, 2016 Other Voices

Government reforms can’t stop now

Scott Bates

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislators deserve credit for addressing the state's budget deficit during this year's legislative session. As important as the work that was accomplished, is the way in which it was done.

At a time when residents and business leaders are demanding greater accountability and value from state government, leaders balanced the budget primarily by cutting spending and without increasing taxes. The tone was set early by the governor, and lawmakers did their best to follow his lead. But as everyone knows, there is still lots of work to do.

Government leaders in Hartford have publicly acknowledged that when the legislature returns in January, after the November elections, Connecticut will face a projected deficit of approximately $1 billion. There is no reason to think our state's economic situation will have improved significantly to erase that shortfall through a sudden increase in revenue. That being the case, there will continue to be public demand for further reductions in spending and a resistance to new tax increases.

This expectation from Connecticut taxpayers is not unreasonable and it is in line with Malloy's argument that the economy of Connecticut has fundamentally changed since the Great Recession, and state government must adjust its past spending patterns accordingly.

Fortunately, the work of this session proves it is possible to deliver government services at a lower cost to taxpayers. It is also true that there is a wealth of policy ideas on the table that can lead to higher efficiency at lower cost. Many of these policy options have been studied and shared with state government by the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century (CT21).

In March of this year, the Office of Policy and Management (also known as the governor's budget office) conducted a review of six years of policy recommendations presented by CT21 and concluded that where the institute's ideas have been applied, the result has been better value for Connecticut taxpayers.

CT21 policy proposals have touched on the areas of long-term care, transportation, corrections and information technology. The OPM report acknowledges that it is difficult for state government to adopt many policy ideas in total because of operational issues related to existing contracts, political realities and other complicating factors.

In the current economic and state budget environment, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that some obstacles to change will need to be addressed directly in the months ahead. There are few other reasonable choices available.

We suggest that the next six months are crucial to future success and it would be helpful to adopt a strategy suggested previously as a result of this year's budget debate. Elected leaders, policymakers and concerned citizens have an opportunity, prior to the next session, to determine the top policy priorities for state government based on realistic revenue estimates.

Working together, we can follow Malloy's lead and commit to ensuring Connecticut government spends no more than revenue allows. This requires us to set priorities, invest in those priorities and set aside spending in areas we simply can no longer afford.

CT21 is committed to continue helping in this process and we look forward to helping Connecticut take the next big step in government reform made necessary by the fiscal realities we will continue to face over the next several years.

Scott Bates is the executive director of the Connecticut Institute for 21st Century, a non-partisan, data-driven organization advancing public-policy solutions.

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