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May 1, 2017 Editorial

Hartford dysfunction underscores need for full-time legislature

Editor’s Note: This editorial appears in HBJ’s May 1 print issue, but has been revised as a result of new developments that occurred in the state legislature after the editorial went to press on April 27.

Further evidence that our state legislature is ill-equipped to handle their governing responsibilities was on stark display in Hartford last week, reinforcing the notion that part-time lawmakers are unable to effectively govern Connecticut through its fiscal crisis.

In two separate public hearings on April 25, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle demonstrated incompetence when it came to tackling the state’s ever-increasing multibillion-dollar deficits projected for the next two fiscal years.

First, the budget-writing Appropriations Committee dissolved a key meeting without a planned vote for a Democratic-led, two-year $41 billion budget that would have restored some of the municipal aid cuts proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — and added $403 million to the budget without any likely way to pay for it except tax increases. Democrats, who have a slight majority in the House and equal representation in the Senate, blamed Republicans for not taking any ownership of the budget or providing their own remedies to tackle the projected deficit.

The GOP quipped back that Democrats simply didn’t have the votes or support to pass their bill.

Meantime, the out-of-touch Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee was holding its own public hearing on new or higher taxes to help balance the budget. Proposals included increasing the top income tax rate (to 7.49 percent from 6.99 percent) and/or the sales tax, and assessing new taxes on nonprofits.

By the end of the day — and after the Appropriations Committee failed to vote on a budget — Senate Democratic leaders declared they wouldn’t support any broad-based tax hikes, essentially rendering their public hearing meaningless and a waste of time. A few days later, that same committee passed a revenue package with no tax hikes, but the plan isn’t likely to cover the state’s growing deficits in the years ahead without much needed spending cuts.

Lawmakers’ inability to adopt a balanced budget out of committee more than two months after Malloy proposed his spending plan significantly increases the chances that the legislature won’t complete its business by the end of the session, June 7.

It also demonstrates lawmakers’ inability to come to grips with Connecticut’s new economic reality in which structural deficits can no longer be dealt with through tax increases; raising the cost of living and doing business in the state has been counterproductive to economic growth.

It’s a positive step that Democratic leadership is moving away from broad-based tax hikes, which would only exacerbate the problem. But taxpayers should be skeptical of this pledge because there’s still no clear path or plan to a balanced budget. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seem overwhelmed by the task at hand.

Growth not revenues

Connecticut’s fiscal crisis will only be solved by economic growth, not raising tax rates that will continue to drive wealth out of the state.

After experiencing two of the largest tax hikes in state history over the last seven years, Connecticut has experienced one of the slowest-growing economies in the nation.

Meantime, we are losing population, including some of our highest earners. Just last week we got news that April income tax receipts were coming in much lower than anticipated, by 30 percent or $450 million, which will exacerbate the deficit in the years ahead.

The GOP shouldn’t be heralded either. While we support their resistance to tax increases, Republicans weren’t timely in pitching their own comprehensive budget, although they did propose a spending plan late last week.

Of course, we aren’t saying there are any easy options on the table. Many oxen will be gored when lawmakers eventually pass a budget sometime this summer, or fall, if it takes that long.

But the inability of the legislature to come up with budget solutions in a timely manner continues to hamper the state and lead to bad decision-making. It was only a few years ago that legislators approved last-minute business tax hikes that had to be partially rescinded following major outcry and threats from our state’s largest employers.

Our part-time state legislature has proven time and time again it’s unable to grapple with the complexities of state government. The need to adopt a professional, full-time legislature has never been more apparent.

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