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May 15, 2017 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.

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