Bearer of bad but not altogether surprising news, state budget director Ben Barnes this week appeared before the legislature’s fiscal committees to lay out a tough scenario for the next four years.
We’re facing an immediate $365 million budget gap in this fiscal year, he reported, and close to $2 billion in deficits over the next biennium.
That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is an economy that won’t seem to budge out of first gear, record tax increases in the state’s current budget, and a recession-fueled demand for more public services.
Just trying to maintain the state’s same spending obligations over the next four years would run billions over revenue projections. And Barnes, fortunately, said the administration doesn’t want to increase taxes.
Which means that something much more dramatic is needed, said Barnes. Connecticut has “significant policy challenges … which must be addressed now,” says his Fiscal Accountability Report 2013-2016.
We suggest that controlling state spending and keeping it under the state’s constitutional spending cap, avoiding additional tax increases, streamlining state government, and implementing sound, long-term fiscal reforms can be instrumental in restoring the confidence of Connecticut businesses.
And that would be the best job-creating, economy-driving, fiscal problem-solving policy the state could possibly have.
Fortunately, there are a number of solid, practical ideas available to address the state’s biggest and seemingly insolvable budget components, from long-term healthcare to corrections to state employee retiree benefits.
The Connecticut Regional Institute for the 21st Century, reports of various state commissions, and the best practices of other states all point to how to improve the delivery of government services and reduce their costs.
However, the fiscal report offers that “Connecticut’s fiscal future will largely be determined by forces outside of the control of state leaders.”
Forces, it says, such as the nation’s fiscal cliff battle, the European debt crisis, and rising demand for public services. To be sure, those are very formidable pressures.
But the reality is that there is so much that state policymakers can do to control our fiscal future and put Connecticut on better long-term financial ground. And in the process, restore a robust economy.
If we can’t control the outside forces, then let’s control what we can. With an economic growth and job-creation policy founded on greater fiscal accountability and responsibility.