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Perhaps Gov. Dannel P. Malloy thought that by making the announcement of the final piece in his biennial budget on the eve of a three-day holiday weekend, the plan wouldn't get much attention. Or maybe Gov. Malloy really is "pleased" with the agreement to close the final $400 million budget gap and the timing is coincidental.
But our take is that taxpayers have taken it on the nose. With the announcement Friday that the governor wants to use $319 million in projected surplus and $81 million in newly discovered savings - not a penny more in cuts - to balance the state's two-year spending plan, it's abundantly clear now that taxpayers made the biggest sacrifice.
Gov. Malloy's promise of "shared sacrifice" has turned out to be lopsided. Our concern all along was that a Democratic governor and a Democrat-controlled General Assembly would not be able to extract the kinds of concessions from state employees that are truly necessary, and that promises of right-sizing government wouldn't materialize.
It looks like we were right.
Over the life of the two-year spending plan, the state will gather $2.6 billion in new and added taxes. The state will slow the growth in spending with $1.6 billion in labor concessions, much of them rather speculative and only if the unions agree. But spending will increase, from $19.3 billion for FY2011, to $19.83 billion for FY2012 beginning July 1 and $20.3 billion for FY2013.
While many individuals and businesses are cutting spending and finding efficiencies everywhere they can, state government continues to swell, albeit perhaps more slowly.
Gov. Malloy said the things he did protect - municipal aid, state jobs and the earned income credit- will get Connecticut's economy percolating and offset any damage done by tax increases.
Taxpayers may well disagree. Many begrudgingly accepted the governor's tax package while asking for more and deeper spending cuts. And they waited on the outcome of the Malloy administration's negotiations with state labor unions. When those talks came up $400 million short, there was an expectation that some of the sacrifice outlined in the so-called Plan B budget would become reality.
Plan B was the laundry list of potential cuts if labor negotiations faltered. But rather than try to reshape government, the governor and Democratic majority chopped $319 million from the $1 billion surplus initially built into the two-year budget - funds that a month ago Gov. Malloy said must go to debt repayment.
In the end, while proposed pension concessions hold out some hope for long-term savings, state government overall doesn't appear much leaner than when this process began.
In this case, there's no consolation in being right.