Connecticut's fiscal Groundhog Day

The Connecticut General Assembly will return to regular session Feb. 7. It seems like they’ve never been away. Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, would be a more appropriate return date.

It’s not that legislators will be expected to predict whether winter departs early. And we’re not suggesting that our senators and House members sometimes govern as if they are scared of their own shadows, as tempting as that might be.

Instead, recent legislative sessions are mindful of that classic movie, Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray, playing the surly, arrogant weatherman Phil Connors, is assigned to cover the festivities in Punxsutawney, Pa., and finds himself living the day over and over again.

Year after year lawmakers return facing deficit projections — revenue estimates aren’t covering the expenditures the General Assembly authorized. Fingers are pointed, blame exchanged, and various spending adjustments and higher taxes and fees approved to “fix” the problem.

Then the legislature returns the following session and relives the process, if not in the preciseness experienced by Connors, in uncomfortably close proximity.

In 2017, a two-year spending plan received bipartisan support, though late and four months into the fiscal year. The current estimates are that the first year of that budget, which runs through June 30, faces a projected deficit of $240 million, with the gap likely growing larger in year two.

Lawmakers could tap a portion of $586 million, which is the number that General Fund revenues are running ahead of projections, but they would have to ignore the rule they passed last year, directing such temporary windfalls — which this appears to be — into the reserve account, commonly called the Rainy Day Fund, now sadly depleted.

The better choice is for the legislature to stick to its rule, save the money and find corresponding budget cuts to get the budget in balance, as painful as that may be.

As for big change, that may be a reach. This is an election year, with governor and every legislative seat up for grabs. Election years make politicians all the more reluctant to extend necks. It could be that the state will relive Groundhog Day yet again.

But perhaps our gubernatorial candidates, and there are plenty of them, can suggest approaches to finally break our state out of this budgetary loop. Feb. 3 eventually arrived for Phil Connors. Fiscal sustainability would be a welcomed arrival for Connecticut.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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