Outrageous budget assures grim days ahead

You want to know the definition of outrageous? How about this? Increase the state budget during the most serious fiscal crisis in state history. To make it "balance," raid a state workers' pension fund that is already grossly underfunded. Borrow, yet again, to pay for current expenses. In the process, leave a $3.4 billion projected deficit for the next governor and legislature to deal with.

Then declare it a success.

"For the last few weeks we have worked together in a respectful and productive manner to address Connecticut's unprecedented challenges. We are pleased to announce we have reached an agreement …"

So read the joint statement issued by the Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell, and the legislature's Democratic leaders, Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. of Brooklyn and House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan of Meriden.

Now that's outrageous.

A bogus budget does not amount to "addressing Connecticut's unprecedented fiscal challenges." Respectful? Perhaps. But what state taxpayers needed was a governor who would not settle for fiscal chicanery. Instead they have a governor too ready to cut a deal and quietly wrap up her last few months in office.

Productive? That's LOL.

The three budgeteers also said the grand agreement "fully balances the budget" (it does no such thing, of course) and does not raise taxes, cut municipal aid or harm needed social services. No, it just assures that the next poor sap in the governor's chair has to demand that the legislature raises taxes, cuts municipal aid and harms social services.

The legislature began the session having to amend the 2010-11 budget, the second year of the already approved biennium spending plan. The $18.94 billion budget was $726 million in deficit, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis. So did the governor and legislature cut the budget? No. In the final minutes of the session they OK'd a $19.01 billion budget, a $73 million increase!

So how do you "fix" a $726 million deficit by increasing spending and not raising taxes?

Among other things you defer $100 million in pension fund payments, further weakening the fund. You "anticipate" receiving $366 million in additional federal stimulus money. For the second year in a row you borrow about $1 billion, and then order a surcharge on electric bills, about $2.50 per house, to cover the $136 million in added annual debt service.

The Republican minority in the legislature, while justifiably indignant, did not wrap itself in glory either. Republicans filibustered to death a bill requiring a broad, bipartisan study of Connecticut's state and municipal tax structure. The intent was to provide some guidance to the next administration as it wrestles with what will be necessary tax changes and increases.

But just as Democrats want to keep pretending there does not need to be painful spending cuts, Republicans want to make believe that more tax revenues aren't necessary. The projected $3.4 billion deficit for 2011-12 amounts to 18 percent of current spending, meaning the state would have to devote 51 percent of this year's income tax receipts just to close it.

In other words, deep cuts and agonizing tax hikes await.

On a positive note, if the next governor is prepared to stop the game playing and produce a genuine budget, a growing number of moderate Democrats appear ready to join reasonable Republicans and challenge the party leadership on fiscal matters.

Among those voting no to this joke of a budget were several local legislators: Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington; Democratic Reps. Ed Jutila, East Lyme; Edward Moukawsher, Groton; Steve Mikutel, Griswold; Tom Reynolds, Ledyard; and Rep. Chris Coutu, R-Norwich.

Sticking with the leadership in approving the budget were Sens. Eileen Daily, Westbrook; Edith Prague, Columbia; Andrea Stillman, Waterford; and Reps. Ernest Hewett, New London; Melissa Olson, Norwich; Betsy Ritter, Waterford; Kevin Ryan, Montville; Diana Urban, North Stonington; and Elissa Wright, Groton - all Democrats.

As the campaigns begin, beware of candidates offering sunny assurances or easy fixes. It is going to be bad, very bad. The trio of Rell-Donovan-Williams has made sure of that.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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