Foley best choice to attack fiscal problems

What voters must consider in choosing the next governor is not only who is the best candidate, but who is the superior candidate given the circumstances confronting the state of Connecticut. The Day concludes that man is Republican candidate Tom Foley.

The next governor faces a formidable challenge. The Office of Fiscal Analysis projects that a $3.4 billion deficit for fiscal year 2011-12 will greet the next governor on inaugural day. That equals about 20 percent of current state spending. Using more honest accounting, which all the candidates for governor have pledged to do, will likely show the gap between projected revenues and expenditures to be significantly worse.

While the steep economic downturn and the resulting loss in income-tax revenues have exacerbated the budget problem, an economic recovery alone will not correct it. Many of the problems are structural and too-long ignored. Increases in the cost of state employee benefits, and more acutely of retiree pension obligations, are on an unsustainable track.

By borrowing for ongoing expenses, using emergency money from the Rainy Day Fund and one-time revenue sources such as property sale profits and federal stimulus grants, Connecticut has retained a government bureaucracy that the tax-revenue structure cannot support. Connecticut spends 12 percent of its budget to service its debt, among the highest in the nation.

This is no single year problem. Projections show large deficits for years to come unless there are major changes.

Best choice

Among the candidates, Mr. Foley is best suited for the job at hand. The challenges confronting the next governor do not appear to intimidate him. While fiscally conservative, he is no ideologue, and is pragmatic about what needs to be fixed. His success in business makes him well aware of the needs of business and the ways current state policies hinder it. Next to fiscal reform and job creation, Mr. Foley says education will be his highest priority, well aware that it is vital to the state's future economic success.

Mr. Foley founded the NTC Group in 1985 to acquire struggling businesses and make them profitable. He may lack governing experience, but he is certainly familiar with making difficult decisions.

He will prove a tough negotiator in seeking necessary concessions from state labor unions. And, we suspect, he will not hesitate in cutting jobs if those concessions are not forthcoming. He considers that a last resort, recognizing that layoffs will further damage the economy. Given concessions, Mr. Foley says he can get the job done without putting people out of work.

Democrats, who will almost certainly retain their legislative majority, but perhaps by a smaller margin, too easily rolled over outgoing Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell on budget matters. They will find a more formidable chief executive in Mr. Foley.

Political combat between the Republican governor and the Democratic legislature provides the greatest chance for a solution. The best outcome will be a budget compromise that nobody likes and that shares the pain equally.

Quality opponent

This is a difficult choice because Mr. Foley's Democrat opponent, past prosecutor and former Stamford mayor Dannell Malloy, is a high-quality candidate. Mr. Malloy deserves significant credit for the Stamford renaissance. His campaign stand against the death penalty is courageous and one we support. He is a candidate full of ideas.

But Mr. Malloy has closely aligned himself with state labor unions in an effort to win first the primary and now the general election. Voters have to be suspect about whether a Democratic governor, working with a Democratic legislative leadership that has shown no inclination to make the tough choices, will too easily turn to tax increases rather than making greater demands of state labor and trimming the bureaucracy.

Mr. Foley has said he will not increase taxes - in the first year. This appears to be a political and tactical position. The Republican fears that if he starts by putting a tax increase on the table, as Mr. Malloy has done, he will be unable to move the Democratic majority to cut government. But as we've noted, compromise will be necessary, perhaps even on tax increases.

The third candidate in the race, Tom Marsh of the Independent Party, does not appear ready to make the giant leap from first selectman of Chester to the governor's office, particularly not in the midst of this fiscal crisis.

The Day endorses Tom Foley in the race for Connecticut governor.

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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