State needs a fiscal reform commission

Restructuring of Connecticut's finances isn't waiting any longer for tax reform plans or large-scale fiscal policy change that never materializes. It has been zigzagging forward regardless, in the ungainliest way, like duct-taped Apollo 13 lurching back to Earth.

When the budget battering finally produces a spending and revenue plan, the state will land safely, but dented and banged up and missing some of its valuable parts. Desperate measures will get us through the emergency, but that is no way to operate. And the comparison to the space mission ends there, because there has been nothing heroic to cheer about.

The worst effect of the fiscal wrangling is that reactionary measures become the norm. With some exceptions, such as state employee pension reform, decisionmaking has veered away from being proactive, setting a course that isn't a course at all.

Do politicians and voters need any more evidence than this year's four-caucus, five-budget stalemate to convince them that the state needs the kind of fiscal examination of conscience proposed by Gov. Dan Malloy when he was shiny and new?

The Day urges the governor, who has one more year to re-polish his legacy, to call for a tax reform effort that begins with a fact-finding commission. In addition to the elected officials who have tried and failed large-scale reform, its expert members should include payers of every category of state and local tax and fees: sales, property, conveyance, corporate, capital, estate, all the way down to dog licenses. It should include representatives of the recipients of state funds: towns, schools, health care, social services, public safety, transportation and all the way up to the Governor's Horse Guard.

Their charge would be to look at Connecticut as it is now and find the mismatches. What aren't we doing that we should be? Are the burdens fairly shared — not politically, but mathematically and demographically? What are we giving away that we should be charging for, or sharing costs? Who or what else is out there benefitting from what Connecticut taxpayers support? Out-of-state drivers on interstates 84 and 95, perhaps?

In a moment of acute crisis, after the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the governor assembled panels to assess and recommend action on gun safety and mental health. In the face of the opioid epidemic that continues still, he assembled experts to advise on medical, social and law enforcement responses. Is Connecticut's dim fiscal picture any less vital to future safety and health?

One of the state's glories is its highly educated population, including a high percentage of adults with college and professional degrees. It has some of the world's finest colleges and universities. They helped with the Sandy Hook response and they are helping with the opioid strategy. They would respond if asked to serve, and as Connecticut residents they have a stake in it.

The state is also gifted with world-class business people and entrepreneurs who know what they would do, in the private sector, if saddled with a level of debt that could shut them down. Business is more nimble than state government; faced with a major deficit they might have had different and better solutions than the political calculations that are hamstringing the budget. Their insights, shared in a public forum such as a commission, might inspire policies that address the flight of corporations out of the state.

It is tempting to remind ourselves that we are all in this together, but skepticism says our politicians don't believe that. If they did, would the state be in this morass? Would they not have moved past a difficult budget and on to a vision for the future of 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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