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    Local Columns
    Wednesday, August 17, 2022

    Bet on new Connecticut taxes

    Now that the debate phase of this year's General Assembly election season is almost over, we can see some clear patterns in the candidates' answers on issues of the day.

    What struck me most from the collective answer to the general questions about the state's fiscal crisis is that I heard very little in the way of solutions.

    If you think of the state's fiscal standing as a ship quickly filling with water, about all I've heard suggested is some timid bailing.

    It's true that some of the Republicans have sounded a clear alarm about the state's spiraling pension obligations and say reform is needed immediately.

    That is of course an understatement. But it doesn't address the crisis at hand.

    Actually, the sharpest warning I heard about the need for pension reform came from the Democrat running against incumbent Republican state Sen. Art Linares of Westbrook.

    Norm Needleman, the first selectman of Essex, said he would assemble all the pension system players in one room and have the best bankruptcy attorney in the country read everyone the riot act.

    Act now or everyone will be in serious trouble.

    Republican Aundre Bumgardner of Groton, the incumbent running for re-election to his House seat, also was quite pointed in noting that pensioners themselves need to worry about the state's ability to continue to pay.

    "It's a ticking time bomb," he said. "We risk not being able to make the payments."

    Incumbent Republican Kathleen McCarty of Waterford also was pointed about the need for pension reform, saying the status quo is not sustainable and the need for all parties to come to the table is "urgent."

    Still, while this is appropriate alarm, pension reform is not going to solve the urgent budget crisis that will confront the new General Assembly when it convenes, as a big old fiscal Nor'easter blows up the coast.

    It is unlikely the unions will agree in the next session to reopen existing contracts or even discuss pension reform, any more than they did last session.

    Indeed, if the Democrats win control of the state House and Senate again, the unions, incredibly, will be in charge, the new house speaker literally on the union payroll.

    What struck me most about the answers to the fiscal crisis questions was the lack of alarm from almost everyone, except as they focused on pension reform.

    Most everyone acknowledged the problem, but no one suggested much in the way of the huge spending cuts or tax increases that will be immediately necessary to keep the state afloat.

    Some of the incumbent Democrats, like Sen. Cathy Osten, first selectwoman of Sprague, suggested more of the same hole plugging, even though the holes are projected to be way bigger than ever before.

    She and other Democrats suggested they will again go through the budget "line by line" and find cuts. Keep bailing.

    The only Democrat I've heard really acknowledge the depth of the state's current budget crisis, one that will require a new thinking about the state's ability to provide the kinds of services it does now, is Gov. Dannel Malloy, and he's not on the ballot this election.

    When pressed about budget solutions, Rep. Kevin Ryan of the 139th House District suggested more middle managers in state government might have to be sacrificed. That's a start.

    But then Ryan refused to take a no-new-tax pledge, one heartily supported by his opponent, Republican Mark Taraya.

    Democrat Ryan Henowitz of New London, challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Paul Formica of East Lyme, is someone who has worked directly for Connecticut unions. He all but promised new taxes, at least that's what I heard as he called for "shared sacrifice," the rhetorical fig leaf the governor put on the historic tax increase at the beginning of his term.

    Henowitz also called for new "fees" on corporations like Wal-Mart that he said don't pay employees a living wage, making them dependent on state assistance.

    Others did cough up some money-saving ideas, but not many that would seem to have much impact. Formica suggested ending lawmakers' free mailing privileges.

    Democratic Senate candidate Timothy Bowles of Preston wants the size of the legislature reduced. That is not likely to happen anytime soon and wouldn't save much even if it were to come to pass.

    Democrat Joseph de la Cruz of Groton, running against Bumgardner, nobly suggested jailing fewer people on drug offenses, savings not likely to amount more than a few cups of bailing, no matter how good a concept.

    De la Cruz, at the opposite end of the pension alarm spectrum, suggested that state pensions are not necessarily too generous, but the private sector instead falls short in providing them at all.

    When lawmakers convene next at the sausage factory, most of the candidates we heard from around here will have very little to do with what ends up on our plates.

    I expect that what we will be served up from legislative leadership is going to be more "shared sacrifice" of tax increases, especially if the Democrats win and unions are still in control.

    This is the opinion of David Collins.


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