Connecticut on the Fiscal Brink: $5 Billion Budget Shortfall

It can’t get much uglier. New revenue projections show the state of Connecticut is currently on course to have a $5 billion budget deficit in 2018-19. Yes, that only happens if no action is taken but it’s a daunting number nonetheless. Meanwhile, legislative Democrats and Republicans joust over optics, tweets who has or hasn’t come up with concrete ideas to solve the problem.

The latest numbers are stark indicators of how far gone the state’s budget situation really is. The legislature’s nonpartisan budget office and that of the governor agree that the state is short $2.2 billion for current services in the 2017-18 budget year and an additional $2.7 billion in 2018-19 meaning the state is on course for a $5 billion budget hole.

Conn. Senate President Martin Looney (D, left) and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R).

 

The people of Connecticut might expect that such unnerving numbers would jar Democrats and Republicans into bipartisan action. The people of Connecticut would be wrong.

The two parties seem more interested in who will be blamed for the ultimate solution to the problem, a remedy that is more elusive than ever. (It’s hard to blame each other for something that doesn’t yet exist.) At times things have degenerated into pettiness.

Republicans came up with a budget proposal only to see it fall out of balance before it was even made public—a Jodi Rell-esque occurrence. But that didn’t stop Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff from slamming it.

“The Republicans crafted this half-baked budget in secret and without any transparency or public hearings,” Duff told the Hartford Courant. “Buyers beware. The Republican budget raises lots of taxes, despite their rhetoric. Car taxes and property taxes will significantly increase for the middle class. In a sentence, ‘You can’t eat cake and lose weight,’ and this is what their proposal wants people to believe,” Duff said.

Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, who last week told The Hanging Shad that Democrats’ arrogance stood in the way of a budget compromise, whacked Duff personally. “This is a guy that every time we said the state’s in trouble, he said, ‘No, it’s great,’…He’s done nothing to fix the problem. … He loves to tweet silly things like a high school kid,” Fasano told the Courant.

In a curious move, Senate Democratic leaders—sans fellow Dems in the House of Representatives—proposed holding all budget negotiations on C-TN, the state public affairs network. It’s not just like Nero fiddling while the state burns but also making sure everyone can watch it.

Take it from someone who has been in the room—no serious negotiations will happen in front of the cameras. The down and dirty, back and forth I saw in budget negotiations would have to be on Showtime, after midnight, not CT-N. If Senate Dems made the call for “a totally transparent” budget process as a head fake, it’s a curious one. (I should note that my former caucus is so dedicated to transparency that it refuses to put The Hanging Shad on its email distribution list. What are they afraid of?)

The state of Connecticut is in deep sh**, plain and simple. Tax receipts are plummeting. Costs are rising. Whacking state employee unions won’t be enough nor will hiking taxes on millionaires, or anyone else for that matter. Cutting aide to cities and towns just shifts the burden to municipalities.

But if we’re lucky, the Great Budget Debacle will indeed be televised.