The General Assembly begins its short session Wednesday. But even if the calendar squeeze and electoral politics get in the way, there is still important legislative work to do.
Sessions in even-numbered years are two months shorter than those in odd-numbered years. This oddity is mandated by the state Constitution. It so happens that short sessions fall in election years.
A month ago, this editorial page offered extensive agendas for 2014 for our readers' consideration. Herewith is a shortened priority list.
Lawmakers shouldn't regard the projected $500 million surplus for the current fiscal year as "found money" deposited under their pillows by the tooth fairy, to spend at will. This surplus — which largely comes from a shower of unanticipated capital-gains tax revenue — should be used to gird the rainy day fund or pay off long-term debt.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed to put half of the projected surplus in the rainy day fund (the budget reserve), make an additional $100 million payment to the state's underfunded pension fund, and provide about $155 million in direct refunds to taxpayers.
Small tax refunds are not the best way to use a surplus. Paying down debt is much preferred.
In 1998, The Courant called the rebate offered taxpayers by Gov. John G. Rowland "nothing more than an election-year gimmick." It still is.
The New Haven Line
Connecticut's portion of the Metro-North commuter railroad connecting New York City's Grand Central Terminal and New Haven is in disastrous shape and needs immediate help.
Metro-North train accidents have killed five and injured scores of people over the past year. Delays and decaying infrastructure are commonplace. Aging bridges, track, signals, switches and catenary lines must be replaced.
A federal transportation bill — if and when one is passed — would likely pay for the largest share of needed upgrades. But Connecticut must do all it can in the meantime, before this all-important commercial artery loses public confidence and ridership — and before there are more train wrecks.
In addition to upgrading the power supply with a $10 million project announced Monday, Mr. Malloy and the legislature should create a separate funding source — even if temporary — to pay for the repairs and long-deferred maintenance that must be done now to save lives and keep the trains running on schedule.
Attacks On FOI
A task force set up after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre has given a thumbs-up to flawed legislation passed without public hearing last session. The legislation impedes the public's access to crime scene information. There's no need for sealing what were open records until now. They're critical to investigations that serve the public interest. How can the public see how its government is working?
Connecticut's reputation as a leading open-government state is in jeopardy if the legislature fails to repeal the veil of secrecy passed without public input.
Further attempts to improve mental health services await the report of the governor's Sandy Hook Advisory Commission. It will focus on the mental health aspects of the Newtown shooting.
For the small group of mentally ill people trapped in the revolving door of homelessness, hospitalization and prison simply because they won't take their medication, Connecticut should join the 44 states that allow outpatient commitment. This would let judges get help for those who desperately need treatment but refuse it.
The state Department of Education ought to have a mental health office to coordinate its efforts on this important issue.
Detection and early intervention must be matched by treatment. Harm may be done by labeling children unless they're given the help they need.
The legislature should pass a bill creating the Office of Early Childhood, which will place greater emphasis on early detection and treatment of mental illness in children. It failed to pass last year because of a needless partisan standoff. Mr. Malloy then created the office by executive order, but it needs legislative approval to be permanent.
It makes sense to slow down implementation of the Common Core curriculum and the teacher-evaluation part of Connecticut's education reform so they can be completely digested by teachers, students and parents.
But the Malloy reform aimed at turning around failing schools should be accelerated. Every kid deserves a good education. The state's future prosperity and social cohesion depend upon it.
The need for more coordinated, long-term planning is obvious in the separate tracks being taken in planning for Downtown North, the XL Center's future, the new UConn campus in Hartford and new downtown transit patterns.
It's great to see the activity. But it's not too late for everybody to get on the same page.