Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget is the most dishonest I've seen in my 15 years in the General Assembly.
I say that because there are so many areas where his rhetoric doesn't match the reality of his proposal. He claims, for example, $1.8 billion in cuts, but his budget actually spends $1.8 billion more over the next two years — a 9.7 percent increase. He promised no new taxes, but his budget extends several taxes that were set to expire.
People deserve to know the truth. So, on Monday night in Enfield, I will hold the first of eight town hall meetings across Connecticut to discuss the governor's budget and gather public opinion for the coming legislative debate. We'll spend considerable time on this tour separating fact from fiction.
To begin, the governor's budget is not in compliance with our state's spending cap — a cap required by our constitution to keep state expenditures from outpacing income growth. Knowing his budget violates this most important taxpayer protection, the governor has proposed to simply change the definition so that he can claim compliance. Beyond the obvious deceitfulness of this tactic, the change in definition would allow future legislatures to approve budgets that taxpayers cannot afford. But, here's the best part — when the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis evaluated the governor's budget, it found that it is not even compliant with his new definition.
The governor's proposal also borrows almost $1 billion to cover current operating expenses; a practice the governor himself declared irresponsible and promised not to do. It proposes to bond $750 million to bail the state out of its cash flow problems and delays, for another two years, paying off debt from economic recovery notes issued in 2009. That delay will cost taxpayers an additional $217 million in interest.
Once again, transportation initiatives are jeopardized under the governor's budget. For the second time he is breaking a promise not to raid the Special Transportation Fund. In his first two years in office, he took $70 million from the transportation fund to plug holes in his general fund. He wants to take another $75 million over the next two years.
The governor's proposal also takes hundreds of millions of dollars away from cities and towns without providing any relief from unfunded mandates, or any solutions to help make municipalities whole. This will result in higher local property taxes.
These are just some of the problems with the governor's budget proposal that will be discussed on my tour. But there is some good news: There is little, if any, chance that the governor's budget proposal will pass as proposed. Republican lawmakers, municipal leaders, hospitals, state university students, nonprofit organizations, small business owners and even many Democratic legislators have already voiced their opposition.
In addition to shining light on the truth of Gov. Malloy's budget, my tour will ask the public for a better solution. I will also seek feedback on some of my proposals.
We need to control the growth of state spending. That means eliminating waste, redundancy and inefficiency throughout state government. One way to do this is to make better use of our state's nonprofit providers to deliver human services. In many instances, nonprofits can provide an equal or higher quality of care at a lower cost than the state.
I also believe we need to reopen negotiations with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. State employees contribute a smaller percentage of their income to their pensions in Connecticut than in any other state — just 2 percent. We could save hundreds of millions of dollars simply by bringing state employee pension contributions in line with the national average. We could save even more money by bringing state employee pension and health care benefits more in line with those offered in the private sector.
The governor should have achieved these savings in his first go-around with the unions, but he didn't. We need to achieve those savings now and let taxes that were set to expire, actually expire — especially those that directly impair the ability of Connecticut-based businesses to create jobs.
Over the next two months, there will be a vigorous debate about the direction of our state and particularly its fiscal management. Public opinion should be at the center of this debate.
John McKinney, R-Fairfield, is the state Senate minority leader.