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Republicans' Hand Needed With State's Grim Finances

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Life in a one-party state may require Republicans in the General Assembly to serve only as noisy spectators as Democrats wrestle with exploding budget deficits. The way forward for all remains murky and uncertain.

Democrats control all the levers in implementing an unhappy resolution to the current year's deficit that grew by $50 million in November alone, now — five months into the budget year — estimated at $415 million. Where it goes from here is anyone's guess, and that's what it's starting to feel like these monthly estimates have become. That this bad news arrived only after the legislative elections does not instill confidence.

There's a certain amount of wishing that goes into a budget brew that is in many ways as much a political cocktail as much as a financial one. Predicting how much the state will spend in a year is dependent on events. This year, the number of state residents who will become eligible and then use Medicaid, the medical care program for the poor, is exceeding expectations. The amount of economic activity that will generate taxes is falling short of what Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature predicted.

Forecasts for economic growth in the next two years are dismal, so this will be a problem that continues to torment political leaders. Because the budget is a complicated document that directs how $40 billion will be spent over two years, fixing it when it careens into trouble also looks complicated. The details may be, but the essentials are straightforward.

Cut some of the spending is the first option that springs to mind. Republicans will express their support to do this, though details of where to do it will be thin on the ground. A serious examination of the role of government in Connecticut will not be part of the debate on the deficit. This is about plugging holes, not rebuilding a foundation.

Malloy produced around $170 million in cuts at the end of November, though there is quibbling about what that included. Still, it's a start. One of the issues that the first round of cuts raises is maybe the money did not need to be spent in the first place. There'll be some Republican comment on that, too. It will probably sound like taunting, even unkind hectoring at times. This is a function of two years spent in the deep wilderness being pelted with insults from Malloy and his acolytes.

Bipartisan spirit in this one-party hegemony is nasty and brutish. In the jousting for political advantage that never rests, Republicans will claim they saw these troubles coming and no one would listen. That's true, but it becomes a dreary chorus as the state's problems mount in ways the broad public feels.

State government's options are narrowing. Capital markets that buy state and municipal bonds are starting to get nervous about the prospects of governments around the nation. Connecticut keeps appearing at the bottom of surveys of state debt. A wealthy state, Connecticut is gaining a reputation as a place destined to endure a long decline. Grim reports from financial analysts have become a way of life.

If Republicans have a serious plan to address the current crisis, this is the time to unveil it with the intent of adding meaningful substance to the gossamer list of choices. Thoughtful voices could emerge.

It's in the Republicans' interest. Budgets can be adjusted in a way that places the burden of cuts in municipal aid, for example, on Republican towns. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman knows how that works. As a legislator, she was part of a mean-spirited conspiracy that cut special education funding to towns represented by Republicans. Anyone who witnessed the unmasking of that ugliness on the floor of the House of Representatives by Fairfield's noble Elinor Wilbur will never forget it.

This is Connecticut's appointment with a stinging destiny. It will take more than nervous Democrats to alter our collective fate. Pretend you are a legislative version of the University of Connecticut's Vice Provost for Engagement (there really is such a position and it's complicated) and offer some thoughts on how to push, squeeze and chop that budget into balance.

Kevin Rennie is a lawyer and a former Republican state legislator. He can be reached at kfrennie@yahoo.com.

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THE EDITORIAL BOARD


Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

Portland's potty water problem [Poll]

The Portland (Oregon) Water Bureau ordered 38 million gallons of clean, potable water drained after a smirking teen-ager urinated in a reservoir. Was that an overreaction?

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