Connecticut suffers from an approach to public policy that’s laser-focused on today’s urgent problems, while leaving tomorrow’s important challenges unaddressed. With lawmakers yet again cobbling together a budget at the last minute, time grows increasingly short to change the trajectory of our struggling state. A common sense approach to restoring Connecticut’s vitality should help us.
1. Grow the economy so that Connecticut remains an attractive place to live and work. If more employers are competing to hire, workers can choose from more opportunities – plus they will start to see their pay rise. In a growing economy, more tax revenue is available to pay for services for the most vulnerable and investments in our infrastructure. And a growing economy is the solution to Connecticut’s outmigration problem.
2. Reform state employee pay and benefits. State employees earn at least 25 percent more than private sector workers with the same skills and experience. That’s not fair. Over time, we need a to restore the balance between the public and private sectors. There is also a fairness divide among state workers. The average state pension is $39,172 – the highest in the country, according to census data. Yet the top pension is 7.5 times larger at $297,614.10.
3. Practice restraint. Connecticut is maxed out when it comes to borrowing. By taking a critical look at capital projects or establishing common-sense limits, we can control this spending so it stops growing faster than other parts of the state budget. We also need to implement the spending cap for which Connecticut’s people overwhelmingly voted. Two decades late is better than never.
4. Stop spending money where Connecticut gets no value. We put people in jail while they are waiting for a trial even when they would face no jail time upon conviction. We pay state employees to handle official union business. Neither practice benefits taxpayers.
5. Make the system work for people, instead of for special interests. If legislative rules aren’t working for us, let’s fix them. For example, each committee has its own rules for how to submit testimony. That’s not citizen-friendly. And a number of conflicts of interest contribute to Connecticut’s recurring deficits. Instead of allowing union contracts to amend state law, for example, lawmakers should make sure they’re the only ones with that power.
Until we adopt common-sense solutions that make our state fairer, more welcoming and more prosperous, the eleventh-hour scramble by lawmakers to “fix” a flawed budget will, quite simply, just be more of the same.