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.
The minimum yearly earnings needed to be qualified for unemployment benefits in Connecticut is $600, the third lowest requirement in the nation. The law was set in place in 1967 and has not been raised since. Adjusted for inflation, this figure would be $4,277.82 by today’s standards. A bill before the state Senate would raise Connecticut’s work requirement to $2,000 yearly and make several other adjustments to its unemployment calculations to put the state on equal footing with its neighbors.
Connecticut continues to struggle with budget deficits. In the past five years, our lawmakers passed the two largest tax increases in state history. And every year in recent memory the budget begins the year in balance and slowly falls behind as the year goes on. Why does this happen repeatedly, year after year? Here’s why: The cost of benefits for government employees is growing much faster than tax revenue. Some categories of benefits are growing nearly 10 percent each year while tax revenue is growing at 2 percent – at best. That means other aspects of government – services for people in need, road maintenance, town aid – face cuts even while overall spending grows. These benefits could be reformed, but they aren’t because of conflicts of interest present throughout the system.
The town of Woodstock with a population of just 8,000 is giving big healthcare stipends to town hall employees who opt out of the town’s healthcare plan. Employees, including First Selectman Alan Walker Jr. and tax collector Linda Bernardi, receive stipends of $1,163 per month while getting healthcare coverage through their spouses. On an annual basis, the stipends add up to $13,956 and costs taxpayers about $98,000.
The Connecticut Commission on Economic Competitiveness held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to discuss a report on the state's economy based on work from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The commission met at 10 a.m. and immediately went into executive session, removing all observers from the meeting. Commission Co-Chairman Joseph McGee said the executive session would allow the committee to work out all the numbers. “There is a lot of information,” he said.
Governor Malloy is spending this week in Puerto Rico at the annual Democratic Governors Association meeting and then taking some time off with his family. Puerto Rico is facing bankruptcy and looking for a federal bailout. Years of poor fiscal policies, government cronyism, overreach and interference in the free market has left the island-state with high unemployment and crippling debt. Hopefully the policy lessons of Puerto Rico’s struggles will not be lost on the governor. The island may be pretty but the economic challenges it faces - like Connecticut’s - are pretty ugly.