When a state is as broke as Connecticut is — and has been for the past several years, and probably will be for the next several years — hard choices have to be made, and Gov. Dannel Malloy and the General Assembly have made quite a few.
They, and especially the governor, have taken plenty of flak over those choices, many of which have resulted in cuts to services for some of the most vulnerable people: the poor, people with physical and mental disabilities, the elderly.
In the latest example, Republican lawmakers are balking at Malloy’s plans to cut $2 million from an elderly nutrition program as he seeks to meet savings targets that were mandated by the legislature. The cut will reduce meals in most regions served by the program from two per day to one.
This is a lose-lose for the governor, who is required to find $21.5 million in savings in the General Fund in this new fiscal year. Although he is not running for re-election, his successor will face projected deficits of $2.1 billion and $2.6 billion in her or his first two years in office.
And although the state’s rainy day fund will receive nearly $780 million in September, boosting it to around $992 million, much of that money was revenue resulting from tax-law changes that won’t repeat anytime soon — and that amount will not be enough to cover even half of the expected shortfall.
As for the senior meals program, it’s “a direct service that helps feed thousands of vulnerable seniors every day,” Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said. “I was very disappointed to see Gov. Malloy target this vital service for cuts yet again, unfairly hurting elderly individuals in need of the most basic and vital assistance.”
The governor’s office replied that the meals cut became necessary because the Republicans “were unable to identify sufficient savings to balance their budget, mandating that Gov. Malloy meet yet another legislatively imposed savings target.”
Malloy makes a good point when he says that if the General Assembly wants more cuts — after several years of aggressive budget reductions — it should be much more specific about where to make them. But it should also be noted that it’s Malloy’s party that holds a legislative majority.
This state’s fiscal problems go back well before the present leadership took office. But beyond the usual finger-pointing at the Capitol, it’s pretty clear that this state is not operating on a sound financial basis — not even close. Total state spending went from $2,436 per capita in 1990 (the year before the state income tax came in) to $7,687 in 2017, according to the Yankee Institute — far in excess of GDP growth, or inflation, and with an almost stagnant population.
Sounds like we need a complete re-think of how we raise money in this state — and how we spend it.
Not either-or, but both.