Regardless of which political party wins the gubernatorial office in 2014, Connecticut’s economic outlook is none too rosy. Updated financial projections foresee the next governor inheriting a state deficit of more than $1.1 billion. This amount of red ink is staggering, particularly in light of efforts in recent years to mitigate shortfalls. Among those, perhaps most questionable is the biennial budget passed by Democratic Governor Dannel P. Malloy in 2011.
Of course, review of his economic record must include mention that, upon taking office, he inherited a $3.7-billion deficit from former Republican Governor M. Jodi Rell. To attempt to mop up this sea of red ink necessitated that Malloy become creative and ambitious with financial planning.
And that he did, though not with the outcome he had intended. The budget Malloy authorized in 2011 contained a $1.5-billion tax hike, largest in Connecticut history. Considerable labor concessions were attained through promise of no layoffs for several years, saving money but locking in employees. Also, state officials cut aid for municipalities and social programs. These tough measures affected nearly all citizens.
Consequently, that the state continues to face significant deficits goes beyond “worrisome.” Several unforeseen setbacks have contributed greatly. Malloy gambled incorrectly on a swifter economic recovery, especially with regard to consumer spending, believing revenue derived from the sales-tax would increase more than it has. Moreover, as relatively high unemployment lingers, enrollment in certain Medicaid plans has ballooned beyond initial estimates, causing substantial budget overruns for these critical welfare programs.
It’s discouraging news. And it’s made no more palatable by the constant blame game and heated partisan crossfire played out by Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly and Connecticut media. Perhaps that, too, is a cause of continuous deficits. Political bickering is noxious to the type of legislative environment from which can sprout well-reasoned compromise — financial law, both balanced and farsighted.
Politics, by nature, will always be competitive and internally oppositional. But extreme partisanship of these past years — in Connecticut and nationally — has surpassed that of recent memory. Somewhere along the way, legislators forgot how to listen to one another, so focused were they on endless rounds of partisan combat.
This comes at a time when politicians must render difficult decisions. Lest its financial future be forever unstable, Connecticut needs to stop handing off deficits from one administration to the next. Despite what candidates for governor will say, no one person or party has all the compelling ideas to address this fiscal undertaking. It will take open, honest debate and genuine compromise across the aisle to reverse our destructive course of accumulating red ink.
And until state lawmakers can rediscover an essential degree of accord, Connecticut economic policy likely will remain more politically one-sided than not, which produces the sort of near-sighted, half-baked legislation that has burdened us with a legacy of fiscal hardships.