The General Assembly has adopted a budget, and on paper it doesn’t look bad. On closer perusal, though, it seems to rely pretty heavily on smoke and mirrors.
For starters, the $19 billion plan that was worked out Sunday between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his fellow Democrats, who control the legislature (the vote was 91-55 in the House, 21-15 in the Senate), counts on a $75 million jump in “miscellaneous” tax receipts, even though that’s a revenue windfall that no one seems to have seen coming.
“All of a sudden, voilà!, out of the thin, blue air?” asked Rep. Sean Williams, a Watertown Republican. Well, yes; Benjamin Barnes, the governor’s budget chief, says that money can be had, mainly by cracking down on waste and fraud. (We have to wonder, though, anytime politicians discover waste and fraud that they plan to start cracking down on, why they weren’t already doing so.)
Then there’s the $52 million that Comptroller Kevin Lembo, himself a Democrat, says should have been pumped into the state employees’ pension fund, but wasn’t. (Someday, of course, the retirees will start writing checks on that account; perhaps not during this budget cycle, but just wait.)
And the tobacco fund — which has already been raided to the tune of $175 million since 2001, according to The Connecticut Mirror — will be tapped again, along with some other accounts. Then another $20 million will have to be gleaned through undefined efficiencies.
All in all, this doesn’t seem like a very solid plan for bringing the state through to the next budget. After all, the funds that were supposed to cover the $55 individual tax rebate and a special tax break for teachers never turned up; what other projected income might not materialize?
But the budget “speaks to Connecticut’s priorities,” declared Democrat Toni Walker, of New Haven, and the $48 million boost to the Education Coast Sharing grant for local schools is sure to please municipal leaders. So will the additional funding for school choice programs in the Hartford region, and to implement the Common Core standards. Towns and cities will also be getting $33 million in non-education aid.
The Department of Children and Families, too, will be getting a bit more money, though not very much.
On paper, this looks like a budget, with a modest increase, that might even be in balance. Trouble is, there’s a lot on the revenue side that’s been left to chance.
But at least we’re not counting on keno to make fiscal ends meet. That might be too risky.