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Friday, June 26, 2015

Op-Ed: Steinberg Explains ‘No’ Budget Vote

By Jonathan Steinberg

I voted against the budget, just as I did four years ago, dissenting from Governor Malloy and the majority of my fellow Democrats.

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Jonathan Steinberg:  against “gimmicks and fudges.” Contributed photo

I don’t like voting against budgets, but I will continue to place sound fiscal policy ahead of partisanship and will press for sensible reforms. We need to proactively manage our budgets, not just paper them over each year through the use of gimmicks and fudges.

The initial budget proposed by the governor indiscriminately cut critical social and health programs, leaving the state’s most vulnerable with nowhere to turn. 

Both Democrats and Republicans resolved to restore some of the most draconian cuts, but the resulting budget was only balanced by new taxes and increases on existing ones.

As a leader of the Moderates Caucus within the House, I’ve advocated for “shared sacrifice” in the cause of creating the broadest overall benefit. 

Our caucus met with our leadership to indicate that our support of the budget depended on a number of changes, including temporary wage freezes for state personnel, both union and non-union. 

We were successful in getting some of the new business service taxes removed, but the new and increased income taxes remained, with a disproportionate impact on my district here in Westport. 

As compared to most municipalities, Westport gets very little from state government, and I simply couldn’t support a budget which had such a negative impact on my constituents.

Why do we find ourselves in this mess?  Connecticut’s recovery from the recession has been slow, in large part because of fundamental economic weakness which predated the downturn. 

Our investments in core strengths such as bioscience, aerospace, green technology and financial services have not generated as much growth as hoped.

On the flip side, state spending continues to rise thanks to built-in wage/benefits commitments to state workers, and a general “business as usual” approach to budgeting. 

Some additional spending was the result of increased demand for state services by those affected by the recession. 

We’re also locked into huge annual payments for debt service and to cover contractual pension and healthcare obligations for state workers, which have ballooned thanks to poorly conceived agreements from past decades. 

But the net result is that we have a spending rate which is not sustainable.

We must recognize that state spending can’t continue to increase at a higher rate than our economic growth. 

An initiative called “CT21” detailed a number of budget areas where reforms would yield significant annual savings for the state. 

We need the resolve to push for the changes required to realize these savings. Changing bureaucratic cultures is very hard, but we have to assure Connecticut’s long-term economic viability.

We also need a comprehensive, strategic tax policy across all types: income, sales, property – even business tax credits – and then institute fundamental reforms which we can keep in place for the long-term. 

We recently commissioned a panel on state tax reform, and once we have their recommendations we need to invite public comment, take time to understand and explain the tradeoffs, and establish a long-term tax system that embodies overall fairness, transparency and stability.

Many veteran legislators have said that this past session was the most difficult they could remember, and as of the time I write this piece, a special session next week signifies that there’s still more work to be done.

I’ve had no break from studying budget details, still seeking ways to improve the outcome, still advocating with leadership

The challenge is how to vote when you get some of what you’ve asked for but far from everything you hoped for. 

While I’m proud of the changes my advocacy achieved, I’ve been left with something well short of satisfaction.

My votes don’t begin to describe the conflicts a legislator must confront, nor the ambivalence a vote on either side engenders.

In representing Westport my charge is to protect my constituents’ interests while also trying to do what’s best for the state, and I pledge to continue working tirelessly on your behalf.
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat and native Westporter, is serving his third term representing District 136 in the State Assembly.


Posted 06/26/15 at 09:51 AM  Permalink


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Thank you for your clear statement, your forthrightness and above all, your advocacy on behalf of us taxpayers.  Ct needs more legislators who intelligently vote not to spend what we don’t have.

Posted by mary ruggiero on June 26, 2015 at 10:06 PM | #