NORWALK, Conn. — “Connecticut never faced the challenges we do today” was the essence of what Jonathan Steinberg, Westport’s Democratic representative in the General Assembly, told a recent meeting of Democracy for America at the Silver Star Diner in Norwalk.
The legislative session began in February, just as residents learned that the state’s anticipated $20 million budget deficit had ballooned to $226 million. And this, he said, could reach $1 billion in a few years, when the state has to reckon with such long-ignored items as the underfunded pensions for retired state employees.
Steinberg leads the Moderates Caucus, a group of about 20 legislators in Hartford who work with the governor on some issues, but oppose him on others, with the objective of keeping a close watch on state spending.
He did not support Gov. Dannel Malloy's last budget, but did vote for the “implementer,” a 600-page tome lawmakers receive as the sit down to enact their budget, because items he found problematic initially had been redrafted and improved, he said.
Taxes have been raised twice in the last five years, Steinberg pointed out. “Connecticut is not a great place to do business,” he said, a point underscored by General Electric's planned move from Fairfield to Boston.
The state’s problems are with both revenue and spending, meaning residents may face the prospect of transitioning from a “quality of life state” to one with a “reduced safety net” once we make “cuts to programs we’d never thought of cutting in the past,” Steinberg said.
On the revenue side, Connecticut’s slow economic recovery has reduced what Steinberg called our “volatile” income tax receipts below projections.
On the other side, state employee contracts are problematic, he said. Some unions traded away salary increases in exchange for cost of living escalators which are now well above inflation, plus a health care plan with no premiums and no co-pays.
Steinberg advocates reopening, and perhaps even “abrogating” some of these as a part of bringing spending into line with our resources.
And this is all aside from the need to invest in our highways, bridges and railroads, and to make strategic decisions about attracting businesses that can prosper here, he said.
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