Gov. Dannel Malloy is on a listening tour around the state defending his budget and other policy priorities.
In terms of the budget, he has a tough task ahead of him. Democrats and Republicans alike have criticized the budget, which increases spending, increases borrowing and has made everyone from business leaders to mayors upset.
Gov. Malloy, in his usual fashion, is pushing back hard against his critics. He continues to insist that his budget is the best budget for Connecticut.
With this in mind, below is a list of questions for the governor about his budget. Feel free to borrow one for a forum near you.
1. Your budget assumes that personal income is going to grow 4.9 percent in 2014 and 7.2 percent in 2015. Do you really believe this? If your forecast is too optimistic, state revenues will not match your increases in spending and we will face another budget deficit. What is your plan if this happens?
Economists have expressed their doubts that these projections are accurate. Last year real personal income dropped by 1 percent, according the state’s economic report. The latest forecast by the University of Connecticut’s Center for Economic Analysis starts with, “The Connecticut economy is in trouble. Deep trouble.” Things are not looking good. Do you have some insider knowledge we don’t? We’d love some good news.
2. Are you confident you are doing what needs to be done to get the economy moving? Because by all indications, you are not.
You called Connecticut’s economy “sluggish” in your budget speech. Is it possible that the state’s high tax burden and debt burden are a drag on the economy?
Your own budget guy, Ben Barnes, head of the Office of Policy and Management, said, “I do believe taxes are a drain on economic activity and would not help our efforts at fostering recovery.” He also said that raising taxes would take money out of the economy and would not be good for the state.
You’ve expressed reservations about raising the minimum wage, but say you are open to the discussion. But Moody’s says it’s already 39 percent more expensive to run a business in Connecticut than the national average. We are currently ranked 48th in employment growth. Our business leaders have expressed a lack of confidence in the state’s economy.
Perhaps it’s time to admit that what you’ve been trying isn’t working, and that what really needs to be done is to honestly attempt to tackle state spending and to stop borrowing money.
3. What are you doing to make Connecticut attractive to young people?
According to your economic report, Connecticut’s working population – or the people who pay the bulk of the taxes – is expected to decline 8 percent over the next 20 years, while the 65-plus crowd is expected to grow 57 percent. This forecast should cause early warning alarm bells to ring loudly all across the state.
The state pension system is already showing signs of cracking under the pressure of the increasing number of retirees – which will be even more true if the working population declines like it’s expected to. This is not sustainable.
Connecticut is experiencing out-migration to states like Florida and North Carolina. Those states have a lower cost of living and lower taxes, not to mention more sunshine. There isn’t much you can do about the sun, but there are things you can do to make the state more attractive to young people.
4. What have you done in this budget to encourage marriage?
This is the question mostly likely to provoke one of your infamous eye-rolls. It is certainly something we in mind-your-own-business New England are uncomfortable talking about. However, in terms of actually helping the children you say you want to help – who we all want to help – encouraging marriage before having children might be the single biggest thing you can do to help lift children out of poverty.
As a Brookings Institute paper says, “Government does not raise children, parents do.” But you don’t seem to understand that. Instead of supporting parents, you are growing government’s involvement in children’s lives. Your proposed “Office of Early Childhood” is evidence of this. Yes, there are things government can do to help, but as so many studies have shown there is almost nothing government can do to make up for an unstable home life.
Increasingly poor and middle class parents are unmarried when their children are born, and that is having a significant impact on children. As a Pew study shows, children born to unmarried parents are more likely to fall out of the middle class and have a much harder time moving from the poor to the middle or upper class.
Our current public policies encourage parents not to marry. If you are married, you have to combine incomes to apply for social services. It you are not married but are living together, you do not have to combine incomes. This makes no sense. What will you do to encourage marriage?
5. Do you believe we should encourage personal responsibility through our public policy? If you do, that is not evident in the budget you’ve proposed. You are growing the state’s involvement with economic development, in our children’s lives, in housing, in health care…
Perhaps if we change our language so that we stop treating our children and other citizens like victims, and instead encourage them to take the reins in their own lives and to take advantage of living in one of the most rich and free countries in the history of the world, it would lead to good things for our state.
6. Do you feel like you have lost credibility in the eyes of your constituents after making claims about this budget that are either misleading or completely false?
You said that your budget is balanced. That’s like including the money you put on a credit card in your total household income for the year and then calling your household budget “balanced.”
You said that you were not “passing the buck” to the cities of towns, and that you would “hold municipalities harmless.” In this context, holding harmless usually means cities and towns should expect the same amount of money as they got last year, except you proposed cutting a major source of their income without replacing it.
You say the budget comes in under the spending cap – but that’s only true if the legislature revises the way we define the spending cap.
Perhaps if you relax your fighter’s stance for just a minute and admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working, perhaps then we can all work together to make the state a stronger, better place to live.