Monday, February 20, 2017

State Budget Must Address Core Problems and Protect Funding for Education, Seniors, and the Environment

An Op-Ed from Senator Art Linares.
Since Governor Malloy announced his proposed budget, my office has received countless emails from parents, educators, seniors, and other community members concerned about the drastic cuts to local funding and programs that are so important to our district - and our state.

I understand and share your concerns. Figures from the proposed budget show communities in the 33rd State Senatorial District will lose more than $13 million in state funding for fiscal year 2017-2018, and an additional half-million in funding the next year. These figures don’t include the Governor’s proposal to make communities pay one-third of the cost of the State Teacher’s Retirement Fund, or the cuts to other state programs that impact our district.

Cuts in education funding to our district threaten programs, class sizes, and special education for our neediest students. Cuts to the state environmental agencies threaten the closure of campgrounds, protections for and purchases of open space, and the
closure of state parks. Cuts to social service agencies would reduce funding for nursing homes and the personal needs allowance for those in long-term care facilities, and would freeze funding for the Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders, which helps people stay home longer and saves Medicaid costs.

While the Governor has been big on promises of fiscal responsibility and stable, sustainable budgets, that is all he has given us – promises. His budget lacks the vision to lead our state out of its economic troubles and fails to address the core issues that have landed Connecticut in this fiscal morass.

State agencies can, and should be expected to operate with leaner budgets. However, indiscriminately cutting or freezing funding, particularly for programs that provide care for seniors and those with special needs, does not create efficiencies or deal with government waste. Where is the innovation in cutting funding for special education? How does cutting money from Meal-on-Wheels, which many seniors depend on to eat, how does that create a more efficient agency?

Republican legislators have proposed changes to this year’s budget that would restore education funding that the administration cut from all towns midyear. At the same time, our proposal would protect funding at agencies that provide crucial services for children, families, the disabled, and those with mental health problems.

As we work on a new, biennial budget, we will continue to address these and other concerns. You may have read that S&P Global Ratings recently said the Governor’s budget highlights the financial strain on Connecticut, while failing to address the exponential growth expected in the state’s fixed costs.

Republican’s goal is to create a budget that appropriately funds education and municipalities, and creates the financial stability businesses and rating agencies are looking for.

I believe some of this can be done by addressing state employee health care and pension costs.
People often forget that state employees are also taxpayers. Just like everyone else, they don’t want to see their taxes go up or pass debt onto their children and grandchildren. A number of state employees in the 33rd State Senatorial District that I have talked to recognize that keeping the benefits packages as they are can only lead to tax increases. They have told me they would be willing to contribute more toward their retirement and healthcare.

Another area where I believe we could find budget savings is the services provided to residents.  Now may be the time to look at nonprofits and the private sector to see if some things can be done at least as well and maybe more economically than state agencies. We want to save taxpayer dollars, but we also want to make sure we provide residents with the best services for those dollars.

I believe we can find reasonable, realistic ways to fund education and municipalities while protecting our natural resources. We can provide state employees with good, affordable health insurance and a sustainable retirement plan. And we can provide residents with excellent services in the most cost-efficient manner possible.

In doing these things, along with reducing costly, unnecessary regulations, we will set Connecticut on path toward economic growth. We will attract new businesses and jobs. Connecticut will again be a leader in our nation.

Senator Linares represents the communities of Chester, Clinton, Colchester, Deep River, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Lyme, Old Saybrook, Portland and Westbrook.

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