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With a month to go in governor’s race, candidates avoiding specifics

October 4, 2018

Connecticut voters a month from now will choose a governor who faces a crisis his first day in office. The next governor will have six weeks from the day he is sworn in to present a balanced budget to the state legislator.

State budget deficits now are projected to be 2.6 billion in red ink is forecast for 2020.

The three gubernatorial hopefuls — Republican Bob Stefanowski, Democrat Ned Lamont, and independent Oz Griebel — have not presented voters with viable specifics about how they would address this challenge.

Of the three, Griebel has been the most forthcoming. In a debate last week, Griebel said he would consider tapping the state’s “rainy day” reserve fund to help balance the budget. Griebel also offered not paying into the state employees’ pension fund for two years.

Both tactics have been employed by recent legislatures to balance previous budgets. Both “quick-fix” solutions have compounded Connecticut’s long-term financial decline.

There are three interrelated elements to improving the state’s financial fortunes. Two longer-term solutions are economic growth and tax reform. The third, the state budget, is an imminent challenge.

Griebel identifies regionalizing delivery of municipal services and selling certain state-owned assets as two other areas where he would reduce spending.

Democrat Lamont and Republican Stefanowski are sidestepping the looming budget problem and focusing more on long-term fiscal policy.

Lamont argues for economic development investment to spur growth. He advocates Connecticut invest in roads and bridges, transportation, education and the state’s struggling urban centers. He backs a 2 billion budget monster. In last week’s debate, Lamont listed controlling health care costs, pension payment reforms and shared services with towns and cities as areas to find savings.

Stefanowski contends economic growth hinges on lowering taxes. He eliminates the state income tax in phases over eight years. He eliminates the corporate income and business entity tax over two years. State gift and estate taxes disappear immediately.

The problem for Stefanowski will be how to keep the government’s lights on when more than half the revenues have been eliminated through tax cuts.

Stefanowski says he will cut expenses by zero-based budgeting, which assumes every expense line has no cost until proven otherwise. However, Stefanowski acknowledges that up to 80 percent of the state’s 2 billion. History will be kinder to the Malloy years than current events suggest.

In a world becoming ever more complex, interrelated and nuanced, our politics has become more simplistic, tribal and stupid. Liberals and conservatives remain sequestered within their own ideological media bubbles. Compromise, a virtue that is the bedrock of successful democracy, has become a sin in this toxic partisan environment.

As citizens, we have become numb and accepting of the simpleton rhetoric espoused by political office seekers. Shame on us.

Connecticut has serious, complicated short-and-long-term financial issues to address. We should demand that those seeking higher office offer voters a clear vision of where they intend to lead, and a detailed road map for how we get there.

That vision and specificity thus far are missing from the three men who would be governor.

 

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