Forum Connecticut is drowning in spending

January 12, 2019

Connecticut’s money problems are well-documented with significant ongoing budget deficits and rising tax rates. The answer is not more taxes.

To make matters worse, Connecticut has significant unfunded pension liabilities that are mortgaging our future. We cannot cover our current spending levels let alone properly fund our pension liabilities.

I spent 40 years in the chemical industry streamlining, right-sizing and consolidating operations and businesses to improve our competitiveness. I can tell you, when thoughtfully done, it achieves the objective of reducing costs while maintaining service quality every time. It’s time for Connecticut to follow this approach.

With 169 individual towns each with their own overhead, administration and services structures, there are significant savings to be had by consolidating governments and sharing services across town lines. Most of the cost reductions will come from consolidated overhead and administration, currently duplicated in each of the 169 towns. Keep the number of workers about the same, but reduce overhead burdens by consolidation. I like the concept of the model advanced by former state Sen. Gary LeBeau. Some excerpts from his article “It’s Time for County Government in Connecticut” dated May 18, 2017:

“Connecticut’s problems boil down to just one word: redundancy.

“We can talk about our long-term downward economic and fiscal spiral and the all-too-familiar list of symptoms: lagging employment, loss of our educated and wealthier population, sputtering business development, continuing state budget deficits and the state sport of ‘kicking the can down the road.’ These intractable problems have persisted for the last 10 years if not, in some form, for almost the past three decades.

“But underlying these symptoms is the disease of redundancy — the state’s 169 cities and towns.

“Every town has its own municipal government. That means that every town has its own parks and recreation, public works, library, elderly services, housing, inspections, tax collection, legal advisers, economic development, health services, fire, police and, of course, the biggest and most expensive of all, the school system. Each school system bureaucracy has its own superintendent, assistant superintendents, deputies, etc. The school systems usually consume about 70 percent of the town’s budget. The redundancy is in the management structure. Its costs are enormous.

“What if we could take these municipalities and consolidate them into eight entities? Hundreds of millions of dollars, indeed I believe billions of dollars could be saved by eliminating redundant management in the municipalities and in the schools. Could this be done? Has it been done elsewhere? Yes, all over the country — the entities are called counties.”

A bridge strategy between our current structure and consolidated municipalities could be to regionalize services, effectively combining service structures between towns to reducing/diluting the overhead and administrative costs, while allowing adequate time to consider the longer-term county structure. At the very least, regionalization takes the first step in the right direction of cost reduction through consolidation. It’s something that can be done now.

If you think state residents are trapped into the chronic tax & spend policies, think again. Connecticut ranks fourth among states with the highest percentage of outbound moves, roughly four people moving out for every three who move in. So keeping the same unbalanced fiscal policies will continue to drive taxpayers out of the state, simply making the problem worse with a shrinking revenue base. Connecticut people are sending a clear message by voting with their feet.

Instead of more taxes to enable our current spending levels, it’s time to reduce spending by consolidating government, embracing the objective to reduce redundancy and overhead costs that clearly exists amongst the 169 towns. I urge everyone to contact their representative, challenging them to move in this direction.

Larry Stauffer is a resident of Middletown.

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