To the Editor:
As we pass the half way mark on this year’s legislative session, I offer this summary of what has been accomplished inHartford and what still needs to be addressed.
Close to home, I’m proud to report that I, along with several Republican and Democrat colleagues, have been able to advance the effort to (i) give our towns more control over the placement of cell towers, (ii) modify the municipal employees pension system to give some relief to strained town budgets, and (iii) protect local control of zoning and our school districts. I will work to expand on these successes.
On a statewide basis, three issues have and will dominate the session: (i) education reform, (ii) the continuing growth in state spending and resulting deficit, and (iii) our stagnant economy.
The education reform effort is long over due. While , Redding and Weston all enjoy superior school systems — supported by involved parents and funded by generous local property tax payments — much of the state suffers with failing schools despite massive financial assistance from the state and fellow towns. (Indeed, of every dollar our town residents send to Hartford in taxes, only four cents comes back in state funding).
Rather than continuing to throw money at the problem, the Governor’s education bill proposes some laudable reforms such as an emphasis on charter schools and early education, and some controversial proposals such as creating a new teacher and school evaluation model, altering teacher tenure, and authorizing state takeovers of failing schools through, among other actions, rewriting the failing district’s curriculum and union contracts. While the Governor’s proposed education bill is flawed in many ways, it has at least started an important discussion. (This discussion, regrettably, is being hampered by some the refusal of the education committee’s democratic leadership to include their republican colleagues in the negotiations — i.e., ignoring the voices of almost 3 million of our fellow parents, students and educators.) I am hopeful that the positive portions of the bill will become law by the end of session, with more work to follow on the problematic portions of the proposal.
How we might pay for education reform, however, is still a looming question —indeed, the current proposal comes with a $125 million price tag. The Governor wants to pay for the effort with more taxes and/or borrowing; whereas I and others will insist that any reform be paid for under the existing budget, with education being the main funding priority.
Indeed, last year the Governor and majority party, over my and others’ “no” votes, increased state spending yet again and passed the largest tax increase in state history. Regrettably (and as predicted), revenue has fallen short of the administration’s projections, as have the alleged savings from state employee union “concessions.” We are currently running about a $230 million budget deficit, and are on track to run similar deficits into FY 14 while exceeding our state spending cap in the process. Indeed, Moodys has recently downgraded our state’s bond rating based on the state’s continuing financial woes.
Rather than pointing fingers, though, the entire legislature needs to address the problem by reducing spending immediately. Cutting ridiculous projects like the $567 million New Britain “bus way to nowhere” — which seeks to spend $112 million in state funds and $445 million of federal money — is an easy place to start, as is revisiting state employee union “concessions” to achieve real savings. If the Governor is willing to rewrite teacher union contracts to rescue failing schools, he should be willing to rewrite state union contracts to rescue state tax payers.
Finally, and on a related note, the legislature needs to recognize that last year’s increases in income, sales, energy and corporate taxes is having a drag on any possibility of a real recovery in our state. Pile on the new burdensome workplace regulations and the majority party’s insistence on pro-litigation laws, and its no wonder that our state ranks at the bottom in national job creation.
As this session progresses, we should repeal (or at least cap) most of these new taxes, and impose a multi-year taxation and regulatory freeze to foster predictability and confidence in the private sector. As confidence is restored, we can consider tailored pro-job/pro-investment initiatives like the bipartisan jobs bill we passed last summer. If we fail to take these steps, however, employers and investors will continue to look over their shoulders to see what Hartford might impose next, and in the meantime, continue to sit on their wallets. A rising tide raises all boats, so its time for Hartford to stop stemming that tide.
I am honored to be your State Representative, and look forward to championing the interests of my friends and neighbors in this and future sessions. Together, and for the sake of our children and grandchildren, we can restore Connecticut to the prosperous and thriving state it once was, and still can be.
John Shaban (R-135th)