Editorial: In Capitol, Life is But a Dream

Editorial

Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream ... Waterfall? What waterfall?

That’s the wisdom under the state Capitol’s golden dome these days, where legislators are showing no progress toward solving Connecticut’s fiscal problems but instead are dealing with the pressing issues of wine dispensers and the number of satellite dishes on roofs.

It would take courage for any legislator to rock this gentle rowboat or even call for a course correction. After all, this is an election year. Any representative or senator could be voted out of office in November. Conventions are coming up. And with dozens of veteran Connecticut pols in the running for various state offices, the future of the state’s political landscape is unknown. At this point, nobody can be sure who will hold power in the fall.

This is no time to make waves, goes the conventional wisdom. Translation: This is no time to solve problems, because solutions are risky.

Two important legislative committees recently illustrated their commitment to that cowardly philosophy. The appropriations committee missed a deadline to offer adjustments to the spending plan, and the finance, revenue and bonding committee suggested increasing spending in next year’s budget by $130 million. It proposed pulling back on tax and fee hikes that had already been approved and canceling a plan to increase teachers’ pension contributions.

Some legislators tried to minimize the committee moves, emphasizing that nothing’s a done deal and that some proposals are simply the committee’s “view of what the world should look like.”

Not helpful. Not now.

Instead of confronting the real problems, lawmakers have spent time debating whether to allow beer and wine dispensing machines in bars and whether to limit the number of satellite dishes allowed on roofs.

Republican Rep. Sam Belsito of Tolland was right when he said debating such things is a waste of time.

“We are in dire straits to get a budget through,” Mr. Belsito said. “We stand here for over an hour talking about satellite dishes on homes.”

The state needs to solve a $200 million problem this year and another similar-sized problem next year. Beyond that, the problems are in the billions. They need solutions. The people of Connecticut rightly expect their senators and representatives to get on it. But getting themselves re-elected seems to be more important.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, offered a frankly hilarious proposal last week when he suggested Republicans not submit their own budget plan but instead work with Democrats to craft a bipartisan deal — behind closed doors.

Republicans, not submit a budget? In an election year? A budget is a blueprint for public policy. How the legislature spends taxpayers’ money shows its priorities. The Republicans have every right — and responsibility — to be clear about how they’d have that done, even if they pitch plans that are really designed to be used as platforms (“I offered a plan to drop your taxes, but the Democrats voted against it”) in the run-up to November.

Why not have Republicans and Democrats both present budget plans — and debate their merits?

The legislature had a solid plan handed to it earlier this spring. The bipartisan Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth’s plan is bold and comprehensive and could point toward safe shores. Yet none of the plan seems to be under consideration.

Legislators might be waiting for good news from the state Department of Revenue Services. When income tax revenues come in after the April 17 filing deadline, there might be enough money to cover some or all of the current year’s shortfall — sparing legislators the need to make cuts and disappoint constituents.

That’s simply delaying the inevitable. But legislators seem happy to lazily paddle along, despite what lies ahead.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.