Connecticut’s Fiscal and Economic Status at Odds with Republican Claims

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To the Editor:

Mark Twain once wrote, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Connecticut Republicans are hoping their lies about Connecticut’s fiscal and economic status will be far enough ahead by election day that the truth won’t be able to catch up.

Speaking of falsehoods, GOP State Sen. Ryan Fazio claimed in an op-ed that, “The federal government has reported that Connecticut’s economy declined at the second-fastest rate in the nation and our rate of personal income growth was the worst in the nation.”  He conveniently omits that the “decline” was a preliminary estimate for just the last three months  In fact, during the prior three months, Connecticut’s economy expanded at a vigorous 5.5% pace, the second strongest of any state.  Over the past year, Connecticut registered economic growth of 1.7%, among the top half of all states.  

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Far-right GOP State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello claimed that, “Our state keeps spending and borrowing with seemingly no concern for what we are doing to ourselves and burdening future citizens.” False.  During their sixteen years in the governor’s mansion, Republican governors John Rowland and Jodi Rell expanded state spending at an annual rate of 4.45%.  By contrast, Democratic governor Dan Malloy increased spending just 2.2% per year during his eight year tenure, while Democratic governor Ned Lamont enacted budgets that increased spending just 3.38% annually the past four years.  The FY23 budget was revised higher due to a substantial influx of federal funds, but not by increasing state taxes. So the facts show Democrats have kept spending increases substantially lower than did Republicans.

Fiorello quotes the conservative Tax Foundation to claim that Connecticut’s “taxes” per capita are the highest, or nearly the highest in the nation.  That is grossly misleading.  First, “taxes” comprise just one portion of the revenues states collect.  According to a 2018 essay by Bill Cibes, former secretary of Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM), “Among all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Connecticut’s share of total state/local ‘own source revenue’ which is derived from non-tax charges is the LOWEST in the nation.”  While the average for the fifty states was 31% of “own source revenue” from fees and other charges, Connecticut’s was just 16%.  Cibes quotes numerous authoritative analyses, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, that “Connecticut’s share of the economic resources of Connecticut that is paid by its residents to state/local government for the services those governments provide, ranks Connecticut among the lowest in the nation.”  

The state’s low spending relative to income is borne out by a 2019 USA Today analysis that ranked Connecticut the 10th leanest-staffed government in the nation based on total state/local government employees per population.  Indeed, USA Today estimated that over the past decade, Connecticut cut government head-count by the second highest rate of any state in the country.  Government staffing reductions continue under Gov. Ned Lamont, with nearly 5,000 state employees retiring this year, more than double the usual number.  In fact, the latest Department of Labor data show that Connecticut’s government sector employment is smaller than at any time since 1995. 

While restraining spending, Lamont has dramatically replenished the state’s “rainy day fund,” which Republican governor Jodi Rell emptied on her way out of office.  At $3.3 billion, Connecticut’s cash reserves are nearly five times larger than they ever were, and at 15% of operating budget, the largest in the nation.  Over the past dozen years Lamont and Malloy have also repaired and reformed the state’s pension funds from the near collapse left by Rowland-Rell.  Not only has Governor Lamont fully funded the required annual pension contributions each year, he’s made additional contributions totaling $5.8 billion, which, according to OPM, reduce future annual contributions by $440 million. Moreover, OPM estimates that Connecticut’s ratio of unfunded pension liabilities to state personal income is now close to the national average.  

And Fiorello’s claim about “borrowing with seemingly no concern for what we are doing to ourselves and burdening future citizens”?  False.  In fact, according to OPM’s 2021 Fiscal Accountability Report, Connecticut has steadily reduced its bond issuances since 2015, under Democratic governors Dan Malloy and Ned Lamont.  Indeed, under Lamont’s “debt diet,” Connecticut’s 2021 issuance of general obligation bonds totaled just 43% of the amount issued in 2015.  That sharp reduction in debt issuance has resulted in the state’s being set to retire fully 70% of its general obligation debt within the next decade.  So far from “continuing to borrow” with no concern for future citizens, the facts show that Democratic governors and the Democratic legislature have been assiduously reducing borrowings for years.

Republican lies about Connecticut’s economic and fiscal realities enjoyed a big head-start.  But the truth has its shoes on now, and it’s catching up fast.

Sean Goldrick
Greenwich, CT