Don’t Dither, Lift Spending Caps


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Connecticut needs a fiscally sound, responsible, and sustainable budget. This should be a core
belief of any policymaker in our state, no matter their partisan affiliation. The only way state and
local government can effectively perform its duties today and in the future is by keeping its
books in good order, both to have the resources needed to perform its duties and keep the
public’s trust.

As progressives, fiscal responsibility is even more important. If you believe that government can
and should play an active role in our economy, support those in need, provide quality services,
offer first-class education, build and maintain infrastructure, keep our communities safe, and
perform many other activities the market does not want and cannot provide, we need to ensure
that government can pay its bills on time.

Fiscal responsibility, however, is not just a matter of not spending more than you have. It also
means understanding the need to set the right priorities and spend what we need to ensure that
we can address these issues.

And right now, we are at the risk of being really financially irresponsible.

Despite the economic recovery following the pandemic, our state faces multiple challenges.
Connecticut’s economy has lagged behind the national average in economic growth for well
over a decade. Income inequality has increased, and racial and economic segregation has
worsened. Our achievement gap remains one of the widest in the nation. Our labor market has
barely recovered the employment levels from before the pandemic. Housing costs have
skyrocketed, and our rail lines and roads have fallen into disrepair.

You’d think that it would be easy for our lawmakers to make a plan and address all our state’s
unmet needs in the budget this spring. But unfortunately, a fiscal tool called the spending cap
stands in our way. The cap imposes a limit on the rate of growth of state spending. The specific
figure is based on either average income growth in the last five years or the consumer price
index (CPI) over the last year, whichever is greater.

The current spending cap is too restrictive, and is preventing our state from making the kind of
public investments Connecticut needs to boost economic growth, create opportunity, and
support working families.

Connecticut is running a large budget surplus. Years of fiscal probity, difficult pension reforms,
and necessary tax increases have finally reversed the damage from years of irresponsible
budgets under Governor Rowland and Rell. Our fiscal books are at last in good order, and our
reserve fund is full. We are finally paying down our long-term obligations. We have the money to
invest in our communities, and after a pandemic and years of fiscal crisis, there is a clear need
to address income inequality, to speed up economic growth, to provide opportunity, and rein in high housing costs. Instead, lawmakers are dithering – and despite the urgent need to fix the
many problems faced by working families in our state, they are choosing to leave them as they
are, all because of a surmountable spending cap.

Essentially, Governor Lamont and the state legislature are running a car with the check engine
light on. They know that there are quite a few things under the hood that are not working and
will break eventually, but they are refusing to take the car to the shop to save money. At some
point, some or all of those deferred repairs will catch up, and the longer they take to fix them,
the more costly that fix will be.

Fortunately, there are two ways to bypass the spending cap. Governor Lamont can request to
lift it, and lawmakers can do so with a three-fifths vote in both chambers. Otherwise, lawmakers
can establish separate funds outside the spending cap with dedicated revenue sources to
invest in promoting racial, economic, and gender equity. The only obstacle preventing them
from taking action is a lack of political will.

Let’s do the right thing and do what’s needed to push Connecticut forward. Time to lift the
spending cap.