Thoughts on the Deficit

No matter who is governor of Connecticut, the problem of projected state budget deficits will likely never be addressed completely in the near future. This problem is mainly an institutional one because a governor has more to gain politically by using budget gimmicks to address short-term deficits than by making the tough decisions that are necessary to address the problem in the long term. Part of the problem is the fact that governors make certain campaign promises to get elected, which often tie their hands in any efforts to meaningfully address major budget issues.

When Gov. Malloy ran for governor in 2010, he would often criticize his predecessor, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, for agreeing to use budget gimmicks to take care of projected deficits. However, when Gov. Malloy faced a projected deficit earlier this year, he agreed to use some of the same budget gimmicks that he criticized his predecessor for using. Last month, Gov. Malloy’s budget staff reported that the state faces a $100 million deficit in the current fiscal year and a $1.3 billion deficit in the next fiscal year. It is likely that the Governor will use similar gimmicks to address this large deficit.

Throughout this year’s gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Malloy kept insisting that there was not going to be a deficit for the current fiscal year. At one point, he even projected that the state would have a surplus for the current fiscal year. Less than a week after winning the election, Gov. Malloy’s budget staff announced that the state actually faces a deficit of $100 million for the current fiscal year. If the timing for this announcement seems awfully convenient, there is a reason why. In 2012, the Democrat controlled General Assembly passed a bill that pushed the due date for consensus revenue estimates from Oct. 15 to Nov. 10, which conveniently falls after Election Day.

Although the budget is typically proposed by the governor’s administration and ultimately changed and approved by the General Assembly, most of the blame for any issues, such as a deficit, is placed on the governor because he or she is the one official who represents the entire state. The General Assembly is made up of 187 members, who each represent a different portion of the state, so it is easy to pass the blame around.

In order to fix the problem of future deficits in the long term, Connecticut needs a leader with the political courage to fix the state’s fundamental budgetary issues without worrying about the political consequences. The crop of candidates in the recent election definitely did not seem to be up to the challenge. The only thing we can do is hope for a better choice of candidates in the next statewide election.

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