Con­necti­cut is drown­ing in spend­ing

Connecticut Post - - OPINION - By Larry Stauf­fer Larry Stauf­fer is a res­i­dent of Mid­dle­town.

In­stead of more taxes to en­able our cur­rent spend­ing lev­els, it’s time to re­duce spend­ing by con­sol­i­dat­ing gov­ern­ment, em­brac­ing the ob­jec­tive to re­duce re­dun­dancy and over­head costs that clearly ex­ists amongst the 169 towns.

Con­necti­cut’s money prob­lems are well-doc­u­mented with sig­nif­i­cant on­go­ing bud­get deficits and ris­ing tax rates. The an­swer is not more taxes.

To make mat­ters worse, Con­necti­cut has sig­nif­i­cant un­funded pen­sion li­a­bil­i­ties that are mort­gag­ing our fu­ture. We can­not cover our cur­rent spend­ing lev­els let alone prop­erly fund our pen­sion li­a­bil­i­ties.

I spent 40 years in the chem­i­cal in­dus­try stream­lin­ing, right­siz­ing and con­sol­i­dat­ing op­er­a­tions and busi­nesses to im­prove our com­pet­i­tive­ness. I can tell you, when thought­fully done, it achieves the ob­jec­tive of re­duc­ing costs while main­tain­ing ser­vice qual­ity ev­ery time. It’s time for Con­necti­cut to fol­low this ap­proach.

With 169 in­di­vid­ual towns each with their own over­head, ad­min­is­tra­tion and ser­vices struc­tures, there are sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings to be had by con­sol­i­dat­ing gov­ern­ments and shar­ing ser­vices across town lines. Most of the cost re­duc­tions will come from con­sol­i­dated over­head and ad­min­is­tra­tion, cur­rently du­pli­cated in each of the 169 towns. Keep the num­ber of work­ers about the same, but re­duce over­head bur­dens by con­sol­i­da­tion. I like the con­cept of the model ad­vanced by for­mer state Sen. Gary LeBeau. Some ex­cerpts from his ar­ti­cle “It’s Time for County Gov­ern­ment in Con­necti­cut” dated May 18, 2017:

“Con­necti­cut’s prob­lems boil down to just one word: re­dun­dancy.

“We can talk about our long- term down­ward eco­nomic and fis­cal spi­ral and the all- too- fa­mil­iar list of symp­toms: lag­ging em­ploy­ment, loss of our ed­u­cated and wealth­ier pop­u­la­tion, sput­ter­ing busi­ness devel­op­ment, con­tin­u­ing state bud­get deficits and the state sport of ‘ kick­ing the can down the road.’ These in­tractable prob­lems have per­sisted for the last 10 years if not, in some form, for al­most the past three decades.

“But un­der­ly­ing these symp­toms is the dis­ease of re­dun­dancy — the state’s 169 ci­ties and towns.

“Ev­ery town has its own mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment. That means that ev­ery town has its own parks and re­cre­ation, pub­lic works, li­brary, el­derly ser­vices, hous­ing, in­spec­tions, tax col­lec­tion, le­gal ad­vis­ers, eco­nomic devel­op­ment, health ser­vices, fire, po­lice and, of course, the big­gest and most ex­pen­sive of all, the school sys­tem. Each school sys­tem bu­reau­cracy has its own su­per­in­ten­dent, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dents, deputies, etc. The school sys­tems usu­ally con­sume about 70 per­cent of the town’s bud­get. The re­dun­dancy is in the man­age­ment struc­ture. Its costs are enor­mous.

“What if we could take these mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and con­sol­i­date them into eight en­ti­ties? Hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, in­deed I be­lieve bil­lions of dol­lars could be saved by elim­i­nat­ing re­dun­dant man­age­ment in the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and in the schools. Could this be done? Has it been done else­where? Yes, all over the coun­try — the en­ti­ties are called coun­ties.”

A bridge strat­egy be­tween our cur­rent struc­ture and con­sol­i­dated mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties could be to re­gion­al­ize ser­vices, ef­fec­tively com­bin­ing ser­vice struc­tures be­tween towns to re­duc­ing/di­lut­ing the over­head and ad­min­is­tra­tive costs, while al­low­ing ad­e­quate time to con­sider the longer- term county struc­ture. At the very least, re­gion­al­iza­tion takes the first step in the right direc­tion of cost re­duc­tion through con­sol­i­da­tion. It’s some­thing that can be done now.

If you think state res­i­dents are trapped into the chronic tax and spend poli­cies, think again. Con­necti­cut ranks fourth among states with the high­est per­cent­age of out­bound moves, roughly four peo­ple mov­ing out for ev­ery three who move in. So keep­ing the same un­bal­anced fis­cal poli­cies will con­tinue to drive tax­pay­ers out of the state, sim­ply mak­ing the prob­lem worse with a shrink­ing rev­enue base. Con­necti­cut peo­ple are send­ing a clear mes­sage by vot­ing with their feet.

In­stead of more taxes to en­able our cur­rent spend­ing lev­els, it’s time to re­duce spend­ing by con­sol­i­dat­ing gov­ern­ment, em­brac­ing the ob­jec­tive to re­duce re­dun­dancy and over­head costs that clearly ex­ists amongst the 169 towns. I urge every­one to con­tact their rep­re­sen­ta­tive, chal­leng­ing them to move in this direc­tion.

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press

Mem­bers of the Con­necti­cut Se­nate are sworn into of­fice by Sec­re­tary of the State Denise Mer­rill at the State Capi­tol in Hart­ford on Wed­nes­day.

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