Darien League of Women Voters members and their guests attended a lunch on April 11 at the Darien Community Association to learn specifics of Governor Malloy's proposed Connecticut state budget. Joe McGee, vice-president for public policy and programs of the Business Council of Fairfield County, spoke on the topic "Connecticut Budget: Shared Pain or More of the Same."

In a fact-filled but entertaining presentation, McGee described how Gov.Malloy planned to address severe dual challenges. First, he and the state legislature must resolve how to close the current $3.5 billion operating deficit. Because its size represents an unduly high percentage of the $19 billion budget, this places Connecticut with California in its potential fiscal risk. For example, the state's bonds have been downgraded, making the state's borrowing more expensive to taxpayers. Second, the governor and legislature must also address some $46 billion in unfunded liabilities for state retiree pension benefits and health insurance payments. This unfunded liability places Connecticut among the top five states with this high a debt load per capita. Malloy's budget goals are to close the deficit while maintaining needed social services, education and other funding to municipalities, and to repair aging infrastructure. To support these goals, which include a net increase of $1 billion in additional spending, the governor plans to negotiate over $1 billion in state union employee concessions and over $1 billion in new taxes.

Among the highlights of the governor's proposed budget were: renegotiating state union contracts and state employee pensions and benefits to reduce our long-term unfunded liabilities; promote the use of long-term, in-home health care for seniors; employ alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, including effective treatment, job -training, and reintroduction into communities; improve results-based accountability at all levels of government ;and place a moratorium on unfunded municipal mandates to allow time to reduce these liabilities that lead to higher local property taxes.

McGee emphasized that because Connecticut is "one of the healthiest states in the union" people lead longer lives and the pensions in labor contracts don't take this into consideration. He pointed out that a high-quality labor force is vital to the state's hi-tech economy, but the educational achievement gap between the wealthy and poorer communities is such that there are not enough qualified workers to fill available jobs.

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There were numerous questions from the audience. In response to one on the education gap, he pointed out that charter schools in New Haven were outperforming the public schools. He also said the Republicans in the Connecticut Legislature may propose a separate budget because some members hesitate to support the proposal raising some property taxes, which is included in the governor's budget.

Government is not a spectator sport. To learn about future league events and participate in LWV activities visit, lwv.darien.org, or write with inquiries to the Darien League of Women Voters, P.O. Box 103, Darien, CT.