Tong: Budget ‘contains many triumphs’ for Darien
Published 12:59 pm, Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Leadership once meant offering bold and exciting ideas, initiatives to transform government in a booming economy. Today, in an economy continuing to recover, leadership means making impossible, ugly choices from a menu of bad options with candor and brutal honesty. And it means making decisions that may be unpopular.
This was a very tough state budget. But there are no excuses. The 187 members of the General Assembly have a responsibility to reach consensus on a budget. I know that my neighbors and constituents go to work every day and do their jobs, especially in tough conditions. I must do the same.
Much can be said about the state budget, good and bad. The budget itself contains many triumphs for Stamford, Darien and our region: a massive infusion of state aid for Stamford, including more than $60 million in funding to build a new school at the former Sacred Heart Academy to alleviate dire overcrowding in our elementary schools, $1.5 million more for Wright Tech, millions more in direct state aid to Stamford to provide property tax relief, a cap on the car tax, and millions of dollars to fix our crumbling transportation infrastructure.
The budget also contains serious disappointments. I strongly believe that we need to take steps to improve the business climate in Connecticut. I am listening to my constituents and people in the business community who have concerns about this budget, and I am working hard to make the budget better. We all agree that our state must have a strong and vibrant economy, and that small businesses and large corporate employers are the lifeblood of Connecticut’s future. I have reached out to General Electric and other businesses to engage in direct conversation about the budget and its effect on their business, and I am doing the best I can to address their concerns.
People ask me, what is this budget about? It’s about making tough choices. I believe we must make huge cuts to spending. This budget includes a total of $1.3 billion in cuts to the current services budget. In other words, we cut $600 million this year, and $700 million next year, from existing services. This represents at least a 5 percent cut across the vast majority of line items in the state budget. It cuts employee overtime by tens of millions.
This budget is about working people and protecting middle-class families in my district. That’s why I opposed large income tax increases. This budget does not increase income taxes on the middle class. If you are a family that makes up to $500,000 ($250,000 if you are a single filer), your income taxes did not go up. I fought hard against proposed sales taxes on accounting and veterinary services, and a 2 percent surcharge on capital gains. Those proposed taxes were canceled.
This budget is about protecting our most vulnerable, including children and seniors. On top of the $1.3 billion in cuts we did make, we faced an additional $500 million in cuts that would be devastating to families in Stamford, Darien and across our state. Stamford faces a crisis of overcrowding in our schools, forcing children (including my own) into mobile classroom trailers. Local non-profits such as the United Way, St. Joseph’s Parenting Center and Person-to-Person need critical aid. And our transportation infrastructure — like the train station parking garage — is falling apart. Many constituents implored me to oppose cuts to these services and investments.
To prevent these harsh additional cuts, the budget asks for .20-.24 percent from the highest income earners in our state. This means we ask a person who makes $1 million a year to pay $1,500 more (taking into account federal deduction for state income taxes). This budget also asks Connecticut’s biggest corporations to do more. We want every employer to stay in Connecticut and to prosper, and we have given many corporations tax incentives and other options to reduce their tax bill. We are now asking for their help so families do not have to pay more in personal income taxes or sales taxes. I made a judgment that these increases are fair and necessary to fix our roads and bridges, to pay for a new school in Stamford, and to protect the mentally ill and disabled.
A final note: my Republican colleagues offered their own alternative budget that is very similar to the Democratic budget — it includes the same amount of spending and avoids the same cuts. The Republican alternative budget also relies on the very tax increases they claimed to oppose in 2011. The disagreement among Democrats and Republicans is not really on spending but on how we pay for it. Republicans claim we can unilaterally take $250-300 million in wages and benefits from state employees. This is not possible — when Gov. Rowland broke the state’s contract with state employees, the state was sued for hundreds of millions of dollars. Employees did agree to give up significant concessions in 2009 and 2011 in the form of wage freezes and benefit cuts. And keep in mind that we can’t get something for nothing; state employee concessions must be bargained for, and if we ask for more concessions, that means the state will have to give up something in return, like job security or future health benefits.
State Representative William Tong’s 147th district represents Stamford and Darien.