Op Ed: Republican State Budget Burdens Connecticut’s Working Poor

Letter to the editor submitted by Sean Goldrick, who served two terms as a Democratic member of the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation.  He lives in Riverside.

In its recent editorial, Greenwich Sentinel praised the Republican budget passed by the Connecticut General Assembly, claiming that it “restores funding for core services to our neediest and most vulnerable residents without raising taxes.”

If only that were true.

In fact, the Republican budget is a cruel plan that hurts the state’s most vulnerable residents, while attacking union workers and undercutting schools and universities.

The Republican budget slashes the state earned income tax credit, taking more than $150 million over two years from the pockets of the working poor, including more than 1,200 families in Greenwich.

It increases taxes on public school teachers by $95 million, an average of $1,500 per teacher, forcing them to pay another 2% of their salaries over the biennium, ostensibly for pensions. Yet the Office of Fiscal Analysis makes clear that the teacher tax goes straight into the general fund to balance the budget.

It cuts $23 million from grants for the state’s poorest school districts, while redirecting millions to schools in the wealthiest communities, including Greenwich.  The Republican budget eliminates $150 million in dedicated funding designed to close achievement gaps in poor school districts, substituting block grants to the municipalities.

The Republican budget caps and eventually eliminates the $37 million Roberta Willis Scholarship for low-income youth, potentially preventing thousands from going to college.

It requires poor and low-income expectant mothers to pay a new fee of $324 a year to continue receiving health care through Husky A, a program largely covering poor and low-income women.

It eliminates the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account, and eliminates the cap on the asset tax on vehicles, further burdening low-income workers.

It slashes aid to higher education, cutting $308 million cut from the University of Connecticut, triple the reduction proposed by Governor Malloy, possibly forcing the university to close campuses and slash financial aid.  It reduces aid to all the state’s colleges and universities by half a billion dollars over the biennium, and cuts $124 million UConn Health Center, endangering its survival.

The Republican budget represents an all-out attack on unionized workers, eliminating collective bargaining for state workers, unilaterally imposing increases on teachers, and substantially raising the value cut-off for municipal projects, effectively requiring contractors to fire unionized construction workers, and hire low-wage, non-unionized workers.

Circumventing collective bargaining, the Republicans force state workers to accept major reductions in their benefits and major increases in their contributions beginning in 2027.  That action permits the Republicans to assume lower future pension costs, though not agreed upon, and cut the budget’s pension contributions by over a quarter billion dollars.  And if the state employees don’t agree with those terms ten years from now?  The funds would not have been paid in, and workers would have to accept a fait accompli.

The Republican budget also proposes eliminating the Citizens Election Program that provides public funding for state elections.  The program, adopted in the wake of the rampant corruption of Republican governor John Rowland’s administration, was the first in the nation to be passed by a state legislature (Greenwich’s Republican delegation all voted “no”).

CEP has substantially increased the number of candidates running for General Assembly and local offices, and reduced the number of uncontested seats.

While doing away with public financing, Connecticut Republicans propose tripling the amount that corporations may contribute to campaigns, and permitting tens of thousands of dollars of corporate money to seep in through “leadership PAC’s.”   In short, The Republicans are putting our state government up for sale to the highest corporate bidders.

And far from this sweeping budget’s putting Connecticut on a firm fiscal footing, the OFA projects that the state will face an additional $3.5 billion deficit in the next biennium.

Greenwich Sentinel claims that those who supported this fiscal cruelty “displayed the virtues talked about” in the movie “Mr Smith Goes to Washington.”  On the contrary, a real Mr. Smith would stand and fight with all his strength against this cruel Republican budget that punishes Connecticut’s working poor, attacks labor rights, increases taxes on school teachers, and charges poor expectant mothers more for healthcare, all the while refusing to ask the wealthiest members of our society to pay a single penny more.

Signing this bill into law would prove no “profile in courage,” as Greenwich Sentinel contends.  On the contrary, Governor Malloy’s stand against this immoral budget will endure as the real profile in courage.