Friday, August 31, 2012

Common Sense is Missing from Connecticut State Government

If you are in search of common sense decision-making these days, you may want to steer clear of the State Capitol in Hartford. Here are a few examples of why I feel Connecticut state government is on the wrong track.

Exhibit A is the new Connecticut law which allows violent felons to get weeks, months, and even years taken off their prison sentences. The measure became law even though Republicans warned it would enable rapists, arsonists, child molesters and animal abusers to become eligible for early prison release under the new Risk Reduction Earned Credits program. Now, we are seeing this law's impact. On June 27, a Meriden small business owner was killed at his convenience store. The man arrested for that murder was able to earn 199 days of risk reduction credits while serving time for a robbery conviction. Then, on August 25, an East Hartford convenience store employee was killed while working at the store. The man arrested for that murder was able to earn risk reduction credits while in prison earlier this year.

In an attempt to fix this policy, I have called for an immediate suspension of the program in order to review its treatment of violent felons. (My online petition to generate support for this initiative can be signed at .) The architects of the flawed law, unfortunately, continue to defend it. They blame the police, prosecutors and judges for enabling the bad guys to slip through the cracks. The “system” is to blame, they say, even though they were the ones who have just made the system less safe. The policy will not be reviewed or changed. Instead, the governor will stick with it, hoping and praying – along with the rest of us – that the next murder or rape is not the result of an early release. We can all expect the finger-pointing to continue with each new violent crime.

Exhibit B is the $567 million, $1,000-an-inch taxpayer-funded New Britain to Hartford Busway. We are all aware of multiple state roads which need improvements. For many greater Danbury and Waterbury area residents, the jammed up stretches on Interstates 84 and 95 rank high among priority areas in need of attention. Yet to build the busway, the state is diverting money from road and bridge repair projects around the state. Wouldn't a better solution be to spend the busway funds on these pressing projects instead? I have not met a single person in western Connecticut who supports the busway project. That's why I backed a common sense motion to stop funding the busway and to redistribute that money for other transportation needs. That bid failed in the State Senate, so the busway continues to run full steam ahead.

Exhibit C is overall state spending. As any family knows, you can’t spend more than you take in. This spring, I backed a plan which took aim and waste and fraud in government and cut spending by hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, isn't it time the state put an end to longevity bonuses for state employees? Many taxpayers may be shocked to learn that their state government issues these bonuses twice a year to thousands of employees - the next round of checks will be sent out in October - yet the bonuses have nothing to do with job performance. While focusing on eliminating wasteful spending like these non-merit-based bonuses, Republicans and I also pushed to increase the state’s property tax credit and to exempt clothing and prescription drugs below $50 from the state sales tax.

Our proposal was rejected. Instead, our state government is spending your money faster than it collects. Spending was actually raised by $1 billion in the most recent budget. That spending has resulted in a budget deficit even though your taxes were just raised by record amounts last year. Connecticut now has the third highest state and local tax burden in the country and all that spending has put us in deep debt. How deep? $5,569 for every man, woman and child in Connecticut. Our credit card is maxed out, yet the borrowing continues in earnest. Last month, the state essentially wrote a $115 million check and handed it over to the largest hedge fund in the world so that it would stay in Connecticut. The hedge fund’s owner earned a $3.9 billion salary last year. That's "billion" with a "b." Wall Street wins, while Main Street loses.

The priorities in Hartford are misguided. The policies being passed at the State Capitol are hurting working families and endangering public safety throughout Connecticut. I will not stop fighting against measures which fly in the face of common sense, and I will continue to reach across the political aisle to try to arrive at common ground with fellow legislators. Maybe my persistence will pay off and some of my colleagues' positions on these crucial issues will start to evolve. But maybe not.

For those who share my frustrations about Exhibits A, B and C, consider this: Sometimes, when you can't change the minds of the folks who are in charge, you just have to replace them.