Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made lovely promises Wednesday: a two-year budget that pours money into public education and gives taxpayers nice breaks on cars and clothes, all while avoiding new taxes.
How he would do this, however, wouldn't be all that pretty.
A closer look shows that "some oxes will be gored," as Mr. Malloy says. Hospitals, towns and services for the poor would all take hits in state aid under his proposals.
This is an unusual and risky path for a liberal Democrat. But Mr. Malloy's No. 1 goal — investing in education — is the right one.
The state faces a huge budget hole, a stagnant economy, skyrocketing Medicaid costs. Over the decades, it has failed to invest in the things that could have helped it through this crisis — like job creation. It's given away the store to public employees and now finds their retirement and health care obligations overwhelming.
Mr. Malloy is proposing a two-year, $43.8 billion budget that could increase spending by 9 percent or more, though he says the budget would be balanced and below the state spending cap. (Republicans loudly disagree.) It would rely on bonding and delaying debt payments — yes, some of the same techniques his GOP predecessors used — as well as making cuts he acknowledges are controversial.
He's doing it, however, to pour money into education and get the moribund state moving again. He would put an extra $152 million into public schools over two years (with an emphasis on rescuing low-performing schools) and $1.5 billion into the University of Connecticut's science, technology, engineering and math programs over 10 years. These are, ultimately, investments that would lift all boats.
It's a gamble, but as he says, what the state's been doing the past 22 years hasn't worked. He's got his priorities straight, though they come at a stinging cost.
For example, the governor's proposal to sweeten the budget with a break on local property taxes on cars (a proposal he once opposed as mayor of Stamford) means towns and cities would have to scramble to make up that revenue loss.
Towns and cities would also lose state property payments (known as payments in lieu of taxes) under the governor's proposed budget. That money would be rolled into education grants to municipalities. They would get at least as much total aid from the state as they do now — and many would get more — but it would be meant for schools, not town halls, police or fire stations.
Among other oxen being gored in the governor's budget:
The Poor: Even though Mr. Malloy has promised not to tear holes in the social safety net, the tax credit for working poor families (the Earned Income Tax Credit) would take a dip in his proposed budget. The governor would also phase out payments to hospitals for caring for the uninsured as the Affordable Care Act kicks in. Fewer low-income parents would be eligible for Medicaid coverage.
Businesses: Temporary taxes on power plants, corporations and insurance premiums that were set to expire would continue under the governor's proposed budget. The state reneges on such promises at a cost to its credibility with the business community.
One ox that is escaping the knife is the state itself. State employee layoffs are off the table for the next two years because of a 2011 deal with unions that got some concessions (not enough) in exchange for job safety. Indeed, raises for nearly everyone are factored into the governor's proposed budget. Given the pain that would be visited upon others, shouldn't state employees feel a twinge? Shouldn't they at least be asked to give more blood?
Also worrying is a plan to change spending cap rules to exempt federally funded programs. The cap, passed in 1991, was meant to keep state spending increases in line with growth in personal income. Don't fool with it.
Mr. Malloy argues persuasively, however, that the state has to put its resources into job growth and education and "stop being all things to all people at all times." His proposed budget, though painful, would get the state growing.