Prepare for weeks of talk about the state's deteriorating finances as Gov. Dannel begins another unhappy chapter of the tale of declining fortunes. The problem is that state government spends more than is produced by the array of taxes it imposes. The bigger challenge is that spending continues to grow faster than economic activity.
Malloy and the General Assembly are reluctant to confront the reality of Connecticut's economy. It hardly grows. A few years of 4 percent growth here and across the nation would do a lot to solve the problems that face public spending. Four percent, which not long ago was not an unusual level of economic growth, continues to prove elusive.
A governor is obligated to propose a balanced budget for the legislature's consideration. Every budget always includes some sleight of hand. Lately budgets have been notable for the optimistic projections that allow the governor and then the legislature to say that the amount coming in matches what's to be spent in the next two years.
Connecticut's population and economy barely grow year after year. Government continues to require more. At this time of year, reality is reduced to a set of unforgiving numbers. The people whose job it is to put a budget together can then work on assumptions, delay expenses and conjure tricks that get them closer to a balanced budget. It is both burden and opportunity because $40 billion is a lot of money to spend.
The legislature sees this from a different perspective. Members express more interest in how money is spent than where its raised. For many, where the money comes from is for others to worry about. This produces an impediment in the struggle to balance the budget.
The legislative zeitgeist is to spend, spend, spend. Connecticut is a collection of unmet needs. This spirit finds its expression in a bill proposed by members of the New Haven delegation. It's Senate Bill 170, "An Act Concerning a Pilot Program to Provide Inmates with Health Care Plans Upon Release From Incarceration." It's early in the session, so only a little information is available on the purpose of this bill. Here is the single sentence it so far contains: "To proactively address the needs of inmates being released thereby increasing the inmates' chance for successful reintegration into the community and reducing the recidivism rate."
This is a bill worth watching as an example of who pays for programs that benefit others. Connecticut's generous and growing corporate welfare gives millions to the rich, millions paid by working people every time, for example, the state's 6.35 percent sales tax is imposed. What sounds like a special health care program for recently released inmates may not seem a model of fairness to those who are struggling to pay for their own costly coverage.
It might add to the universe of our knowledge to hear from police and prosecutors. Does lack of health care coverage come up as a cause of recidivism? How do we know? Is this another way to pay for drug addiction treatment? If so, say it in plain language.
One reason this bill has some heft is that New Haven matters a lot in Connecticut politics. It provides huge margins for Democratic candidates and its legislative delegation possesses seniority and influence. If New Haven wants something enough, it will happen and other people can worry about the cost.
We should ask, however, that negotiations over programs like this one — between legislators and Malloy's people — be communicated within the bounds of the Freedom of Information Act. The public has a right to know what public officials are saying to each other. The Yankee Institute shared some jarring news about Malloy's office and freedom of information. His legal counsel, who he just elevated to state Supreme Court, Andrew McDonald, appears to have used an email account outside the state system to conduct official business, according to the institute's Zachary Janowski.
It is not the first time this disreputable method has been used to thwart the law. It requires constant vigilance because the powerful will exclude the public from the people's business for as long as they can and until the price begins to increase.