Wednesday, February 09, 2005

State Budget: Part One

I know there is going to be a lot to say on this topic, so it's going to be a running series.

Gov. Rell will make her budget speech at noon today, but already there is a lot to talk about. Select portions of the budget have been made public, and the predictable outcry has begun.

Some highlights thus far:

Rell will propose raising the cigarette tax by 74 cents per pack - or 49 percent - and also increasing the tax on alcohol as part of her fiscal package for the next two years, sources said. (Keating)

I am leery of "sin" taxes, as I don't believe the government should be in the habit of punishing citizens for what it deems "immoral" behavior, and I think another solution should be found. Cigarette taxes are usually popular, however, and they are probably the safest tax hike a governor can propose. Not coincidentally, this is the third time in four years that the General Assembly has raised the cigarette tax (Keating). I'm a bit disappointed in Jodi Rell for proposing "sin tax" increases. Surely she knows that this is a very temporary solution to the state's ongoing fiscal crisis.

The same source confirmed that Rell is proposing an increase in the state's 26-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax. The money would be set aside in a special fund to help pay for transportation improvements. A state transportation advisory board has suggested that a dedicated funding stream is needed to reduce gridlock on state roads.

Michael J. Fox, director of the Gasoline & Automotive Service Dealers of America, said he has been told that Rell's budget will call for a 5 cent gas tax increase over the next six years, from 26 to 31 cents. (Haigh)

It's good to see that Michael J. Fox stays busy.

This increase is going to be a slight hardship on families, but our roads and public transportation systems sorely need upgrading. We're going to have to take this one. Remember that the gas tax fell from 39 cents to 26 cents under the Rowland administration; it's not going to kill us to go halfway back. Also, it makes sense that the people using the roads should help pay for them. This isn't back-breaking, and I fail to see how it's going to hurt the gasoline industry, as Fox claims. People still need to buy gas in Connecticut, and so they will. Besides, if filling up your Hummer starts to bring tears to your eyes, you can always buy a Prius.

Last one for now:

Rell has already revealed some spending initiatives, including a tuition freeze at the University of Connecticut and other state colleges, $20 million to promote stem cell research, $15.5 million for laptop computers for ninth- and 10th-grade English students, a package of veterans benefits that includes monthly bonuses for Connecticut National Guard members serving overseas and $58 million in increased funding for the Department of Children and Families. (Haigh)

The tuition freeze is an excellent idea, but why do ninth graders need laptops? More and better computer labs in each school is a better answer to technological problems. Stem cells might become an issue, but I don't see what the few social conservatives in the General Assembly can do about it. Some are calling for a wholesale reorganization of DCF before it gets the money, which is a good idea as long as they DO get the money. No one will oppose bonuses for CNG troops.

We're going to be hearing a lot of griping, grousing, kvetching and election posturing in the next few weeks. But Gov. Rell's good standing with the legislature should guarantee that most of her budget will pass intact.

Sources: Keating, Christopher. "Rell's Tax Plans Already Under Fire." Hartford Courant 9 February 2005.
Haigh, Susan. "Rell's budget plan already drawing criticism." New Haven Register 9 February 2005.

How sad is it that the New Haven Register has to get articles about Connecticut's budget from the AP?

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