Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Think this year is bad? Wait for 2012, 2013, 2014

At the risk of sounding like the uber-negative Bristol Blog, I have to say the message this morning at the chamber's legislative breakfast was pretty much doom and gloom. Here's what I wrote about it for The Bristol Press (http://www.bristolpress.com/):

BRISTOL – The state will get through this year’s economy and the next one alright, lawmakers said, but the real trouble is coming in the years to follow.
“We’ve got a heck of a task in front of us,” said Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat who predicted a “multi-billion-dollar deficit” in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Nicastro and several of his fellow lawmakers spoke at the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce legislative breakfast before a crowd of about 115 early Tuesday, with the tough economy taking center stage.
“It’s a lousy hand to be dealt, but it’s the hand we have and we have to play it,” said Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat.
Rep. John Piscopo, a Republican who represents Burlington, Harwinton, Litchfield and Thomaston, said the $500 million deficit puts Connecticut “in a world of trouble.”
Wright, a freshman lawmaker, said it’s been frustrating that people are playing “gotcha” instead of working together to solve problems.
“Pointing fingers doesn’t make any sense,” said Nicastro, who said lawmakers have an obligation to set politics aside. “Everybody has to step up. It’s about time all sides became one team, united to solve the problem.”
Rep. Bill Hamzy, a Plymouth Republican whose district includes Bristol, said the role of lawmakers is not to agree. Debate is healthy, he said, but lawmakers must listen to everyone, draw conclusions and act in the best long term interest of the state, “being the adults in the room.”
When his late father came to Connecticut about 50 years ago, Hamzy said, he found a job in a factory and economic opportunities for himself and his family.
That’s what Connecticut should be, but isn’t anymore, said Hamzy, who said throwing money at the problem won’t solve it. Instead of maintaining the status quo and hoping the storm will pass, Hamzy said, lawmakers should acknowledge problems realistically and keep in mind “the people who are paying the tab.”
Connecticut lawmakers have to look out for all facets of the state, Nicastro said, and need the help and understanding of constituents.
“Give us a chance to do it,” said Nicastro. “The cuts will be made.”
Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat, said negotiations are the toughest thing to do. “No matter whose budget passes, somebody’s going to say, that’s not a good budget.”
Colapietro said there are “too many people in high places,” but he wasn’t talking about the General Assembly. He said state senators bring home $28,000 salaries while members of the state House make about $17,000 a year.
“We’re doing the best we can,” said Colapietro. But he said state departments are filled with far too many deputy commissioners who lost an election somewhere along the way and were “slipped in” to a cushy government job.
The padded layers of government start at the municipal level, move on to the state level and really get out of control at the federal level, said Nicastro, when committees that are formed grow into permanent commissions.
Nicastro, who is heading up a state committee that will look at eliminating mandates, said if some can be removed or even temporarily suspended to give municipalities a break during the recession, lawmakers will do it.
“We’re going to listen,” Nicastro promised the crowd, adding that he’s supposed to produce a list of potential changes by March 1. “I will do everything humanly possible to get you the relief that I can.”
Chamber officials are pushing lawmakers to get more efficiency in government through regionalization, something the lawmakers in general seem to support.
“I always believed in strength in numbers,” said Colapietro.
Piscopo said the government’s role should be to remove the impediments to regionalization, not mandate it.
Wright said gains from regionalization won’t be immediate, but will probably be realized in five to 10 years.
Some state offices are aimed at promoting the rights of women, of African American citizens, or the elderly, said Wright, who said they might be able to be merged for efficiency’s sake into a human rights office.
“A lot of the work they do is overlapping,” said Wright.
When Connecticut’s 169 towns were drawn up, Wright said, it was based on whether residents could walk to the government center in a day. He said what may have been practical generations ago might not be the best system for today.
But Nicastro said there are drawbacks to regionalization, too, such as when the state was poised to build a massive new hospital in Farmington for the University of Connecticut and Hartford Hospital – a project that could have wiped out Bristol Hospital and other community hospitals in the area.
“Sometimes regionalization can hurt,” said Nicastro.

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