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COMMENTARY: Session ends on sour, shameful note

In a year that saw some positive bipartisan legislation — e.g., education reform, progress on open space and environmental initiatives, and some good small business programs — last week’s special “budget” session demonstrated once again the danger and disgrace that derive from one-party rule.

Indeed, because we didn’t finish our budget work by May 9 (the constitutional deadline for regular session), the legislature needed to reconvene on June 12 for a “special” session limited to implementing the existing budget. What we received on arrival, however, were two blunderbuss bills bloated with more spending, more budget gimmicks and more efforts by the majority party to “hide the ball” from the public.

The purported implementer bill — which was supposed to be limited to budget triggers — was instead a 468-page, 14,000-line tome that contained 111 concepts for passage, 40 of which never had a public hearing! Buried within it were new programs that were rejected in committee, pet projects that failed during the regular session, and more budget gimmicks such as (i) diverting a court system surplus as a one-time payment for unrelated programs, (ii) tapping more bond funds (i.e., borrowing) to cover certain operating expenses, and (iii) using unspent money from last year, which was already counted as a “lapse” to help fill this year’s $300 million budget deficit, to pay for expenses next year.

Even more shocking was the discovery of a provision (buried at lines 7,631 to 7,635) seeking to prevent public disclosure of information concerning the state’s financial grants to projects such as Jackson Labs (now over $300 million) and the First in Five programs. The majority eventually agreed to strike this disgraceful provision after I and others railed against it.

The coup de grâce, however, was a second bill (this one 190 pages and 6,000 lines) which added almost 20 more concepts that did not have a public hearing, and resurrected a host of bills that failed in the regular session. Many of the concepts were laudable, some were not, but none of them had anything to do with the budget.

Moreover, buried within this bill was a provision to move the date for public reporting of consensus state revenue figures from Oct. 15 to Nov. 10, i.e., a week after the next election. The aim of this artifice is obvious: The majority wants to delay having to explain to the voting public why, despite their $1.8-billion tax hike, our revenues are still falling as they have been all year. This measure was passed on a party line vote — again, simply disgraceful.

The actual budgetary work that was done, however, confirmed that the Democrats’ tax, borrow and spend budget is falling apart.

Indeed, despite the largest tax increase in state history, we are still confronted with filling a $300-million deficit this year, with ongoing deficits expected to multiply going forward. Our borrowing, spending and taxes continue to go up, our revenues, cash flows and bond rating continue to go down, and there is no end in sight under the current “government comes first” approach adopted under the current one-party rule. Simply put, we continue to cannibalize the ailing private sector to support a thriving public sector.

While I will continue to promote constructive initiatives like the bipartisan legislation mentioned above, I will not stand by and watch these positive developments get wasted by the ongoing mismanagement of our fiscal affairs.

Mr. Shaban represents Easton, Weston and part of Redding in the 135th District.

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