State budget should be crafted in the sunshine

Published on Monday, 8 May 2017 21:41
Written by The Hartford Courant

A proposal by Senate Democrats to open budget talks to the news media is a chance for politicians to shine a little more light on the process, and Republicans shouldn’t hesitate to agree.

The budget sausage gets made in a myriad of meetings: staff meetings, leadership meetings and meetings in between, as proposals are made and amended and political deals offered and accepted. It might not be possible for the press corps of the entire state combined to cover every aspect of the process, to say nothing of televising it. So any proposal to open “the talks” to the media probably wouldn’t include every meeting on the legislative agenda.

But it could put pressure on politicians to craft a decent budget under the public eye, and to that end, it’s a solid idea.

Everyone in the legislature feels the pressure already, especially after estimates for tax revenues came in sharply lower on Monday. The state is now facing a $4.9 billion shortfall over the coming biennium, meaning legislators will most likely have to cut spending and hike taxes. But where does spending get cut? And where do taxes go up?

When budget talks are conducted behind closed doors, the public misses an opportunity to see where their representatives stand.

But if some of the talks are open to the public, politicians’ true priorities might be visible. In a democracy, that’s only good. Nothing shows a politician’s real values more than how they spend the public’s money. ...

Even though some Republicans dismissed it as a political stunt, they should leap at the opportunity. To refuse could be seen as tacit acknowledgment that they want to hide their deal-making from their constituents. Yes, some stages of negotiations can benefit from confidentiality, but they can benefit from transparency, too.

In their private moments, Republicans might be more willing to discuss tax hikes here and there, especially given the state of the budget. Some Democrats might be secretly willing to flex some muscle and insist that unionized employees give back some of their unaffordable benefits.

But fear of not being re-elected will discourage them from saying so publicly. And that’s a shame.

Here’s news for legislators: The people of Connecticut might be willing to vote their representatives back into office if they show an ability to compromise for the good of the state and leave strict party fealty behind.

Everyone knows the state’s finances are a disaster, and no amount of finger-pointing or political posturing will change that. The people of the state of Connecticut want their legislators to work together and make smart - not political - decisions that will get the state on its proper footing. Few will criticize those who feel they must cross the aisle on an issue or two if it’s done for the right reasons.

Legislators’ loyalty should be to their constituents, not the party machines. Negotiations should be open to the public, and legislators shouldn’t be afraid to show their willingness to compromise.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Editorials on Monday, 8 May 2017 21:41. Updated: Monday, 8 May 2017 21:43.