Connecticut: Prosperity, Frugality, and Stability
CAROL W. LEWIS
By geographic destiny, Connecticut stands at the gateway to New England. Town greens and wooden church spires keep New England traditions alive to the eye. They are alive as well in elements of the political rhetoric and administrative style and in important facets of the budgetary process. The governor, in office since December 1980, echoed this political value in his 1989 budget address to the state legislature (General Assembly) by saying, "We have promised you consistency and stability in government and that is what we have given you. "1
Nevertheless, critics charge that the budget resembles the Barnum circus, another famous Connecticut product, which entertained and awed with a dazzling display of skill, pomp, trickery, and smooth talking ringmasters. Connecticut's financial operations are considered on a "modified cash" basis, and only beginning with FY 1988 (after years of annual audit recommendations) was the independently elected comptroller to issue a financial report in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). Reports of operations as budgeted by the legislature and the budget as appropriated currently do not comply. 2 Allegations of using "smoke and mirrors" to balance budgets by using the budget reserve and one-time revenues to fund continuing programs 3 and shifting spending off the general fund 4 provide other examples of a system apparently so Byzantine, partisan, and mysterious that one of the more powerful actors, formally House co-chair of the joint Appropriations Committee, suggested that "the budget becomes a novel" during implementation. 5
In Connecticut, old-style partisan politics and organization are slowly fading as overworked, underpaid, and understaffed, part-time legislators "deliberate" under a media spotlight in three- or five-month frenzied sessions. 6 The budget vote remains very much a partisan issue. Despite the noise and attention devoted to the public forum, the governor evidently is the ringmaster. The process unquestionably is dominated by the executive and, secondarily, by the majority party.