To The Editor:
The state’s spending cap twists budget-making at the Capitol into knots as the governor and the legislature appear to abide by it while acting to evade it. Their dance is a big charade full of sound and fury, a public relations ploy that attempts to deceive the public but fools nobody. Ironically, the cap was never necessary from the beginning and is not even legally binding.
The spending cap, adopted as a constitutional amendment, limits the increase in general budget expenditures for any fiscal year above those expenditures authorized for the previous year by the greater of the percentage increase in personal income or in inflation.
It was passed in 1991 at the time the personal income tax was enacted to allay fear that the legislature would be tempted to raise the rate of the tax periodically and send the budget sky high. That fear never materialized.
The constitutional amendment provides that the General Assembly shall define “general budget expenditures,” “increase in personal income” and “increase in inflation” by a three-fifths vote of the members of both houses. The legislature has defined those terms, but not by the requisite three-fifths vote. Legislative leaders of both parties have never pressed for passage of the definitional measure by the required super-majority, clearly revealing they want a cap in name only.
The statute permits the cap to be exceeded when the governor declares an emergency or the existence of extraordinary circumstances, and at least three-fifths of each house of the General Assembly agrees. That provision distorts the budgetary process by causing the governor and legislative leaders to divert their energies negotiating over items that can be funded under the declaration rather than focusing on producing an overall good budget.
The state should scrap the cap and end its charade. We should go back to adopting budgets the old-fashioned way: estimate anticipated revenue for the fiscal year, and appropriate funds in that amount so that both are in balance.
Judge Trial Referee
Editor’s note: Robert Satter is the author of Under the Gold Dome-An Insider’s Look at the Connecticut Legislature.
To The Editor:
The article in the March 26 issue of The Connecticut Law Tribune (“Paltry Pay Scale In Need Of Revision”) addresses an important issue for a segment of the Connecticut Bar. Attorneys who work in the child protection system are denied decent pay and have been for years. As a consequence, many committed and competent attorneys have been forced to leave a field of practice that has been diminished by this loss. Others, such as attorney Doug Monaghan, are being forced to consider leaving a practice they are clearly passionate about.
The result is that sooner or later many, if not most, of the best in the field will be forced to work in other areas of the law. Further, as Chief Child Protection Attorney Carolyn Signorelli noted, “The child protection field is extremely complicated. It requires knowledge in a vast area of not only law but in social welfare issues. So we want to go to an hourly rate at this point and hopefully we’ll be able to attract more higher-caliber attorneys to the field.”
As attorney Monaghan noted, this is not just about compensation, this is also about Connecticut families caught up in the legal system. Studies have shown that compensating attorneys properly, which in turn allows them to lower their caseloads, results in significant benefits to the children and families in the child protection system.
It is time for the Connecticut legislature to increase the compensation for lawyers who practice in juvenile court. The advocates for children and families in such matters both need and deserve it.
Commission on Child Protection