Connecticut may be too rich for its own good. Long blessed with a disproportionate number of high-income residents, the state has entertained lavish spending habits for decades. Lawmakers have acted as if they were on a shopping spree at Christmas, confident that the money to pay off the credit cards would somehow be found in the new year. Meanwhile, they have avoided many of their less glamorous responsibilities — depositing money into pension accounts and other retirement benefits, and paying for adequate infrastructure maintenance. Now, all those bills are coming due, and the money isn’t there to pay them.
Budget problems have become chronic in Connecticut. This year, they got worse. Faced with a projected $5 billion shortfall over the state’s two-year budget period, the legislature blew well past the July 1 budget deadline. (There was still no agreement on a budget as of mid-August.) “People have come to expect a very high level of services, while keeping taxes low,” says state Rep. William Tong. “That math doesn’t work. People are facing two decades of bad decisions and we’re having to reckon with that new reality.” In May, the three major credit rating agencies all downgraded the state, citing weak revenues. Continuing budget fights and tax increases have driven down business confidence.