With the state facing a budget gap this year that tops $300 million – and is likely to be much higher next year – the candidates for Bristol’s 77th District have different ideas about how to deal with the red ink.
Republican hopeful Jill Fitzgerald said that among the ideas worth pursuing are an early retirement program for state workers, a shift to a paperless bureaucracy and pulling the plug on about $300,000 worth of pagers and beepers carried mostly by highly paid state supervisors who also carry cellular phones paid for by taxpayers.
Democratic contender Chris Wright offered no specifics, but said that Gov. Jodi Rell’s plan to deal with the current shortfall “has merit and should be considered.”
“It is very difficult for the state to obtain significant savings in the short term with spending cuts without seriously impacting vital services and local property taxes,” Wright said.
The two candidates are vying on Nov. 4 for the northeastern Bristol House seat that Republican Ron Burns has held for the past two years. Burns, who defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Roger Michele two years ago, is stepping down after a single term.
Wright said that in terms of dealing with budget, “the bottom line is that the state has spent too much money for years, and it is times like these when those spending habits catch up with us.”
Wright said that private companies get can save money in the short run through layoffs, “but the state faces more demands for services in hard times, and layoffs would only increase the workload of the state employees who provide those services.”
Also, Wright said, “since the state pays unemployment compensation only after a layoff and must pay terminated employees for any accrued vacation and sick time, savings generally occur only in the second year.”
Wright said that new programs the state needs – which are often shoved aside as too costly during hard times - may take priority over older ones that are already in place.
“It is not always true that new programs are not as important as programs which already exist,” he said.
“As the needs of society change, so must the services which the state does and does not provide,” Wright said.
Fitzgerald said that she stands with the state House Republicans in their call for the Democratic-controlled legislature “to rescind a request for a nearly 8 percent spending increase over the next two fiscal years.”
She said that state agencies need to tighten their belts and that there should be “no budget increases.”
“Just like families are being forced to prioritize and cut spending,” Fitzgerald said, “I am a proponent of this in the state. I don’t believe that tax increase should be imposed in the midst of an economic downturn.”
She said improvements can wait “until better times” return.
Fitzgerald said an early retirement program would save the taxpayers $163 million and shifting to a paperless bureaucracy would save more than $10 million annually.
“In this day and age when almost every document is reproduced online, we need to consider a policy to get as close to a paperless state government as possible,” Fitzgerald said, adding “this is a great environmental choice as well.”
Dumping the beepers and pagers, Fitzgerald said, would eliminate “a glaring example of wasting taxpayers’ money.”
State lawmakers serve two-year terms and earn $28,000 for their part-time positions.
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