Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Circumstance Has Forced My Hand

In case you'd forgotten, we don't have an operating budget for this country for the fiscal year that began on the first of October. Instead, we've been dime-dancing with continuing resolutions (perhaps to forestall the next revolution), interim financing authorizations, while the two political parties we sent to Washington with our votes duke it out in the corridors of power.

The continuing resolution we are currently operating under expires this Friday. To tell you the truth, with all this Daylight Savings springing forward, take away four and carry the six stuff I'm not sure if it expires at midnight on what you or I call Thursday night into Friday or if it's Friday to start Saturday morning. Broke is broke and that's where we are.

Not that we've been paying a lot of attention here in The Land of Steady Habits where magic bookkeeping and vapor accounting kept us happy for decades in the statehouse until the international economic turbulence that swept away so much for so many in the course of the last two years finally did enough damage to upset all of our apple carts.

We've elected a series of reassuring faces and voices that intoned 'nothing to see here, move along' and we did-allowing state government and its good and services to grow larger with each passing year as the cost of delivering goods and services continued to escalate. Many who could afford to exit the state and set up businesses and lives elsewhere did so leaving behind the very young, the very old, the very poor and, increasingly, the very angry.

To review: no one has any money and fewer still have any inclination to offer up any more of what they have to help right the state's financial ship. Because of how Connecticut is structured, when the state catches a financial cold, its cities and towns risk having the Plague. That is where we are now in The Rose of New England as the various city departments struggle to do more with less, but actually need to plan on a way to do less with even less. Everyone from public safety through public works and public education are trying out recipes for a wish sandwich, where you have two pieces of bread and wish you had some meat to place between them.

When Governor Malloy came to town last week to speak to residents in Norwich City Hall about his budget proposals, the reception was about what you'd expect for a guest who wants his hosts to pay more for what they already think they are paying too much. Everybody, everywhere wants to see taxes lowered-no matter the tax and no matter the amount.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., said 'taxes are the price we pay for a free society' but for many, the irony of paying for something that purports to be free has worn very thin. The mantra at state and municipal budget hearings has become 'cut, cut and cut.' The alternate plan proposed by the residents seems to be to change the depth of the cuts.

The challenge for our local elected leaders in listening to what we tell them we want and in what we want to pay for in goods and services for ourselves and our families is that we contradict each other. When they ask us if we want more police in downtown, as economic redevelopment is about to start, or a return of resource officers to the corridors of our middle schools, we tell them 'yes' even though it's not a yes/no question.

If you've driven on many of our local streets you already know it was a hard winter and the surfaces show it. So the question to ask ourselves is how many potholes do we want filled before we start cutting teachers or laying off policemen or City Hall employees, or whatever your personal concern is, because make no mistake, we cannot afford everything we want and may not be able to afford everything we need.

The Norwich Board of Education has adopted a proposed budget that makes no one happy, from educators to property owners and parents with children to those on a fixed income. Expect the same types of request from other municipal departments to receive similar reactions from across the city. "We're all on our uppers, we're all going skint. I used to suck cigars now I suck polo mints. Art takes time and time is money. Money's scarce and that ain't funny. Millionaires are a thing of the past, we're in a low budget film, where nothing can last."

By attending weekend workshops with elected leaders, sitting in on public meetings of the various agencies and departments throughout the city, speaking to our elected leaders on the phone (they're in 'the book' yknow?), sending them letters or email and being willing to speak up and speak against and, sometimes for, a particular position or proposal, we all contribute to the betterment of the tenor and tone of public discussion on issues of importance for all of us. No one wants to raise anyone's taxes or force another family to choose to leave Norwich. But we cannot 'no' what tomorrow costs every time we look to the future.
-bill kenny

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