A Connecticut Turnaround: It’s not too late, but 2018 may be our last chance

Connecticut is in serious trouble. Our Constitution state has gone from a flagship state to a sinking state in the past 30 years due to poor leadership and failed policies.

As I explore a run for Governor in 2018, I have fully committed myself to engaging the people of our state to discuss common challenges, their concerns, and sensible solutions designed to create a better future.

So, in May, I embarked on a statewide listening tour that involved mini Town Hall style meetings in about 20 cities and towns with Bill Raveis, the Chairman of my Gubernatorial Exploratory Committee effort.

I met with around one thousand real estate agents in the state from all five Congressional Districts. They are on the front line of the Connecticut economy. The overriding sentiment expressed in these meetings was that Connecticut needs a turnaround. While Connecticut is a beautiful state with a great location and great quality of life, the state, and a number of its cities, face serious financial and competitiveness challenges that are adversely affecting the state’s real estate market and the state’s residents to varying degrees.

From a personal perspective, my wife, Mary, and I are members of the middle class. Our home in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport has lost about a third of its value in the past eight years while our property taxes have gone up 55 percent. This is due to failed leadership and policies at both the state and local level. These results are both unacceptable and unsustainable.

At the same time, state and local leaders are not taking adequate steps to address the structural drivers that led to these results, including heavy tax and regulatory burdens and huge unfunded pension and retiree health care obligations. Importantly, the situation will get worse in the future absent tough choices, meaningful reforms, and a fundamental restructuring of certain state policies and programs as well as the finances of selected troubled municipalities.

In my view, Connecticut state government has grown too big and promised too much. As a result, the size and scope of state government and its programs and promises must be restructured, including the state’s overly generous welfare programs and retirement systems. Spending must be brought under control. In addition, regulatory burdens must be reduced and our tax systems need to be reformed to be more competitive. Credible candidates for Governor need to have a comprehensive and integrated fiscal plan that recognizes these realities. I am committed to doing so by the end of this calendar year.

Agents from all over the state noted the need to improve economic growth and job opportunities. Most were not aware that Connecticut is also the only state whose population is actually declining, in part because of poor job growth and the exit of major employers like GE and AETNA. People are voting with their feet with increasing frequency.

These dire economic circumstances have led to additional problems – deteriorating cities, inequitable education systems, and an wholly inadequate infrastructure. A Milford agent noted the need to address our deteriorating cities. She was heartened by my commitment to target economic development efforts, combat corruption and conflicts, revise education funding assistance, and force financial restructuring in cities which have lost their competitive posture.

Additionally, many agents supported my call for revising the state’s current education funding formula to focus more on children with special needs and children eligible for for free or reduced price lunches, eliminating the current “maintenance of effort” education funding requirement, rationalizing state funding for school construction, providing incentives and accountability mechanisms to rationalize the number of school systems, increasing shared service opportunities, supporting school choice and charter schools when they achieve superior outcomes, and increasing the amount of tax dollars that are committed to actually teaching students.

Furthermore, and even worse, in some cases, corruption has exacerbated our problems. Agents from all over the state were shocked that Connecticut allows convicted felons for public corruption to hold public office and that the state’s conflict of interest laws were so weak. They were unaware that the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives is also a public sector labor union leader, or that an ambiguous state law facilitates municipal employees being able to serve on local City Councils, even when it violated a City Charter, despite the obvious conflicts of interest.

The problems we face as a state are huge. We need bold and decisive action now. The agents seemed to recognize that traditional politicians and those without significant government transformation experience are not likely to be successful in turning around the Constitution State.

It will take a Governor with courage, commitment and a proven track record to do what is necessary to turn around the state. I have spent a majority of my career making transformational change happen and am recognized as one of the leading government transformation and fiscal responsibility experts in the country. My experience is unique and unparalleled among current or prospective candidates for Governor.

Merit will matter in 2018. With a strong Governor and a committed and capable Connecticut Turnaround Team, we can create a better future in Connecticut. You can see the full report about the tour at www.DaveWalkerCT.com.