The state budgeting process is not so simple

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My parents, born and raised in Bridgeport, have always sung the city’s praises. But having spent most of my adult life working at the Capitol, I can attest that Hartford doesn’t really consider Fairfield County to be part of Connecticut. “It’s a suburb of New York!” is often heard, although it contains Bridgeport as
the biggest
and among the
poorer
Connecticut towns. This manifested itself in Bridgeport being overlooked by the Capitol.

It’s important for people downstate to understand how the state budget process works in Hartford. It is difficult to participate and get fair treatment if the process is unknown.

Prior to 1969, the Connecticut Legislature met only in odd-numbered years with two-year budgets. When it decided to meet annually in 1970, annual budgeting went with it. Connecticut reinstated a biennial budget in 1991 with income tax. Although this requirement is met, the state still functions effectively as if it had annual budgets.

On February 9, the Governor published his
Budget adjustment 2023
document and
related invoices
. It always coincides with the
State Address State
. Adjustments to the biennial budget are not necessary since a budget for the second year has already been put in place, but they almost always occur. Although much fanfare occurs around the release of the governor’s budget, it is actually dead on arrival and is very much a handover to the legislature.

The legislator attributes the wide range of proposals submitted to it to
26 committees
. The
informative budget document
that accompanies the Governor’s proposal is not really “the budget”. Budget and tax proposals are bills, like any other piece of legislation. The only job of the legislator is to pass bills (and some resolutions). You can see that the
Final budget (HB 5506)
which was adopted in April is not structurally complicated. A typical budget bill consists of: (1) a list of government agencies/accounts and dollar amounts assigned, followed by (2) a multitude of written sections known as the “back of the budget” that contain budget guidelines, but also stacks of unrelated politics and pork.

When referring to the “budget,” most people are referring to the general fund ($22.1 billion) which accounts for over 90% of the appropriations. But there are also eight other earmarked funds ($2.1 billion) of which the transportation fund (8%) is the largest. The current number of allocated funds is fungible and corresponds exactly to what has evolved over the years.

The budget is the most important action of a legislature, because it contains not only operating funds, but also a load of policies. Unlike most other bills, a budget
to have to
has been. It not only provides ongoing funding for agency programs, but also creates new/expanded programs that reward a voter, policy advocate, party member, or lobbyist.

The document
produced by the Governor helps explain changes to the budget, but not the base budget itself. This document accompanied by its
Economic report
and
Three-year annual report
is bulky. No one fully reads these documents — there is too much information and not enough time.

A confusing part is that the subjects of the committees are different from the 11 government functions used by the governor, which are also different from the
13 sub-committees
used by the Credit Committee. These subcommittees oversee a different set of agencies and are made up of nonpartisan analysts. Many of these functions/processes overlap and are not separate from a single committee, requiring elected officials and staff to regularly work together across committees and assignments.

But there are other important sources of government spending. The first is the investment budget (the ”
Bond Bill
approximately $3.2 billion recommended by the Governor for 2023). Suretyship, like taxation, falls under the
Finance Committee
since it is made up of projects financed by borrowed money. It doesn’t go through a process like appropriations – it’s mostly handled by committee chairs. A list of these projects can be consulted from page D-1 of the
Act 2023
.

Other parts of the spending are not reviewed at all, such as unrestricted funds (about $10 billion). These are run by state agencies with little legislative oversight. Most of it is federal funds (about $7 billion not including pandemic funds). Some of them are federal block grants that get a cursory review before the appropriations. The majority of the other funds are statutory “revolving” funds that collect money from fees or charges to be used for agency program expenditures. Although legal at birth, these programs are on autopilot thereafter.

Finally, there is
tax expenditures
, which total about $9 billion a year. These have also been legislated and are on autopilot. Tax expenditures are not really “expenditures”. Instead, they result in lost (or lost) tax revenue such as tax reliefs/credits. These items are not reviewed.

There are far too many programs/funding that are not adequately reviewed, but Hartford is happy with the current system. If they weren’t, they would change it.


Alan Calandro is an unaffiliated voter and former director of Connecticut’s nonpartisan Legislative Bureau of Fiscal Analysis, former chief of staff at the University of Connecticut and

writer on Substack.

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