State Senator John McKinney (R-28), a recently announced candidate for governor in 2014, opened Y’s Men of Westport/Weston’s 37th season on Thursday with a broad ranging talk about Connecticut’s sad state of affairs and the solutions he proposes.
McKinney is serving his eighth term in our state Senate, where he has been minority leader since 2007. He represents Westport, Fairfield, Weston, Easton and Newtown,.
“Our economy is the most important issue,” and is in dire straits. We spend too much, we tax too much and we borrow too much – and we have huge unfunded liabilities.
He presented a litany of our ills – we’re last or near last in many economic indicators – “Last year 40 states saw their economies grow, nine saw them stay the same. Only Connecticut’s shrank.” We are in the bottom five in “business friendliness” and “openness to job creation;” we have the largest per capita debt in the nation; and we’re 50th as a place to retire because we tax pensions…
Our biggest problem is spending. “I opposed the budget that increased spending by over 10 percent over the last two years.”
He called the state’s costly delivery of social services a major problem. “Social services are 22 percent of our expenditures – the largest slice of the pie.” Connecticut is one of a handful of states in which both private and public agencies provide comparable services. He used the example of a state hospital caring for severely mentally ill children at an annual cost approaching $1 million per patient, in contrast to a private facility whose costs are half that.
While “We have a moral obligation to help those in need… if the state were to let non-profits provide care we would save close to $500 million annually – in a budget of $20 billion.”
Our second largest budget expenditure is employee salaries and benefits. He termed the state’s health plan “platinum plated,” and said Chris Shays and Chris Murphy both opted out of the federal plan because Connecticut’s is so much better.
McKinney would have employees pay higher premiums and co-pays so they bear a larger share of the costs.
The same for pensions. “I’m not here bash state employees, it’s not their fault that politicians gave them more than we can afford.”
“We’re dead last in employee contributions… We need to change the way we do business, existing employees have to contribute more.” He seeks to do what Westport already does – place new employees in defined contribution plans rather than defined benefit.
Moving to his second point, we tax too much, McKinney said. “I opposed the bill passed three years ago that imposed the largest tax increase in the state’s history because in times of recession higher taxes stop economic growth.” This, he noted, was “one reason our state’s unemployment rate continues to be higher than the national average at 8.1 percent.”
He pulled the two together, “If you spend less you can tax less,” and added “we need to have a larger debate about completely transforming our tax code” to determine whether our “dozens of different little tax credits” are worthwhile. If they’re not, let’s get rid of them.
Third, we borrow too much money. Why? We haven’t had the political will to say no. We’re borrowing $750 million to cover operating expenses. Inexcusable. We shouldn’t borrow to pay ongoing expenses.
“We have to spend less or tax more. Let’s have that debate.”
“But a bigger problem, bigger than any budget we could pass, bigger than any tax increase – are our unfunded health care and pension liabilities.” The $60 billion on our books is only 42 percent funded. This leaves Connecticut better only than Illinois.
“Until we correct these long term liabilities companies are not coming to Connecticut because they see what’s coming down the road.”
“And we have to stop the madness of giving out hundreds of millions of dollars to get companies to move from one town to the next. It’s insane that we’re going to spend $115 million of your money to send Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, whose owner is worth $12.5B from Westport to Stamford. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Senator McKinney’s father, Stewart, represented the Fourth District in the U.S. House from 1971 to 1987. The younger McKinney was raised in Fairfield, and is a graduate of Fairfield Prep, Yale University and the University of Connecticut Law School. He and his family live in Fairfield, and he is active a number of local and area charities.