Here’s what needs to happen in Hartford

As First Selectman in Essex, I have been responsible for developing detailed municipal budgets for seven years. But my responsibilities go way beyond a spreadsheet: I also manage the day-to-day delivery of every service and function funded in those budgets. That experience has provided me with a firsthand perspective that will give our district a credible voice in the state Senate, not only in financial management, but also in making budgeted services work in the real world. 

Here’s what I’ve learned over the course of my years in elected office: 

1. The blame game is unproductive. Cooperation works, finger pointing doesn’t. Political gamesmanship cripples any real chance for forging long-term solutions. A meaningful and open dialogue among all stakeholders is the way to approach and solve difficult problems.

2. Budgets should start with reliable revenue projections. Government has to live within its means. The budget process should begin with revenue projections that are both reasonable and reliable. Overly optimistic revenue projections have caused budget instability, knee-jerk fixes, and fluctuating funding for our towns, making local budgets unstable and compromising delivery of services.

3. Shared sacrifice is required. Interest groups, legislators, and the administration must come to the table recognizing a stark reality: We won’t always get what we want. Everyone will not leave the table happy, but all of us in positions of trust have to share responsibility for putting the state on the road to financial stability.

4. There is a solution to the state’s problems. Job creation through aggressive economic development is the way to truly solve the state’s financial crisis. We need a comprehensive, long-term business plan — not just an advertising plan — that will define the path to attracting businesses of all sizes and the high paying jobs that come with them. Those businesses want certainty, not a constant refrain of gloom and doom. No business can succeed without a plan. The state needs one, too.

5. Do the job you were elected to do. Our soon-to-be-elected legislators and our next governor have three key responsibilities: first, manage spending and make government as efficient as possible; second, develop a stable budget based on solid revenue projections; third, demonstrate fiscal responsibility through thoughtful, disciplined planning. 

Does all of that work in the real world? Essex serves as an example. Democrats, Republicans and independents work side by side to get things done. Budgets have been balanced for years, and have been unanimously approved by the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Finance, and by everyone present at public budget meetings. We generate ideas that help us do more with less, keeping our property taxes among the lowest in the state while maintaining high quality services. We streamlined municipal government to make it more efficient and more responsive to everyone we serve. And, all of our decisions — every one of them —put people ahead of politics. 

That’s the experience and the attitude we need in Hartford. 

Norm Needleman is the first selectman of Essex and the Democratic candidate for state Senate in the 33rd district.

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