In two Headstart Centers on James and Cedar Streets, any day of the week, you can find classrooms full of 19 three-to-five year olds engaging in imaginative play, making kites, learning about the Chinese New Year or getting ready to read. The early care centers provide breakfast and lunch, age-appropriate toys and games and bi-monthly meetings with parents to tell them how their children are progressing in school-readiness.
Low-income parents pay fees on a sliding scale, depending on their incomes. They can volunteer at the centers and are encouraged to serve on boards designed to ensure parental involvement in policy decisions. The extremely high rate of teacher turnover and low skill level of pre-school teachers concerns many parents, but on the whole they say they are relieved to know their children are preparing for school instead of watching television unattended in one of New Haven’s many un-regulated home-based early care centers.
Currently, the state General Assembly is debating Governor Rowland’s proposed 2002-2003 state budget, which dramatically cuts social spending programs to correct the $200 million dollar gap that exists between projected state income and the state spending previously agreed upon.
Since revenues are down, the state government can either raise taxes or cut spending. The state government has chosen overwhelmingly to do the latter. They’ve altered almost nothing in the state’s tax structure, but decreased funding to programs supporting the most vulnerable members of the population. Head Start is only one such program –centers throughout Connecticut will lose over $250,000 in state funds for operating costs and quality enhancement programs, making it impossible to confront the problems of high teacher turn-over and low teacher-training.
In the proposed budget, Education Equalizing Grants from the state to poor cities will decrease by $46 million. All funding to Anti-Hunger Programs will be cut. School Readiness funds will decrease by a million dollars. Child-care assistance to mothers leaving welfare will be cut by $10 million. Drugs Don’t Work, LEAP, community health services, supportive housing and School to Work Programs are only some of the programs which will suffer significant decreases in funding. Even with these cuts, legislators anticipate a deficit of almost $100 million.
The One Connecticut Campaign represents a coalition of non-profit organizations and think-tanks that are pushing hard for the General Assembly to change the state’s tax structure instead of dismantling its human development programs. Today, the state will collect 35 percent of its $13 billion budget from personal income taxes, which represents the state’s single largest source of total revenue.
Connecticut’s 4.5 percent tax for its highest income tax bracket is the fifth lowest among all states charging income taxes — even though Connecticut has the highest per capita income of any state in the country. Creating a new top tax bracket that increases income taxes by just 0.5 percent for tax-payers with an income over $1 million per year would generate $122-$191 million in additional revenue and still leave Connecticut with a lower highest tax bracket than its surrounding states.
Reducing the $1.6 billion in corporate tax breaks awarded during the booming 1990s would also help alleviate the state’s budget crisis. Because of increasing numbers of exemptions, deductions and credits that corporations can claim to reduce their tax liability, big businesses have contributed steadily decreasing amounts to state revenues since 1994. Some of Connecticut’s richest corporations pay nothing in state taxes. For 2002-2003, the projected loss from Connecticut’s tax exemptions, deductions and credits total more than $3.7 billion — 29 percent of the year’s total revenues.
These corporate tax breaks have been justified with the argument that they create jobs. But since 1990, each job created through such tax breaks has cost the state $500,000. Such tax breaks do not benefit the population at large. Instead of ending tax breaks that favor wealthy corporations, the proposed budget is phasing in new tax breaks through 2006 despite projected budget deficits.
Increasingly, Connecticut’s citizens are subsidizing increases in corporate wealth and not benefiting from the profits generated from their own labor. The tax structure in Connecticut today exacerbates the income inequality between the rich and the not-rich, concentrating wealth instead of redistributing it.
For the next month, State House Speaker Moira Lyons, State Senate leaders such as gubernatorial candidate George Jepsen and Finance Committee Chair Martin Looney and Governor Rowland will debate back and forth over the best solution to Connecticut’s budget problems. This is a decision that political leaders vulnerable to the influence of the wealthy and powerful should not make alone. Citizens should at least consider the different ideas proposed by the advocacy groups that make up the One Connecticut Campaign and push their elected officials to choose a humane and responsible solution to the budget crisis.
Shonu Gandhi is a junior in Saybrook College. Her columns appear on alternate Mondays.