With aftershocks from the Great Recession still reverberating, state officials are considering a mix of strategies to shore up Connecticut’s budget and steady its teetering economy. Several ideas that may help–taming tax expenditures, supporting community colleges, and fostering community development by reclaiming “brownfields”–are among the topics addressed in the Winter 2011 issue of The Connecticut Economy: A University of Connecticut Quarterly Review.
In this issue’s guest commentary, Joan McDonald, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), evaluates the state’s economic strategic plan in light of projected state budget deficits of $3 billion or more for each of the next three fiscal years. “Clearly, we in government are in uncharted waters,” McDonald says. “Business-as-usual is not an option for Connecticut.” The commissioner will attend the December 8th press briefing (Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology in East Hartford, 9:30-11:00 AM) and take questions from the media.
Community colleges have long provided a training ground for displaced workers and an inexpensive backstairs route to more advanced degrees, notes Quarterly Executive Editor Steven Lanza. Prodded by the Great Recession, this fall, a record 58,000 students enrolled in Connecticut’s 12 community colleges, a 5.7 percent jump over Fall 2009. “Little wonder,” writes Lanza in an article that highlights the earnings gains from greater educational attainment, “that amid a troubled economy… policy makers are taking a fresh look at the prospects, promise and payoffs of community colleges.”
Connecticut “spends” several billion dollars a year by not collecting all the taxes it could. Through “tax expenditures” (TEs), the state forgives many taxes, provided would-be taxpayers pursue state-favored goals or purposes. For example, sales taxes are exempted for clothing purchases under $50, with the goal of helping the poor—although non-poor buyers of such clothing also benefit. Quarterly co-editor Arthur Wright examines whether state officials might find some sizable extra revenues among all the TEs, widely scattered throughout the tax code, to help balance state budgets over the next three years.
For the past decade, returning brownfield properties to productive use has been a key component of Connecticut’s “smart growth” strategy. An interdisciplinary group at UConn, the Center for Transportation and Livable Systems (CTLS), recently conducted a survey of Connecticut’s 299 known brownfield sites, noting that redevelopment has been slow. “Sound, effective policies offer a chance to simultaneously rejuvenate inner cities, contain sprawl, reduce commuting costs and improve environmental quality,” the CTLS study suggests.
In a related study, Quarterly co-editor Dennis Heffley reports that the cost of brownfields, in terms of reduced property values, may approach $3,000 per home in affected towns. “Aggregating these costs across homeowners… could yield a total loss that would justify efforts to remediate these sites, especially if the improved property values also generated additional local tax revenue and alleviated the pressure on state government to supplement local tax collections,” Heffley writes.
In other articles, the editors and contributors to the Quarterly:
- Report the latest data and forecasts of jobs, unemployment, housing prices and permits for the four largest market areas in the state.
- Provide tables, charts and commentary on labor market activity.
- Forecast that the state’s economy looks becalmed, making for very slow growth in jobs and state GDP.
- Map trash disposal and recycling spending in 2008 for each of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns in the Quarterly’s centerfold.
For free access to this and earlier issues of The Connecticut Economy, dating back to 1993, see: cteconomy.uconn.edu.