Twenty-five years ago Gov. Lowell Weicker vetoed a state budget. In his veto message, he got one thing right. “We will not set employment levels and then drum up programs to make work,” he said. To this day, Connecticut doesn’t set priorities. We start with state employees and end with a budget.

Right now, Gov. Dannel Malloy is in the process of laying off more than 1,000 state employees. Short-term budget cuts mean few options are available. We’re in such a rush to save a little money NOW that we end up unable to plan how to save money for the long-term.

And it leads to strange – or altogether absent – priorities. Right now Connecticut has employees fining liquor stores for offering you a discount. Others are busy auditing the employment practices of youth sports leagues. While these strange activities continue, we are laying off people who care for the disabled.

The state workforce is about as flexible as raw spaghetti. The Malloy administration has no discretion to lay off less effective or more expensive workers. The Connecticut Supreme Court even ruled that UConn couldn’t fire a worker arrested for smoking marijuana on the job.

That brings us back to 1991. Weicker was wrong about many, many, many things. He was wrong about the income tax solving Connecticut’s problems. He was wrong that new tax revenue wouldn’t be wasted on “orgies of spending.”

That being said, he was right about one thing. Connecticut often starts with state employees and ends with a budget. That’s backwards. We should set our goals and then figure out how to meet them.

Here’s what Weicker said:

Lastly, worthy of special note on the spending side of the budget is the failure of the legislature to specify what programs should be cut, choosing rather to back into the state’s obligations by setting personnel levels rather than setting priorities. Not all programs are alike. Quality and result should determine which survive, which are born, which are cut. The State of Connecticut under this administration will make choices based on human need with what ever personnel are required. We will not set employment levels and then drum up programs to make work.

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