The state's proposed budget cuts of up to $300 million over two years would stagnate UConn’s advancement towards a top-tier university ranking. But, the legislature's decision is hardly surprising. Connecticut’s finances are in turmoil because its leadership has perpetually neglected meaningful fiscal reform. Couple that with an astronomical state income tax and a high corporate tax rate; Connecticut is not an appealing place to call home. In fact, the state’s population has fallen for three consecutive years. It is imperative that we recognize that UConn cannot succeed when Connecticut fails. Conversely, UConn—especially the new Hartford campus—can play a major role in revitalizing the state of Connecticut.
UConn is the epitome of Connecticut's investment in education. However, the return on investment is contingent upon students remaining in Connecticut post-graduation. The business exodus - namely GE and Aetna - from Connecticut means fewer tax dollars and less employment opportunities for graduates. But the cause of the migration is more than just bad fiscal policy. Note that GE and Aetna left for Massachusetts and New York, not exactly tax havens. Instead, Connecticut lacked a habitable atmosphere for the corporate culture.
In an interview with the WSJ, GE executive Jeffrey Bornstein explained, “there wasn’t a huge ecosystem around the company...Attracting talent there was a bit of a challenge.” Aetna’s chief executive, Mark T. Bertolini, did not mince his words, [New York has] “the ecosystem of having people in the knowledge economy, working in a town they want to be living in... It’s very hard to recruit people like that to Hartford.” The message is clear; Hartford has lost its mojo.
To make matters worse, Hartford faces imminent crisis. The city is on the brink of bankruptcy—officials reported in early September that money will run out within 60 days. According to Mayor Luke Bronin, “We face the greatest fiscal crisis in our city’s history.” It’s a sad irony that the Mayor requested at least $40 million from the state for this year: a destitute city in the hands of a penniless state.
The short-term trajectory projects disaster, but UConn’s new Hartford campus brings hope to a dormant city. An influx of young students to the downtown will bring business to restaurants and nightlife, and an audience to the cultural centers and museums. The UConn presence will—hopefully—link the city with the spirit of the University and bolster its enthusiasm for UConn athletics (i.e. basketball at the XL center), and foster a renewed sense of pride.
Clearly, we’re caught in a Catch-22. UConn’s success is a necessary ingredient for Connecticut’s fortunes to rebound; and, UConn needs money from Connecticut to continue its progress. Instead of assigning blame, UConn and Connecticut must lock arms and prepare for a long up-hill climb. Sacrifices will be necessary from both sides.
If the governor vetoes this budget proposal, you may be tempted to take a breath of relief. Don’t. A veto would only be a temporary fix; though I am not suggesting that the proposed budget cut is the right course of action. Connecticut must work diligently to reverse years of reckless spending. We need a rational long-term solution. UConn must continue its stride towards excellence, even if it means making difficult decisions. We can create a new culture for our capitol city. After all, the goal is not to be Boston or New York City but a new Hartford. UConn’s presence in Hartford offers a unique opportunity for growth—for the campus, the city and the state.
Akiva Rockland is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.