CCSU Workshop Lets Average Citizens Try to Craft Federal Budget

Published Feb 16, 2012. By Lisa Backus.

NEW BRITAIN — It didn’t take long for Bobby Berriault to figure out Saturday that coming to an agreement with 10 other people on how to slash the federal deficit would be difficult at best.“It’s not easy,” said the Central Connecticut State University junior. “This exercise is a reality check. There are no easy decisions.”That’s the point, said A. Harry Zeeve, a national field director for the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog group. “The goal is to engage in the public in just how tough these choices are.”U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, Zeeve, Berriault and about five dozens others were at CCSU Saturday morning taking on what seemed like a formidable task.

The group was participating in an interactive workshop designed for regular citizens to get a taste of what it’s like to craft the federal budget.The session was sponsored by the coalition in the hopes of making the public aware of how congress struggles to find consensus when making budget decisions.The participants were broken down into groups and given a budget summary explaining big ticket items and possibilities for cuts demonstrating how many could be increased or slashed and others that were expected to increase with inflation but the amount of spending could be frozen.Choices included whether to cancel further development of the ground-based National Missile Defense System for a savings of $13 billion or increase funding for rail and bus security at a cost of $12 billion.As Berriault and his group mulled over whether to eliminate education grants or rail service subsidies, Murphy explained that certain items, like Social Security, simply couldn’t be altered.“What’s happening around these tables is representative of what happens in Congress,” Murphy said. “People are having a hard time coming to these choices.”Rubis Collado of Waterbury said she purposely brought her 11-year-old son, Joshua, so he could get a view of how government worked.As a child advocate, Collado said her choices were easy. “As a mom I’m worried about the future of my child and all children,” she said. “I strongly believe it’s our choice to protect children and I think if I have the right mind set and the right goal it will be easy.”But judging by the wrangling going on at Berriault’s table across the room, it wasn’t that simple. When deciding what to do with discretionary spending, one or two opted for choice “A” – no change.Most went for choice “B,” allow discretionary spending to grow with inflation at a rate of about 1.9 percent each year. That choice resulted in a $778 billion loss for the government.“At the end of the day, this is what congress is dealing with,” Berriault said. “It’s really like juggling.”