I hope your new year is off to a healthy and happy start and I welcome you all to my first monthly column in the Bulletin newspaper. This column will be the first of many updating you on the goings-on at the State Capitol, especially after the 2006 session begins on Feb. 8, legislative progress on specific bills affecting Orange or concerning the committees on which I am a member and general information about the state's many on-going matters.

I look forward to hearing from you - you may reach me at Slossberg@senatedems.ct.gov or by phone at 1-800-842-1420 - and working with you in the future.

Every odd-numbered year, the Connecticut General Assembly grapples with setting the state's budget for the coming years, working with estimates of surpluses and deficits, and with requests and recommendations for funding certain programs and departments. In the senate alone, there are 36 members with 36 distinctly different ideas of how to set the budget for our state. While the budget was passed in June, we've had to tinker with a few facts and figures since then, and we now have a much better idea of the condition of Connecticut's fiscal climate.

The most recent estimate - a $525 million surplus in the state's coffers - is good news, but there are just as many ideas about what to do with the money as there are dollars in the surplus. There are so many worthwhile programs, initiatives and departments that could use a windfall, but the state needs to prioritize and make difficult decisions that will ultimately help our state's fiscal standing in the future.

First and foremost, a portion of the surplus must be deposited into the state's Rainy Day Fund - an account which will help supplement Connecticut's budget should any unforeseen circumstances compel us to fund a certain program or initiative. Currently, there is $600 million in the fund - only 4.3 percent of the state's General Fund budget when there should be at least 10 percent. Depositing a portion of the surplus money into this fund will still not get it to the proper level, but it will be a step in the right direction.

I am also steadfast in my belief that a large portion of the money in the state's surplus account should go toward unfunded state pension liabilities, specifically for teachers' pensions. We must honor our commitment to the teachers who have worked for our cities, towns and our state when they eventually retire. Sound fiscal policy demands that we properly fund our liabilities, just like any other financial obligation.

In addition, part of the surplus must be sent back to our cities and towns in the form of progressive property tax relief. For too long, cities and towns have had to increase their mill rates to finance municipal construction, school funding and other local issues. We need to do a better job of helping to supplement their mill rates to keep them from rising too quickly to allow families to settle down and raise a family in any one of our state's 169 cities and towns.

Connecticut is at a pivotal point, looking toward its financial future. We must have strong fiscal discipline and a reserve fund to counter-balance the natural fluctuations of our budget. Businesses, wary of investing in economic climates that tend to fluctuate greatly, will view Connecticut as a stable place in which to locate their ventures and our state will reap the financial rewards of a stable economic climate for years to come.

Sne. Slossberg represent the 14th Senatorial District which covers Orange, West Haven and Milford.