Listening to some politicians and pundits, you'd think we can achieve wholesale change with simple solutions. The inherent dishonesty in that premise has allowed some, particularly those on the right, to draw a line in the sand, an exercise that shows just how unwilling they are to compromise. This "my way or the highway" style of governing has predictably produced stagnation and resentment on all sides.
As much as we'd like it to be otherwise, the fact is that large problems call for equally large solutions. The answer is not only to cut spending, nor is it only to raise taxes. The answer is some measure of the two.
When I became Governor, Connecticut had the largest per-capita deficit in the nation and an economy that had experienced no net job growth for 22 years. The consequence of 16 years of short-sighted decisions was $1.4 billion depleted from the rainy day fund and a budget that used nearly $2.5 billion in one-time gimmicks and borrowing to cover nearly 9 percent of its operating expenses.
These problems were too big to cut our way out of and too big to tax our way out of. The comprehensive approach we took made sure that we could continue to make investments in the institutions that our residents depend on while at the same time get our fiscal house in order.
We cut spending on a current service basis by more than $1.2 billion, but we also increased the state's contribution for public education by more than $360 million. We restructured our relationship with state employees, saving more than $21 billion over 20 years. But we also held the line on municipal funding so that cities and towns didn't have to raise local property taxes to pay for critical local services, like public safety. And we put the state's pension fund on stable ground, saving taxpayers almost $6 billion over the next 20 years.
While we're still calculating the final tally, it looks like we're going to finish the current fiscal year with close to $100 million in our rainy day account. It's a good start.
But getting the state's finances in order was only one step on the road to recovery. We also needed a new strategy for job creation. And on that front, I'm proud to say that Republicans and Democrats in Connecticut came together to take on the issue of our time.
We created the First Five Program, a combination of our best business incentives, so that we could aggressively pursue large companies. To date, the First Five program has created or retained nearly 12,000 jobs. In exchange for about $130 million in state incentives, the companies are investing roughly $660 million into our economy. That's a five-to-one ratio of private to public investment.
What's more important than just the raw numbers is the types of industries we are investing in -- bioscience, digital media, insurance, and precision manufacturing, to name a few. Last week, we announced the sixth company to take part in the First Five program: an international, next generation green steel company called Sustainable Building Solutions. A century ago, the steel industry literally and figuratively built this country. Now, by bringing this company to American shores, what's old is becoming new again. And what's new is poised for growth.
It's not just about large companies. We also have a $100 million Small Business Express program that's investing in a range of companies across Main Street, Connecticut. From tech companies to small-scale manufacturing to jobs in hospitality, we are taking steps to make sure small businesses have access to the capital they need to think big.
And we're seeing results.
Last month, we created more than 5,000 private sector jobs, bringing the total number of jobs created since I became Governor to 20,500. Unemployment is down 13 percent since January of 2011 and more people are looking for work. We did all of this while streamlining our state government, which now has nearly 3,000 fewer employees and 25 percent fewer state agencies.
While simple solutions may make for effective talking points, after more than 18 months as Governor, I can tell you that what's needed is a comprehensive approach that focuses on fiscal responsibility and job creation. Change is possible, but change is hard. It is also necessary.
I am not satisfied with where we are, but I'm pleased we're making some progress.
But until some politicians in Washington put the health and well-being of our country above the success or failure of their party, I fear we are doomed to continue a debate that, at its core, is a lie.