So far, 2010 is a year of challenges and growth opportunities as I continue service as your state representative. My work for you in Hartford remains rewarding, but the politics and practicalities of state budgeting are frustrating with difficulties and obstacles at every turn.

For two years, I have been co-chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, tasked with overseeing spending related to your Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). In a bipartisan manner we seek efficiencies that make sense, looking for ways to reduce unnecessary spending and asking critical questions about each state-funded spending item -- questions you should expect your elected representatives to ask. Is this spending accomplishing essential goals for the state? Can we do without it? Can this be accomplished another way?

Soon, you will see office hours of DMV branches reduced, expensive 1-800 lines disconnected and vehicle registration simplified to rein in costs and save taxpayer dollars. Our subcommittee passed legislation to increase the operating hours of the Danbury and Stamford truck safety weigh stations, improving safety on our highways, reducing road maintenance costs, and generating millions in additional revenue. These savings are important but still small steps relative to the state's $18 billion annual budget. We must find more efficiencies and more cuts to resolve growing deficits.

Too often, politics intrudes on good policy-making. Cuts that seem to make sense are restored, spending essential to protecting vulnerable citizens is slashed. Leaders from both parties hold press conferences to lay blame or take credit rather than encourage effective policy-making. As an outsider -- a wife and mother who joined the legislature with an earnest intention to speak out, organize and make our community better -- I struggle with these realities.

Though frustrated, I remain hopeful. I believe leadership will steer us in a more fiscally responsible direction. I will add my voice to the discussion as I have consistently done, identifying sensible spending cuts and dedicated to resolving even tougher fiscal difficulties ahead. Why? Because I care and I know other leaders care. I joined government to be a voice for change. Democracy is a gift that only succeeds if we elect and fill government with people dedicated to our future first and party politics second.

A recent, unexpected opportunity helped fortify my approach to my work in Hartford. Honored to be selected to represent Connecticut and the United States on a brief political exchange to Nepal, I saw an extraordinary opportunity to step outside of American democracy, away from politics as usual and gain a unique perspective on our own and another country's culture, political systems and practices. My short time there gave me new perspective and strengthened my beliefs about what makes us strong and how simple some solutions to our own challenges can be:

"¢ We can do more with less. Our excesses and temptation to live beyond our means is startling.

"¢ Compromise is critical. Compromise, not ideological intransigence, is the underpinning of democratic government.

"¢ Freedom is a blessing requiring us to respect each other, regardless of formal education or wealth.

I spent much time with Nepalese children. I saw dirt-floor schoolhouses far removed from the magnificent facilities of our own children. But like our children, I saw the young people of Kathmandu learning, achieving and motivated to make a difference in our world. Like our children, they benefited from the most important element of success -- the influence of parents and teachers who emphasize education, work ethic and honesty.

While I'm certainly not suggesting that we deprive our children of the best we can give them, people in this far away place are doing extraordinary things with less. Theirs is a different lifestyle from ours, but with similar goals and ambitions -- to grow to be inspired leaders who work to make our world better. There are lessons to be learned when we look at ourselves through a different lens.

In recent days, I recalled new friends in Nepal as we cut the state budget smartly and achieved an all too rare compromise among Democrats, Republicans and the Governor. We are helping Connecticut emerge from the national recession by doing more with less, protecting those who need it most, keeping taxes and borrowing in check and working together. Imagine the possibilities as we go forward.

Kim Fawcett (D, 133) represents Fairfield and Westport.