In the General Assembly, as in life, there is a constant flow of positives and negatives, and the first two months of the legislative session have given us plenty of both to consider.
With the election of a new governor and an influx of new legislators, there is no shortage of ideas, both old and new, that may shape our state well into the future. Some of these ideas make sense, some don’t and providing constructive alternatives to the later remains a top priority. I’m encouraged by the variety of proposals, and the enthusiasm of my colleagues, and I remain hopeful that we are all, regardless of political ideology, committed to protecting and promoting the best interests of our state long term.
During his first budget address, Gov. Ned Lamont stepped off on a positive when he announced his plan to put Connecticut on a “debt diet” and said he intends to reduce state bonding by nearly $500 million annually. He further stated he would consider restructuring labor agreements to help reduce the state’s spiraling pension costs in an effort to stabilize the budget. Whether that means concessions or simply a restructuring remains to be seen.
He called for investing in transportation infrastructure and streamlining our transportation systems to implement a plan that would allow commuters to travel between Hartford and New Haven, and Stamford and New York, within 30 minutes, and said he was ready and willing to sit down and have conversations on any topic.
Unfortunately, those positive steps have been tempered by dozens of proposals that will raise taxes in an effort to gain more revenue. The governor said he favors greatly expanding the tax base by removing dozens of previously exempt items that includes haircuts, car seats and medications, among many others, as well as eliminating the tax free week that so many on both side of the register have come to rely on fiscally.
Lamont’s remarks on transportation policy restated his approval of tolling, and perhaps as predicted, will now include all vehicles. Thus far, his toll proposal is short on specifics, including how many toll gantries will be installed, how much it will cost to erect and operate the system, and what the rates will be for out-of-state drivers. Estimates conclude that more than 60 percent of all toll revenue will come from Connecticut residents. There will be more to come on that issue from my desk in the coming weeks.
He is strongly considering forced regionalization of school districts, regardless of whether local boards of education want to combine, and favors penalizing those that don’t. He also appears committed to raising the minimum wage, paid family medical leave and legalizing recreational use of marijuana.
No one disputes that balancing the state budget is a top priority, especially in light of recent deficit predictions which say it may reach nearly $4 billion over the next two years. Unfortunately, instead of truly looking for sustainable changes to the way government operates, the governor seems resigned to continue raising taxes to overcome the problems created by decades of raising taxes.
Still, however, I remain optimistic that we can work together on these difficult issues and find common ground to fund the state and the valuable programs that people depend on without once again reaching into the now nearly empty pockets of the taxpayers.
John Fusco (R) represents the 81st district of the House of Representatives. He can be reached at (800) 842-1423 or John.Fusco@housegop.ct.gov.