Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Following months of negotiations, the Connecticut House of Representatives joined the Senate overwhelmingly approving a bipartisan budget that ended our state’s budget stalemate and the fear and uncertainty that having no budget has created for our municipalities, businesses and social service providers.
I am pleased I was able to protect against what would have been over $24 million in cuts to West Hartford in the Governor’s contingency plan that would have hurt local property taxpayers and would have had a devastating impact on our local schools and services. While not perfect, we were able to craft a budget that garnered bipartisan support and help close a projected $3.5 billion deficit over the next biennium by committing to significant structural reforms. Not only will this budget help Connecticut steady its financial footing, but it will help spur economic development and restore millions of dollars to municipalities, our schools and core state services.
This bipartisan, two-year state budget:
- Avoids the draconian education cuts contained in the Governor’s Executive Order;
- Funds UConn and our state universities and community colleges.
- Invests in our tech schools and workforce development programs;
- Protects many of the social service and youth services programs our residents rely on, including Care4Kids and disabilities funding;
- Implements spending and bonding caps to help reduce our long-term debt;
- Does not increase sales or income taxes;
- Rejects Gov. Malloy’s plan to make local towns pay for state pension obligations;
- Requires future state labor contracts to be voted on by the Legislature.
Now that the prolonged budget debate is behind us and with the next legislative session slated to commence in the coming few months, we can redirect our focus to passing bills that strengthen our economy and improve the quality of life in our state.
As always, please feel free to contact me with any issues or concerns regarding state matters.
State Budget Reforms
In order to address structural problems that have led to ongoing deficits, we have implemented the following reforms to help get Connecticut’s fiscal house back in order:
Spending and Bonding Cap: The budget we passed strengthened our existing
spending cap. Under the new cap, funding for pensions, distressed municipalities, and money used to receive matching federal grants will all come under the cap over time. This is important because it more accurately reflects what we are spending as a state and will force the legislature to prioritize spending on programs that work and that our communities need. The budget also created a $1.9 billion cap on state bonding. With this cap, by reducing bonding this year, we expect to save nearly $30 million in debt service payments in the next fiscal year.
Voting on Union Contracts: In order to create more government accountability, we have codified into statute a requirement that the legislature vote on all state employee union contracts. In the past, union contracts could go into effect if no vote was taken. This new statute increases transparency around state employee agreements. This will not change the fact that the legislature is not involved in the contract negotiations.
Supporting CT’s Small Businesses
The newly passed state budget maintains funding for important programs that our small businesses rely on, including the Manufacturing Innovation Fund, the Bioscience Innovation Fund, Angel Investor Tax Credits, and the Women’s Business Development Council. Each of these programs provides resources and guidance for growing industries and Connecticut-based entrepreneurs. While the overall state budget reduces state spending for a number of programs, it is important that we not abandon successful programs that are creating jobs.
Investing in our Transportation Infrastructure
Connecticut’s aging transportation infrastructure has a real impact on our bottom line. According to a report by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the average motorist in CT pays an extra $864 per year because of driving on roads that are in need of repair. That’s why I’m glad that as part of this budget, we agreed to a long-term plan to move more sales tax revenue into the Special Transportation Fund. These resources will help the fund stay solvent. There is still a lot more we need to do, but this was an important step forward.
As we learn more about the behaviors of people on the autism spectrum, it is becoming clear that police could benefit from additional training to recognize autism and learn how to communicate with those on the spectrum more clearly. This training will help alleviate dangerous situations where officers mistakenly confuse autism symptoms as symptoms of drug use or noncompliance. This bill will require police training for cases that involve the wandering of children on the autism spectrum. I was also glad that as a part of the state budget we were able restore a significant amount of funding to the Department of Developmental Services.
Affordable Higher Education
Making college more affordable is one of our top priorities. With the state budget, we restored over $50 million to the University of Connecticut from a Republican budget cut that would have led to dramatic tuition rate increases and cuts to our flagship university. In addition, we took two important steps aimed at lowering the cost of attending our state’s public colleges and universities by cutting red tape, making it easier for schools to secure goods and services while still requiring strong oversight policies. Also, we required state schools to establish guidelines to minimize student costs and cut down on textbook costs.
MDC Consumer Advocate
It is always important that we offer transparency and give customers a voice in matters that affect them. Most importantly would be their access to clean water. Under this legislation, a consumer advocate will now have a place at the table with the Metropolitan District Commission to represent consumers when the MDC addresses rates, water quality, water supply and wastewater service quality to ensure any decision made benefits consumers. We also passed legislation that changes the methods that PURA uses to make certain determinations between rate cases for both public utilities and water companies to determine if a rate decrease is necessary.
This year we passed a bill that allows municipalities to provide a property tax exemption to a parent or surviving spouse of a service member killed in action while performing active military duty. A municipality may exempt up to $20,000 or 10% of the property’s assessed value.
Social Security Tax Exemption For Seniors
As a part of the budget, we passed a provision phasing in an exemption of social security and pensions from the state income tax starting in 2019. This will help provide much needed tax relief to those who most need it and allow them to keep more of their own money.
Renters Rebate is an important program for our seniors and those who are totally disabled to be able to afford to stay in their homes. An unfortunate change that came with the state budget was transferring the administration of the renter’s rebate program to the towns. Upon learning about the delay this would cause, I immediately put pressure on legislative leaders to restore the program to the way it worked in prior years. And we were successful in doing so! Approved renters should expect to receive checks similar to last year’s in December.
Critical to making sure regular citizens have a voice in our government over well-financed special interests and making sure we have clean elections, we were able to protect the Citizen’s Election Program from elimination. The program limits how much candidates for public office can raise from any one person, including lobbyists, and prevents state contractors from donating. To save money, we implemented reforms to the program including making sure those candidates who file shortly before the election do not receive a full grant and eliminating a scheduled increase in the grant.