2009 Legislative Session: Sine Die or A Short Intermission?

June 11, 2009

Our local municipal leaders and boards must be commended for their extraordinary work in closing deep financial holes our towns have found themselves in. They have all been successful in passing balanced town budgets during this extreme economic downturn. They rolled up their sleeves and faced the terrible hand they were dealt.

I wish I could report the same for our state government. Like her fellow chief executives at the local level, Governor Rell also faced the state fiscal crisis head on by making several rounds of spending rescissions, proposing five deficit mitigation plans to address the current year’s billion dollar shortfall, and putting on the table two difficult budget proposals to close the projected $8.7 billion deficit over the next two years without raising taxes.

In contrast, the legislature’s veto-proof majority put forth a budget rife with $3.3 billion in new taxes. But when forced to vote on it in the senate, not a single legislator voted yes, not even those senators who had written the budget and spoken so highly of it in the press.

The people I meet in the day-to-day course of life are rightly dismayed that the General Assembly had five months to come up with a plan to eliminate the existing state budget deficit and pass a new two-year state budget, yet did neither.

The majority party in the legislature would be well served to adopt the same sense of urgency and stewardship displayed by our local leaders. Their inability to make tough decisions leaves the Governor with very little choice but to govern by executive order on a month-by-month basis, only spending on the most essential of services.

Beyond the budget, the General Assembly held countless committee meetings, public hearings and legislative sessions. Approximately 3,000 proposals were debated and over 250 bills made it through the approval process. There was legislation passed that I believe will benefit the state, and other bills that I could not support.

The General Assembly passed legislation to abolish the death penalty. Governor Rell vetoed this bill because she believes, as do I, that Connecticut carries out this ultimate penalty for only the most heinous of crimes — and even then, only rarely.

Some other bills that passed included banning a food additive, apologizing for slavery, prohibiting kids from shooting machine guns, outlawing select primates as pets, a pet “lemon law” and pet trusts. Legislation was also passed that takes away the Governor’s authority to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat; mandates that each school have an automatic external defibrillator, and staff trained in its use; establishes a “silver alert” system to notify the public when their assistance is needed to locate a missing senior citizen or mentally impaired adult; and requiring the state to notify schools superintendents when a released sex offender lives, or plans to live, in the community.

Major health-care reforms were passed but with no way to pay for them.

Many bills died with the end of the session, such as proposals prohibiting smoking at the casinos, imposing a nickel tax on plastic grocery bags, allowing people to register to vote on Election Day, decriminalization of marijuana (which I had a major role in stopping), and a bill that would have made Connecticut the only state to impose state regulations on hedge funds.

As a member of the General Assembly’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, my focus during the summer special session will be on helping to adopt a responsible state budget that provides government services at a cost the taxpayers can afford. We must take a lesson from our local leaders if we are going to pass a budget before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1st.