Freshman Senator Promotes ‘Common Sense,’ While Learning on the Job [Monroe Patch]

March 22, 2011

By Bill Bittar
Monroe Patch
Story as it appeared in the Monroe Patch

Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-21) had just stepped out of the elevator on the way to his law office on Wheelers Farms Road in Milford last Tuesday morning, balancing a cell phone against his ear as he walked down the hallway. Kelly’s desk was covered with family photos reminding him of his home in Stratford and rays of sunlight shone through the blinds in a row of large windows, but he couldn’t settle into his comfortable surroundings for too long. Kelly would soon be heading off to another engagement.

The freshman senator juggles his time coaching his daughter’s CYO basketball team, going to his son’s youth hockey games and running a law firm and business, while driving up to Hartford about four days a week.

“We had a town hall meeting in Seymour, have one coming up in Shelton, another in Stratford and there will be one in Monroe,” Kelly, 51, said of his busy schedule. “We also have senior center visits we’re planning for all four towns.”

Kelly is the ranking Republican member on both the Legislature’s Aging and Insurance committees, as well as a member of the Commerce and Regulation Review committees.

The main issue the senator is now focusing on is the bi-annual state budget Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat who also won election to his first term last November, recently proposed. The $19.7 billion plan includes $1.5 billion in tax increases for the first year, including hikes in the state income and sales taxes. The governor justifies this as a way to close the gap in a projected $3.5 billion state budget deficit.

Kelly noted the current $19.3 billion budget would rise to $19.7 billion in the first year and $20.2 billion in the second.

“That’s a billion in new spending and $1.5 billion in new taxes,” Kelly said. “That, to me, is a tax and spend budget at a time when families can’t afford this.”

Among the governor’s proposals are to tax haircuts for the first time, increase cigarette taxes by 40 cents a pack and gasoline by two cents a gallon.

“We have to hold the line on taxes and focus on reducing spending, ” Kelly said. “I believe Connecticut has a spending problem and is spending more than its revenue. It’s like putting groceries on a credit card.”

‘Wants from needs’

The senator is also critical of the Democratic majority’s embracing of the SustiNet Health Partnership. Analysis shows health care savings of between $32 million and $427 million in the first year after implementation, but Republicans have expressed doubts.

“Last week we looked at SustiNet. That’s universal health care the majority wants to advance,” Kelly said. “I am not in favor of that for a number of reasons. It’s very, very costly. We should not check our common sense at the door.”

Kelly said states usually move ahead with their own plans when the federal government does not act, adding this is not one of those times.

“We already have health care on the way in Washington,” he said. “We’re paying for that. Why have two at a time with a deficit and no money? We can’t afford it. It makes no sense.”

Kelly said this is an expansion of a plan for state employees, which Malloy is conceding Connecticut can’t afford, because the state is looking for higher premiums from its employees.

“I boil it down to: How would you act in your own home with a reduced income, the credit card maxed out and being laden with debt?” Kelly said. “You have one car payment. With that circumstance, you think, ‘Let’s have two car payments.’ You wouldn’t do it. Why is the state? Let’s not let common sense leave the room. It’s a time to separate wants from needs.”

Investing in the economy

Kelly does not oppose all spending, but said, “Every action should be to look at jobs and putting people back to work. If something doesn’t contribute to that cause, we shouldn’t deal with it until we put people back to work.”

On one of those fronts, the senator has been a strong advocate of investing in the mass transportation system.

“Having more service in the Waterbury lines will get traffic off Route 8,” he said of one plan. “There are only a couple times in the morning and evening in Waterbury. If you have to stay extra or come in early, you can’t use it.”

Though the nation is mired in a sputtering economy and Connecticut is billions in debt, Kelly said of funding transportation, “It really boils down to making it a priority. If you make it a priority, you will find the funds. It’s an investment in our economy.”

Another initiative Kelly is involved in is an effort to create a “robust home care infrastructure.” He said 14 percent of the state’s budget is spent on nursing home care, adding Baby Boomers are entering retirement for the first time.

On average, the state government pays $8,500 a month for each resident in a nursing home and $2,500 for services that enable someone to remain in the community, according to Kelly.

“We need to start to build this infrastructure to keep people in their homes, so they can age in place,” he said.

The Committee On Aging is taking a comprehensive view — taking things like local property taxes, care and transportation into consideration — to make this happen and produce significant savings, according to the senator.

“I can count on one hand people who want to live in a nursing home,” Kelly said. “Everyone wants to live in their home and die surrounded by their family and friends. Everyone wants it. Arguably it’s better and cheaper, so why can’t we do it?”

Kelly is among the state Republicans who signed the Common Sense Commitment Pledge in Hartford and he hopes to be part of reversing “a pattern of bad decisions” made by Connecticut leaders over the past two decades.

“My enthusiasm hasn’t been bridled by past experiences. I’m hopeful,” he said of the early days of his first term. “I go there every day energized and try to bring common sense to the equation.”