Another Opportunity To Renew Connecticut [Stamford Advocate]

March 12, 2012

Op-Ed as it appeared in the Stamford Advocate on March 10, 2012

During the current legislative session, we are provided with another opportunity to make improvements to the policies affecting our state and its citizens. This year from February to May, legislators from around the state will gather in Hartford to debate the merits of countless proposals designed to resolve outstanding issues affecting constituents. Our state is currently facing a wide array of challenges that must be addressed sooner rather than later. In the coming weeks and months, I will be sharing my proposals and general ideas with my colleagues in the state Senate. Although I have too many to list here, highlighted proposals include taking responsible steps to improve the economy, the state budget, storm response and transportation congestion facing Fairfield County and the state of Connecticut.

First and foremost, the economy and jobs remain a primary concern of mine. While unemployment has improved slightly, the economic situation continues to weigh heavily on families in our region and throughout the state. Coming from a business background, I have a solid understanding of the hurdles that many in the business community face when making investment or hiring decisions. In response, I have proposed legislation aiming to improve the state’s regulatory environment and reduce the tax burden to encourage future business development. Recent figures show that while 25 percent of the state’s population lives in Fairfield County, our region also pays about 45 percent of the state’s income taxes. We are fortunate to live in a region that is home to many valuable and successful businesses that can lead the rest of the state forward with increased economic growth and additional jobs.

Legislators must also focus closely on fixing the state budget. Linked to the stagnant economy, the budget has been adversely affected by falling revenues and increased spending. For example, the federal government is currently dealing with $16.4 trillion in debt, surpassing the entire gross domestic product of the United States. Likewise, our state has a growing budget deficit and worrisome long-term unfunded liabilities. After passing an historic $3.9 billion revenue increase, the Governor promised that the budget would have a surplus. However, despite this record tax increase and SEBAC savings, the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has projected that the state is facing a $144.5 million deficit. It is a problem that demands reduced state spending and greater efficiencies in state functions. In yet another sign of declining financial standing, Moody’s recently downgraded Connecticut’s bond rating to Aa3. While these events certainly do not bode well for our state’s fiscal health, I am hopeful that we can fix the problem by adopting smart legislation.

In the aftermath of two destructive storms, many were left without power for a week or more. Towns throughout the state found themselves making unexpected expenditures to cover road clearing, tree trimming, and shelter costs. In the wake of these historic storms, we must learn definitive lessons in planning and future response. I have made suggestions to the Energy and Technology Committee and the Governor that would improve utility performance following similar storm events. These include provisions to cooperate with local tree crews and first aid providers, share disaster recovery plans with municipalities, and provide tracking devices to use repair crews much more efficiently.

Living in Fairfield County, we are all far too familiar with the gridlock affecting Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway. Daily commuters are justifiably frustrated by the recurring problem, and we have a responsibility to consider possible solutions. As a result, I have proposed legislation that would direct the Department of Transportation to undertake a comprehensive study of congestion issues on I-95 in order to make better decisions regarding traffic mitigation. It has been far too long since a comprehensive statewide study of this issue has been completed.

In addition, the governor recently proposed eliminating 25 boards and commissions, including the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission (CPTC). While government consolidation may be appropriate, the CPTC is a low cost commission that provides an important source of input from officials in our region. Its elimination would move decision-making power to Hartford where current projects have drawn much criticism, including the $567 million busway between New Britain and the capital city. It is my hope that this decision will be reconsidered.

While I am concerned over record tax increases, unsustainable government spending and the current budget deficit, I am hopeful that the upward economic trend will continue and that the legislature can come to agreement on solving these issues. Returning for a fourth legislative session, I look forward to promoting these and other ideas that promise to improve the lives of families throughout Connecticut. By making responsible decisions on economic, budgetary, emergency response and transportation matters, I am confident that we can make Connecticut an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz represents the 36th District, including the communities of Greenwich, Stamford and New Canaan.