Focus on Transportation and Justice System in Connecticut Governor’s Budget [NYTimes]

February 19, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New York Times
HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday presented a nearly $40 billion two-year budget that proposes to overhaul the aging transportation infrastructure in Connecticut, cuts the state sales tax and revamps the state’s criminal justice system.

The proposal, which Mr. Malloy outlined to the combined houses of the General Assembly, calls for a 3.3 percent rise in state spending, to $19 billion in 2016, and an additional 3.1 percent increase to $19.7 billion in 2017. His spending plan also includes lowering the sales tax rate to 6.2 percent, from 6.35 percent, starting Nov. 1.

Mr. Malloy, a Democrat who narrowly won a second term last year, said his plan required “tough choices,” including more than $590 million in service cuts. “The vast majority of these cuts are choices that, under ideal circumstances, Connecticut would not have to make,” he said.

The transportation plan included a 30-year, $100 billion proposal to ease congestion on the busiest roads and modernize the commuter rail system. The first five years, which the governor called a “ramp-up” phase, includes money to add stations along the New Haven line of the Metro-North Railroad in Bridgeport and Orange. That initial phase also calls for widening congestion points along Interstate 95 between New Haven and the New York State line, as well as parts of Interstate 84.

Mr. Malloy said his budget added $2.8 billion to existing money earmarked for transportation projects, bringing transportation spending to $10 billion over the next five years to get the state started on big road, rail and bus projects outlined in the long-term plan.

The State Senate minority leader, Len Fasano, praised the governor for prioritizing transportation but said paying for the projects was “something we need to talk about further.”

Cutting certain tax credits would cause “a huge, huge problem” for Connecticut businesses, said Senator Fasano, a Republican who represents New Haven.

He cited the banking giant UBS, which moved out of Stamford, as an example of corporations leaving the state in part because of its policies.
Mr. Fasano said Connecticut’s largest corporations, including General Electric, the defense contractor UTC, Pfizer and Sikorsky Aircraft, would probably be hurt by the tax code changes.

Through the years, Connecticut’s sales tax has exempted certain items and purchases. The state was set to exempt clothing items under $50 from sales tax starting July 1.

Mr. Fasano said the governor’s new plan took the exemption off the table, a move that would hurt the most vulnerable citizens. “Those are really the essential items,” he said. “That’s really the single mom working and trying to buy shoes and clothes.”

Mr. Malloy’s sweeping changes to the criminal justice system would reduce penalties for simple drug possession to misdemeanors and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences.

The criminal justice plan drastically shrinks the state’s Judicial Branch. The governor’s plan moves 1,508 positions into different agencies — adult-services jobs to the Correction Department and juvenile-program jobs to the Department of Children and Families.

Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers of the State Supreme Court criticized the governor’s proposal in a statement, saying there were no budgetary savings in the plan, nor was there evidence for better case outcomes under the proposal. As written, Mr. Malloy’s plan moves court services into executive branch agencies.

“The Judicial Branch recognizes that Connecticut is facing a significant budget deficit that will impact all aspects of state government,” Chief Justice Rogers said. “However, we do not believe that this proposal will achieve the goals outlined in the recommended budget.”
State lawmakers will vote on a final budget later this year.