Fairfield Legislative Delegation Hears From Packed House

June 12, 2015

Galvanized by a new state budget that raises taxes by nearly $2 billion and that has General Electric and other major corporations looking to move out of Connecticut, a standing-room-only crowd engaged Fairfield’s legislative delegation in an impassioned conversation Wednesday evening.

The delegation hosted the community forum at the Fairfield Museum & History Center to provide constituents with a recap of the 2015 legislative session, which concluded at midnight on June 3 with the narrow passage of a much-maligned $40 billion budget that was negotiated behind closed doors by Gov. Dannel Malloy and Democrat legislative leaders, with zero input from Republicans. The legislature will be going into Special Session later this month to pass “implementer” bills needed to authorize the new budget.

The budget, which increases spending by more than 7% over the next two fiscal years, passed the House in a 73-70 vote and the Senate by an even slimmer margin, 19-17. The governor has indicated that he will not veto the budget, despite calls from residents, businesses and legislators to do so.

The concerns of residents and business owners who spoke Wednesday centered largely on the process by which the budget was created and passed, the impact of more taxes on individuals, families and businesses, and the possible departure of GE – the town’s largest taxpayer – and the devastating ripple effects that would have on the town and state.

“People are angry and they’re fearful about their future in Connecticut, and I think that’s why so many showed up for the forum. I am glad to see them engaged and only wish it was not because of the dire situation our state appears to be in with this nightmare of a budget,” Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28) said. “The budget impacts every resident and business of our state and was the single most important piece of legislation this session. The borderline tyrannical budget process and vitriol from our governor was utterly disappointing and truly a disservice to the people and a disgrace to our democracy. We can do much better, both from a process and end product perspective, and the people of Fairfield and all across Connecticut deserve better.”

Rep. Brenda Kupchick (R-132) said, “This wasn’t the usual crowd that attends our annual town hall. There were many new residents very concerned about the large tax increases and potential loss of Fairfield’s long time corporate citizen, GE. We had a very frank conversation about the impact of the state budget and the direction our state is going.”

Rep. Laura Devlin (R-134) said, “As a first year legislator, the legislative process was sometimes maddening. Writing state budgets should never be done by a select few in a back room where the spending side of the budget is always done first and then find the necessary revenues to pay for the spending. Each and every one of Connecticut’s lawmakers needs to understand the true implication of corporate partners, GE, Aetna and Travelers leaving our state, that there would be an enormous domino effect across our state’s economy which will have a negative impact on every sector from our schools to non-profit providers to our local main businesses.”

Detailed information about the budget can be found in a summary prepared by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA), which, it should be noted, estimates that the state will face an approximately $1.6 billion deficit in the next budget cycle, even with the second-highest tax increase in Connecticut history that the 2016-17 budget carries. The OFA summary is available online at this link: http://www.cga.ct.gov/ofa/Documents/year/HLT/2015HLT-20150603_Budget%20Summary%20of%20the%20FY%2016%20-%20FY%2017%20Budget.pdf

While the budget was the top priority of the 2015 legislative session, Sen. Hwang and Reps. Kupchick and Devlin noted that they were able to pass some good public policy through bipartisan efforts, including:

  • The Long Island Sound Blue Plan (HB 6839) – A landmark piece of legislation that passed both the House and Senate unanimously, the bill sets in motion an unprecedented comprehensive mapping of The Long Island Sound, in terms of natural resources, topography, wildlife, recreation, commerce and a myriad of other factors, to serve as a blueprint for future uses and preservation efforts.
  • A Ban on Variable Electric Rates (SB 573) – A powerful consumer protection bill, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to ban these potentially deceptive variable-rate electricity contracts, which often start with an attractive low rate but skyrocket soon thereafter with no notice.
  • ABLE Act Enabling Legislation (HB 6738) – With the passage of the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014, Connecticut’s enabling legislation authorizes the establishment of tax-exempt accounts in the state to help eligible individuals and families save private funds to pay for qualifying expenses related to disability or blindness.
  • Relief from Minimum Budget Requirement (HB 7019) – Presenting municipalities with a mechanism to provide meaningful property tax relief, the bill gives towns facing declining student enrollment greater flexibility to reduce spending so long as it does not sacrifice educational excellence.

One key piece of legislation, which would have made changes to the state’s affordable housing statute (8-30g), unfortunately died amidst political chicanery in the final days of session. The proposal, SB 407, enjoyed broad bipartisan support and was championed by Sen. Hwang and Rep. Kupchick, the two Republican Ranking Members of the General Assembly’s Housing Committee, and co-sponsored by Rep. Devlin.