Local legislators divided over controversial state budget [Record Journal]

June 5, 2015

Record Journal

Local legislators were split on a contentious $40 billion, two-year state budget passed by the General Assembly on Wednesday.

Republicans opposed the budget and most, but not all, Democrats supported it.

The budget increases aid to cities and towns, includes $2 billion in tax increases and adds money to social services.

State Rep. Joseph Aresimowicz, the Democratic majority leader whose district includes parts of Berlin and Southington, said it’s always difficult to pass a budget that requires tax increases. But he said the budget also helps address over dependence on property tax, makes “historic” investments in transportation and establishes a reserve fund to stabilize revenue fluctuations. It wasn’t an easy budget to pass but Aresimowicz said some very difficult things, such as the beginnings of property tax reform, were accomplished.

“If it was easy, it would have been done a long time ago,” he said.

This budget includes rules that will keep corporations from shielding money from taxation by moving it between states. Aresimowicz said most surrounding states have similar laws.

“That’s more about accountability,” he said.

Property taxes are some of the highest expenses for small businesses according to Aresimowicz. Providing other forms of revenue, such as sale tax proceeds, to towns can help bring down property tax rates and help small businesses.

“Municipalities are going to see an incredible increase in funding,” Aresimowicz said.

The House voted 73-70 Wednesday in support of the budget. The Senate passed the budget in a 19-17 vote late in the day.

State Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the House had a marathon session leading up to the budget vote. He started in caucus Tuesday morning and didn’t leave the Capitol until midday Wednesday.

“The length of debate was shortened because most of us were dead to the world,” said Sampson, whose district includes part of Southington.

He opposed the budget, saying the state will continue to need tax increases to fund the spending. Higher and new taxes will drive out businesses and people, leading to lower tax revenue than anticipated which will cause further deficits.

“The way they do it only creates a situation where they’re going to have to do it again,” Sampson said of the tax increases.

Democratic leaders didn’t have the votes to pass the budget before Wednesday and kept delaying the vote to win more support, according to Sampson.

“The last few days were arm-twisting galore,” he said.

Representatives and senators from urban districts were more easily won over to the budget with favorable spending, Sampson said, while other districts were left to fund themselves.

“Almost everywhere else, it happens at their expense,” he said.

Aresimowicz said the budget took on a lot of new issues and legislators had to be informed how some of the new policies would affect their districts. He and other leaders pushed to get the budget done in the regular session since it’s more difficult to pass a budget in the special session.

“That’s not how it was designed,” he said. “We should finish our work in a timely fashion.”

Eleven Democrats, including state Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, D-Meriden, joined Republicans in opposing the budget.

State Rep. Mary Fritz, D- Wall­ingford, was not present for the vote due to illness. She said was unhappy with the budget and tax increases.

“I think it hurts a lot of people,” Fritz said. “There’s no reality to it.”

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, voted in favor of the budget. She feels additional state funding to towns, mainly through the sales tax, will reduce the property tax burden for local residents. According to Mushinsky, Wallingford will receive an additional $1.5 million from the state.

State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, whose district includes Wallingford, said the budget accomplishes little since there’s a $1.6 billion deficit predicted in two years by the General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis.

“So what does it accomplish?” said Fasano, the Senate minority leader. “It does nothing to reduce the problems the state has.”

The spending plan also follows Connecticut’s largest tax increase in 2011. Fasano said there are only more tax increases unless there are spending cuts.

“And we know what (Democrats’) affinity is for cuts,” he said.

Major employers such as General Electric opposed the budget because of increased corporate taxes. Some company officials said they might consider moving elsewhere. Aresimowicz noted that GE has been contemplating a restructuring for years and that one of its subsidiaries, GE Capital, pays zero state taxes.

“I find it a little disingenuous that if there’s going to be layoffs; they’re going to blame it on the budget,” he said.
Fasano said while some taxes included in the budget are common to area states, Connecticut has other taxes which are unique and which make operating in the state more expensive.

“We’re going to have to double our efforts to get companies to come here,” he said.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities supported the budget’s changes to municipal aid and the addition of 0.5 percent of sales tax revenue to towns and cities. In a statement, the conference described the current property tax system as “destructive.”

It criticized the budget for a cap on municipal revenue sharing and reduced funding for the resident state trooper program.

State Sen. Dante Bartolo­meo, D-Meriden, voted for the budget since it maintained funding social service programs combating drug addiction and supporting mental health.

“We had support in this budget for very important programs,” said Bartolomeo. “These are our most vulnerable individuals.”

Despite overall tax increases, Bartolomeo said many middle class residents would be unaffected or even benefit by a cap on the motor vehicle tax. Those earning $500,000 to $1 million will be most affected by tax increases.

“We’re raising the luxury tax,” she said. “The general public is, for me, the middle class. And that’s not where the tax increases are.”

The budget does, however, reduce the maximum credit households can claim against the income tax to help offset local property taxes.