Newtown Delegation Frustrated Over State Budget Announcement [Newtown Bee]

June 1, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Newtown Bee

Newtown’s delegation of state lawmakers – Senator Tony Hwang, Rep Mitch Bolinsky, Rep J P Sredzinski and Rep Dan Carter – each expressed frustration, even exasperation after learning about an agreement on a biennium budget. That agreement reportedly emerged from a late night meeting that broke early Sunday morning, May 31.

The legislature is set to deliberate and vote on the measure June 1, but the spending package was already being touted as a done deal in releases from Governor Dannel Malloy’s office and the legislative leadership Sunday. Gov Malloy, Senate President Martin Looney, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff announced that they reached an agreement on a biennium budget they say “takes Connecticut into the future by funding transportation, providing important property tax relief, and funding vital programs.”

Despite the final results, it was the lead up to this latest budget disappointed local representatives.

“This budget represents a blatant disrespect for the legislative process and a total disregard for the people of Connecticut. There is no other way to describe a tax-and-spend proposal that the governor and Democrats devised behind closed doors,” Sen. Tony Hwang told The Newtown Bee via e-mail. “Republicans put forward a budget that lives up to our responsibility to support our most vulnerable residents, without raising taxes and which is under the state’s constitutional spending cap, while asking for governmental entities to share in the sacrifice. Unfortunately, the governor dismissed our thoughtful and detailed proposal and shut Republicans entirely out of budget negotiations.”

Rep Bolinsky responded to the news saying, “Considering the number of very good, financially-responsible proposals our caucus put on the table in the Blueprint for Prosperity, I am disappointed that the final budget was schemed-up in a locked room and consummated by a ceremonial handshake through a late-night, cracked door photo op that was not conspicuous for who was there but, rather, who was not. Representatives for almost half our state’s taxpayers were locked out.”

Rep Sredzinski said the first he heard about a state budget deal was through the media Sunday afternoon.

“This doesn’t surprise me because the House Republicans have continuously been ignored in this process – despite representing over 40 percent or approximately 1.4 million Connecticut residents of our state,” the freshman lawmaker noted. “For Democrats to leave us out of the budget negotiation process is disappointing, irresponsible and sure to lead to yet another significant tax increase. How much more can we take?”

Rep Carter was also miffed over how Democrats had been negotiating their budget behind closed doors. Regarding the proposal, he said, “I understand it is bloated and contains significant tax increases. It’s also interesting that they are focusing the public on their dilemma of spending $20 million for charter schools versus public schools, instead of where they are spending the rest of the $40 billion. I look forward to receiving the budget tomorrow, just before we vote on it.”

Despite the negative reactions from local lawmakers, the joint leadership attempted to see the glass as half full, stating that the budget package “takes Connecticut into the future by funding transportation, providing important property tax relief, and funding vital programs.”

“A brighter tomorrow will start with this budget today. This agreement will help Connecticut now and in the long-run – it helps transform our transportation infrastructure as we aim for a best-in-class system. It supports our schools, supports the middle class, and supports vital programs for those who need it most. Most importantly, it helps us build a Connecticut for the long-term, making our state an even greater place to live, work, and raise a family,” Governor Malloy said.

Looney: ‘Revolutionary Changes’

“This budget meets the state’s obligations and provides historic property tax relief for the people of Connecticut,” said Senate President Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven). “After years of acknowledging the need to change our Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, this year, we delivered revolutionary changes by taking into account the relative need for assistance based on the percentage of tax exempt property in each municipality. We also begin to provide substantial relief for car owners and high mill rate municipalities on their car tax.”

“This budget has major property tax relief for Connecticut’s families by sharing sales tax revenue with local communities,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk). “Additionally, this budget supports our people, our business sector and makes significant long term investments in our transportation system.”

“This budget protects hard-working, middle-class families by providing property tax relief through additional aid to our communities, and funds vital services people rely on every day by asking the wealthy and corporations to pay a little bit more. The legislature worked closely with the governor to finalize a budget that represents the wide ranging priorities of our diverse state, and sets us on a path that encourages continued economic growth. Concerns over some provisions in earlier versions of the budget were heard and reflected in the final deliberations,” said Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey (D-Hamden).

“This is a balanced, responsible budget that protects middle class taxpayers and restores the funding for services on which hard-working Connecticut families depend,” said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin/Southington). “We made sure to listen to what was important to Connecticut residents and were successful in restoring critical funding to the people that need it most.”

The governor’s release focused mainly on investments in state transportation infrastructure. It points out that the spending plan, “which responsibly keeps growth under four percent, will allow Connecticut to take important steps to transform our transportation system to grow jobs, boost the economy, and improve quality of life.

The budget agreement includes billions for transportation over the next decade, by taking a half a cent off the sales tax – which will remain flat at 6.35 percent – and dedicating it to modernizing our rail, rebuilding our roads, and transforming the way we travel. This funding will mean that transportation will be fully funded for nearly a decade, allowing the state to plan and design projects in Governor Malloy’s long-term vision, as well as funding to complete many of them.”

‘Blatant Disregard’ For Voters

Sen Hwang said, however, that the governor and Democratic leadership has disenfranchised Republicans and shows, by extension, “a blatant disregard for the people who elected us and the communities we represent – and that is the most unfortunate aspect of all of this. We are now forced to vote on a so-called ‘negotiated budget’ that impacts all Connecticut residents and that was created without direct input from the very individuals who were elected to represent the people.”

The freshman senator said the budget plan “represents a monumental step backward at a time when our state so desperately needs bipartisan leadership to accelerate our economic growth and move forward with policies that are more business-friendly and that do not further burden our already over-taxed residents. I am especially disappointed and concerned that this negotiated budget relies on revenue from our colleges and hospitals, and our hard-working middle class. The budget will also negatively impact quality of life by bringing keno gambling games into restaurants and bars, as a source of revenue for the state.

“All in all, when it comes to the budget, the process by which it has been created, and the devastating impacts it would have on our communities, we can do much better,” Sen Hwang concluded. “Our citizens, our businesses, and our state deserve better.”

Rep Bolinsky said the proposal likely represents “a record spending package that blows through the constitutional spending cap that voters put in-place to keep state government from running amok on their dime.”

“ I fear another record Malloy tax increase on families, businesses, hospitals and more that will send more employers, jobs and taxpaying residents for the border at the worst possible time, especially in a state that, in April, had negative private sector job growth. The only April jobs added in Connecticut were government jobs,” Rep Bolinsky said. “Many of us are deeply concerned about the Governor’s initial cuts to social services, community mental health and to historic programs like Newtown’s 2nd Company Governor’s Horse Guard and, at this point, I am keeping my fingers crossed, hoping for restoration of at least some of this funding which, incidentally, was proposed for restoration in our caucus’ Blueprint for Prosperity budget.”

Llodra’s Local Reaction

First Selectman Pat Llodra said she had more opportunity to closely following the budget process this year, and believes lawmakers have signified through their various actions and legislative efforts a commitment to address the tax burdens on residential property and on businesses.

“Whenever I am in Hartford to observe or participate in legislative activity, the focus lays squarely on the issue of excessive taxation and its impact on our residents and businesses,” Mrs Llodra said. “Whether this latest compromise bill and budget action accomplishes the goal of tax relief at the local level remains uncertain. It does require a leap of faith to believe that the State will return to municipalities a portion of the revenue collected from the increase in sales tax from 6.25 to 6.35 percent.”

She said the revenue generated from the increase is targeted for a variety of mitigations, including easing the impact of PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) reductions and easing impact of state-wide car tax. Further, the first selectman said the increases in revenue generated from the sales tax and from increases in taxation on high-wage earners are expected to help fund the transportation and infrastructure initiative.

“A further issue with the overall proposal is that funds will be channeled to municipalities via the Councils of Governments (COGs) – a step in the direction of county government,” she observed. “This latter concept has not been fully vetted and might be an unintended consequence of the SB1 and overall budget plan. Finally, it is interesting that the bill includes a cap on local budget increases. Is the state held to the same standard? It seems to me that municipalities have done an excellent job of controlling costs – while at the same time improving bond ratings, investing in infrastructure improvements, supporting education, and more.”

Mrs Llodra said she is not certain at all that the state has shown that same ability to control spending and prioritize allocations in such a way as to serve the greater good within a long-term plan.

“It is a tad insulting to suggest via the cap that the municipalities are the problem,” she said, adding, “Bottom line: I believe the intentions of the plan are to provide local tax relief. I am hopeful for a positive outcome but know that all of us in government service at every level will have to keep a watchful eye on the implementation. Should the state face more fiscal challenges, which we know are coming in the next two budgets, what realistic constraints are in place to ensure that the promised revenue actually finds its way into municipal coffers and is not applied to state deficit mitigation?”