Budget, tax increase dominate legislative wrap-up [Fairfield Minuteman]

July 16, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Fairfield Minuteman

Connecticut’s new budget and its anticipated impact on businesses in the Nutmeg State served as the backdrop last Tuesday for a “Legislative Wrap Up” at the Westport Public Library.

Co-hosted by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, the forum largely focused on jobs and the economy, taxes and state spending and borrowing, transportation funding and the need for major investment to improve infrastructure like rails, bridges and highways, though topics such as the environment and social services were also discussed.

Legislators participating in the forum included Westport’s state delegation — state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), state Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28), state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-136) — along with state Rep. John Shaban (R-135), whose district includes Weston and Easton.

Matthew Mandell, the Chamber’s executive director, served as forum moderator, while Bonnie Stewart, CBIA’s vice president of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel, offered introductory remarks.

Stewart noted that every legislator in attendance had voted against the $40.3 billion state budget, which increases spending by about 7 percent over the next two fiscal years and carries with it the second highest tax increase in Connecticut history.

“You have one of the best delegations in the state,” Stewart told the audience.

The 2015 Legislative Session ran from Jan. 7 to June 3, and passing a new two-year budget was the main order of business. While Republicans presented an alternative budget, called Connecticut’s Blueprint for Prosperity, the budget narrowly approved in the final hours of session was the product of closed-door negotiations between Democrat legislative leaders and Gov. Malloy.

With an outcry from residents, Republicans and businesses, including the 10,000-member strong CBIA, about the havoc the historic increase in taxes would wreak on the state’s economy, particularly corporations like General Electric and Aetna, Gov. Malloy and Democratic leaders in the legislature scaled back and delayed some of the taxes. Those changes, along with action on an implementer bill to authorize provisions of the budget and to vote on a package of criminal justice reforms, were taken up during a Special Session on June 29.

“What we unfortunately saw in the 2015 legislative session was a breakdown of our democratic process, and a byproduct of that dysfunctional state government is a bad budget that puts Connecticut further down the wrong road,” Hwang said. “But even amidst all the budget drama, Democrats and Republicans worked together on some really great legislation this year, from the Long Island Sound Blue Plan to the CARE Act. That gives me hope for the future of our state, if all legislators can find the courage to work in a bipartisan manner all the time and not just sometimes.”

“Constituents want to fight for a better Connecticut. I want to help them fight for a better state too,” Boucher said, “which is why I told them I voted against the Governor’s budget, which has our largest employers threatening to move out, taking their jobs with them. We don’t have to raise taxes and we don’t have to settle for poor roads and bridges. State leaders need to prioritize spending and change what is funded instead of spending more during a time of persistent deficits. Changing the balance of power in Hartford will achieve those goals.”

“Our perpetual fiscal crisis is both (i) accelerating the departure of employers and taxpaying citizens from our state, and (ii) causing good public policy to suffer at the expense of funding the government’s unsustainable spending habits,” Shaban said. “Because of our unsustainable spending, we can no longer properly fund education reform, environmental programs, hospitals, parks, etc., etc. The majority party’s fiscal mismanagement is hurting everyone from the wealthiest to the neediest.”

“A stable tax and regulatory structure will promote prosperity for everyone, not more rate and rule changes,” Shaban added.

Lavielle said, “It is unfortunate that despite the massive public outcry, majority lawmakers still produced a budget that increases spending by 7 percent and ushers in the second largest tax increase in state history, yet fails to make the structural changes necessary to set Connecticut on a sustainable fiscal path. The budget directly hits the middle class, it will cause irreparable damage to our employers and our economy, and it will accelerate the continuing exodus of jobs and people from our state. I’m pleased, however, that the legislature’s collaborative bipartisan work in other policy areas did produce a number of good pieces of legislation. I’m particularly proud of our work as leaders of the Education Committee on a broad range of bills, and of the ABLE legislation that will allow persons with disabilities to save tax-free for disability-related expenses.”