Norfolk, Colebrook voters hear from GOP delegation [Rep-Am]

September 16, 2015

Republican American

COLEBROOK — State Sen. Kevin D. Witkos and Rep. Jay M. Case came to town Monday night to chat with voters, explain the past legislative session, discuss new laws and predict topics that will come before the General Assembly in January.

Witkos, the Senate minority leader pro tempore, represents Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington in the 8th District. Case, who is on the Appropriations, Environment and Human Services committees, represents Winsted, Colebrook and sections of Goshen and Torrington in the 63rd House District.

Both Republicans were strongly critical of the budget passed in the 2015 session.

Norfolk, Colebrook voters hear from GOP delegation [Rep-Am]
Rep. Jay M. Case, R-Winsted,, left, and Sen. Kevin D. Witkos, R-Canton, hold a ‘town meeting” at the Colebrook Town Hall on Monday night. Kathryn Boughton/Republican-American. Browse for Republican American Reprints

“It was very distressing, on both sides of the aisle,” Case said. “It was interesting going into meetings with the Democrats and the commissioners (of various departments). On one side would be the OPM (Office of Policy and Management) and someone from the governor’s office. To every single question you asked, they would say, ‘We support the governor’s budget.’ We went tried to work together, but suddenly things blew up and fell apart. We should be able to talk to our commissioners.”

“We were that close — only 12 votes off getting things done,” Witkos added, “but the executive office doesn’t want to hear our ideas.”

Witkos denied there is any intention at the state level to force regionalization of small school districts. Colebrook and Norfolk are faced with a Sept. 22 referendum on a highly controversial proposal to merge their elementary schools.

“Do you foresee the state getting involved in the future?” resident Helen Campbell asked. “The state saying, ‘We encourage you to join a region and we will support you, but we just can’t afford to have a small school?'”

Witkos said that had been a consideration in the past, but there was “so much pushback” that the idea was dropped.

“I don’t see it happening,” he said.

The men complained about what they see as fat in the state budget. They referred to State Board of Regents for Higher Education, which governs the Connecticut State College and University System, four state universities, 12 community colleges and Charter Oak State College. The regents appointed Mark E. Ojakian to succeed Gregory Gray as CSCU interim president with a two-year contract. Ojakian is currently chief of staff to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and begins his tenure Sept. 28.

“He was appointed by the board, but all board members are appointed by the governor, so it makes it difficult,” Witkos said. “Why are they giving him a contract when he is an interim? We will just have to buy it out when they appoint a permanent president.”

He added that the previous president was kept on for three months as a consultant, “but it’s a no-show job,” Witkos said.

Witkos predicted drones will be one of the topics from last session that will be revisited next year.

“We will definitely see drones,” he said. “There are too many issues about privacy and drones crashing.”

He also expects physician-assisted suicide to be back for more consideration and that casino expansion will be on the table.

They also discussed the tax on propane gas used for home generators, which has never been collected.

“The tax has been on the books for 10 years,” Case said, “and it has never been used.”

He noted there is a House initiative to eliminate it.

“The only real way we can audit the fuel companies is when the power is out and they make a delivery,” Case said. “There is a fine that will come down to the company if it doesn’t charge tax. They (the Democrats) are just trying to get every dollar they can to fulfill the budget.”

Witkos added, “There should be a bipartisan effort to get rid of it.”

There is a sleight of hand in the state’s budgetary process, Witkos said, where items that would push the budget too high are bonded so the state does not go above its spending cap.

As an example, Case reported that the unemployment compensation fund is empty and that the state borrowed $1 million at the cost of $60,000 in interest.

“We had three years that were interest free, but we never paid any of it down,” he said.

Case added that the state is “edging toward 13 percent” of its budget going to pay debt service.

“Seven to 8 percent is considered healthy,” he said.