Lavielle, Boucher upbeat despite state’s financial woes

January 29, 2016

WILTON — Three local legislators — state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26, state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143, and state Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-125 — came to Orem’s Diner on Tuesday, Jan. 26 for another session of “Coffee With Your Legislators,” drawing at least 50 constituents for some lively conversations in the 100-minute get-together.

With the constraints of a diner setting, and because of the size of the fluctuating audience, tables were pushed together end to end, with each lawmaker getting roughly one-third of the crowd for a roughly determined amount of time.

Boucher, Lavielle and O’Dea switched places — rather than trying to move each audience member; unfortunately they changed only once and everyone in attendance did not get to hear from each legislator.

Retired representative John Stripp of Weston was there as a private citizen, and he picked up any slack in the middle portion of the banquet-style layout.

“It’s a gloomy time in Hartford,” Boucher said. “Yesterday they were telling us that we were another $72 million in the hole, without getting to the end of June. We were too short to run the government.”

Boucher was asked about the Southbury Training School, which was slated to be closed a decade ago.

“Southbury has people that have been there over 50 years,” Boucher said. “We’re trying to place some of the students in other facilities.”

The question of the state budget came up, of course, and Boucher said the GOP did what it could to rein in spending.

“We have proposed alternate budgets — the only time we were allowed in,” Boucher said. “We proposed alternatives on every line item. That mind-set is difficult to break. The fringe benefits are astronomical. We do op-eds, we do radio programs. “What helped us most was GE moving immediately after the last budget passed. The new budget and taxes being too much was what helped us across the country.”

Boucher mentioned a “fabulous little company” in Bethel with 100 employees that Ohio tried to poach, calling the situation “very sad.”

“The Republican message doesn’t get played over and over again, but we ran an op-ed in Sunday’s Norwalk Hour,” Boucher said.

Stamford resident Bill Brautigam, who works for National Executive Service Corps, asked why that message is not getting out in this predominantly Democratic region.

“I can’t legally run ads on this (topic) but the Connecticut Republican Party can,” Boucher said.

The subject of what has come to be known as the Sharkey Bill — a proposal before the General Assembly that would close the loophole in state law that allows recipients of temporary restraining orders to legally buy and own guns — was raised.

“It will probably not come up before the election,” Boucher said. “It’s an election year, and no one will vote on it if it affects a vote on tolls. The budget bill severely cuts hospital funding. It’s very distressing. There is a 5 to 12 percent raise to state employees. The respite for parents of disabled patients gets short shrift.”

Stripp wanted to how about the state — with no money for education, but still giving funds for inner city schools — could keep up this balancing act.

“John Stripp has written some great op-eds, with great messages, and I’ve dealt with it on the Board of Education,” Boucher said. “We created educational cost-sharing. There have been a lot of failures in the inner city, and over time it has eroded the finances of the system. There is less intervention and services. People felt more money would help, and there were more blue ribbon commissions to study that model that failed. You can save $20,000 a year in taxes by moving. You can go from $20,000 a year to $700 in taxes by moving to a different state.”

After the musical chairs, Lavielle was asked about unfunded liabilities.

“There is a $70 million figure that continues what we owe to state employees for pension, to teachers for pension, to state employees for post-retirement benefits, and to teachers for post-retirement benefits,” Lavielle said. “The law requires we continue these payments.”

Lavielle was asked if Democrats concede if there is a crisis.

“The deficit will grow, and not just the $70 million,” Lavielle said. “I do think they know but they don’t care. Their constituency is very important to them — state employees. It’s not just the governor. We can’t elect a new governor until 2018. One party has been in control of the Legislature for 40 years — 40. When I was first elected in 2010, we won two seats. Since then we’ve won 27 more. We need 12 more in the House for a majority. We would need to have a full majority to move things on a policy basis.”

The No Child Left Behind mandate was brought up, and Lavielle said it was taken down in Washington, D.C.

“The feds killed, and I try to stay as far away from Washington as I can,” Lavielle said. “No Child Left Behind required states to adhere to certain set standards, to test students a certain number of times a year. There is still a requirement to test students a number of times in a child’s life. We could change the standards again. The governor’s office and the commissioner (of education) don’t think (the requirements) are going to change much. I fell like if a district is doing very well — like Wilton, Westport, New Canaan and Ridgefield — the state should stay out of their way. Those districts shouldn’t have to do anything they don’t want to.”

She did mention one part of her district that could use bit of assistance.

“In a place like Norwalk, there are parents who care, and the facilities need some help,” Lavielle said. “More time in the school day can help students make extraordinary advances. Superintendent (Steven) Adamowski believes he can do great things, and I know Norwalk is poised to do some amazing things.”

Lavielle also got the question about unpaid liability, coupled with the never-used spending cap from 25 years ago.

“In 1990, people voted overwhelmingly for a spending cap, 80 percent of them,” Lavielle said. “It was a way to prevent the state from spending too much. The Legislature never voted on it. The most egregious incident was two years ago, when Democrats said a $2 billion expenditure on Medicare doesn’t count as spending. That shouldn’t be done. Egregious taxation shouldn’t be done.”