(photo) Sen. Hwang to Focus on Restoring Budget Sustainability

February 8, 2016

Sen. Hwang: Leadership Needed to Restore Predictability,
Sustainability and Transparency to CT State Budget

Says Reform Process Should be “Respectful” and “Positive”

Following Gov. Malloy’s Feb. 3 State of the State and budget presentation speech, Sen. Tony Hwang joined in calling for long-term structural changes to restore predictability, sustainability and transparency to the Connecticut state budget.

“This is the year,” Sen. Hwang said. “The Governor’s proposal is an opportunity to work as Democrats and Republicans to create the ‘ecosystem’ that job creators like General Electric, Sikorsky and many mid-size and small businesses crave. This is our chance to work together to make critical structural changes to our budget process, pass policies which put our state back on a growth course, and create greater efficiencies in state services. No more delays. No more kicking the can down the road. We’ve got to do this now, and we as Democrats and Republicans can and should do so in a respectful, positive, professional way which moves our state forward. We owe that to the taxpayers, to our businesses and to future generations.”

Sen. Hwang said he will work to pass several key budget-related policies, including:

1) Mandatory Votes on Labor Contracts by the General Assembly. The state legislature has not voted on a state labor contract in more than 20 years. That vote took place in 1995, when the State Senate voted a contract down. Officials in cities and towns must vote for or against the conditions of the union contracts before them. That same accountability should take place at the state level.

2) Constitutional Spending Cap. Require the Spending Cap Commission established in the December 2015 Special Session to report on recommendations by September 1, 2016. If the General Assembly does not enact definitions in a special session by October 1, 2016, then legislators will experience a 10% reduction in salary, they will not receive transportation allowances, and no member of the General Assembly will be entitled to unsolicited mailings until such definitions are adopted.

3) Enact a Constitutional Transportation Lockbox. Enact a strong constitutional lockbox which prevents raids of tax dollars that are designated for the Special Transportation Fund.

4) Designate the Investment Advisory Council. The entity will establish the assumed rate of return for the state’s pension plans. Current law allows the retirement commission to set its own rates. This modification will take some of the politics out of the process and will allow the state to fund its retirement systems more responsibly.

5) Increase Current Employee Pension Contributions. Currently, hazardous duty employees in Tiers II and IIA contribute 4% and 5%, respectively, towards the State Employees Retirement System Plan, while other non-hazardous Tier II employees contribute nothing and Tier IIA employees contribute 2%. In other New England states, employees contribute an average of 7%.

6) State Bonding Cap. Set in statute an annual cap of $1.8 billion for allocations that can be made by the State Bond Commission. This proposal will result in significant reductions in debt service. Currently, uncapped allocations are at an all-time record annual high of $2.5 billion.

7) Create a Non-Profit Efficiency Planning Committee. A working group of diverse stakeholders can identify additional opportunities for non-profit providers to perform services that are currently managed by state government. Savings to the state will then be used to increase rates to the private provider community.

In addition to the state’s finances and business climate, Sen. Hwang said he will propose and support a variety of legislative ideas, including:

Stronger state penalties for threats of violence against schools. In October, Fairfield locked down all 17 of its public schools due to a series of called-in threats. Sen. Hwang will call for the creation of a new section under the state’s existing threatening laws. Under that new section, first-degree threatening would become a Class C felony and second-degree threatening would become a Class D felony. Under existing law, first-degree threatening is a Class D felony and second-degree threatening is a Class A misdemeanor. The felony charges carry stiffer sentences.

Environmental Protection. Sen. Hwang is supporting a first-of-its-kind effort to amend the state Constitution to better ensure protection of state-owned forests, parks, farmland and other conservation lands.

Affordable Housing Relief. Sen. Hwang will work to help communities in long-term sustainable plans to increase affordable housing while balancing each town’s character and housing strategies.

“Restoring predictability, sustainability and transparency to our state’s finances must be our top priority,” Sen. Hwang said. “Connecticut residents sent us to Hartford to do exactly that. Let’s get to work.”