‘Omnibus Bill Passes the State Senate Special Session Despite Partisan Rancor’ | CT Examiner

June 26, 2024

As published by the CT Examiner:


Wednesday’s Special Session of the State Senate was billed as a bipartisan wrap-up without rancor.

It was anything but.

House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, told CT Examiner last week that the scheduled special sessions – the State House will meet Thursday – should be free of controversy.

State legislators were slated to discuss a variety of issues, including fixing a glitch in how commercial properties are taxed and narrowing the ability of towns to bring in managers for school construction project.

“[The special session] will be quick,” Ritter told CT Examiner. “They should be very quick in both chambers.”

Instead the session in the Senate stretched to three hours and featured arguing back and forth along party lines on several of the eight separate issues in the omnibus bill. In the end, Senate Bill 501 was approved 20-9 with seven members not voting strictly along party lines. Democrats hold a 24-12 majority in the Senate.

Two of the eight items took up most of the special session and appeared the cause of much of the partisan animosity. The first item was a proposal to amend the South Central Regional Water Authority charter to allow the authority to bid for water companies – specifically Bridgeport-based Aquarion – outside of its current service area. Senate lawmakers also fought over about how cars are taxed and assessed.


To the surprise of many state senators, the fact that the water authority might bid on Aquarion – which was purchased by Eversource Energy in 2017 – wasn’t made available until a few days ago and only through a newspaper story. GOP lawmakers said they had little time to study the more than 50 pages of the bill dealing with the water authority. The total bill was 137 pages long.

“I heard about the proposal a few days ago in the newspaper,” said State Sen. Ryan Fazio, R-Greenwich. Fazio, the ranking member on the Energy & Technology Committee, said the bill flew “in the face of transparency” and said, “This stinks. I bet legislators on both sides of the aisle weren’t consulted… We just got the final piece of legislation hours ago.” He also noted there was “no public vetting or public debate or analysis” adding that there could, potentially, be “billions of dollars of economic impact on the state.”

State Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, told his colleagues that “I don’t want my fingerprints on this at all.”

Gov. Ned Lamont made the call for the two special meetings. No one from his office had a comment on Fazio’s assertions by presstime.

State Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, led the Democratic opposition to several Republican amendments including one that would have allowed the eight separate bill items to be voted on separately instead of as a package. That amendment was offered, specifically, because of the water authority proposal.

“I am opposed to the amendment,” Fonfara said. “This merely provides South Central to bid – it’s permissive entirely. They can bid if they choose. It must be approved by PURA and that’s significant. It will be fully vetted by the staff there.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said a possible bid was “an opportunity for a Connecticut-based entity to be in bidding competition.”

Car Taxes

Lawmakers were unified in their agreement that a 2022 glitch which stated that – as of October 2024 – commercial vehicles would be counted as personal property taxes rather than motor vehicles had to be fixed. If not, both sides agreed, taxes on commercial vehicles in 46 communities in the state – primarily urban communities – would spike. In Hartford, taxes on commercial vehicles would more than double and they’d also go up in municipalities like Waterbury and Bridgeport.

The sharp difference between Democrats and Republicans dealt with what, Sampson claimed, amounted to a tax increase. Sampson pointed to a provision in the bill that showed a schedule whereby, beginning on Oct. 1, there would be a 5 percent increase on car assessments.

“Anything that sniffs of a tax increase, I’m the first to say we won’t do that,” Sampson said.

However, Looney said “municipalities can create a differential car tax; nothing is mandatory.”

Sampson, like many of his Republican colleagues, argued that special sessions should only be held in emergencies. Wednesday’s session was not an emergency, he claimed.

“Election integrity, that is a real emergency,” Sampson said. He said his constituents “want us to vote up or down on policy issues” and to not be “boxed in.”

The other provisions of the bill included the following:

  • A banking bill that would change the classification of certain banks, with the goal of enticing more back to relocate to Connecticut.
  • Narrowing the ability of towns to bring in managers for school construction projects.
  • Reducing the administrative costs of the state’s publicly available retirement savings program by authorizing the State Comptroller to enter into cooperative agreements with other states that have similar programs.
  • Providing more certainty to the state’s insurance industry by establishing that the annual assessment on domestic insurance companies to fund certain insurance-related state offices and programs should be calculated based on those companies’ total taxes, prior to any adjustment for tax credits, from the year immediately preceding the prior calendar year instead of the calendar year itself.
  • Relieving employers, including tax-exempt organizations, that kept employees on payroll throughout the pandemic and received the federal Employee Retention Credit from the burden of interest payments attributable to the timing complexities of a new federal program rather than any willful underpayment from the taxpayer.
  • Supporting the preservation and redevelopment of historic properties by streamlining the process by which the State Historic Preservation Office reviews such properties.

    If the state House, which is controlled by Democrats, as expected approves the bill, then it would head to the governor’s desk for his signature.