According to all signs and indicators Connecticut is in a financial mess. While other states are starting to see signs of recovery and job growth, Connecticut still faces high unemployment, continued budget deficits and an onerous tax burden on the state’s families.
But you wouldn’t know that from listening to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s opening speech to the legislature on Wednesday.
According to Gov. Malloy’s State of the State address, the 2011 budget that included 77 tax and fee hikes “fixed 90 percent” of the state’s financial woes.
But the structural problems – unfunded pensions, one of the highest tax burdens in the nation, high state debt, and a business-unfriendly regulatory system – remain. And there is that pesky $1.2 billion gap between projected revenues and spending in next year’s budget that will need to be closed.
Those are the problems that greet our lawmakers as they start the 2013 legislative session. A flurry of bills have already been proposed by individual lawmakers, who have until Jan. 18 to submit legislation.
As of Thursday morning 188 bills and three resolutions have been proposed in the House, while on the Senate side 105 bills have been put forward along with six resolutions. In the House almost all of the current bills have come from Republicans at least in part because Democrats can submit bills through the committees, which have a later deadline – anywhere from Feb. 5 to Feb. 20.
Almost none of the first wave of bills propose cuts to the state budget – and of those that do propose cuts, few have a chance to make it through the session.
Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, has put forward a bill that would cut state employee pay by an unspecified percentage, but that would run up against agreements already made with the state’s employee unions.
Rep. Lavielle has also proposed a bill that would stop state employees from collecting employment income and their pensions at the same time, and another that would require both chambers in the General Assembly to vote on future collective bargaining agreements.
Rep. Christopher Davis, R-Ellington, has proposed a bill that would combine a number of commissions into one commission in an effort to streamline government, and another bill that would allow government agencies to use reverse auctions to lower the cost of public works projects.
On the Senate side, while there are few bills that would reduce government spending there are several that would see it increase.
Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, has proposed expanding the retired state employees health plan by allowing dependents to be covered. Another of his bills would establish a single-payer healthcare system in Connecticut.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, would like to further expand the state’s pension system by including the low-income state employees who are currently excluded.
Other proposed bills include:
Tackling government spending – Bills that would:
- Reduce funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit.
- Increase the threshold for public works projects where contractors have to abide by prevailing wage laws.
- Allow for advertising on lottery tickets.
Tax Relief – Bills that would:
- Repeal the luxury tax, exempt cars from the sales tax, exempt consulting from the sales and use tax, phase out the estate tax, and repeal the business entity tax.
- First-time home buyers tax credit.
- Require a 2/3 vote in the General Assembly on tax increases.
Job Growth – Bills that would:
- Expand the angel investment tax credit to all businesses, not just technology businesses.
- Attach a note to all future bills outlining how they would affect job growth.
State Employee Benefits – Bills that would:
- Shift the state pension system from a defined benefit to a 401(k)-style defined contribution system.
- Exclude reimbursements for gas and other expenses from pension calculations.
- Exclude overtime and longevity pay from pension calculations.
For Seniors – Bills that would:
- Exempt social security and/or pension income from the state’s personal income tax.
- Provide seniors with property tax relief.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Bills that would:
- Exempt deployed military personnel from late fees and interest on property taxes.
- Allow newly licensed drivers to transport family members to and from school.
- Create one health form that parents could use to get their children into schools, sports, after school programs, daycare centers, etc.
- Stop the state from loading unfunded mandates on cities and towns.
- Create a Senate Ethics Committee with power to investigate illegal or unethical conduct, and recommend sanctions.
Interesting…but unlikely to gain much traction:
- Senate Joint Resolution 6 would replace Connecticut’s general assembly with a unicameral body. Would we get rid of the House or the Senate?
- A bill proposed by Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, would give Connecticut its own Right to Work law.
- Sen. Crisco would establish an Office on Community Gardens.
- Sen. Looney would require schools to teach the history of unions.
Suzanne Bates is a fellow at the Yankee Institute. She lives in South Windsor.