The Assembly Finance and Appropriations Committees have approved their taxing and spending budget packages. Negotiations with the Governor’s Office on a final budget are ongoing.
Key differences in Budget Proposals: There is very little difference on the spending side. On taxes, the Legislature’s includes a 2% tax on investment income of the top 1% of earners and substantially reduces the Governor’s sales tax expansion, rejecting his plan to tax professional services (Accountants, Lawyers, Haircuts), a number of grocery items and other previously exempted products.
Details on tolls are being negotiated behind closed doors. It is likely the tolling plan would include new tolls on the major highways, and 50+ new electronic gantries. A summary of the pending legislation includes a five cent per gallon gasoline tax reduction over 5 years, monthly credits for low income individuals and families to be added to their EZ passes automatically, a reduction in bus fares, and the formation of a bi-partisan commission to oversee toll operations. A Republican plan to fund $65B in spending over 30 years with state borrowing and leveraging federal funds was rejected by Lamont who continues to press for tolls. The tolling issue may be pushed to a special session this summer. The Finance Committee approved a study commission, toll revenues would be years away.
The Governor’s Budget includes a $9.1B restructure of State pension contributions due over the next 13 years. This plan is intended to allow the State to make up for 70 years of underfunding the State’s pension liabilities over a longer period (30 years). The Governor’s plan is under criticism from some Democrats who would prefer to see a non-debt solution such as an income tax increase on wealthy residents, over a refinancing of these obligations.
A new $15 minimum wage approved by the House and Senate - the roll out period being negotiated. The Governor proposed 4 years to take today’s $10.10 up to $15. Progressive Democrats are suggesting sooner- 2023.
Likely to pass this session, many details are still open. Main discussion is for a 0.5% payroll tax on all employees to be used to fund a Family Medical Leave Trust Fund. State Legislators want a program managed by the Department of Labor, the Governor proposes a private sector managed program.
The Governor is negotiating sports betting, adding a casino in Bridgeport and online lottery games with the State’s Indian tribes. Legislators will require sports betting and Bridgeport casino to advance together, which could endanger prospects for both.
Proposed legislation remains alive but has many opponents in the legislature including almost all Republicans and some Democrats. The Bill would clear criminal records for small amounts of Marijuana, fund treatment organizations, develop tests for driving under the influence, and find ways to get inner city communities involved in a new retail cannabis market.
The Governor proposed cutting borrowing by $600MM (about one third) annually, through the State Bond Commission. Democratic legislators did not support this in their plan. The Assembly’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee voted (with bipartisan support) to give control of the Bond Commission to legislators. The Governor and Democrats will now have to negotiate a borrowing plan.
A Bill (ConnectHealth) to create a public option was introduced, lowering coverage cost to people without employer provided health insurance. It would also permit small businesses and non-profits to obtain this coverage. The effect on the state’s private insurers is a concern.
The House approved an increase in the age for sales of all tobacco products, including e- cigarettes, from 18 to 21.
House will hold off voting on prohibiting parents from citing religion as a reason not to vaccinate their school-age children, awaiting further study of how to deal with unvaccinated children already in school.
The House voted overwhelmingly (134-10) to permit wind turbines in federal waters 40-60 miles off the coast of New London. It would take 10 years to construct the 1000 turbines. Lamont said the State is working hard to make Connecticut the center hub of the offshore wind industry in New England and that this legislation brings the State closer to making this a reality.
The House approved and sent to the Senate legislation to clarify and expand the ability of the State Attorney General’s Office to investigate and seek civil penalties for hate crimes and civil rights offenses. Connecticut would become the 23rd state with a civil rights division within its Attorney General’s Office.