Two months into the session, the focus remains on Connecticut’s continuing fiscal problems and the gun violence task force effort. As a member of the Finance Committee, I have heard hours of testimony on the governor’s budget proposals that increase state spending yet again, and increase state debt and taxes to cover the tab.
Indeed, despite facing a $2.5-billion deficit, the governor’s budget: Increases spending by another $1.8 billion — a 9.7% increase; skirts the spending cap by redefining $900 million in spending to fall outside the cap; borrows $300 million for operations, and delays related debt-service until 2015; borrows $750 million to claim GAAP compliance; and reinstates a host of taxes that were scheduled to sunset this year — like the electric generation tax (passing $80 million in cost to families/businesses) and the corporate profits surcharge tax.
Meanwhile, the state’s workforce will receive a scheduled $240 million in pay raises (along with the current four-year no-layoff guarantee).
When positioned next to the current 2012-13 budget (which is also in deficit), these “spend, borrow and tax” proposals are simply unacceptable. As in the past, I, along with many of my colleagues, will offer a no tax increase alternative budget.
Also of concern is the governor’s proposal to end local property taxes on motor vehicles valued under $28,000, with no reliable replacement funding source for the towns. Dozens of first selectmen and mayors testified how the loss of car tax revenue would be devastating to their local budgets, force them to raise local real estate taxes, and thereby place more of the local tax burden on homeowners and businesses.
Indeed, the towns of Easton, Redding and Weston would each suffer a shortfall in revenue well in excess of $2 million per town. This proposal, while attractive at first glance, does little to help our families and businesses.
Next, the legislative task force on gun violence, school security and mental health has released its recommendations at cga.ct.gov/ASaferConnecticut. On gun control, the panel has recently issued a number of recommendations with the differences and compromises being worked on every day. Notably, the various proposals show substantial overlap, and include many common sense reforms.
For instance, I support universal background checks, safe storage laws, enhancing our current assault weapons laws, banning certain types of ammunition, and most significantly, reinstating and funding our illegal gun trafficking enforcement efforts. Proposals that I cannot support include excessive and/or retroactive bans of certain devices regardless of owner, and some excessive and intrusive licensure proposals that would be wholly ineffective, largely symbolic, and likely unconstitutional. Work continues on these issues.
On school security, the recommendations include upgrading infrastructure for new school construction, better school staff training to identify children who have mental health needs, and strengthening school emergency plans. School safety funding mechanisms continue to be explored.
On mental health, the panel is recommending similar mental health “first aid” training, a new probate court case management system for people with serious mental illness, creation of a collaborative program between pediatricians and psychiatrists similar to a Massachusetts model, and the creation of a mental health task force focused on people aged 16 to 25.
In total, the goal of the task force has been to craft a consensus bill based on these recommendations for passage this month.
Honest philosophical disagreements, however, have slowed what has otherwise been a productive effort. Still, I am encouraged by the work to date, and expect that some workable and effective reforms on all of these areas will be passed soon.
Finally, as head member of the Environment Committee, I am again promoting measures to secure open space, promote clean water projects, refine our current ban on certain pesticides, and protect Long Island Sound.
Bottom line, we in the General Assembly have more work to do on all of the above issues, and I am honored to pursue these goals on your behalf.
Please visit repshaban.com for news and commentary on the latest happenings in the 135th Assembly District and at the State Capitol. I encourage you to sign up for my e-newsletter so you can get updates and alerts emailed directly to your inbox. If you have any questions, concerns or ideas please feel free to contact me by phone 800-842-1423 or email John.Shaban@housegop.ct.gov.
Rep. John Shaban represents Easton, Weston and part of Redding in the 135th House District.