ABOUT TOWN: In league

About-Town-Margaret-WirtenbergWhat is meant by “bipartisanship,” and is it truly possible in government? Some especially knowledgeable insight was provided recently at the League of Women Voters of Weston’s 2013 Betty Hill Forum. If you weren’t there, a video of the event can be seen online at the league’s website, lwvweston.org.

Sen. John McKinney, the minority leader of the Connecticut State Senate, was the featured speaker.

His presentation, “The Power and Potential of Bipartisan Action,” included examples of when bipartisanship has worked and when it has not. He pointed out that difficult financial times tend to force compromise.

A notable recent example is 2011’s legislative special session that was devoted to job growth. Republicans and the governor were on the same side on many aspects of this issue, and bipartisan legislation resulted.

Mr. McKinney pointed out that this was the first time since 1986 that a Democrat has held the governor’s office. And with both houses of the legislature also being in the hands of that party, there would seem to have been little incentive for its members to bargain.

When the economy went south with a vengeance, however, it became necessary to work together on key issues — not on all issues, of course, especially those where philosophic differences made compromise unrealistic.

But on budget issues, Republicans were included as legislation was developed. Their advice was taken on mitigating the looming deficits. As a result, we now have a small technical surplus, as the fiscal year nears its end.

And just as the budget compromise was brewing, Newtown happened. Suffice it to say that our legislature did itself proud. Mr. McKinney noted that while New York state beat Connecticut to the wire in passing legislation, New York rushed its gun control measures through and now has to redo parts of them.

So the land of steady habits took a bit longer, but in my opinion provided new confidence in our citizen legislature. Which, as Mr. McKinney pointed out, benefits from the diversity of outlook and experience that tends to exist in a legislature whose members serve on a part-time basis.

Another idea suggested by Mr. McKinney is having a nonpartisan entity do redistricting next time around — which would require a constitutional amendment, unfortunately. He asked if this might be something the League of Women Voters could spearhead.


What has the bipartisan MORE (Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies) Commission been up to?

In the spirit of bipartisanship, Mr. McKinney turned to First Selectman Gayle Weinstein, who sits on that commission, and who was in the audience.

She expressed pride in the accomplishments of its subcommittee on education, of which she was a member. She highlighted work toward a common yet flexible school calendar, and cost savings via collaboration between districts on certain activities.

Ms. Weinstein also described the work of the other MORE subcommittees, on municipal taxes, mandate relief, and regional efficiencies, expressing disappointment in the areas of mandate relief and automobile taxes.

A compromise on the issue of car tax equalization may result in phase-out of this tax over a 10-year period. By year six or seven, Weston would feel the pinch, though, because local real property taxes would just increase correspondingly.

NOTE: “About Town” is also a television program. It appears on Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 6 p.m. on Cablevision Channel 88 (Public Access). Or see it at aboutweston.com. This week’s guest is Gail Lavielle, state representative from the 143rd District.

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