End of Session Recap

June 10, 2019

As my first legislative session comes to a close, I am grateful and honored to have worked alongside my colleagues on both sides of the aisle on behalf of the people that sent me to Hartford.

A Responsible State Budget: Approved by the House On Time

The House of Representatives stepped up and passed a tough budget that squarely addresses our state’s serious financial challenges and puts us on a stable path for the future. Although it is not perfect and there are parts that I argued against, the budget we passed is fiscally responsible while also making targeted investments in education, job growth, and economic development for our state and our children’s future.

This budget funds our state’s reserves at historic levels. The Rainy Day fund now will rise to over $2 billion protecting taxpayers into the future. We were able to hold the line on spending, the bulk of the spending increase goes to legally mandated fixed costs,  the increase in variable expenses like education and health care is just 0.3 percent in the first year.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to work hard to find efficiencies.

Here are some key points:

Aging Adults
I heard from many aging residents in our towns that the rising cost of living was pushing them out of their homes and the community they love. I am pleased to say that we will increase the income thresholds which taxpayers may deduct Social Security income and phase out the pension and annuity tax. This budget also rejects the Governor’s asset test for the Medicare Savings Program for low-income seniors, expands funding for Meals on Wheels, and provides a rate increase to nursing homes.

Protecting our most vulnerable
This budget expands Husky A Medicaid coverage to 3,500 people who had lost their healthcare, creates a new LGBTQ+ health and human services network, and fully funds programs for the developmentally disabled.

Economic & Workforce Development
This Budget establishes a workforce development pipeline to better match curriculum with employer needs, including an advanced manufacturing focus to fill the thousands of skilled jobs that are currently open.It also recognizes the importance of developing small businesses, minority, and women-owned businesses with the expansion of the Angel Investor tax credit, a tax credit for those who invest at least $25,000 in an approved business.

Healthcare and Hospitals
This budget also supports re-establishing the ACA re-insurance program that the federal Republicans allowed to lapse in the 2017. Recent analysis indicates that such a program could reduce premiums by about 5 percent.

Average brand prescription drug costs in Canada are roughly half that of the United States. The budget funds a program to allow for the safe importation of prescription drugs directly from Canada, which will result in significantly lower prices. The Departments of Consumer Protection and Public Health will be required to ensure the safety of any drugs imported through the program. Like similar programs in Vermont, Florida and Colorado, the program will need federal approval.

The budget addressed the very complex relationship between the hospital tax and federal reimbursements, and a lawsuit against the state with a potential $2 billion liability. I am pleased to say that we have reached an agreement with the hospitals that removes that potential liability, funds local hospitals, improves healthcare access, and protects thousands of jobs.

Taxes
While the focus of those opposing this budget is on tax increases, there is no increase in the income tax rate, something that few thought possible when we started the session. This budget also reduces some taxes and rejects several of the Governor’s proposed ideas to broaden the sales tax. The tax cuts: Entertainment venue admissions taxes are cut in half from 10% to 5%. Craft beer breweries will enjoy a new tax credit to help grow this booming industry. The business entity tax is eliminated as of January 2020, helping small businesses and encouraging start-ups. The capital base tax on corporations will phase out by 2024. And, for those of you who enjoy the beautiful shoreline or lakes in our region, we also rejected the Governor’s proposed increase in the boat tax.

It’s true that this budget removes exemptions from some areas that will now be subject to a sales tax. For example, this budget modernizes the state sales tax by including digital goods and certain electronically delivered software. This budget also includes a new “mansion tax,” which is a surcharge on home sales over $2.5 million, but this is reimbursed if the seller remains in Connecticut.

Environment and Family Farms
To create a healthier planet and care for the environment which is such a vital part of our beautiful shoreline and farms this budget will reduce waste by implementing a 10-cent tax on single-use plastic bags followed by full ban in 2021. This measure both protects our natural environment and reduces recycling costs for our towns. The budget creates rebate incentives for the purchase of electric vehicles to help reduce polluting emissions. We have also passed many different pieces of legislation that move us towards a carbon neutral economy.

The Community Investment Act (CIA) has been an important source of funding in supporting agriculture, open space, affordable housing, and historic preservation. The Governor proposed folding this money into the General Fund, but we fought to preserve the separate fund. We also provided an additional $1 million in funding to help sustain dairy farmers.

Education
This budget increases funding for higher education to help stabilize tuition and improve long-term stability of our college and university systems. It promotes “open source” online college textbooks to reduce costs. It also establishes debt-free community college to ensure that all students have access to college.
We were able to maintain current levels of Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding to our towns, and rejected the Governor’s proposal to accelerate phase-out for towns deemed over-funded under the current formula.

Teachers’ Pensions
It is essential that Connecticut deal with its unfunded pension liability directly and in a way that is sustainable today and into the future. This was a priority for me, and many of you shared your concern about this issue with me. This budget takes that challenge on by setting aside $380 million of the current year surplus to shore up the teachers’ pension fund, ensuring that we continue to honor our legal requirements to bondholders, give confidence to teachers that their pensions will be there when they need them, while making the state’s contributions sustainable and predictable. This produces budget savings of $372.8 billion over the two-year term of the budget.

Many of you voiced your opposition to the Governor’s proposal to shift some of the cost of teachers’ pensions onto our towns. I agree with you and this was one of the issues I drew the line on during negotiations on the budget. I made it clear to Democratic leadership that I would not support a budget that included that. With the support of other legislators, we prevailed.

In Summary
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve you and our district during this session. I look forward to next session and working with you to bring up new ideas and other items that we need to work on.

As I said before, no budget is perfect. We’ve worked hard to pass a budget that is a reflection of our values and aspirations for the future. With this budget, I believe we offer not only growth but security for the residents of Connecticut.

The budget passed in House and Senate and now moves, on to the Governor for signing.

If there are additional budget items you are interested in, please feel free to contact me.