Governor’s budget gets yeas and nays

In his speech titled “A Path Forward,” Gov. Ned Lamont said on Wednesday, he was presenting a budget for FY 2020-21 “which gives us the best chance to get this state growing again.”

“If we had grown jobs at the same rate as other states, we would be talking about how to invest our surplus or cut taxes,” Lamont said. “Instead we are staring down the barrel of a $3.7 billion dollar deficit over the new two-year budget cycle.”

He said he plans to put Connecticut on a “debt diet,” and warned legislators not to come knocking for state dollars for projects. “If it is not tied to economic or workforce development, or cost-saving shared services, Connecticut is on a debt diet – and I am going to make sure we stick to that plan,” he said.

Lamont’s budget proposals including cutting property taxes, instituting tolls, starting a paid family and medical leave program, alleviating the state’s pension debt, economizing state government, and instituting 30 new sales taxes.

“The fiscal crisis before us is not just a short-term hole in the budget,” Lamont said. We are digging that hole deeper by $400-$500 million annually, due to fixed costs such as pensions, state employee healthcare and bonded debt — all growing faster than our economy. Most of these fixed costs pay for the past rather than investing in our future,” he said.

CLICK HERE: LAMONT’S BUDGET ADDRESS

Local state legislators chimed in after the speech.

“This is the start of the conversation,” said State Sen. Will Haskell (D-26). “I applaud Gov. Lamont for raising some very difficult issues in trying to move our state forward. Fixing Connecticut, revitalizing our economy, investing in the next generation and making sure this is an affordable state for everybody is going to require some outside-of-the-box thinking.”

Republican leaders were critical about Lamont’s budget proposal.

Bill Lalor, chair of Wilton’s Republican Town Committee said it was “everything we expected and less.”

“Some of it sounded sensible in broad strokes, but it’s impossible to ignore the Governor’s broken campaign promises on tolls, the new taxes and the other bad ideas that will continue to hurt small businesses, homeowners, taxpayers, schools, and so many other stakeholders in Wilton and elsewhere in Connecticut. It’s almost as though Gov. Lamont is channeling Ronald Reagan: ‘If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.’  All of which is a lot less funny for anyone dealing with the real, tangible consequences policies like this have had for our town,” Lalor said.

Although she is still reviewing the lengthy budget proposal, State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) objected to a number of provisions. “A lot of the revenue is coming from new taxes on people from all income levels,” she said.

New sales taxes

Lamont is proposing 30 new sales taxes on items such as non-prescription drugs, dry cleaning, barber shops, hairdressers veterinarians, parking, and services such as lawyers, accountants, and interior design. He would also repeal sales tax exemptions on boat storage and vehicle trade-ins.

There would also be new taxes “meant to influence behavior,” Lavielle said, on items such as sugary beverages, plastic bags, and vaping liquids.

“These new taxes are wildly obsessive and they hit everybody. It is disappointing to see so much of this budget concentrated on revenue solutions. We have to find a way to cut down government spending, in light of all these new taxes” she said.

On the positive side, Lavielle is pleased with the “debt diet” proposal when it comes to reducing the state’s bond authorizations, and the plan to completely eliminate the estate and gift tax, which was gradually being phased out.

But those positive proposals were offset by a plan to eliminate the exemption on income from social security, which could encourage retirees to leave the state, according to Lavielle.

“Pension and annuity income would be taxed more. We worked really hard to get those exemptions in the last budget, just to see them taken away. We need something to persuade retirees to stay here. Retirees have resources, pay property taxes, and help keep the state solid,” Lavielle said.

She was also concerned about a provision that would push a portion of the state’s annual contribution to teachers’ pensions to the towns. “Everyone would see an increase in their property taxes because where else will towns get that money?” she said.

Regionalization

There are also looming questions about mandatory school regionalization which is the subject of two house senate bills. In addition, Lavielle said, there is a Governor’s bill on school regionalization which calls for a “study.”

“There is anxiety that something that starts as a study can go forward and eventually become a bill,” Lavielle said.

Wilton First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice, a Republican, said she is still reviewing the proposal to see how it impacts Wilton. “One immediate question is what would be the authority and the make up of the two proposed regionalization/shared services committees — School Services and Redistricting Commission and Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations — as they could have a significant impact on how our schools and town government operate,” she said.

While Vanderslice supports voluntary shared services, she doesn’t support mandatory ones. “Understanding local differences is important. Last year, WestCOG hired a consultant to determine the possible benefits of regional assessors. The result was that it didn’t make sense for our region, yet it is being forced in the Governor’s budget proposal. Top down, one size fits all solutions are typically not the best approach, whether talking about the schools or town government,” she said.

Wilton state budget numbers

The Governor’s proposed budget contains the following state contributions regarding Wilton:

Municipal Aid:
FY 2019 Estimated: $857,776
FY 2020 Recommended: $839,018
FY 2021 Recommended: $839,018

Education Cost Sharing:
FY 2019 Estimated: $463,179
FY 2020 Recommended: $460,817
FY 2021 Recommended: $459,754

Total Statutory Formula Aid:
FY 2019 Estimated: $1,321,162
FY 2020 Recommended: $1,300,032
FY 2021 Recommended: $1,298,179

Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) Contribution
(Expense, not a contribution)
FY 2020 Recommended: ($462,951)
FY 2021 Recommended: ($956,038)

pgay@wiltonbulletin.com

Editor’s Note: This story was edited to add Wilton numbers from the proposed budget.

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