Lavielle’s focus is state budget
State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) finds herself in the position to yield more clout and oversight on the beleaguered state budget.
“I want to iron out some of Connecticut’s deep fiscal problems, streamline government, and reduce inefficient spending,” she said in an interview with The Bulletin.
A Wilton resident, Lavielle, a Republican, was re-elected to a fifth term this past November to represent the 143rd District which covers most of Wilton, the eastern section of Norwalk, and the western part of Westport.
She is the House ranking member (senior minority party representative) on the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. “My primary job is to make sure we deliver very concrete proposals to ensure the budget is balanced, fair, and feasible and get state finances back in order,” she said.
In addition to the Appropriations Committee, Lavielle has been assigned to the Education and Transportation committees.
On Jan. 9, during his legislative welcoming speech, Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, echoed Lavielle’s state fiscal concerns, pleading to the General Assembly, “Let’s fix this damn budget, once and for all!”
The governor also said the state’s economy must “work for everyone.” He proposed raising the minimum wage from $10.10 an hour to $15, and instituting a paid family and medical leave program.
“There is a practical side to everything,” Lavielle responded. “These things cost money to businesses, the state, and taxpayers. We need to be careful these things aren’t going to be ‘pushed through,’ and must be done in an affordable way,” she said.
Lamont also touched upon an issue all parties could agree on, Lavielle said, when he referred to the state’s “highly educated workforce,” as a key factor in creating the “Connecticut of tomorrow.”
The state has one of the best-educated workforces in the country, Lavielle said, but its education system isn’t preparing people well enough in computer science and other technical jobs that are open in Connecticut.
To learn more about technical education results, she has introduced a bill that would require a detailed report from the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System board about the graduation rates of students enrolled in each program at the state’s technical schools.
Lavielle’s main focus on the Appropriations Committee is Connecticut’s fiscal problems.
The state is facing a projected $1.6 billion shortfall in the 2019-20 budget. Among the items under review are the budgets of state agencies, state employees' salaries, benefits and retirement, teachers' retirement, veterans' pensions, and collective bargaining agreements and arbitration awards for state employees.
Lavielle plans to tackle budgetary matters through subcommittee work sessions. “We need to get people the services they need, and get the state out of the habit of spending more than it takes in,” she said.
Lavielle said one of the problems she sees with the state budget process is the procedure it follows. Items first go through the Appropriations Committee and are then passed on to the Finance Committee for funding. She believes this order should be reversed.
“The state should do things like towns do, where the Board of Finance provides guidance to the Board of Selectmen and Board of Education,” she said. “I would like to see revenue projections first. What revenues through taxes and fees do we estimate we will have over the next few years? Then we will know how much we have to spend,” she said.
Last year, Lavielle co-sponsored and co-authored a bill that would have forbidden the governor to cut education funding to towns mid-year, which then Gov. Dannel Malloy said he intended to do. The General Assembly supported the bill, but Malloy, unsurprisingly, vetoed it. Lavielle said she intends to introduce the bill again. “We need to forbid the governor from making mid-year cuts so towns aren’t caught blindsided,” she said.
She said it is also a priority to prevent towns from having to bear the expenses of the teachers’ pension fund, which is paid for by the state. In 2017, Malloy proposed shifting about $400 million in teacher pension obligations to the municipalities. The expense would have cost Wilton an additional $4 million a year. “I will do everything to stop that from happening,” she said.
For transportation, Lavielle has introduced a bill that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to prepare and update annually a 20-year projection for gas tax revenues.
The reason for the bill circulates around an estimated $1 billion projected in state revenue with the implementation of tolls on Connecticut highways.
“With something like tolls, it matters to taxpayers how many you put up. Let’s be more considerate of the taxpayer here. If we are replacing gas tax revenues, we need to know how much money we need to replace them. Do we need $1 billion? This bill would require DOT to give concrete projections on gas tax revenue, otherwise we do not know how much we need,” she said.
Lavielle is happy and optimistic about Lamont’s choice of former MTA Metro-North Railroad President Joe Giulietti as the state’s new DOT commissioner. “Joe is a railroad guy and knows Metro-North like the back of his hand. He helped me get the early morning schedule changed on the Danbury branch line. I am hopeful we will be able to make progress getting the New Haven line to work better as well as the branch lines,” she said.
To encourage business, Lavielle has introduced a bill to allow electric car maker Tesla to sell its cars in Connecticut. “We have a company that is enthusiastic about being in Connecticut, we don’t have many of those right now,” she said.
In the area of education, Lavielle wants to address the “skyrocketing costs” of special education. She said more and more students are being put into special education programs, and the costs to school districts are very high for outsourcing them. “A task force is currently working on possible solutions,” she said, and will be reporting its findings to the Appropriations Committee soon.
She is not in favor of a plan to consolidate community colleges into one college and has introduced a bill to prohibit it without legislative approval. She is particularly concerned about the status of endowments to Norwalk Community College if it is consolidated with other colleges.
To address mass shootings, Lavielle has introduced a “ghost gun” bill to regulate the sale of gun parts online.
She supports the State Water Plan, which helps communities prevent depletion of their water sources. She is concerned about Aquarion’s proposed plan to remove one million gallons of water a day from the Cannondale section of Wilton. “While I don’t have all the details yet, I am concerned because water sources can disappear,” she said.
She has introduced a bill that would require a study to determine the best way to detect if a person's driving is impaired by marijuana usage.
She is also concerned about vaping and e-cigarettes and supports raising the age for people who can buy e-cigarettes from 18 to 21.
For more information, constituents can contact Lavielle at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 860-240-8700.