Lavielle’s priorities range from transportation to disabilities

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) has a long list of priorities for the 2015 legislative session, which includes transportation and tolls, education, disabilities services, and, of course, the state budget.

“The most important thing that we have to do as a legislature is to get the state budget — the state’s financial health — in order,” said Ms. Lavielle, who serves on the Appropriations Committee.

Ms. Lavielle said the state is facing a $3-billion deficit over the next two years and has more than $70 billion in unfunded obligations to state employees for retirement, pensions and benefits. She said “both of these things have got to be addressed.”

(State Comptroller Kevin Lembo has projected a $31.6-million deficit for fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30. Deficits for outlying years could be much higher, a spokesperson in his office said, if the legislature and governor take no action to address them in the budget that will be crafted in this legislative session.)

“At the moment, on an ongoing basis, the state’s spending is increasing far faster and on a far more consistent basis than revenues are or can,” said Ms. Lavielle.

“We need a lot of things in the state, like better infrastructure, social services and so on, and if we just continue at the pace we are, our revenues cannot cover it.”

Ms. Lavielle said the rate of spending needs to stop and money needs to be spent “far more efficiently.”

Transportation

Ms. Lavielle returns to the Transportation Committee this legislative session to deal with what she refers to as Connecticut’s “transportation crisis.”

“Between Metro-North and the roads and bridges, transportation is the No. 1 thing that people mention to me when I speak to them,” she said. “We have some of the worst roads in the country, and Metro-North is in terrible shape.”

In addition to getting Metro-North in working order, Ms. Lavielle said, tolls will also be a “major discussion” in the legislature this year.

“I know a lot of people, and particularly the governor and administration, are trying to bring out the question of tolls,” said Ms. Lavielle.

“I think it’s a little simplistic to say, ‘If we lock-box the special transportation fund, that will solve everything.’ It will not solve everything — it is part of the solution.”

Ms. Lavielle said $100 billion to $200 billion a year has been raised for that funding — and “that’s not enough,” she said.

“We have to also look at bonding; we have to look at ways to cooperate with the rest of New England to get more federal funding, and we have to fix what we have before we start building new things,” she said.

“I hope that there will be a way to avoid tolls, because I don’t think anyone wants them, so we should not do that, if we can avoid it.”

Education

As ranking member of the Education Committee this session, Ms. Lavielle said that addressing educational needs and mandates will be a “big responsibility” and a “high priority.”

“I don’t think there’s anyone in the state that wouldn’t say that they want to turn around the unsuccessful schools — everybody wants to do that,” said Ms. Lavielle.

“There is some disagreement among people about how you do that, and that’s a question of spending money or not.”

During her time in the legislature, Ms. Lavielle said, instead of sitting back and looking at what it needs to do strategically, the state has focused on applying for grants.

“The real needs are specific to Connecticut and its very diversified districts,” said Ms. Lavielle. “We have some districts that do exceedingly well and others that do exceedingly poorly.”

Ms. Lavielle said some of the “one-size-fits-all mandates” have to go.

“With all this chasing around after grants, places like Wilton and Weston have to do things that some of the unsuccessful school districts do, just because it’s been imposed on everybody,” she said.

“We have to look at mandates; we have to look at state education funding; we have to look at the way special education is serviced and, overall, how we can get some of the decision-making back to the districts themselves.”

Higher education tuition has been going up in the state university system by “leaps and bounds,” said Ms. Lavielle, while state government workers like the University of Connecticut president have received raises of up to 12%.

According to Ms. Lavielle, “the UConn Foundation is not obligated to disclose the nature of the source of its expenditures and how it’s managing its money.” Since it is a public university, Ms. Lavielle said, she believes the foundation “ought to be obliged to disclose this activity.”

“How you keep raising tuition and going farther into state deficit while you’re doing that — I don’t know, but I think the higher education system is going beyond the pale,” said Ms. Lavielle.

“The Board of Regents is out of control, UConn is out of control, the UConn Foundation is out of control, and we’ve got to bring all that spending back to Earth, so I’m introducing some bills to look at that.”

Disabilities services

Ms. Lavielle said services for intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals will also be a priority of hers this legislative session, as well as a “big topic” on the Appropriations Committee.

“I think we really owe it to people to sort that out. There are too many who are not getting services at this point,” said Ms. Lavielle, who spoke at an intellectual and developmental disabilities forum at Trackside Teen Center on Dec. 8.

“Each one of these people has a different set of disabilities and a different set of needs,” she said. “I think by looking at those more individually instead of giving them all exactly the same thing or giving them nothing, the money will be spent better and give them better service.”