Taxes, education and tolls top Boucher's priorities list

Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) said budgetary proposals, transportation, and education proposals top her list of priorities for the 2015 legislative session, which convened Wednesday, Jan 7.

“I have a number of proposals. My No. 1 is to balance the state budget without increasing one tax on the people of Connecticut,” Ms. Boucher told The Bulletin last week. “There are issues that the towns and residents have and there are issues that are going to be important to the committees that I’m going to be leading.”

Ms. Boucher returns as Senate ranking member of the Education and Transportation committees this session. She also joins the Judiciary Committee of the General Assembly and the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. She represents all or part of seven towns: Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.

Tax policy

“Serving on the Finance Committee, I’m going to be concerned about tax policy that is positive for the state of Connecticut,” said Ms. Boucher. “Making sure that in the state, we have a good budgeting process that does not tax the residents more.”

Ms. Boucher said she will be submitting a proposal that gives business start-ups tax exemptions, similar to New York’s START-UP NY program. The New York program allows new businesses to pay zero taxes for 10 years, access college and university resources and connect with expansive infrastructure.

“Instead of a 10-year period, I’m going to propose we do this for at least a five-year period to get started,” said Ms. Boucher. “Business start-ups would be free of income and payroll taxes, and perhaps an income tax exemption for up to $20,000 for employees as well.”

Ms. Boucher said the proposed program would also “free up some space at our universities for businesses to be able to use, which would also help to defer energy costs, because that’s one of the high costs of doing business here.”

Ms. Boucher said she is also looking into “phasing in a possible flat 5% tax until we start to take out the tax brackets that have sent a lot of our more affluent residents out of state.”

Education

“We need to eliminate the common calendar that the state is mandating [for] a lot of our schools,” said Ms. Boucher, adding that although there are “a number of things in education that are important,” a new graduation credit mandate sticks out.

“All of our towns are telling me that there’s a new mandate for graduation credits by 2020, and it goes from 20 credits to 25,” said Ms. Boucher. “I put in a phasing process so that it’s easier on the school systems’ budgets over a period of time.”

Ms. Boucher said she would like to revisit and strengthen bullying and hazing laws, and has requested “higher penalties for any threat of violence made in a school setting.”

Ms. Boucher said she has a “nest of things” she would like to do for academically advanced students.

“I think we’re losing so many of our best and brightest kids and at the same time, we want to make sure that our special education students are getting the best education that we can [provide],” she said. “I think we have ignored our academically advanced students, so I have a number of proposals.”

Ms. Boucher said she also has proposals for phasing in the Common Core and new testing.

“Rather than throwing it at the school districts all at once,” she said, “this would be done over a gradual period — maybe over a 10-year period.”

Tolls

Tolls are going to be a “huge” topic this session, said Ms. Boucher, who currently is not in favor of tolls.

“I’m not convinced yet, so I’m not supporting tolls right now, but if they were to be put it in place, they should be voluntary,” she said. “There should be toll and non-toll lanes so that people have an option.”

Ms. Boucher said no additional tolls should be put in place unless the gas tax is reduced, because “you cannot put tolls in Connecticut, which has one of the highest gas taxes in the country.”

Ms. Boucher said although she and Gov. Dannel Malloy are “both in sync with the fact that we feel transportation should take a major role in our agenda for [this] term,” the state’s budget overrides everything.