Wilton legislators weigh in on state budget

State Rep. Gail Lavielle and State Sen. Will Haskell
State Rep. Gail Lavielle and State Sen. Will Haskell

There was a modicum of good news in the recently passed two-year, $43-billion state budget, according to Wilton state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143).
And that was that there were no bills tied to the budget that supported school regionalization.
Other than that, she wasn’t very pleased with it.
“Connecticut deserves a budget that reduces spending, taxing, and borrowing, and addresses its long-term, persistent fiscal issues. Unfortunately, this budget does not,” Lavielle said in an interview with The Bulletin.
The budget passed quietly last week, pretty much along party lines. It passed 86-65 in the House without a single Republican vote. Five Democrats joined with the GOP to vote against it.
The Senate passed the budget 20-16 along party lines, with two Democrats joining Republican opposition.
Immediately following the budget’s passage, Democratic state Sen. Will Haskell (D-26) issued a statement praising the budget, saying it does not increase the income or sales tax rate, increases funding for education and reduces the size of state government. With careful cost controlling, he said, the budget raises spending across the state by only 0.3 percent while supporting job training initiatives and local education funding.
“I voted yea because I believe it’s the balanced and forward-thinking budget Connecticut needs. It limits new spending, bolsters tax revenues and supports the students of our state. We’re honoring the commitments made by previous generations and planning for a more fiscally responsible future.”
He also praised the budget for supporting Connecticut families by including funding for:

  • An increase in the minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 an hour by 2023.

  • The creation of a Paid Family Medical Leave program which will allow employees to take 12 weeks of paid leave if they or a member of their family are ill.

Lavielle, a Republican and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, saw things from a different perspective.
She disapproved of the minimum wage hike and the family leave program, which would impose a 5 percent payroll tax on employees’ gross income to fund a state-run paid family leave program.
“These two initiatives, while well-intentioned, add to the multiple costly mandates that are making it harder and harder for businesses to operate in Connecticut and are forcing many to move elsewhere,” she said.
The problem with the minimum-wage hike, she said, is it will continue to increase, unless the legislature takes action in the future.
“There is a provision in the bill that once the $15 hour threshold is reached, it will be indexed to the employee cost index, so every year the minimum wage will have to change in order to conform to the rise in that index,” she said.
Regarding paid family leave, she said it could have unexpected negative consequences.
“It’s important to know that with people paying the 5 percent payroll tax, they will start to use this benefit. But if money starts to run low in the fund, which is likely to happen, the labor commissioner can lower the benefit if the fund runs low. So you would still pay 5 percent but not get the benefit out of it,” she said.
Another thing she disapproved of was transportation revenues being diverted from the transportation fund to the general fund. “We need more transportation revenues. That doesn’t make sense,” she said.
Budget process
Lavielle was also critical about how Republicans were “shut out” from participating meaningfully in the budget process.
“We did not see the budget until 5:30 Sunday evening with the vote being on Monday morning. The last two sessions, when party numbers were equal in the legislature, there was more bipartisanship work. The Democrats had to listen. They needed our votes. This year, they did not need our votes so I wasn’t surprised, because that has become commonplace,” she said.