February 15, 2019
The latest from the folks across the street from the Capitol

From Paddi's Desk
by Paddi LeShane

The run up to the biggest speech to be given by CT's newest Governor has started. On Wednesday, Governor Lamont will address a joint session of the CT legislature and provide his two-year blueprint for how CT will pull itself out of the red and start a four-year path to strong economic growth and prosperity.

Rumors and official statements have filled the LOB halls all week. There are whispers of the grocery tax, which was off the table, now might be back on the table. Or it may be limited to a surcharge on beverages, or maybe expanded to other services and commodities not currently taxed in CT. No one knows for sure, but it's been a pretty frantic place as the beverage companies begin to strategize on how to fix the budget if that tax is indeed in. The pharmaceutical manufacturers, restaurants, food stores and even the retail merchants aren't happy either, as there is discussion over the sales tax being applied to them as well. Most people aren't so worried about the sales tax decrease, but many are worried about the sales tax expansion.

The administration will be looking at "quality of life" initiatives while the legislature is starting to double down on their top priorities related to workplace issues. Some of these include increasing the minimum wage to $15, paid family and medical leave, predictive scheduling as well as increased mandates for nursing homes. On top of those, a glitch in the controversial hospital tax of past years has everyone intensely waiting on the actual specifics of Gov. Lamont's budget.

He has addressed several "pro-business initiatives," which are a "debt diet" - meaning a moratorium on using the state's credit card for non-essential purposes. This "debt diet" also includes holding the line on public higher education's previous budget cuts, looking for efficiencies in agency operations and possible merging of entities such as the DECD and CERC, which we touched on a couple of weeks ago. In order for the budget to meet the Governor's promise of reducing the bottom-line expenditures, he's going to need to use some creative cost-saving mechanisms since the majority of the budget is tied up in contractual relationship with unions, vendors or federal mandates.

Most of the week, the LOB was filled with members of the public attending and testifying in the multiple committee hearings. Next week we will really see the public come out, especially in the evening session to advocate for returning past cuts as well as new cuts to their programs and services. In the morning, the committees will hear from the state agency heads, who will have to explain how they will meet the challenges that appeared in the Governor's two-year budget.

Much of the wind will come out of the Capitol after Wednesday. All focus will be on getting a two-year budget through a House which is split three ways. Those are the 50 House Republicans, 47 House Democratic Progressives, and 20+ members of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, who are laser-focused on urban funding and programs, while the remaining moderates and suburban representatives will have to look for a team to hook up with. The Senate is much cleaner; even with three Democratic seats up in the air, it's pretty much consensus that the Dems will hold each seat in the majority of 23, minus maybe two or three Democrats who see themselves as conservatives. Even with those conservatives, it still isn't enough to crack the necessary 19 votes to make major changes. Those changes in the Senate will be fought out within the Democratic caucus - so it's what you don't see on the Senate calendar that matters most.
So we sit and we wait. The building is closed on Monday, and Tuesday will be a hotbed of additional rumors and gossip. By 12pm on Wednesday, all eyes will be on Governor Lamont and listening to how he will get CT back on track.

The Legislative Scoop
From Planned to Proposed
by Mike Johnson
Despite revenue and serious budget cuts being on the table, Governor Lamont will need to resolve the following in order to gain credibility and endorsements with these proposed solutions:

(1) How will the proposed property tax relief plan affect municipalities? 
- Lamont has proposed a $200 per resident property tax relief payment, but towns and cities will be wondering how they will be asked to account for that savings being administered by the state.

(2) Will Lamont's "Debt Diet" lead to a new normal for state bonding approvals or will it send a large majority of bonded programs into chaos such as schools?
- Lamont is proposing to significantly scale back what is offered in terms of new debt for bonded projects. The proposal seemingly will follow the guidelines of the "bond covenant" passed last year, but others anticipating funding for their projects may not be as happy with the proposal. 

(3) Will this administration tax hospitals similarly the way past administrations did or will he work to gain another bipartisan agreement?
- Healthcare taxes were extremely controversial under Malloy, which led to hundreds of thousands of dollars being taken from hospitals to help solve the budget. Last year a compromise was reached to help utilize more federal match dollars to give back to hospitals. How will Lamont approach a new budget? 

Did You Know?
This Week in History
February 14th, 278 AD
Origins of Valentine's Day

On February 14, around the year 278 AD, Valentine, a holy priest in Rome in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed.

Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families. To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270.

Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer's daughter, and signed it "From Your Valentine."

For his great service, Valentine was named a saint after his death.

In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to the Feast of Lupercalia, and he declared that February 14 be celebrated as St Valentine's Day.
In This Issue:

CT Agency Corner
By Chelsea Neelon

As Governor Lamont gears up to give his budget address next week, he is already letting the General Assembly know some of his new plans.

This week, Lamont stated that he will be asking lawmakers to approve a plan to extend motor vehicle driver license registration up to eight years, the two-year vehicle registration period to three years, and to approve a process where driver's licenses can be renewed online.

These proposals come in light of decades long frustrations with the DMV and its current processes, and Lamont hopes these proposals will cut down on frustration, wait times, and generally make CT residents lives easier.

"These proposals are reflective of concerns raised by residents to help simplify their lives and cut down on the hassle of accessing certain services, and I'm pleased to be able to help address them," Lamont said.

These DMV related proposals are just a snapshot of the many wide-ranging proposals that we will hear about next week, stay tuned to find out more.

by Ryan Bingham

On Tuesday, Governor Lamont announced his 'Debt Diet" plan, proposing a 40% reduction in state borrowing over the next two years.  The Lamont administration plans to complement this reduction with a higher selectivity in school projects going forward.  
Sen. Minority Leader Len Fasano (R) praised this proposal, highlighting his support for the prioritization of the state's needs over its wants. This bi-partisan support may bode well for the future of Lamont's 'Debt Diet'.
City officials fear that the financial burden of municipal infrastructure projects, specifically school construction projects, will fall heavily on Connecticut's towns and cities.  Lamont argues that this $600 million cut in borrowing will save the state's coffers in excess of $2 billion.  But at what cost? Lamont admitted that projects will be selective based on school district population, hinting that small districts may be negatively impacted by this plan. Projects that are currently in progress will not be affected by the Governor's proposal, however future school building and renovation programs may not receive adequate state funding.
Municipal officials are worried that their towns' development plans may also be greatly hindered without state bonding. Coventry Town Manager John Elsesser is worried about the future of the near $400,000 per year that his town receives from the state for road improvement and economic development.  Without this funding, he argues, the financial burden of those programs would fall on Coventry's taxpayers.
Governor Lamont's proposal may save the state a substantial amount of money, but its impact on the state's municipal infrastructure may not be realized for years to come.

2019 Behind the Scenes
by Chelsea Neelon

This week, we featured State Representative and chair of the Finance Committee Jason Rojas  of the 9th House District.

What are your legislative priorities this session?
- As House Chair of the Finance Committee I will be focused on the state budget and ensuring that we adopt a budget that provides the necessary resources the state needs to fund the operations of the state while providing funding for education, transportation and economic development.

- I am also focused on replication the successful Capitol Region Development Authority in other regions of the state to help increase housing redevelopment in our urban centers as well as in inner ring suburbs that are distressed that need access to funding to help get projects of the ground

-I want to focus on supporting our Council of Governments who can help the state achieve the goals we have for encouraging greater regionalization and service sharing between towns and cities     

What legislation are you most proud of being a part of getting passed?
I worked on a legislation back in 2012 that improved how we deliver reading instruction to our most vulnerable students. The program is known as CK3LI or the Connecticut K-3 Literacy Initiative. More and more school districts have adopted the reading model and the outcomes for children have been significant.
Last question! What's your favorite hobby?
-   I can never have enough time to read: newspapers (the old fashioned way- print copy), The Atlantic magazine, Time magazine, Governing magazine and books in general.