March 26th, 2021
In This Issue:
From Paddi's Desk
CT Agency Corner
Municipal Roundup
From Inside The Golden Dome
Behind the Scenes
This Day in CT History
Spring has sprung, the grass has risen, wonder where the budget is?

With 50 days left in the 2021 session it sure is a slow process. This past week the Senate met on Wednesday to take up several appointments, and vote on a couple of bills. They adjourned just as the House came into session Thursday to approve a bill to extend again the Governor’s Executive Orders as they work with the Senate to decide which ones need to “go away”, be turned into permanent policy or get adjusted. The legislature is reviewing more than 90 Executive Orders dealing with detailed processes of the Judicial System, State Agency deadlines, local zoning, and even the one about absences of cadets at the State Police Academy. These needed to be tweaked given the beginnings of the pandemic and the new virtual world we have been living in since last March 13th.

As many committees reach their final committee action deadlines (JF deadline) the Appropriations committee (APP) wrapped up their agency public hearing process, and is now working in workgroups with state agencies and other interest groups to look at the current budget, the Governor’s proposed spending budget and the desires, needs and wants of the 187 members of the legislature for the next two years while the Finance, Revenue and Bonding committee (FRB), responsible for how to pay for those expenditures, still has several more public hearing meetings before they call it quits. This process will continue for almost a month since the final deadline for action is April 22nd for FRB and April 23rd for APP.

While the committees keep their heads down and move forward, they got some good news this week from both the federal government and the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA). According to a recent OFA report, CT’s budget is in pretty darn good shape considering all the worries and concerns over the impact of the yearlong pandemic. As of March, this year’s budget is trending way ahead of last year and shows an $800 million – yup $800 million surplus. According to State law, $500 million will go into the state’s rainy day fund to pay down past due pension fund debts and the remaining will be deposited into the state’s rainy day fund for general “emergencies” as prescribed by CT law. Finally some great news!

Under the newly minted American Rescue Plan, Connecticut will receive even more federal dollars for post pandemic job and economic stimulation. The fund this time won’t be all in the form of allocated funds but will have unallocated funds as well. The amount in each bucket is still unknown but in either case will definitely make the jobs of the two committees, the leadership and the Governor a bit easier, or at least “less hard”.

So when the Governor announced his two year spending plan he focuses on several revenue drivers – sports betting, legalized recreation marijuana, transportation climate initiative surcharges (TCI) as well as use tax on the state’s roads. So far he’s cut a deal on sports betting where it appears that most stakeholders feel it’s a decent compromise and would allow for a level of competition and involvement of the state’s lottery agency as well. The TCI funds and legalized marijuana initiatives might not be going so well. While progressive indeed, both initiatives are taking on water from all kinds of stakeholders. And there’s even a rumor that the two committees might not count on the funds in the second year for legalized marijuana being there at the end of the day.  

You might recall when Governor Lamont came into office he declared a “debt diet” and has pretty much been able to stick to his guns. Certainly it helped that the LOB was shut down and both legislators and municipal leaders have been focused on getting through the pandemic. Somehow there’s now rumblings in the rank and file legislators that they aren’t really happy with the pace of funding local infrastructure (fire trucks, local roads, school construction, roofs on popular facilities, etc.) So all eyes will be on the bonding package now under newly appointed Rep. Dorinda Borer (D-East Haven) and current Co-Chair Senator Marilyn Moore (D-Bridgeport).

There is still more work to happen in the remaining 50 days. After the budget gets approved as a single document, then there’s the work of passing the language (called implementing bills) to actually make sure the direction the legislature approves actually happens when the state agencies get their two year allocations. As they say – follow the money!

With the weather improving, so will the economic outlook for the state’s two year budget. Couple that with the great progress on getting CT vaccinated, the summer should be one we all can enjoy as we look forward to the happy days ahead. 
Revenue Pictures Continue to Brighten

Connecticut has stood out nationally as an anomaly during the pandemic as its economy has soared out of deficit into budget surpluses. What’s more interesting is that those revenue numbers don’t show any signs of slowing down!

It was announced by the state this week that an $800M increase to revenue projections have accounted for a $100M deficit for this year to be erased and the remaining surplus to be deposited into the rainy day fund. In the report from the Office of Fiscal Analysis, the most startling number that stands out is the current rainy day fund balance stands at the highest mark ever achieved - $3,800,000,000!

This $3.8B can be partially used to help pay down unfunded pension liability costs that hover around $40B which is made up of mostly tier one state employees and teachers.

Just on the revenue projection side alone, which doesn’t even factor in Federal CARES Act dollars, this is optimistic but the real sign of the economy continuing to gain momentum will rest on (1) When consumer spending will return to pre-pandemic and (2) How will hospitality businesses pivot with “the new normal” as residents get more comfortable returning to their travel habits?
Mamma Mia!

Taking a break for the seriousness of what is happening on the state and local legislative calendar, today is the public hearing designating Pizza as the official State Food of Connecticut. We know that some of you reside in New York and may take offense to this article, but Connecticut is serious about their pizza. So far there are 12 submissions of testimony on HB 5656 and several signed up to testify on the merits of this prestigious designation. New Haven, specifically, has several of the regularly rated top 50 pizza establishments in the country. Not in any particular order, Sallys, Pepe’s, BAR and Modern are must try places in New Haven if you want the classic New Haven “apizza” that has made them famous. The Government Affairs and Election (GAE) committee will hear from supporters of this legislation that have been mixed in with bills with a more serious nature dealing with elections and administration of state and local government. 
 
We’d highly recommend grabbing a slice and enjoying the testimony live here: https://www.cga.ct.gov/ytGAE
 
Also, if you live in or have been to Connecticut and tried our pizza, please email me your favorite pizza place (rbingham@ctlobby.com) and we’ll go grab a slice soon!
Committee Meeting Deadlines Bring Lengthy Debates

This week, about half of the legislature’s committees welcomed their JF deadlines, the date that all committee work must be completed by. At this point in the session, we are able to see what bills remain in play and the legislature’s focus begins to narrow in. The Appropriations, Education, Environment, GAE, Human Services, Judiciary, Planning & Development, Finance, and Public Health Committees are all still standing, with deadlines coming in mid to late April.

For those committees who did have deadlines this week, many held meetings to take final action on bills with very lengthy agendas. These agendas require language to be fully drafted before being voted on, which can be a time consuming process for the non-partisan staff at the Office of Legislative Research (OLR) and Legislative Commissioners’ Office (LCO), even more so because staff is working remotely. In some cases, the final language isn’t ready until the night before the meeting is scheduled. We’ve seen this condensed timeline complicate negotiations between committee members as well as between Democrats and Republicans, who under regular circumstances would have more of an opportunity to discuss items in person before they formally debate them in committee meetings.

The Insurance and Real Estate Committee, for example, had their final meeting on Monday where they took final action on 35 bills, including several major healthcare related reforms like expanding telehealth services, addressing High Deductible Health Plans, and Governor Lamont’s proposal, “Covered Connecticut.” This meeting lasted for more than 10 hours, with legislators debating, asking questions, and attempting to amend items on the agenda before they advanced to the floors of the House or Senate. We also saw a very lengthy meeting in the Public Health committee today. These marathon meetings are becoming more and more frequent and may be a sign of things to come this session.
Freshmen Legislator Profile: Frank Smith (D-Milford)

Representative Frank Smith is proud to be serving the town of Milford, the town he grew up in, in the legislature this session and is keenly aware of the hard work that goes into being a member of the House of Representatives each day. Serving on the Education, Environment, and Housing committees, he's quickly had to learn a lot about several public policy issues while juggling (sometimes competing) zoom meetings. Having a long history of serving his community at the local level, though, gives him a step up in understanding the importance of state level policy decisions.

One thing that Rep. Smith and I have in common is that we are both missing opportunities to be in the Capitol building this session, although he is one of the few lucky ones that does get to go in from time to time as a member of the General Assembly. He acknowledged the certain inspirational quality that working in the Capitol brings and was excited that this week he had an opportunity to be in the House Chamber and see his actual seat while the House was in session. He mentioned that the grandeur and the history of the building itself is a constant reminder of the importance of the work taking place there.

Rep. Smith shared that his first trip to the Capitol was as a high school student and he had the opportunity to meet then Governor Meskill, who was in office from 1971-1975. More recently, he was able to visit the Governor's office and was happy to see that the office itself has remained largely the same.

Rep. Smith also mentioned his appreciation for the democratic process, and is enjoying meeting his new colleagues representing other parts of the state who bring different perspectives, even through a post-it size video of them on his screen. Rep. Smith is optimistic that as the state continues to move forward with the pandemic precautions and vaccination schedules, this summer we will see a return to some sort of normalcy.
March 26th, 2014: The First State to Raise the Minimum Wage Over $10 an Hour

On March 26, 2014, Connecticut became the first state in the country to pass legislation setting its minimum wage above $10 an hour. The new law mandated slight increases, rolled out over three years, that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by the start of 2017, increasing the paychecks of over 70,000 Connecticut workers.

Governor Dannel Malloy, in the midst of a re-election campaign following his first term in office, may have been inspired to push for the increase by President Barack Obama. President Obama gave a series of speeches focusing on the topic in early 2014, including one at Central Connecticut State University on March 5. In that speech, the President urged the governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont — all of whom were in attendance — to increase their states’ respective minimum wages. After that speech, Governor Malloy lobbied hard for the increase.

As 2014 was a gubernatorial election year, most of the arguments for and against the wage increase predictably fell along partisan lines. Proponents lauded the move as beneficial for the Connecticut’s working poor, while opponents warned that government-mandated wage increases would discourage business growth and exacerbate the state’s unemployment rate. Others noted that Connecticut’s minimum wage — already the fourth highest in the country — was already scheduled to increase to $9 by the beginning of 2015, even without the proposed legislation. On March 26, the legislation passed through both chambers of the state legislature, which made Connecticut the first state in the nation to pass a minimum wage of over $10. A financial boost for tens of thousands of hourly wage workers was first set into motion, today in Connecticut history.

Here is a link to the full article - Provided by CT Humanities Council.
Sullivan & LeShane, Inc.
www.ctlobby.com | (860) 560-0000