By: Rep. Gail Lavielle
It’s public hearing season in Hartford. While we wait for mid-March, when committee meetings where the first rounds of votes are taken will start in earnest, many of us are spending time hearing public comment on bills and developing our own views on and suggestions for the first bills that will come before us later this month.
Meanwhile, I’d like to share with you a few of the recent development affecting our state.
Connecticut’s deficit grew during the past month, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA). While budgeted spending decreased by $15 million, there was a revenue shortfall of $31 million. So the deficit increased by $16 million, rising from $145 million to $161 million, with four months left in the fiscal year. This does not take into account the transfer of $75 million planned for the conversion to GAAP accounting, which would bring the deficit to $236 million for the year.
On February 21 and 22, the Education Committee, on which I serve, held almost 20 hours of public hearings on the governor’s proposed education reform bill, SB 24. On the first day, speakers delivered testimony on policy issues, like teacher and administrator evaluation, certification, and tenure, improving early education, and turnaround measures for low- performing or failing schools. On the second day, they addressed primarily questions of funding.
On March 1, at a community center in Hartford, the governor held the first of a series of planned education forums to discuss the bill with residents. The full schedule of meetings has not yet been published.
The bill itself is long and covers many subject areas. The version that we will have before us for a vote in the Education Committee may be substantially different than the version we have today, given the amount of input that the public and various education groups have submitted.
Like many of my colleagues, I have been meeting with stakeholders from our district to listen to their thoughts and questions about the bill, and will continue to seek opportunities to do so throughout this legislative session. Please do contact me if you have any thoughts you’d like to share.
On February 28, the General Law Committee held a public hearing on HB 5021. Often referred to as the Sunday sales bill, it is actually a comprehensive set of sweeping changes to the state’s laws governing the sale of beer, wine, and spirits. More than 900 people came to the Capitol to testify. Many small package store owners had already voiced their fears that the bill would eliminate their ability to compete with larger retailers, and by the time the hearing started, a modified version of the bill was already circulating. When the hearing began, Sunday sales had ceased to be a major source of contention, and the focus of the primary players had moved to other subjects like minimum pricing rules and permits. There may be further modifications to the proposed bill before it comes before the General Law Committee for a vote.
The Transportation Committee, on which I serve, voted to hold a public hearing on mass transit fares. Among the bills heard will be HB 5067, the bill that I have introduced, along with 26 other legislators from both sides of the aisle, to ensure that revenues from the three years of 4% annual increases in bus and rail fares will be used only for mass transit. A date for the hearing has not been set..
Gas prices are continuing to climb. In Connecticut, this is an effect not only of the economy, but also of our state tax system. Connecticut actually has two separate fuel taxes. One, an excise tax, holds steady at 25 cents per gallon. What causes the most pain at the pump is the other, called the gross receipts tax, because it increases as a percentage of the wholesale price of gas and is passed on directly to consumers. Currently, it is 7.53% of the wholesale price of a gallon of gas, and it is scheduled to rise to 8.1% next year. A new bill, SB 5, has been introduced that would cap the gross receipts tax by not allowing it to increase once the wholesale price exceeds a specified maximum level. The maximum level that is being discussed is $3 per gallon.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions on these subjects and any others that interest you. Please don’t hesitate to call or send me an e-mail. I am always happy to hear from you.