Welcome to The Hartford Portfolio, Yankee Institute’s update on what’s happening at the State Capitol during the legislative session.
Here’s some of what we saw in Hartford this week:
- Respect the process, not the taxpayers: Connecticut residents are getting slammed by the fastest inflation in four decades and a sudden spike in gasoline and heating oil prices. But 2022 is shaping up to be a nice year for the state’s 44,000 unionized state employees, who are on track to get $3,500 bonuses, plus multi-year cost-of-living raises, plus seniority-based raises under tentative labor deals with the Lamont administration. That, at least, is what’s been leaked so far to the CT Mirror. The deals will have to be ratified by the General Assembly before they take effect, but so far the terms aren’t being made public (or even released to state lawmakers).
- Yankee Institute president Carol Platt Liebau called for the governor’s office to immediately release the terms. “Connecticut state government has an unfortunate history of governors negotiating bad labor deals that deliver higher taxes and lower-quality services,” Platt Liebau said. “In an election year where state officials will be seeking endorsements from many of the powerful unions with whom they’re ‘negotiating’ now, it’s especially important that taxpayers see exactly what’s on the table – and have a chance to weigh in on the promises that are being made in their name.”
- For now, the proposed contracts will go to individual state workers for ratification—what Lamont’s spokesman Max Reiss called “a process we will respect.”
- Translation: taxpayers should keep refreshing newspaper websites if they want to know how many billions of dollars they’ll soon be on the hook for.
- COVID Mandates: “You can go out again” / Gas Prices: “Nope”: Republican state lawmakers threw a bone to the 1.4 million residents working outside the public sector, saying the state should hit the brakes on one of its main gas taxes, which has risen with prices to hit 24.3 cents per gallon.
- Attorney General William Tong continued the office’s tradition of loudly warning about “price gouging” though agency officials have rarely published their findings.
- Party Like It’s 2020: Connecticut’s legislative committees sometimes introduce “dummy bills,” which get reported out of committee to meet deadlines without revealing their intended content. Advocates and members of the public, meanwhile, have a difficult time testifying on these sorts of proposals because there’s no bill language to discuss. The Labor and Public Employees Committee approved a pair of dummy bills this week—including one that was later filled with language giving the Labor Commissioner sweeping powers to adopt regulations “regarding safe and equitable working conditions for all employees in the state.” If approved, this would be one of the biggest instances of surrendering policymaking powers to the executive branch since the General Assembly granted emergency powers to Governor Lamont at the beginning of the pandemic.
- It Pays Not To Work: The Labor and Public Employee Committee also took steps to allow workers who choose to go on strike to collect unemployment benefits—and, as at least one activist put it, stay on strike longer.
- The bill (SB 317), which would go into effect October 1, would let strikers receive unemployment insurance benefits two weeks after walking off the job. State law currently bars strikers from collecting because it requires “unemployment through no fault of your own.”
- Unemployment benefits are funded from taxes paid by employers—meaning businesses would be subsidizing strikes at their own workplaces.
- Getting to the Truth (some exclusions may apply): The Finance and Education Committees met Monday for an “informational forum” on the state’s school construction program that’s now the focus of an FBI investigation. Lawmakers, who received an overview on the operation from administration officials, were told to limit the scope of their questions “to exclude discussion of past actions of the executive branch,” according to Senate GOP leader Kevin Kelly.
- A Car (Tax Break) In Every Garage? The Planning and Development Committee responded to Governor Lamont’s plan for a partial (and perpetual) state takeover of car tax bills with its own proposal (SB326). The P&D plan would limit the combined property tax rates on motor vehicles to 30 mills and pay municipalities a decreasing share of the foregone revenue over the next five years.
- Yankee Institute’s director of policy and research, Ken Girardin, warned members that both approaches would produce some unintended outcomes—like directing the biggest windfall to Woodbridge, one of the state’s wealthiest towns, while essentially punishing thriftier towns with lower mill rates. Girardin said it would be better to “decouple” the mill rate on motor vehicles from the rate on houses and other buildings, and to provide a partial match for car tax relief. He also said the question should be addressed as part of a more comprehensive approach to property tax reform, which should include a New York-style property tax cap.