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It’s Nice To Have Friends In High Places

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:

A Good Deal If You Can Get It

It’s been more than two weeks since Governor Lamont announced tentative deals with SEBAC, the union coalition representing most state employees, but details, and the price tag, are still being concealed from state lawmakers—and state taxpayers.

For a state employee making the average salary of about $76,000, the agreements would mean immediate payments of almost $5,000 when the one-time bonus, retroactive cost-of-living adjustment, and seniority-based raises are applied, plus immediate raises ranging from 2.5 to 4.5 percent (with most getting close to 4.5 percent). Another round of comparable raises, and another $1,000 bonus, would come in July. State lawmakers still need to sign off on the deals. Read Yankee Institute’s latest analysis here.

Fuming Yet?

The state’s dedicated transportation fund is poised to end the year close to $90 million ahead of projections, in part thanks to higher gas prices. The House and Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously to use that surplus to temporarily suspend the 25-cent gas tax, and separately to temporarily exempt certain clothing from state sales tax and allocate funds for free bus service. The gas-tax cut is expected to save drivers $30 over three months—or less than 1 percent of a typical SEBAC bonus.

Pols Wanted A Peek

bill meant to study which citizens pay what share of state and local taxes included an eye-popping provision: it would let eight members of the General Assembly request and view an individual’s personal income tax return. After Yankee Institute on Tuesday wrote about the legislation—and its strong support from organized labor—legislative leaders were questioned about it at a press conference. Representative Sean Scanlon told reporters: “That bill provision will be coming out.”

Spreading COVID Cash

After a heated debate, the Labor and Public Employees Committee on Thursday approved a proposal to spend $750 million on the “Connecticut Essential Workers Pandemic Pay Program,” which would pay certain workers up to $2,000 if they worked full-time during the state of emergency declared by Governor Lamont in March 2020.

Representative Harry Arora said the program would cost about $40 million to administer and that the bill’s criteria did not appear to consider immigration status. Arora also argued that the first-come-first-serve approach (which benefits the state’s politically wired labor unions) risks leaving a large chunk of the otherwise-eligible residents with nothing.

Committee Works For Labor

Besides the pandemic pay, Connecticut unions had a busy week in the Labor and Public Employees Committee, where labor is looking to use its significant influence in Hartford to implement otherwise-federal priorities that have stalled in Washington, D.C. Most notably, the unions are pushing a “captive audience” bill that would limit what businesses can say to workers who are thinking about unionizing. Besides the obvious First Amendment issues, the legislation would likely run afoul of the federal pre-emption of private-sector unionization rules—something about which then-Attorney General George Jepsen warned when a similar measure was introduced in 2018.

Labor is also pushing the General Assembly to let strikers collect unemployment and ban businesses from replacing workers who go on striker, among other things.

The committee is meanwhile keeping a “dummy bill” ready so it can order the state Labor Department to study—and build the case for—any of these priorities that fail to make it to the floor for votes by the entire House and Senate.

Committee Hits “Play” On Wayne’s World Tax

The Energy and Technology Committee approved a proposal to apply a “community access support” charge to streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu and Disney+. The fee is designed to boost local public access television organizations, which have taken a financial hit as more people have canceled their cable subscriptions. Lawmakers however still haven’t worked out the logistics about how the $5-to-$11 annual fee would be collected (and what would prevent people from having to pay it multiple times).

Meghan Portfolio

Meghan worked in the private sector for two decades in various roles in management, sales, and project management. She was an intern on a presidential campaign and field organizer in a governor’s race. Meghan, a Connecticut native, joined Yankee Institute in 2019 as the Development Manager. After two years with Yankee, she has moved into the policy space as Yankee’s Manager of Research and Analysis. When she isn’t keeping up with local and current news, she enjoys running–having completed seven marathons–and reading her way through Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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