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Nothing is Free in Connecticut

The Worst Part About Limiting Free Speech is  and !

The Higher Education and Advancement Committee held a public hearing on Thursday on a bill that will require public institutions of higher education in the state to adopt a freedom of expression policy by Jan. 1, 2024. 

The school’s policy would need to include the role institutions have in protecting free speech on campus, including when ideas or opinions might be considered disagreeable or offensive. 

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Holly Cheeseman (R) noted that having such policy sends a message to college employees and students that the role of the university is to enable and encourage civil and respectful dialogue and that “the right to utter opinions with which others disagree must be protected.” 

Rep. Corey Paris (D) asked if anything could be added to the bill that would “protect students who are fearful of those who use freedom of speech as a way to incite violence.” 

Ms. Cheeseman replied, “at the end of the day simply the presence of someone whose speech you abhor is not something students should or need to be protected.”  

University of Connecticut (UConn) Provost, Anne D’Alleva submitted testimony stating the bill was not necessary and that the university encourages and upholds free speech on all of its campuses. However, in 2022 the Foundation of Individuals Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan organization that works to protect the civil liberties of individuals in educational settings, ranked UConn 105 — out of the 203 schools surveyed— in their annual “College Free Speech Ranking” report. 

Highlights from FIRE’s UConn Student Survey: 

  • 25% of students say shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus is never acceptable. 
  • 48% of students say they have rarely or never self-censored on campus. 
  • 41% of students say they are not worried about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstands something they have said or done. 
  • For every one conservative student, there are roughly 6.3 liberal students. 

A Bill in Search of a Problem 

On Tuesday, Yankee Institutes Labor Fellow, Frank Ricci testified in front of the Public Safety and Security Committee in opposition to a bill that forces towns to provide pensions to police officers and firefighters. 

Union contracts — or collective bargaining agreements (CBA) — are negotiated with full knowledge of local budget constraints and the unique needs of the community. This allows negotiators to balance the interests of both workers and taxpayers. 

Mr. Ricci, a retired firefighter, noted that “this bill is a solution in search of a problem,” and that Connecticut has some of the most robust collective bargaining laws in the country. Towns like Branford and West Haven recently opted to restore pension benefits after seeing a mass exodus of qualified police officers, which undermines the claims made by supporters of the bill. There is no need to have the state legislature step in and interfere with local bargaining. 

Big labor, which has never met an unfunded mandate it didn’t like, supports this bill. Brian Anderson from AFSCME Council 4 argued that “some mandates save lives. Stop signs are a mandate. Sprinklers and smoke detectors are mandates. This bill is also a mandate that saves lives.” 

This bill isn’t about saving lives. It is an unfunded mandate that undermines the local collective bargaining process where municipalities bargain a wide array of issues with labor unions and employees as a comprehensive package. Taking this out of local control deprives both sides of a major bargaining chip at the negotiation table. 

What is the Plan? 

Lawmakers in the Planning and Development Committee heard from the public about a bill that if passed will increase the assessment rate for property taxes from 70 percent to 75 percent of a property’s “present true and actual value.” 

The purpose of this bill is unclear. Residents will expect their towns to decrease mill rates so as to not see their tax bill increase, but there is no language requiring municipalities to do this. It is possible that this is a “tax the rich” scheme but with collateral damage.  

Sen. Martin Looney (D) has stated that since properties are assessed at 70 percent of their appraised market value “there is a bigger exclusion of value for owners of wealthy property than owners of more modest homes.” He gives an example of a $2 million house that is currently taxed at $1.4 million, while a $600,000 is taxed at $420,000. The first saves $600,000 and the second $180,000. 

Mr. Looney fails to mention that communities outside Fairfield County are also subject to this change and will see their tax bill increase if mill rates are not adjusted downward to offset the increased percentage.  

The committee also heard testimony on a bill that will eliminate the state property tax on motor vehicles and make landlords and insurers pay for it. 

The bill authorizes municipalities to charge a licensing fee on landlords and establish an annual fee for each of their dwelling units or homes rented to replace the approximately $1 billion that is generated in the motor vehicle property tax receipts. It also imposes a surcharge on insurers on revenue generated from “certain insurance policies.” 

Instead of actually eliminating a tax burden on Connecticut residents, the committee is going to shift the burden from car owners to landlords and insurance companies that will pass the costs on to every renter and insurance holder. 

Connecticut is one of 31 states that levies a personal property tax on vehicles. It is wildly unpopular in a state that has one of the highest tax burdens in the country. The Planning and Development Committee needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a different way to offset the lost revenue. 

Mark Your Calendar  

The following list of bills have been scheduled for a public hearing. 

  • 2/21 Housing Committee 10:00 A.M. HB 6588 An Act Concerning Rent Stabilization. Dictates when and how much landlords can increase rent. Requires ninety days’ notice to tenants of a rent increase. 

Click here to submit written testimony 

Click here to sign up to testify in person or via zoom. Registration closes Feb. 20 at 3:00 P.M. 

  • 2/22 Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee 9:00 A.M. HB 5424 An Act Establishing a Tax Credit For Educational Access and Opportunity Scholarship Donations. It will provide a tax credit for donations made to nonprofit entities that provide educational access and opportunity scholarships.

Click here to submit written testimony 

Click here to sign up to testify in person or via zoom. Registration closes on Feb. 21 at 3:00 P.M. 

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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