Last year the General Assembly passed a budget that provided historic income tax cuts for the middle class. In even-numbered years, new bills proposed in the “short” session are limited to “budgetary, revenue and financial matters,” per the state constitution and legislative rules.
Despite these limitations, many issues pertain to fiscal matters — meaning there are still plenty of topics up for discussion this year. So what can be expected from Feb. 7 to May 8, when the session ends?
A Fight for the Fiscal Guardrails
The CT Mirror released a three-part series examining the effectiveness and viability of the 2017 bipartisan fiscal guardrails. Some state leaders believe they’re needed (like Gov. Ned Lamont and State Comptroller Sean Scanlon), others argue for reforms, and yet another contingent suggests eliminating the guardrails entirely. Those in favor of removing the spending cap assert that several state programs are underfunded.
Yet, as Yankee Institute (YI) noted, the guardrails “have preserved our state from economic disaster,” adding, “It would be a catastrophic mistake to destroy them as Connecticut is finally trending in the right direction.” YI Director of External Affairs Bryce Chinault echoed this warning in an op-ed for CT Mirror, stating, “These positive reforms have stabilized the budget process, helped us pay down burdensome debt, and made it possible for your income taxes to come down for the first time in decades.”
Former YI Policy Director Suzanne Bates, who participated in committee discussions to establish the guardrails, joined Y CT Matters to reflect on the financial mess that befell Connecticut from the government’s loose spending pre-2017. She noted the guardrails had helped protect state taxpayers from the cycle of budget shortfalls and tax increases that had characterized most of the last decade.
Labor Reintroducing Paid Sick Time, Pay for Striking Workers & “One Fair Wage”
Last year, Connecticut was poised to expand paid sick time from 40 to 80 hours, and a measure to allow striking employees to collect unemployment benefits. Although the bills died in session, labor unions are indicating they want to reintroduce these concepts, along with “one fair wage.”
But is “one fair wage” actually fair? The concept essentially mandates a minimum wage for tipped workers — like bartenders and wait staff — which might look equitable on paper. In reality, however, the mandate could limit workers’ income. Customers may be less inclined to tip workers if they are receiving higher pay, which could be devastating (for example, a bartender averages $60,000 per year, but only more than $34,000 prior to tips).
Additionally, “one fair wage” would raise expenses on local eateries who are already struggling to survive post-pandemic (as expressed by Scott Dolch, President and CEO of the Connecticut Restaurant Association [CRA] in an episode of Y CT Matters). The higher expenses on businesses would need to be recouped — and there’s only one way they can sustain themselves: By charging higher prices to customers. The ripple effect of “one fair wage” would burden our bars and restaurants, reduce workers’ take-home pay, and put eating out beyond the reach of many consumers.
‘Start Your Electric Vehicle Engines’?
After facing heavy criticism from the public last fall, Gov. Lamont withdrew two proposed regulations from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) that would have required all new vehicles — cars and trucks — sold in the state to be electric or zero-carbon-emission by 2035. However, that did not squash the issue. In January, rumors swirled that lawmakers would be summoned for a special session to enact the mandates; that, also, did not happen.
Still, as of today, Connecticut is obligated to adhere to California’s emission standards, which enforces a similar mandate after a vote in 2004. In short, the issue might be proposed yet again during regular session.
The ‘Green Monster’ Bill
As reported in the Feb. 2 Hartford Portfolio, environmentalists have presented a 12-point omnibus bill that “advocates for initiatives such as preserving wetlands and forests, tree planting to enhance stormwater runoff and flooding, among others,” and “utilizing funds from the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act to support energy efficiency programs for lower-income communities.” Yet Meghan Portfolio (YI’s Manager of Research and Analysis) cautions that while the proposal sounds fine and dandy, the bill’s impact would compound Connecticut’s housing woes and skyrocket energy prices, which are already some of the nation’s highest.
Universities Clamoring for More Funds
Connecticut’s state colleges and universities are requesting $160 million to “bolster” their operations, according to Connecticut Inside Investigator (CII). Their representatives — the Connecticut State University Association of American University Professors (CSU-AAUP) — believe the state’s higher education was underfunded by last year’s budget, citing rising tuition costs for students, deteriorating dorm room conditions and larger class sizes.
YI & CTCEE Push for Tax-Credit Scholarship
This session, YI and Connecticut Center for Educational Excellence (CTCEE) seek to offer educational opportunity and access to low-income children across Connecticut by through educating legislators and the public about tax-credit scholarships.
Tax-credit scholarships allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide K-12 school scholarships. Eligible taxpayers can include both individuals and businesses. In some states (nearly 20 have similar programs), scholarship-giving nonprofits also provide grants to public schools and/or transportation assistance to students choosing alternative public schools.
If enacted, this program would offer educational opportunities to more than 150,000 of Connecticut’s children, who — with families below 250% of the Federal Poverty line — lack the resources to escape failing schools.
Learn more about tax-credit scholarships and CTCEE’s work here.
The “Joys” of Homeownership…
Connecticut and the rest of the nation are currently in a housing crisis, according to Failure by Mandate, written by YI staff, David Flemming (Director of Policy) and Meghan Portfolio (Manager of Research and Analysis).
Published in October 2023, the study chronicles how Connecticut State Statute 8-30g, since enacted in 1989, has exacerbated housing issues by distorting the market, restricting developers and intervening in local planning and zoning proposals. Last year, the General Assembly considered a “frankenstein-ed” affordable housing bill that included fair share plans, transit-oriented communities, among other ideas. While this bill ended up dying, similar proposals are anticipated in the upcoming session.
What To Do About All of This
YI is proud to be the eyes, ears and voice for hard-working people who want a prosperous Connecticut. To that aim, we have developed a Take Action page that will catalogue and score the proposed bills on a red, yellow and green scale (red meaning “bad”; green meaning “approved”). It’s also a vehicle for you — so you can share your opinion with your legislator.
So be on the lookout for any updates. To learn more about taking action, click here.