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$50 million for a new Sandy Hook elementary, $750 million in borrowing to help pay for previous debt, $2 billion in new bonding and the legalization of mixed martial arts were just some of the legislation passed in the scramble that was the last day of the 2013 Connecticut General Assembly.
The seemingly endless session was conducted under the pall of the Newtown massacre beginning with bipartisan legislation addressing gun control, school safety and mental health and ending with a measure to keep private images of homicide crime scenes and the money for a new school.
Just about all the players realize the state is still in a very precarious fiscal position. The budget, which is balanced with some extremely creative accounting moves to stay under the spending cap, is technically balanced but relies on one-shot revenues, postponing payment of some existing debt, substantial cuts to hospitals and Keno gambling. This is not exactly a recipe for fiscal stability.
Lawmakers also approved a new $2 billion bonding package for things like construction projects (including schools), open space, economic development projects and the like. It also includes $35 million for improvements to the XL Center in Hartford.
What does it all mean to taxpayers? Local aid to cities and towns was maintained so that should help municipalities keep down any property tax increases. There is also more money for education. The governor says you’ll see no tax increases but at least three taxes that were supposed to “sunset” were continued. The gas tax goes up July 1st (This is not part of the new budget but legislators didn’t act to prevent it from taking effect either).
The mad rush to get last-minute bills passed before the midnight deadline produced the legalization of mixed martial arts (MMA events are already held at the casinos), increased penalties for texting while driving, $35 million for the struggling Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority and a controversy over the start date for illegal immigrants to get state drivers licenses—it ended up going back to the original start date in 2015.
The minimum wage is increasing to $9 an hour over two years, judges are getting a 10 percent raise and the Earned Income Tax Credit that helps the working poor is being reduced from 30 percent of the federal rate to 25 percent. The sales tax exemption for clothes and shoes under $50 has been restored.
As one might expect, Democrats who control both chambers of the General Assembly and the executive branch are very proud of what was done in the session. The governor gave a short speech highlighting what he sees as the successes of the session.
Republicans are disgusted and the hyperbole flowed as longtime GOP lawmakers called some things that passed and parts of the process the worst they’ve ever seen.
The political influences in the session can’t be ignored as Gov. Dannel Malloy runs for reelection next year. Republicans leaders in both the House and Senate—Rep. Larry Cafero and Sen. John McKinney respectively—are expected to seek to replace Malloy.
Even 2010 Republican gubernatorial Tom Foley, who plans to run again, got involved proposing a sweeping ethics plan that upset both Democrats and Republicans. In particular, Foley and Cafero mixed it up as Cafero works for a law firm that has a powerful lobbying arm. McKinney waded into the ethics discussion by shaming the governor into eventually personally paying for a trip to White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington where he hobnobbed with the beautiful people.
With the 2013 session in the books, the next year and a half should be very interesting politically (and fascinating for political types).