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Connecticut Senator Tony Hwang (R-28) did not wait until Governor Dannel P. Malloy’s final State of the State speech on Wednesday, February 7, to react to a raft of proposals the governor previewed earlier in the week.
Late Tuesday evening, the Fairfield lawmaker whose district encompasses all of Newtown, released what amounts to a call to action on the part of every local constituent to in effect, stand up to proposals to install highway tolls, increase taxes on certain medications as well as the state’s sales and gas taxes, and express that they just are just not going to take it anymore.
“Don’t want tolls every mile? Speak out. Don’t want new taxes on medicine? Speak out. Don’t want higher gas and property taxes? Speak out,” Sen Hwang said in his release.
Sen Hwang offered a number of ideas to begin addressing the challenges he sees the state facing, and pledged to work with Republicans and any willing Democrats “to protect taxpayers from being gouged yet again by this outgoing governor and the escalating cost of state government.
“We need to be honest and transparent in our budgetary process and everything in state government needs to be evaluated and reassessed,” he wrote. “And it must also include renegotiation of the recently passed state employees labor agreement (SEBAC) — if we are considering tolls, taxes and municipal & education cuts. Legislators, state employees and governmental services needs to step up and share in the sacrifice as well.”
Unveiling his final budget proposal two days ahead of his Wednesday address, The Connecticut Mirror reported that Gov Malloy’s early stand challenged legislators to take politically difficult steps to close modest deficits in the current, two-year budget and mitigate larger shortfalls looming after the November elections.
The Mirror reports that Malloy spoke with a voice unheard in recent years as he talked about economic justice, sexual harassment, young Dreamers seeking legal status, the dangers of climate change, and the need to preserve access to health care. Legislators rewarded him with applause, if not equally from both sides of the aisle, interrupting three dozen times in a 35-minute speech that covered a range of issues under the unifying umbrella of fairness.
Representative JP Sredzinski (R-112), a member of the Appropriations Committee whose southern district overlaps a number of Newtown neighborhoods, responded to the governor’s remarks saying he is eager to begin work on reducing the state budget deficit that is crippling Connecticut’s economy and expresses disappointment that the governor’s solution is a series of new taxes and fees.
“The budget we passed last year was a leap forward in the right direction for this state,” Rep Sredzinski said. “A spending cap and a bonding cap will force the legislature to spend within its means. Unfortunately, the governor wants to take us back to the days of imposing new taxes on Connecticut residents to make up for excess spending. Tolls, tire taxes, gas taxes, and reducing deductions only make it more expensive to live here. I hope to work with my colleagues in the legislature to find a better alternative for the people of Connecticut.”
After hearing the second State of the State of his fledgling political career, lawmaker Will Duff (R-2), whose district also overlaps parts of western Newtown, was a bit more blunt in his reaction.
“Governor Malloy seems intent on chasing away every middle class family and small business in our state,” Rep Duff said. “His proposed budget raises taxes on families by ending the state property tax credit, increases taxes on retirees by eliminating newly passed tax breaks on Social Security and pension income, increases the real estate conveyance tax, and also proposes an increase in the gas tax, a new tire tax, and begins the process to bring tolls back to Connecticut roads.
“How are these abysmal fiscal policies going to attract people and businesses to stay in our great state?” Rep Duff asked. “Sadly, these policies don’t help make our state more competitive.”
Newtown Representative Mitch Bolinsky (R-106), who has bristled and reacted strongly over many of this governor’s previous ideas, was nothing if not diplomatic in his reactions after hearing this year’s State of the State remarks.
“The governor’s final State of the State address was very nicely presented and, in terms of social issues, delivered passionately, especially, as he mentioned several times, the tumult in Washington,” Rep Bolinsky said. “However, Dannel P. Malloy’s final opening day address left me feeling strangely empty because, as much as I have an acute awareness and support addressing several pressing social and women’s issues, I was puzzled by his not making a single mention of Connecticut’s fiscal challenges.”
Rep Bolinsky pointed out the state’s unavoidable and precarious financial position and the “mountain of debt that we must deal with before spending or bonding more at a time when we may not be able to pay our current obligations.”
“In every community, including Newtown, there are people, families, and small businesses living on the edge. I believe we have a solemn obligation to fiscally shore up our state, make it sustainable, more affordable, and a destination for new jobs, skilled residents to fill them, and their families,” Rep Bolinsky remarked.“That will ultimately position Connecticut to invest more in new promises.”
But, he reflected that the State of the State did not address Connecticut’s fiscal condition or the governor’s budget proposal. Instead, the governor’s Monday budget preview called for $56 million in new spending, new taxes and the nation’s most costly network of tolls.
More Broken Promises?
Rep Bolinsky also noted that the governor’s proposal also “breaks the promises of structural reforms that we delivered in 2017, beginning with rescinding our 2017 program to end state taxes on pension and Social Security income.”
“The theme of the governor’s address was ‘Connecticut Fairness’, but he and I differ a bit on what we believe is fair,” Rep Bolinsky said. “Was it fair to cut Newtown’s state share of educational funding to zero, as he tried to do last year? Was it fair to cut our municipal funding? Was it fair to try to assign $4 million in unfunded pension debt to Newtown taxpayers? We were fortunate to fight him off on shorting our community more than $11 million in 2017 and we’ll keep fighting into 2018.”
Rep Bolinsky said he found a number of points conspicuously missing in Gov Malloy’s speech, including the fact that not one dime of his prior record-breaking tax increases have gone to education, roads, or the social service safety net.
“It’s all gone into the increased debt service and growing cost of an ironclad state employee contract brokered by none other than Governor Malloy, before the current budget was even written,” Rep Bolinsky said. “If successful [in] passing more taxes and tolls on to us, who says it’s going to pay for the promised infrastructure investments?
The Newtown lawmaker railed against proposals in the governor’s latest proposal that would eliminate a $200 property tax credit, “a credit that those with dependent children and seniors use today, hurting our most vulnerable populations.”
Despite the fact the governor did not make mention of the state budget, or bipartisanship, Rep Bolinsky observed that the speaker of the house reminded all members to keep a clear and open mind during debate.
“Although we will often disagree with each other. I truly took this to heart and look forward to working more across the aisle in the coming year to create sound public policy,” concluded Bolinsky.
Read the governor’s State of the State remarks by clicking here.
This story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, nonprofit news organization covering government, politics, and public policy in the state. CT Mirror staffers Keith M. Phaneuf, Mark Pazniokas, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and Clarice Silber contributed to this coverage.