Shelton lawmakers demand inclusion in budget talks

As Gov. Ned Lamont announced his legislative vision for 2020, local lawmakers again feel the state’s Republicans will be shut out of the process.

Lamont on Wednesday, Feb. 5, kicked off the short, 13-week General Assembly session by proposing a a $122-million budget increase - six tenths of 1 percent - over the budget he approved last year, for total of $22.3 billion.

In a 43-minute speech to a joint session of the House and Senate, Lamont bragged that Wall Street rating agencies have given Connecticut higher marks because of the state’s robust emergency reserves and relative fiscal stability during his first year in office.

“Economic growth picked up last year,” Lamont told a packed House chamber. “That means businesses and young families are now giving Connecticut a second look. They’re talking about Connecticut and we’re responding. For a while in Connecticut, it wasn’t just Democrats and Republicans who were not talking to each other, it was that state government that was not connecting with business leaders, labor leaders, educators and the hospitals. We had a failure to communicate.”

In response to Lamont’s speech, Shelton’s legislative contingent stated it was not a failure to communicate - Republicans were just shut out of the process.

"Last year, Gov. Ned Lamont asked us to work together to find solutions that will improve our economy and fix our budget crisis, but instead, decided to conduct the majority of his business behind closed doors," said state Rep. Jason Perillo (R-113).

"Now, the governor is asking us to work together again and be optimistic about the future of our state,” added Perillo. “I will always remain optimistic about our great state, but for our state to move in a better direction the governor needs to stick to his promises and create a more open and transparent state government."

More capital spending and tolls remain part of the governor’s agenda, and state Rep. Ben McGorty (R-122) says enough is enough.

“"Gov. Ned Lamont continues to push for policies that will only move our state backwards," said McGorty. "The governor should abandon his push for tolls and work with us on a bipartisan solution.

“If the governor wants both parties to work together then he should include us and listen to our ideas on how we think we should budget and fix our transportation infrastructure,” added McGorty. “Unfortunately, the governor and Democratic lawmakers have closed the door to many of our common-sense ideas.”

State Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-21) said he was pleased to see Republican initiatives included in 2017 - when the state senate was split 18-18 - have taken root and have had positive effects. The State of the State speech marked the start of Lamont’s second year of his four-year term, as well as the start of a General Assembly election cycle in which Democrats hold a 90-61 majority in the House and 22-14 in the Senate.

He pointed to the historically high levels in the “rainy-day" fund, investments in education (with cost formula based on need, not governmental fiat) and the reduction of spending growth.

“I’m happy to see him recognize these initiatives,” said Kelly, “unfortunately he didn’t give the Republicans credit and took credit himself.”

The other issue, according to Kelly, is Lamont’s refusal to address the $1.8 billion in tax increases from what the state senator called a truly partisan budget.

“There is no relief for the middle class … no repeal of the $1.8 billion in new taxes from the past session. No repeal of the grocery tax, the 10-cent fee in plastic grocery bags,” said Kelly. “There are new taxes in this budget. We need leadership that hears the middle class in Connecticut.”

The size of last year’s tax increase is a matter of dispute. Counting only additional tax collections, not extensions of taxes scheduled to end, and only taxes in the current fiscal year, it was about $400 million. The corporate earnings tax was scheduled to end after this year, but Lamont wants it to continue, with $22.5 million in revenue in 2020-21.

Ken Dixon contributed to this article.