Access to affordable health care, controlling taxes and derailing installation of tolls remain top priorities for Shelton’s lawmakers entering the new year.

State Rep. Jason Perillo (R-113) is focusing on once again pushing a proposal to end use of state welfare benefits in other states — which failed last session — and hoping to aid in the repeal of the permanent removal of the grocery tax.

“We still face significant financial issues that we need to address to move our state in a better direction,” said Perillo. “One of my proposals to put the brakes on the use of state welfare benefits in other states was rejected by House and Senate Democrats. This was a simple proposal that passed in Massachusetts largely because in that state, significant dollars were spent in Orlando, Fla. I will be advocating for this initiative again this year.”

Perillo said the $90 million grocery tax proposed by Gov. Ned Lamont and passed by legislative Democrats is still on the books and can be implemented again this year.

“It’s an unfair tax that impacts everyone and we need to repeal it,” said Perillo.

State Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-21) said his focus remains squarely on improving Connecticut residents’ access to affordable health care.

The current system is not working for most residents, according to Kelly, and lawmakers need to do more to reduce the cost of premiums and prescription drugs.

“Last year, certain health care reforms on the state level failed because it was an afterthought of Gov. Ned Lamont and majority Democrats,” said Kelly. “It was the last issue on the last day. It should have been the first issue on the first day.

“This year, I’m continuing to do everything I can to make this a bipartisan effort to address health care in the state, reduce costs, improve access and take action,” said Kelly, adding his efforts will include convening a bipartisan working group that has been examining legislation since the summer to reduce health care costs and keep this issue at the forefront for our state.

Ben McGorty (R-122) said he plans to continue to push for building the Valley Fire Training School, something the state representative says Lamont has failed to keep his promise on.

“I, along with my colleagues in the Valley, are keeping the pressure on him to keep his promise,” said McGorty.

McGorty also said he will continue to oppose tolls and work to fix the state’s finances, especially with the state budget again projected to be in a deficit.

Regarding tolls, Kelly said state Republicans do not view taxpayers’ wallets as the solution to filling the state’s coffers. And the fight against Lamont’s push for bringing back tolls to Connecticut will mean reaching out to residents with what he sees as the negative impacts.

“I think as a toll opponent it’s important to talk to people about the fact that there is an alternative that would invest just as much in transportation as the governor’s toll plan without asking for more from taxpayers,” said Kelly.

Perillo said Lamont and Democrats in the legislature failed in obtaining support for tolls on cars and trucks, so now the push is for truck-only tolling, “which as we all know will eventually lead to cars being tolled, as well.”

“Governor Ned Lamont and the his party believe implementing tolls is the only way to fix our outdated roads, bridges, and rail lines,” said McGorty. “The majority party and the governor raided the special transportation fund last session to make residents believe we have funding problems. By prioritizing how we spend money, I believe we can fund transportation projects without tolls. Residents can follow me on Facebook or sign up for my emails to get updates about tolls.”

Kelly said the Republican plan has no tolls, no tax increases, less borrowing, and cuts down on debt.

“I think the public’s opposition to tolls was heard loud and clear last year,” added Kelly, “and I am hopeful that this year lawmakers will accept the fact that residents do not want tolls, but we still need to take action to improve transportation. Inaction is not an option.”

“Connecticut residents aren’t buying what Democrats are selling,” said Perillo. “When the governor announced his toll plan of placing 82 tolls throughout our state, I presented Shelton residents with the facts and my thoughts about the issue.

“I was open and honest and encouraged residents to let me know their thoughts about tolls,” added Perillo. “Unlike the governor, who as recently as this week scheduled a ‘secret,’ late-night release of his latest tolling plan, I will continue to provide Shelton residents with the facts in a transparent and open way.”

A look back at 2019

With 2020 upon us, local lawmakers looked back on the successes, while also admitting the disappointments left behind.

Kelly said one of the most significant accomplishments this past year was making Connecticut a leader in mental health parity and increasing access to treatment for those with addiction and mental health issues.

“We passed legislation to increase access to mental health care, increase the penalties for the sale of fentanyl and establish new requirements when prescribing opioids for extended periods of time,” said Kelly.

The legislature also accomplished an important goal to better protect seniors who are aging in place, said Kelly, adding that “Connecticut finally passed a law I have long advocated for to protect seniors by establishing a community ombudsman program to investigate complaints concerning care received by recipients of home and community-based services. This is a major step forward to better protect seniors and encourage aging in place.”

Perillo said he was pleased to see Connecticut residents coming together against Lamont’s plan to place 82 tolls throughout the state.

“The anti-toll movement was a major accomplishment of 2019 and shows when we speak out and express our frustration with how the state is being operated, we can put a stop to a lot of bad policies,” said Perillo.

Kelly did lament the state budget passing, which was done by the majority Democrats without any Republican input.

“The result was a budget that included $1.8 billion in new taxes, like a plastic bag tax and prepared foods tax, that hurt working families and those on fixed incomes the most,” said Kelly. “At the same time, the budget also pushes off new debt onto our children and shortchanges transportation.”

Perillo said the passage of the grocery tax was the biggest disappointment of 2019.

“Democratic leaders knew what they were doing when they passed the grocery tax and thought no one would realize that this $90 million tax increase went into place,” said Perillo. “The grocery tax is still technically law and could come back and that is why Republicans have called to repeal this tax.”

McGorty agreed with Perillo that the biggest accomplishment in 2019 was stopping the many toll plans that were proposed by Lamont. He also agreed with Kelly on the biggest disappointment being the majority Democrats passing a “partisan budget without input from Republicans.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com