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With Few Options, Lamont Considers Taxing Groceries

By Keith M. Phaneuf and Mark Pazniokas

www.ctmirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont wants to end Connecticut’s cycle of budget deficits, deliver property-tax relief and amass a fiscal bulwark against the next recession. But to do it, he may push wary legislators to extend the sales tax for the first time to groceries, medications and other long-exempt items.

Lamont pledged during the 2018 campaign that he would not raise the income tax or empty the state’s budget reserves to close a shortfall of $1.5 billion projected for the coming fiscal year, saying neither of those measures would bring fiscal stability to a state that has struggled to balance its budget in every year but one from 2007 to 2017.

While removing these exemptions could generate hundreds of millions more a year for the state’s coffers, Lamont would find it extremely difficult to sell lawmakers on the idea of taxing bread, milk, and medicine —  even with the lofty goal of fiscal stability.

“In order to build a better budget — one that will attempt to provide the much-needed stability for economic growth through the next two years and through the next decade — we need to explore new and different options,” said Chris McClure, spokesman for the governor’s budget office. “This means leaving no stone unturned, and engaging in all necessary conversations so we can evaluate and analyze ways to achieve and retain balance.”

‘State of the Town’ Addresses Set for Sunday, Feb. 10

Issues facing the town and the Westport Public Schools will be the focus of a “State of the Town” discussion set for Sunday, Feb. 10, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium, it was announced today.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and Mark Mathias, chairman of the Board of Education, are scheduled to speak at the town hall-style meeting.

It will be followed by a question-and-answer period moderated by Jeffrey Wieser, deputy moderator of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) and president of the Westport Rotary, the announcement said.

According to Eileen Lavigne Flug, president of the Westport Sunrise Rotary, the talk is being co-sponsored by both Rotary clubs, and refreshments will follow in the Town Hall lobby.

High Portable Costs Draw Criticism at BOE

By Jarret Liotta

The Board of Education (BOE) Tuesday night heard a cautionary earful from some town officials and parents about a $3.6-million funding request it may seek for portable classrooms to house grade six at the elementary schools.

WestportNow.com Image
Anooshke Sethi, 15, and her brother Nakul, 9, addressed the Board of Education about the importance of having Mandarin taught with a live teacher, rather than by Skype for sixth grade, which has been talked about to augment the K-6 plan. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

Paul Drummey, project manager, said $3,590,820 is needed to rent 13 portable classrooms for five years, including a fourth at Long Lots School (LLS).

While he said he is hopeful that state grant money could eventually absorb the cost, the town must first demonstrate that locally authorized and certified funding is in place, as well as a designated building committee.

Further, to meet stringent deadlines aimed at getting the portables operational for the start of the 2019-20 school year, Drummy said the timeline requires approval from the town funding bodies by Feb. 1.

Haskell Joins in Approving Loans to Federal Workers

State Sen. Will Haskell of Westport and fellow legislators voted today on an overwhelming and bipartisan basis to financially help the estimated 1,500 federal employees who live and work in Connecticut but who have been furloughed without pay due to President Donald Trump’s ongoing federal government shutdown. 

The Senate voted 32-1 in favor of the bill sponsored by all six legislative leaders from both the Democratic and Republican caucuses. It was crafted with the input and endorsement of Gov. Ned Lamont and the Connecticut Bankers Association.

The measure, which passed 127-15 in the House. was signed by Lamont a few minutes afterward.

“I’m thrilled to cast my first vote for such a bipartisan, common sense and compassionate bill,” Haskell said.

Lawmakers Renew Teacher Pension Cost-Sharing Debate

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy first raised the idea of sharing the fastest-growing cost in the state budget with cities and towns.

But while Malloy failed to win legislative support before he left office one week ago, the debate over whether to bill communities for a share of municipal teacher pension costs is not over.

Legislative leaders revisited the issue today at the Connecticut Council of Small Towns’ annual meeting.

And while Republican leaders remain steadfastly opposed to cost-sharing, two Democratic leaders were open to shifting some expenses onto local budgets — albeit at more modest levels than Malloy originally suggested.

Middle-Class Growth Sparks Latest Surge in CT Tax Receipts

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

State income tax revenues surged upward again today, but this time it was the middle class — not the wealthy — behind most of the gains.

A new report from fiscal analysts projects overall revenues this fiscal year will surpass budgeted expectations by $464 million — an improvement of $204 million from a rosy revised forecast issued in mid-November.

The consensus report from Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget staff and from the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis also anticipates nearly $500 million in additional revenue during the upcoming two-year budget cycle — an average of almost $250 million per year — where multi-billion dollar deficits deficits loom.

But it remains unclear whether Lamont and the General Assembly can spend much of this projected windfall, given stringent new spending cap rules enacted in late 2017.

New Push for Connecticut to Allow Early Voting

By Mark Pazniokas

www.ctmirror.org

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill today opened a campaign for Connecticut to join the vast majority of U.S. states allowing early voting, an idea that requires a state constitutional amendment to implement.

Connecticut is one of 12 states without early voting at the polls and only one of three whose state constitutions currently bar it. In 2018, nearly 40 million Americans in 38 states and the District of Columbia went to the polls before election day.

“This issue for me has been a long time coming, and I think it’s time has come,” said Merrill, a Democrat re-elected in November to her third term as the state’s top election officer.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, has made the constitutional amendment a priority of the House majority caucus. Leaders of the Senate Democratic majority say they also are strong supporters.

Haskell Named to Additional Committees

State Sen. Will Haskell (D-26) of Westport has expanded his committee responsibilities.

He was recently named Senate chairman of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, and Senate vice-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.

An announcement today said he will now take on additional legislative duties as a voting member of the Transportation, Judiciary, Environment and Human Services Committees.

Each of these committees contains multi-tiered, public policy opportunities to build a better future for Connecticut, Haskell said a statement.

New Governor Looks for New Routine in Hartford — and Greenwich

By Mark Pazniokas

www.ctmirror.org

In a conference room across the hall from his still-undecorated State Capitol office suite, Gov. Ned Lamont and his senior staff worked today on setting the rhythm and cadence of a new administration — and the man who leads it.

Wednesday nights will be kept open, time set aside for the new governor to network with legislators and others at the Executive Residence in Hartford, beginning next week. He hopes to split his weekends, some in Greenwich and others in Hartford. His scheduler took note.

He is early to bed and early to rise. A surprise, perhaps, to anyone treated Thursday to a video of his dancing the previous night to the Wild Cherry classic, “Play That Funky Music.” It was posted on Twitter by his legislative director, Chris Soto.

At 65 years-old and after more than three decades of marriage, Lamont is intent on spending as much time as possible with his wife, Annie, a venture capitalist with a firm in Greenwich. The couple expect to divide their time between Hartford and Greenwich. Again, the scheduler took note.

The Newbie and the Vet

WestportNow.com Image
Freshman state Sen. Will Haskell and veteran five-term state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, both Westporters, got together in the House chamber today as they were both sworn into office. Said Haskell: “I was nervous walking into the Senate for the first time — for me it all feels very real today.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) John Hartwell for WestportNow.com