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General Assembly Passes Veto-Proof Bipartisan Budget

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On October 26, 2017, the Connecticut Legislature finally passed a State budget. I voted Yes. With the House vote at 126-23 and the Senate at 33-3, this time we can easily override a Governor Malloy veto.

This budget was a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. Neither of us possess the strength to pass a budget on our own. Further confronted by an unreasonable Governor, who vetoed our September budget, legislators engaged in good faith give-and-take. The result is a budget that is close to the GOP September budget. Furthermore it spares Connecticut from Governor Malloy’s draconian edicts.

Below is a summary of the key points;

  • Taxes. There are no income tax increases, no sales tax increases, no sales tax expansion, no gas tax increases, no tolls, no cell phone taxes and no second home taxes. The Estate tax ceiling phases up to the federal level.
  • Balanced Budget. The $5 billion budget deficit is now fully dealt with, without employing financial gimmicks.
  • Constitutional Spending Cap. Mandated by Connecticut voters in 1992, we finally in 2017, implemented it. This Cap prohibits run-away State spending.
  • Bonding Cap. Governor Malloy’s excessive bond issuances are now threatening our bond ratings. We need bonding capacity to pay for needed transportation and capital projects. We cap annual bonding at $1.9 billion, down from the current $2.5 billion.
  • IDD/Disability funding. Programs that protect our disabled and vulnerable citizens, such as Care 4 Kids and Meals on Wheels, are funded. We insisted on that.
  • Mandatory voting on State union contracts. In the past the Legislature refused to vote on contracts covering 40% of the state budget. This gross dereliction of duty partially explains our current fiscal mess. Now legislative up/down votes are the law.
  • Employee compensation. The disastrous SEBAC deal approved in July by the Governor and democrats locks in employee benefits for ten years and prevents layoffs for four years. Being forced to work within that horrible reality, this budget implements a mandatory State hiring freeze. Also teacher contributions to their own pensions increase from 6 to7 percent.
  • Municipal reform. 80 percent of municipal budgets relate to employee compensation. Towns are hamstrung by State mandates that prevent them from adopting common sense reforms. In response our budget allows towns to engage volunteer citizens who want to help their own communities. It raises the prevailing wage threshold, which bloats town construction costs, from $400,000 to $1 million. Towns will no longer be penalized for having healthy Rainy Day funds plus union contract arbitrators can now split the difference in negotiations.
  • ECS funding. Norwalk ECS school funding is fully protected. Furthermore the formula is now changed in Norwalk’s favor, taking into account our urban socio-economic characteristics.

In conclusion, most Connecticut citizens are fully engaged with our State’s fiscal crisis. Bad decisions over the past 20 years cannot be undone by any one budget. I believe our turnaround will take between 5 – 7 years. The State is like a supertanker heading in the wrong direction. We need to turn our ship of State around. This budget represents the first turn of the ship. We need one more turn to move in the right direction. But we have to start somewhere – and this budget represents that.

Rep. Wilms Speaks on Passage of SEBAC Agreement

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During a special session of the Connecticut House of Representative on July 24, 2017, State Representative Fred Wilms (R-142) spoke on the pending SEBAC agreement. Rep. Wilms compared the current deal, crafted by Gov. Malloy and the unions, as synonymous to a running 1.5 laps of a 4 lap (one mile) race. The current deal, according to Wilms, in not a long-term solution to Connecticut’s fiscal crisis and a closer evaluation of public employee benefits is needed.

Reps. Lavielle, Wilms, and Wood Denounce “A Bad Deal for Connecticut” as SEBAC Labor Agreement Passes the House

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HARTFORD – Norwalk’s GOP delegation of State Representatives Gail Lavielle (R-143), Fred Wilms (R-142), and Terrie Wood (R-141) voiced their dismay at Monday’s House approval of the state employees’ union concession package due to its insufficient savings and structural changes and its extension of the current union contract until 2027.

The concession package, negotiated by Governor Malloy and union leaders, was ratified by state employees earlier this month and now is tentatively scheduled to go before the Senate on July 31.  Analysts have predicted the plan could save approximately $1.5 billion over the next two years by increasing pension contributions, creating a hybrid/defined contribution plan for future state employees, increasing healthcare co-payments, and realizing other labor savings.  The deal also restricts the state’s ability to lay off workers until 2021.

House Republicans, including Lavielle, Wilms, and Wood highlighted some of the structural change in the concession package as “steps in the right direction” that they supported, but denied the notion that the deal solved Connecticut’s fiscal crisis and indicated it could lead to funding cuts and tax increases in the future.

“Connecticut taxpayers have now seen where the priorities of the legislative majority truly lie: we are facing a $5.1 billion deficit over the next two years, one month into the fiscal year we still don’t have a budget, people are suffering due to deep service cuts, and yet we spent an entire day discussing a contract with state employee unions,” said Rep. Lavielle. “The labor contract the House approved does not go far enough in achieving the savings our state desperately needs, and while it includes a few small steps on reforms that I’ve advocated for, the job is only half-done. I fear that this deal clears the way for continued future tax increases and cuts to essential services.  Because it locks in the current, unaffordable union contract, every legislator who votes in favor of this deal bears responsibility for every single tax increase and service cut Connecticut residents may have to bear for the ten years until the contract expires.”

“Where we are today is a result of choices that were made by our predecessors, and we have to live with the choice they made, just like our successors will have to live with the choices we make now,” said Rep. Wilms. “I am disappointed with the choice the majority party made yesterday, because it was not the right choice for Connecticut.  This SEBAC agreement does not get the job done and locks in costs for ten more years. Our successors will have to pay for this choice.”

“There are certainly some good pieces to the union agreement changes, but it fails to achieve the kind of needed savings to make a dent in this enormous $5.1 billion deficit,” said Rep. Wood.  “We need to bring the expensive benefit system set up for state employees more in line with the private sector. Without significant structural changes, we will be right back where we are very soon.”

No action was taken Monday on passing a two-year budget for Connecticut.  House Republicans’ attempts to call their fully-vetted, no tax-increase budget proposal for a vote were rebuffed by majority Democrats.  Their first attempt took place in the form of a proposed rules change, the second in the form of an amendment to the union agreement.

“All day we were told by majority leadership that this labor agreement was the only option for the state, despite the fact that House Republicans have been asking for a vote on our balanced, no tax-increase budget since April,” said Rep. Lavielle.  “This is not fair to the people of Connecticut, who deserve fair and open consideration of every viable budget option. It is unconscionable for the state to go this long without a two-year budget in place, and not voting on one is unacceptable.  I will continue to advocate for taxpayers and to push for a vote on our budget regardless of what the majority party may do to block it.”

“We have tried on multiple occasions to bring our House Republican budget up for a vote,” said Rep. Wood.  “Unfortunately, the Democrats have used their narrow majority to prevent us from even bringing it up for a debate.  It is deeply troubling to me that, especially in the absence of any budget proposal from Democrats, that they refuse to even discuss our budget package and debate it on its merits.  We have been prepared to do that since April.”