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Rep. Smith Critical of Governor’s Budget Proposals that Lead with Taxes on Seniors and the Middle Class

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HARTFORD – State Representative Richard Smith (R-108) voiced sharp criticism of the series of tax hikes and new fees proposed by Governor Dannel Malloy (D-Conn.) in his guidelines for revisions to the 2018-2019 budget.  The governor detailed his budget proposal before he delivered his final State of the State address on Wednesday to a joint session of the legislature.

Rep. Smith criticized the governor’s conspicuous omission of any reference to Connecticut’s struggling economy or $245 million budget deficit in his address, in which he also called for new exorbitant spending programs such as free community college.

 

“It still boggles my mind that the person in charge of a state with a $245 million budget deficit and an economy that lags drastically behind the rest of the nation has the audacity to completely ignore those fiscal issues in his State of the State address, and instead focus on partisan rhetoric on unrelated issues – but perhaps Connecticut residents really shouldn’t be surprised at this point,” said Rep. Smith.  “His budget proposal relies on an assortment of tax hikes, fee increases, and imagined revenue from installing tolls throughout the state.”

Among the Governor’s proposals are: installing tolls on Connecticut’s highways; eliminating the property tax credit for seniors and taxpayers with dependents; eliminating tax breaks on Social Security and pension income; increasing the real estate conveyance tax; increasing the gas, hotel, and restaurant taxes; a new tax on tires; cuts to municipal aid, rejecting the new Education Cost Sharing formula that provides aid to schools based on need, population, poverty and other factors; and eliminating ECS funding for 33 towns, including Sherman, and drastically reducing ECS funding for New Fairfield.

“The compromise budget reached last year began the process of reforming state government and making structural changes, yet the governor, ignoring those efforts, once again seeks to take Connecticut backwards with more failed tax and spend polices,” said Rep. Smith.  “This proposal is a real disservice to all Connecticut residents, but particularly to seniors, who would be forced to pay more in taxes after losing several deductions, while at the same time losing funding for programs they rely on such as the Medicare Savings Program.  The governor wants you to pay more in return for less.”

Referring to the 2017 session when Governor Malloy’s most controversial proposals – like shifting the cost of teacher pensions onto municipalities – were rejected by the legislature, Rep. Smith expressed his hope that the legislature would be able to draft bipartisan alternatives to the governor’s proposal that do not rely on revenue increases and that protect local education funding over the course of this year’s “short session,” which ends May 9.

“I am cautiously optimistic that the bipartisan rejection of most of the governor’s proposals will continue again this year and welcome the opportunity to sit down with my colleagues in the legislature in order to make the necessary structural changes that will get Connecticut back on the path to recovery,” added Rep. Smith.

Editorial: A Disappearing Act – Connecticut’s Transportation Funding

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January 31, 2017

 

In news that shouldn’t surprise anybody, Hartford politicians and bureaucrats have spent this past month declaring the state “desperately” needs more money. By now, Connecticut residents attuned to this rhetoric realize that “new revenue sources” just means “more taxes.”  The proposed remedy in this case: tolls.

DOT Commissioner James Redeker recently toured the state proclaiming that the Special Transportation Fund (STF), money that is funded by one of the highest gas taxes in the country and purportedly reserved solely for transportation, is out of money and only tolls can save it.  Governor Malloy dovetailed this talking point with his recent announcement that he was suspending indefinitely nearly 400 infrastructure repair and improvement projects across the state. The Co-Chair of the Transportation Committee, a perennial toll proponent, also just held a press conference to repeat his message about how all of our neighboring states have tolls and that we are missing out on a vast funding source.

The clear objective here is to maximize commuters’ pain and pressure them into giving the state more money.

I believe that one of the core functions of government is to maintain our infrastructure and, at first glance, charging motorists for using our highways in order to maintain them makes some sense.  Many out-of-state drivers use our roads, plus, there is the inescapable reality that Connecticut appears mired in this historic financial crisis for the foreseeable future.  The electronic tolling proposal also seems to reduce the risk of rampant traffic jams and accidents at tolling plazas.

While all of that may be true, before the legislature starts fantasizing about how they would spend all of this magical toll money, we have to first evaluate how we spend the money we already have.

A 2016 study by the Reason Foundation found that Connecticut ranked 44th in cost effectiveness for highway performance – we spend nearly $480,000 for each mile of road in this state as opposed to the national average, which is just over $180,000 per mile.  Why is it that we pay such a premium on transportation yet we have some of the worst roads in the country?  Study after study has found our state’s infrastructure to be among the worst in the country, including a comprehensive US News & World report that named Connecticut’s transportation system 3rd worst in the nation overall, with the very worst road quality out of all 50 states in 2016.

Taking a closer look at our spending, we find that one of the black holes into which this money sinks is in the realm of administrative costs.  The Reason Foundation reports that Connecticut spent more than $83,000 per mile in administrative costs, compared with $10,000 nationally, benefitting public sector union members while taxpaying commuters sit in daily traffic on our antiquated highways.

Administrative costs clearly diminish the return on our transportation investment, but that is not the only issue. Connecticut still outspends the national average by $250,000 per mile.  That’s because what we do spend is too often on ill-advised projects.

During the last seven years, Connecticut spent $567 million on a new busway from New Britain to Hartford that costs $17.5 million to operate each year, and whose light ridership has left observers confused as to why government would fund such a pointless project. Another example is the more than $1 billion spent on the still-incomplete Hartford to Springfield rail line, which is expected to cost $27 million each year to operate. Frustratingly, the $155 million the state bonded for this project in 2016 would have covered almost all of the costs for repairs needed to the Metro-North New Haven Line.

Compounding high administrative costs and misguided projects is the legislature’s periodic raiding of the Special Transportation Fund to balance its bloated budget. Since 2000, approximately $160 million has been raided and swept into the General Fund, leaving the STF $46 million in debt.  Without a true “lockbox,” the legislature has proven itself willing to spend STF monies on whatever it wishes.

Before we consider inflicting a de facto tax increase on our residents – which tolls absolutely would represent – there must be a serious reevaluation of how Connecticut prioritizes infrastructure projects and how costs of these projects are calculated.  Without examining excessive operating costs, rejecting foolhardy projects, and committing to an unbreakable lockbox, installing tolls would just capture more taxpayer dollars that the legislature will inevitably make disappear.

Rep. Smith Votes to Restore Funding for Medicare Savings Program as Legislature Approves Plan

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HARTFORD – State Representative Richard Smith (R-108) voted on Tuesday for a bipartisan plan that would provide funding for the Medicare Savings Program (MSP) through the end of the fiscal year.  Last month, legislators successfully petitioned the General Assembly back into special session in order to address the issue.

MSP is a Medicaid program that helps seniors and the disabled pay for Medicare co-insurance, deductibles and premiums. Connecticut was one of five states whose income eligibly limits exceeded the federal minimum level. Legislators in adopting the budget in October reduced the eligibility to the federal minimum, consequently reducing or eliminating coverage for many of the program’s thousands of participants. The state’s Department of Social Services in December announced it would delay implementation of the eligibility reduction by two months, giving concerned program participants a reprieve from an unexpected jump in their healthcare costs as lawmakers worked to find $53 million to fund the program through June.

“The outcome of our special session today should come as a relief to the elderly and disabled populations who were faced having their healthcare coverage eliminated or sharply reduced, and it was encouraging that restoring funding for the MSP could be done on a bipartisan basis,” said Rep. Smith.  “Providing for our must vulnerable citizens is a critical function of our government, which we must remember as we restructure our policies and address the persistent budget deficit.

 The MSP plan was approved in the House by a 130 to 3 vote and in the Senate by a 32-1 vote. Among the methods used to restore program funding is a requirement that Gov. Malloy reduce the number of managers and consultants—a provision included in the adopted budget ignored by the governor. Other components include moving human resources-related functions of some state agencies into the state’s Department of Administrative Services, and requiring the governor to find savings in Executive Branch functions while limiting his ability to cut more than 10 percent from any one program.

The 2018 legislative session starts February 7 where state lawmakers will focus primarily on issues tied to the state budget.

Rep. Smith and Sen. McLachlan Lead Discussion on State Budget in Sherman

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SHERMAN – State Representative Richard Smith (R-108) and State Senator Michael McLachlan (R-24) discussed the 2017 state budget process and provisions of the recently-adopted budget that will affect Sherman residents at a town hall budget forum at the Sherman Firehouse on Wednesday.

Several Sherman municipal officials including outgoing Selectman Clay Cope (R-Sherman) and Selectman-Elect Don Lowe (D-Sherman) also spoke on the panel and offered their thoughts on how this budget would impact Sherman.

Of particular concern to residents were state funding for municipal programs in the midst of Connecticut’s historical fiscal crisis and the cuts made to the Medicare Savings Program (MSP) for low-income seniors and disabled populations. Rep. Smith and Sen. McLachlan spoke about the slow pace of the budget process and frustrations reaching a compromise with the majority party, while emphasizing that the new state budget, while imperfect, implements structural changes such as a constitutional spending cap and a bonding cap – two provisions each legislator had sought for many years.

“I was heartened to see such a heavy turnout for our budget forum,” said Rep. Smith. “Considering how arduous and complex the budget process was this year, it is encouraging to see that folks in Sherman are engaged with the issues and demand accountability from the representatives in Hartford. Because we also had local officials on hand, it was a really productive and informative dialogue. I look forward to scheduling more events like this in Sherman to talk about some of the other concerns that residents brought up but did not get to discuss at length.”

“We made progress this year and we will come back into special session in January to shore up funding for the Medicare Savings Plan,” said Sen. McLachlan. “However, we know more budget deficits are coming. I believe we cannot sufficiently address our deficit problems without also looking at state employee pay and benefits. We must get spending under control.”

 Anyone who is unable to attend but would still like to speak with Rep. Smith may contact him at richard.smith@housegop.ct.gov or Sen. McLachlan at michael.mclachlan@housegop.ct.gov

Sherman Town Hall Meeting with Rep. Smith and Sen. McLachlan

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SHERMAN – State Representative Richard Smith (R-108) and State Senator Michael McLachlan (R-24) are hosting a town hall meeting in Sherman in order to discuss the new state budget that the governor signed into law recently and how it will affect Sherman residents.  See attached flyer for further details.

 

 

Anyone who is unable to attend but would still like to speak with Rep. Smith may contact him at richard.smith@housegop.ct.gov or Sen. McLachlan at michael.mclachlan@housegop.ct.gov