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Rep. Smith Votes for Compromise Budget that Restores Education Funding

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HARTFORD –State Representative Richard Smith (R-108) voted to approve a bipartisan budget on Thursday as it passed the House of Representatives with a 126-23 veto-proof margin.  Following the Senate’s passage of the budget bill, it now heads to the desk of Governor Dannel Malloy for signature or potential veto.

The legislature’s budget was a compromise between House and Senate leadership from both parties in the midst of the governor’s executive order, which included dramatic funding reductions for town aid, education, and core social services – facts that had local leaders and residents worried about teacher layoffs and supplemental tax bills.

“When we were called to vote on a budget today we had two major challenges to overcome that threatened property taxpayers and businesses in Connecticut – the SEBAC union contract that passed in July and limited our ability to cut government spending and the governor’s executive order that decimated local education funding,” said Rep. Richard Smith (R-108).  “With the real threat of towns having to significantly raise property taxes just to keep our schools open, reaching a bipartisan compromise and passing a budget that will begin to change the way we govern in Connecticut had to be done.  Although the compromise budget contains certain elements that I am not in favor of, the positives certainly outweighed the negatives by restoring local education funding, rejecting the transfer of teacher pension costs to towns and making key structural reforms that Republicans have advocated for decades, such as a implementing a constitutional spending cap.  All of that was accomplished without any of  the income or sales tax increases  proposed by the Democrats.  We still have a lot of work to do in order to turn our state around and make Connecticut a taxpayer-friendly place again, but the veto-proof approval of this budget represents a small victory of taxpayers over the draconian orders of Governor Malloy.”

When the General Assembly approved the governor’s SEBAC union contract in July, it limited the ability of the state to close its $5 billion budget deficit by trimming its bureaucracy and controlling pension costs.  However, the legislators pointed to several structural reforms within the compromise budget that were retained from a Republican budget bill that passed last month.  These include a bonding cap, a spending cap, a mandatory vote on all union contracts, and certain municipal mandate relief reforms.  It also rejects several tax increases proposed by majority Democrats and the governor in previous budget proposals.

Rep. Smith concluded by calling the passage of the compromise budget “the best option we had,” saying, “Majority Democrats put us in an unfortunate fiscal bind by passing the SEBAC union agreement.  As a legislator, however, I have a responsibility to get to work and be a part of the solution rather than stand back and watch the state fall apart.  We still have a lot of work to do but the state will truly be in better shape when this budget becomes law.”

The governor will make his decision on whether to veto the budget bill or not in the coming weeks, although there is optimism that a veto could be overridden in both chambers.

Rep. Smith: Crunch Time

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The following is a letter to the editor from State Rep. Richard Smith dated Sept. 23, 2017.

Crunch Time

To the Editor,

Connecticut is in a financial crisis.

Yes, I realize the painful obviousness of that fact and how exasperatingly often we say it, but everyone from policymakers to journalists to taxpayers must remember this unpleasant fact when thinking about and discussing the state budget.  Keeping that fact in mind also helps put into context many of the decisions made in the Republican budget that passed both chambers of the General Assembly last week with bipartisan support.

The breaking point in the budget process followed months of discussion between Governor Malloy and majority Democrats about how to collect sufficient revenue to pay Connecticut’s bills.  The solutions they tossed around – predictably – included a combination of new taxes and transferring state costs onto municipalities and property taxpayers.  Throughout the summer, we heard about a new tax on cell phone bills, sales tax hikes, taxes on seasonal homes, cigarette taxes, and hospital taxes.  That would all have coincided with an implementation of the governor’s desire to shift teacher pension costs onto cities and towns, which would have led to local property tax increases.

Five Democrats in the House and three in the Senate took the unprecedented step of joining with all legislative Republicans last week to pass a budget because repeated attempts to resolve our financial crisis with record tax increases and funding cuts failed.  The Republican budget operates with the knowledge that many Connecticut families and businesses would struggle to afford more taxes, and so it eliminates the deficit without relying on new revenue, and prioritizes funding for municipal aid, education funding, and programs serving our most vulnerable citizens.

The Republican budget also makes difficult choices that force state government to live within its means while our economy recovers from the damage caused by irresponsible budgeting in the past.  Recently, people have shared their concerns with me over cuts to higher education, elimination of taxpayer funding for political campaigns, and asking teachers to make higher contributions to their pensions.

Unfortunately, the ongoing financial crisis necessitated making touch choices about prioritizing our extremely limited resources.  To those criticizing funding cuts in our budget, I would ask you to juxtapose those concerns against several core government services that were on the chopping block, but were preserved in the Republican budget.  Programs like Care4Kids, which helps low-income families afford childcare, faced budget cuts.  Only the Republican budget fully funds Meals on Wheels and drug rehabilitation centers.  Prioritizing services for the IDD community was also deemed far more critical than funding political campaigns.

Since the budget passed last week, those Democrats who voted against it and their union supporters have waged a full-scale attack against the budget, as they are accustomed to giving state employee unions everything they ask for while paying for it with tax increases for everyone else.  In response to the Republican budget passing with bipartisan support, they are throwing literally everything at the wall to see if it sticks.  That has all led to some very disingenuous claims, distortions, and outright lies about what the budget actually does and does not do.

I believe in the importance of openness and honesty in budget deliberations which can often get muddled in insider jargon.  That is why I intend on being completely honest about what this budget does.  For example, I do not dispute the fact that this budget grants UConn only $1 billion (down from $1.2 billion) and eliminates the Citizens Election Program.  I can justify both of those by stating my priorities lie with protecting the most vulnerable among us right now, and then trying to reform faulty programs like CEP later.  To higher education advocates, I say, families in my district have had to make sacrifices as a result of the budget crisis, and now those programs have to as well.

I don’t celebrate it, but it has to be done.

In our third month of the fiscal year without a budget, it is now crunch time.  As the budget heads to the governor’s desk, keep in mind families and businesses across this state have already felt the effects of our state’s budget crisis as we are all in this together.  We have learned that there is no taxing our way out of this hole.  The Republican budget that passed with bipartisan support recognizes the hard choices that need to be made, choices that some may have a difficult time with.  Ultimately, this budget chooses to prioritize taxpayers, senior citizens, programs for at-risk citizens, and better budgeting in the future.  I believe that if the governor signs this budget into law, we can be much more confident in our future and the potential for this state to be as successful as it once was.

Rep. Smith Welcomes Bipartisan Passage of State Government

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HARTFORD – State Representative Richard Smith (R-108) expressed guarded optimism at the passage of a bipartisan state budget through both chambers of the General Assembly late Friday night.

After three Democratic State Senators broke ranks and voted for a GOP budget amendment, which passed the Senate earlier that afternoon, the House passed, now called a bipartisan document by a vote of 77-73.  It now heads to the governor’s desk to be signed into law, although it is possible he will use his veto power to block it from becoming law.

“After months of debate, House Republicans were finally able to get their budget called for debate and, in an historic vote, five moderate Democrats joined us in passing a zero tax increase budget that restores education funding to our towns and cities.  Clearly, with the bipartisan support that this budget received, we are now in a position to make the necessary structural changes to state government to turn Connecticut’s economy around,”  said Rep. Smith.  “For the first time in a very long time, there is hope for our state.”

After the Republican budget passed the State Senate, Governor Malloy declared his intention to veto the budget bill passed by the General Assembly.  The Danbury legislators urged the governor to reconsider, citing the “draconian” effects his executive order could have on local education and other state services.

“If the governor were to veto this budget, he would be standing in the way of fiscal policies that would dramatically reform this state and impose brutal funding cuts to local aid and education funding – it would be a terrible move,” said Rep. Smith.  “Governor Malloy needs to listen to the voices of Connecticut residents who elected legislators to change the course of this state and get out of the way of progress.”

The budget crisis in Connecticut is currently in its third month.  Should the governor block passage of this budget bill, it is unlikely the state will adopt a budget prior to the October 1 deadline for education payments and the governor’s executive order would take effect.

How to Help in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey

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Rep. Richard Smith (R-108) released the following statement, encouraging his constituents to consider donating to accredited relief funds raising money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey:

The images of distress and suffering from the aftermath of flooding in Texas and Louisiana resulting from Hurricane Harvey are powerful…and, if you’re like me, you want to know what you can do to help out.

Just as this catastrophe has brought out the best in some people who have risen to the challenge to show their charity and humanity, so it has also brought out the worst – those who would prey on both the disaster victims and those who want to help them.  Unfortunately, there are many scams out there looking to steal from those who wish to donate.

If you want to help, please donate only to trusted and reputable charity organizations.  Do not donate over the phone to solicitors who have called you.

Three great organizations you should consider donating to are Americares and the American Red Cross.  Stephen Siller’s Tunnel to Towers Foundation, run by a family in New Fairfield, is also collecting donations.  Links to each of them are found below.

 

 

Lastly, if you want to volunteer to help down in Texas, do not self-deploy.  You can contact your town’s emergency services director to coordinate with them.  If you need assistance in getting this accomplished, please call my office and I can direct you where to go.

If you are a doctor or a nurse, please coordinate with the State Department of Public Health concerning dispatching emergency medical services to the area.

Rep. Smith Denounces “Another Bad Deal for Connecticut” as SEBAC Labor Agreement Passes the House

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Extends Current State Employees’ Union Contract Until 2027

HARTFORD State Representative Richard Smith (R-108) voiced his 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 Rep. Smith, highlighted some of the structural change in the concession package as “steps in the right direction” that they supported, but blasted the notion that the deal solved Connecticut’s fiscal crisis and indicated it could lead to funding cuts and tax increases in the future.

“This is a deal I might have advocated for maybe six years ago before we had a $5.1 billion budget deficit, but at this critical juncture in our state’s fiscal mess it is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bullet hole,” said Rep. Smith. “It simply does not go far enough in achieving the savings we need to turn the tide in Connecticut. Alternatively, Republicans offered a real solution with substantive changes as part of our proposed budget – changes that would put control of our future back in the hands of the taxpayers as opposed to the unions who have controlled our state since Gov. Malloy took office This is another bad deal that represents the worst of Hartford.”

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

“The SEBAC deal clears the way for Democrats to push through the tax increases and funding cuts that they wanted in the first place under the guise of structural reform,” said Rep. Smith. “It’s mind-boggling that the majority party refuses to even allow a vote on our budget, submitted back in April, when they can’t agree on one themselves. Democrats continue to stick their heads in the sand, while people suffer from the budget cuts – shameful.”