HARTFORD—House Republicans late Friday voted against a mandatory payroll tax from Democrats and slammed majority party lawmakers desperate to appease their progressive base by installing a new government-run paid family and medical leave program before the legislative session ends next week.
“Connecticut is among the most expensive places to live, it’s one of the most expensive and difficult places in the nation to run a business—stone cold facts that people who voted ‘yes’ tonight blatantly ignored,” House Republican Leader Themis Klarides said. “On top of that, they forced this through on the eve of rolling out a two-year state budget that’s heavy on not just middle class tax hikes, but one that also includes an insidious plan to burden the very people we need to help fire up economic recovery—small business owners.”
The concept of paid family and medical leave would allow workers to take paid time off from their jobs to deal with personal issues such as a sick family member or the birth of a child.
The proposal from Democrats would force private sector workers to cough up money from every paycheck to support the program whether they intend to use it or not. The mandatory payroll tax is expected to raise $400 million in revenue. The program carries $13 million in startup costs. It would be run by a new quasi-government agency, which would hire more unionized employees to process paperwork, spend startup money on television advertisements and mailers, and dole out generous wage replacement benefits for the maximum 12 weeks of leave.
“The people who pushed this bill made a promise they simply can’t keep,” said Deputy Republican Leader Vincent Candelora, who, like many Republicans during the hours-long debate, argued that program insolvency is unavoidable. “The sticky-sweet combination of generous wage replacement and loose program restrictions will encourage people to use it, and it won’t be long before the state will be forced to cut this assistance for the people Democrats say need it the most.”
Other Republicans, such as leading Labor Committee Republican Rep. Joe Polletta, worries not just about benefit cuts, but that Democrats would eventually install employer taxes to keep the program afloat.
“This story starts with state government dumping mom and pop shops into a sea of bureaucracy and untenable staffing obstacles, and within a few years it’ll end with them picking up a big part of the bill,” said Polletta, who helps run a family business. “To simply call this a headache for business owners would be an understatement—it’s a nightmare, and combined with the rest of the anti-business legislation Democrats have pursued this session, employers will soon find life in this state even more difficult.”
Democrats got the bill (S.B. 1) through the House on a party line vote, 79 to 69
House Republicans proposed a private sector alternative recently similar to the one proposed by Governor Lamont—before he caved to political pressure—and offered it as an amendment during Friday’s debate. It required the state’s Insurance Commissioner to develop regulations that would allow insurance companies to develop a menu of family leave plans residents could voluntarily buy.
Democrats rejected the Republican alternative in a 84 to 61 vote.
During the House debate, Republicans enumerated the many problems with the rickety Democrat plan, including its expansive definition of family, that it unfairly excludes unionized state and municipal employees from the payroll tax, and that it grows the size of government in a time of serious fiscal crisis.
“What on earth do Democrats in this building see that leads them to believe we can afford salaries and benefits for more state employees, that we’ve got the money to create another convoluted layer of state government, and that this state government which can barely manage existing programs effectively will be able to handle a brand new initiative? I don’t get it, they seem to think all proposals are possible so long as there is a taxpayer left in the state so they will continue to stick their hand in your pocket,” Klarides said. “Republicans absolutely want to help people and that is exactly why we offered an alternative, one that provides various options that fit an individual’s unique needs. The Republican alternative would give the people of Connecticut choice and control of their hard earned dollars. Our alternative is a direct contrast to the Democrats’ FMLA plan which dictates to people that government knows what’s best and is a mandated payroll tax in order to provide leave and medical coverage for those who may never use it. The Democrats’ bill is completely impractical, the insurance and medical needs of a single 22 yr old are vastly different than the needs of a 55yr old, or a family of four – this is precisely why people need options, because one size does not fit all.”