Reps. Lavielle, Wilms, and Wood Acclaim Legislature’s Passage of Bill Authorizing School Building Projects in Norwalk

Posted on May 10, 2018 by rjoslyn


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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) welcomed the passage of a bill to authorize state grant commitments for school building projects.  The bill, SB 184, specifically allocates state funding to reimburse the City of Norwalk for projects included in the Norwalk Board of Education’s School Facilities plan.

The legislation appropriates $14,395,981 for expansions at Ponus Ridge Middle School. It also includes language for an unspecified grant for a new South Norwalk school at the site of the former Nathaniel Ely School site to be authorized when all land acquisitions for the site have been completed.  Additional funding is reserved for various improvements at West Rocks Middle School and Norwalk High School.

Rep. Lavielle, in her capacity as Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s Education Committee, is a member of the School Construction Project Priority List Committee and advocated for the inclusion of the Norwalk projects.

“Working in concert with Norwalk’s Board of Education, we were able to demonstrate to our colleagues in the legislature that Norwalk’s aging facilities and growing student population constitute a clear need for making these school projects a priority for the state,” said Rep. Lavielle.  “The BOE’s School Facilities Plan outlines an exciting future for public school in Norwalk by addressing enrollment and enhancing academic options for students.  I am pleased to have played a role in facilitating these school projects and securing funding from the state.”

Rep. Wilms has also collaborated with Norwalk officials to advance the strategic components of the School Facilities Plan at the state level, praising the “forward-looking” approach to education.”

“Working together with both the city and the Board of Education, I am delighted that state funding for these key school construction projects is moving forward,” said Rep. Wilms.

Along with her colleagues in the Norwalk delegation, Rep. Wood has also been a proponent of Norwalk’s receiving its fair share of Education Cost Sharing funding and noted the emphasis the school projects will have on science and technology education.

“These school projects represent such an exciting opportunity for the BOE to improve its school system and make Norwalk a destination for families who want their children to attain a first-class, 21st century education with an emphasis on science, math, and technology,” said Rep. Wood.  “I will continue to push the state to support Norwalk in their educational endeavors and I look forward to seeing the results.”

Having passed both chambers of the General Assembly, the legislation now awaits signature by the governor.

Rep. Lavielle Applauds House Passage of Bill Protecting Local Education Funding from Gubernatorial Cuts

Posted on May 8, 2018 by rjoslyn


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HARTFORD – State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-143) hailed the House passage of a bill to prevent the executive branch from reducing Education Cost Sharing grants in the middle of a fiscal year.

HB 5171, which originated in the Education Committee, passed the House on a bipartisan 117-32 vote and would prohibit the governor from cutting ECS funding that has already been promised in the state budget to individual municipalities.  Although if it is to become law, HB 5171 still needs to pass the State Senate and to be signed by the governor, Rep. Lavielle called its support in the House “an encouraging sign” for municipalities that there is bipartisan opposition to midyear education cuts by the governor.

“The fact that the state determines its municipal allocations each year after most towns have finalized their own budgets is already difficult for local governments and school districts,” said Rep. Lavielle, who is Ranking Member of the legislature’s Education Committee and participated in structuring the bill. “But surprise midyear cuts like those made last year by the governor can wreak havoc in local school districts, where many spending decisions must be made in the summer before the academic year begins. The unpredictability caused by the threat of midyear cuts is unfair to local leaders, to property taxpayers who are on the hook to make up the difference, and to families who depend on their towns’ public school systems.

“The strong bipartisan support for this bill that protects towns from midyear cuts is encouraging. I was pleased to work closely on this initiative with my Democratic colleagues in Education Committee leadership, and to see that we all shared the same enthusiasm for protecting towns and school districts from surprise funding decisions that prevent them from providing essential services their residents expect to receive,” said Rep. Lavielle. “I urge the state Senate to pass HB 5171 as soon as possible, so we can begin efforts to prepare an override of a potential gubernatorial veto. Passing this bill sends a strong message that we will stand up for our local leaders.”

HB 5171 now awaits action in the State Senate.

Rep. Lavielle Details Plan to Balance the Budget & Make Connecticut Fiscally Sustainable

Posted on April 20, 2018 by rjoslyn


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Budget Adjustments Prioritize Transportation, Education, Paying Off Liabilities

HARTFORD Norwalk’s GOP delegation of State Representatives Gail Lavielle (R-143), Fred Wilms (R-142) and Terrie Wood (R-141) joined their Republican colleagues in rolling out a budget adjustment proposal for Fiscal Year 2019 ahead of the deadline for the Appropriations Committee to approve bills.

The proposal aims to eliminate Connecticut’s $200 million budget deficit without raising taxes while maintaining funding for transportation, Education Cost Sharing grants, core social services, and tax breaks for seniors, retirees, and working families.  More dollars are also dedicated to repaying the state’s unfunded liabilities, including the State Employees’ Retirement Fund, the Teachers’ Retirement Fund, and the Teachers’ Healthcare Fund.

 The representatives will continue to advocate for further structural changes to state government and reduce funds that had been allocated to bailing out the city of Hartford.

 “It is not appropriate ever for the state to make promises it can’t keep by undertaking things it can’t afford and neglecting the debts it owes and the services essential to its residents,” said Rep. Lavielle. “Our budget does not use one-time funds to close operating deficits for this year or next. It does not include new programs that we cannot afford. By simply revising our existing biennial budget, it makes the necessary adjustments to preserve funding for essential social programs, mass transit, education, and municipal aid, and then uses the one-time revenues in the budget reserve only to reduce the unfunded liabilities that are keeping the state from moving forward. This is the way to enhance predictability and stability, the keys to ensuring that the state keeps its promises now and for the long term.”

 “Unfortunately, our state is running out of options to control costs and pay down unfunded liabilities without drastically cutting services,” said Rep. Wood.  “Income tax receipts were better than expected, but my concern is that the good news could encourage some of my colleagues in the legislature to go on a spending spree.  We cannot let this happen.  Any additional revenue has to be used to ensure Connecticut’s fiscal sustainability for the long-term while protecting local education and making necessary investments in transportation.”

 “Once again, we have produced a budget that is balanced, without tax increases, contains no financial gimmicks plus protects our social safety net,” said Rep. Wilms.  “Furthermore, the one time revenues from overseas tax repatriations are being placed into our unfunded retirement plans.”

 Reps. Lavielle, Wilms, and Wood emphasized the prioritization of transportation funding in the budget adjustment proposal by fully funding the Special Transportation Fund (STF) and preventing rail fare increases not already in statute from being implemented in 2018 or 2019.   It protects funding for local transit districts for the entirety of the budget cycle without calling for any new taxes or tolls.  In the proposal, funding is eliminated from the planned expansion of CT FastTrak to UConn and used to enhance existing infrastructure.

 Lawmakers have until the 2018 legislative session adjourns on May 9 to complete and pass a budget plan. 

Rep. Lavielle Editorial: State Must Seek Less Costly Transit Upgrades

Posted on April 10, 2018 by rjoslyn


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4/11/2018

Amid the deepening of Connecticut’s already profound fiscal crisis, the state Department of Transportation has announced this year that it cannot meet its obligations to the public without a substantial influx of new revenue into the Special Transportation Fund. Without that revenue, the DOT commissioner — who must do what he can with whatever funds he receives from the state —  has said that rail and bus fares must be raised substantially while service must be reduced and a long list of projects costing $4.3 billion must be postponed or abandoned.

The question of where the revenue would come from has dominated most legislative discussion of the problem. Even though any source would work, the focus has been on transportation-related revenues: gas tax increases, a new tire tax, tolls, and accelerating a planned transfer from the general fund of the sales tax on new cars.

But what about spending?

If the circumstances are so dire — and they are, in every area of the state budget — the need to ask a lot of questions about the DOT’s currently scheduled infrastructure capital projects is clear. In particular, could they be more cost effective while still meeting optimal safety and operational standards? The question seems obvious, but it’s not always being asked, or answered.

As an example, one project that could benefit from this type of analysis is the Walk Bridge in Norwalk. This critical link in the Metro-North commuter rail system was built in 1896 with a complex swing mechanism that has a recent history of getting stuck.

There is no question that the Walk Bridge urgently needs to be renovated or replaced. That said, given Connecticut’s financial situation, it’s disconcerting that the state is moving ahead on a plan to rebuild the bridge with an entirely new lift mechanism at a cost of $1.1 billion, plus years of great inconvenience to Norwalk because of serious business and traffic disruption. Furthermore, the administration has not made available a full evaluation of alternative plans, despite repeated requests by Norwalkers.

Many in Norwalk believe that much cheaper and better plans may be workable, including securing the swing mechanism in a fixed position, or building a new fixed bridge at the same track height. A number of residents and business owners have even formed a non-profit neighborhood and business group called Norwalk Harbor Keeper, which is suing the state and the federal government in federal court on the grounds of incomplete analysis. The purpose is not to stop the project outright, but rather to require the state to follow the law and fully evaluate all alternatives to see if less costly and less disruptive plans could do the job.

A financial crisis as longstanding and severe as Connecticut’s requires flexible, creative thinking and a willingness to face fiscal realities. Norwalk Harbor Keeper, in urging the state at least to consider alternative plans for the Walk Bridge seriously, is setting an excellent example.

But the urging shouldn’t be necessary, and nor should lawsuits. The state is in severe financial trouble. Turning exclusively to collecting revenue from a shrinking tax base is neither good policy nor effective. As legislators, instead of listening only to the set of revenue choices put before us, we must, as a priority, require thorough scrutiny of every transportation project, to ensure that all viable alternatives have been given due consideration. Exercising this kind of oversight should cause no controversy. It is simply the responsible thing to do.

 

Rep. Lavielle Tours ASML Facility in Wilton

Posted on April 4, 2018 by rjoslyn


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Rep. Lavielle tours the particle-free “clean room” at ASML’s Wilton facility with Bill Amalfitano and Vic Crudo

WILTON –State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-143) recently visited the manufacturing facility operated by ASML in Wilton.  ASML, which styles itself “your favorite tech company’s favorite tech company,” operates the 296,604 square-foot facility at 77 Danbury Rd.

The factory designs and manufactures high-value modules and optical components for ASML, which is a company based in the Netherlands that delivers hardware, software and services used by all the world’s top chipmakers to mass produce patterns on silicon.  At the Wilton facility that employs 1,300 people, engineers manufacture and devote significant research and development to extreme ultraviolet lithography, which is ASML’s patterning technology that enables the creation of thinner circuits on microchips, allowing for smaller chips that hold more data.  These microchips are used by companies worldwide to make common electronic devices like smartphones, computers, and vehicle controls.

Rep. Lavielle toured the facility with Bill Amalfitano, General Manager and Vice President of the Wilton Factory, and Vic Crudo, Director of the Wilton Factory, Assembly, and Test.  She learned about how ASML uses lithography – a critical manufacturing step in defining the structures that form the electrical circuits on a chip – to shrink transistors on microchips. She also toured the tightly-controlled “cleanroom” of the facility, where engineers work on critical sub-systems and components shipped to the Netherlands for integration into ASML’s immersion and EUV lithography systems, and metrology tools.

“While many Connecticut businesses have struggled in the past decade, ASML’s steady and consistent growth in Wilton and continuing ability to create so many jobs is a fascinating success story that intrigued me,” said Rep. Lavielle.  “At the same time, ASML actually has difficulty finding enough qualified engineers, advanced machinists, and other technological professionals to fill its employment needs. It is a perfect example of the type of company that our technical schools, community colleges, and universities should be actively working with to develop curricula and programs that prepare students for available jobs with excellent long-term career prospects.”

ASML maintains relationships with several local colleges including UConn, Fairfield University and Norwalk Community College, engaging in joint university research projects and student intern programs. It also partners with the Connecticut Pre-Engineering Program (CPEP) to promote STEM education to middle school students.

“The state Departments of Labor, Education, and Higher Education need to work more closely together to ensure that our educational system is meeting the recruitment needs of businesses in Connecticut and thus helping our students build careers here,” said Rep. Lavielle, who is Ranking Member of the legislature’s Education Committee. “We have just passed a fully bipartisan bill, HB 5448, in the Education Committee that requires tighter, better documented collaboration on this front, and I hope that it will move these efforts forward faster. Aligning educational programs and workforce needs should be a key element in any plan to attract and retain businesses and restore Connecticut’s economy.

“ASML is unique in its field and a force in our local community and in our state. I look forward to working with the company to help strengthen its relationships with our educational institutions and to ensure that our state makes available to ASML the best possible human resources and a climate where it can continue to thrive for years to come,” added Rep. Lavielle.

Rep. Lavielle Celebrates Read Across America Day with Students at Wolfpit

Posted on March 27, 2018 by rjoslyn


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NORWALK – State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-143) visited Wolfpit Elementary School in Norwalk to read to students in celebration of Read Across America Day. 

Read Across America Day is a nationwide reading celebration that takes place annually on March 2nd, which is Dr. Seuss’ birthday, with the goal of sharing the joy of reading with elementary schoolers.  Rep. Lavielle had a committee obligation in Hartford last Friday and scheduled her visit for Tuesday.  Rep. Lavielle, who is also Ranking Member of the Joint Committee on Education, read a Dr. Seuss book to a first-grade class at Wolfpit.

 

Rep. Lavielle Votes No on Toll-Related Bills in Transportation Committee

Posted on March 22, 2018 by rjoslyn


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HARTFORD – State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-143) on Thursday voted against four proposals related to the implementation of electronic tolling in Connecticut that were ultimately approved by the Transportation Committee.

The four bills that were approved by the committee are:

SB 389:
An Act Establishing the Connecticut Transportation Authority

HB 5393:
An Act Establishing the Connecticut Transportation Finance Authority to
Maintain Major State Highways

HB 5046
(governor’s bill): An Act Concerning the Sustainability of Transportation
Projects

HB 5391:
An Act Concerning Transportation Infrastructure

 

After the committee vote, Rep. Lavielle made the following statement:

“While all four bills we voted on today generally favor tolls as a concept, they contain no details. None of them tells us how much tolls would cost to implement, how many tolls there would be, how much revenue they would bring in, or how much they would cost drivers every day. Two of the bills are not even proposals to implement tolls, but proposals requiring the legislature to vote to make itself vote at a future date. And all four bills assign full responsibility for making future decisions on number, location, and pricing of tolls to unelected bodies of political appointees.

“Tolls are not an abstract concept. They are a tool for raising revenue that naturally comes at a cost to all Connecticut residents. I believe we cannot make an informed decision on behalf of Connecticut residents unless we have a clear picture of both the benefits and the costs. I believe that it would have been disrespectful to my constituents to support any proposal that would affect most of them, yet provides no particulars of what the costs or the benefits for them would be.”

Each proposal related to authorizing tolls now heads to the appropriate legislative chamber for consideration later this spring.

Rep. Lavielle & Norwalk Delegation to Host Transportation Forum with DOT Commissioner

Posted on March 22, 2018 by rjoslyn


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If you are a commuter or if you are interested in learning more about state transportation issues, I would like to invite you to a transportation forum in Norwalk on March 28 with DOT Commissioner James Redeker.

I am co-hosting the forum along with my Norwalk delegation colleagues, Rep. Fred Wilms & Rep. Terrie Wood.  We have scheduled it to give all of you an opportunity to discuss your thoughts and concerns about state and local transportation needs with Commissioner Redeker and local legislators.

The forum will be held on Wednesday, March 28, from 7:00-9:00 PM at Norwalk City Hall in the Common Council Chambers, 125 East Ave. Norwalk.

The DOT has proposed raising rail and bus fares 21.28 percent over the next 3 years, significantly reducing rail service on the Danbury and Waterbury Lines. Additionally, the governor has cancelled more than $4 billion in transportation projects statewide and introduced a proposal to bring tolls back to the state, raise the gas tax 7 cents over 4 years and implement a new tax on tires.

The purpose of the forum is for us to give area residents an opportunity to present their suggestions and voice their concerns about transportation needs for the region and state.

If you are unable to attend the event, please get in touch by emailing me at Gail.Lavielle@cga.ct.gov or by calling 1.800.842.1423. I am always happy to discuss any concerns you have with transportation issues.

Rep. Lavielle: Tolls: Every Possible Proposal, Except a Clear One

Posted on March 13, 2018 by rjoslyn


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The Transportation Committee has raised four bills about tolls in Connecticut, and all are scheduled for a public hearing on Wednesday, March 14. This year, the tolls debate is taking place against the backdrop of statements by the governor and the DOT that the state’s fund designated for transportation (STF) is running dry, and that services and projects must be cut and mass transit fares increased if there is no legislative action to increase revenue.

Whether you are among those who do not want tolls in Connecticut under any circumstances, whether you believe they are necessary, or if you’re still making up your mind, you deserve to have complete information on the proposals before you in bill form, and more generally.

To that end, I’d like to accomplish two things in this email. First, I’ll provide a reminder of a few background facts important to the current discussion of tolls in Connecticut. Second, I will provide you with an overview of the bills currently before the General Assembly.

 

Background information

* Federal regulations prohibit Connecticut from placing tolls just at the state’s borders.

* With a few limited exceptions, the only kind of tolls that Connecticut is presently has federal authorization to approve and implement are congestion pricing tolls, which must be demonstrably designed to manage traffic flow.

* Only electronic tolls are on the table for discussion.

* Tolls cannot be an immediate source of revenue, as they would take between 4 and 7 years (according to the DOT Commissioner) to implement. They also entail substantial up-front capital expenditures.

* No complete proposal for implementing tolls has been presented for legislative approval. One proposal that has been widely circulated was presented to the DOT by DCM Smith, a firm it consulted on the subject. This document includes maps that show 11 tolls between Danbury and Hartford on I-84 and 10 and 12 tolls respectively on the Merritt Parkway and I-95 between Greenwich and New Haven. It is not presently clear, however, whether this or any other proposal will be promoted by the administration, the DOT, or any legislators.

Bills now before the Transportation Committee

The bills now under consideration and scheduled for hearing all deal with the broad principle of authorizing tolls in Connecticut, but do not provide any particulars in terms of number of tolls, location of tolls, rates and how they would vary, construction plans, penalties for non-payment, or detailed construction and administration costs. These are the bills:

SB 389: An Act Establishing the Connecticut Transportation Authority

HB 5393: An Act Establishing the Connecticut Transportation Finance Authority to Maintain Major State Highways

HB 5046 (governor’s bill): An Act Concerning the Sustainability of Transportation Projects

HB 5391: An Act Concerning Transportation Infrastructure

* SB 389 and HB 5393 are very similar. They both propose the creation of a quasi-public agency, or transportation authority, governed by a board of political appointees who would hire an executive director and any staff. The agency’s purpose would be to construct, maintain, and operate highways and electronic tolling systems, and it would be charged with using toll revenues to pay for the costs of operation, maintenance, improvement, and administration. The agency would keep funds for these purposes in its own account, be able to employ people, issue bonds, and buy or lease property, and would be responsible for establishing toll rates, user classifications, and penalties for non-payment.

* HB 5393 stipulates that the quasi-public agency will not be created “until the General Assembly authorizes the implementation of electronic tolling systems”. This provision is not in SB 389.

* HB 5046 and HB 5391 both authorize the DOT to implement an electronic tolling system and gives it all the responsibilities assigned by the other bills to a quasi-public transportation authority. They both require toll revenues to be deposited into the STF, rather than a separate agency account.

* HB 5046 authorizes the DOT to implement tolls immediately without any other legislative action, and gives DOT absolute authority going forward in most matters related to tolls.

* HB 5391 allows the DOT to implement tolls only after the DOT has completed studies and submitted a complete tolling proposal to the legislature, and the legislature has approved it.

* HB 5391 also includes a provision decreasing the gas tax by one cent per year for five years. But this would take effect only after the implementation of tolls and only if and when the resources of the STF exceed two and one-half times the estimated debt service payments on the state’s transportation-related debt – a day likely very far away.

* HB 5391, shifting to another subject, accelerates a planned transfer of motor vehicle sales and use taxes into the STF.

 

What is wrong with this picture?

All of the bills under consideration share a few features. They all move the state forward in varying degrees toward approving tolls, as a general concept. They all give responsibility for determining number, location, and pricing of tolls to unelected bodies, and remove the legislature from the process once the concept is approved, placing the decisions on these matters in the hands of political appointees.

But none of these bills tells us what implementing tolls would cost, or what revenue they would provide. And none of them tells commuters, taxpayers, and motorists what this would cost them every day. In fact, they impose no limits on what that cost might be.

I don’t think it’s fair to expect you to make informed decisions when you don’t have complete information. Tolls are not an abstract concept. They are a tool for raising revenue that comes at a cost to residents. I believe you should have a clear picture of both the costs and the benefits. Because that picture is not clear, even partially, I cannot support these proposals on your behalf.

If you would like to submit written testimony on any of these bills in the next few days, you can send an email to tratestimony@cga.ct.gov, and copy me if you like at gail.lavielle@cga.ct.gov. You should reference the bill numbers in your subject line, and include your name and town in the body of your testimony.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to discuss tolls, transportation funding, or any other issue further. I am always happy to hear from you.

Rep. Lavielle’s Bill Strengthening Bear Hunting Penalties Introduced by Judiciary Committee

Posted on March 12, 2018 by rjoslyn


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HARTFORD – Following recent events in Wilton, State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-143) requested the Judiciary Committee raise a bill strengthening penalties for bear hunting, which is illegal in Connecticut.  The bill, HB 5469, has been raised by the Judiciary Committee and is scheduled for a public hearing on March 14.

Provisions in the bill include increasing fines for bear hunting from a maximum of $500 to a range of $500-$750 for first time offenses; from a maximum of $750 to a range of $750-$1,000 for second-time offenses; and from a maximum of $1,000 to a range of $1,000-$2,000 for third-time offenses.  Maximum jail time would be doubled for second- and third-time offenses, with third-time offenders receiving up to one year in jail. The bill also mandates permanent revocation of an offender’s hunting license after the second offense, rather than the third.

Last year, many residents in Wilton and surrounding towns were extremely upset when two individuals were arrested in relation to the killing of two black bears on private property in Wilton, and it was reported that they were taking parts of the bears home as trophies. Many were further outraged when the individual charged with killing the bears received accelerated rehabilitation, a program that, if he completes it successfully, will allow him to expunge the charge from his record.

Rep. Lavielle submitted the bill request to the Judiciary Committee in response to residents who contacted her to urge increasing the penalties for bear hunting.

“Many constituents have told me that they don’t feel the current penalties are adequate punishment for the inhumane, illegal killing of these wild animals,” said Rep. Lavielle. “Certainly, in this case, our current laws were not sufficient to act as a deterrent. This bill aims to be more effective in preventing people from breaking the law, and to impose penalties that are commensurate with the offense.”

Rep. Lavielle encouraged concerned residents to submit testimony for the scheduled public hearing on HB 5469, and to include their opinions on whether the proposed penalties are too strong or not strong enough. For those who want to testify in person, the public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 14, at 10:30 am in Room 2D of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.  Those who prefer to submit written testimony may send an email to judtestimony@cga.ct.gov, and copy Rep. Lavielle at Gail.Lavielle@cga.ct.gov.  Emails should refer to the bill, “HB 5469,” in the subject line and include the resident’s name and town.  There is no word limit on how short or lengthy written testimony can be.

In short sessions of the Connecticut General Assembly, which are held in even-numbered years, individual legislators may not introduce bills on non-financial subjects. Instead, they must submit formal requests to ask committees to raise bills on non-financial concepts. Rep. Lavielle used that procedure in this instance.