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Monday, March 21, 2016
Opinion: Rep. Rob Sampson - The Legislature Marched On . . .
The Legislature Marched on Through March
Opinion by Rep. Rob Sampson
With the 2016 legislative session more than half way done at the time of this writing, I wish I could say the Connecticut General Assembly had something meaningful to show for it. Regrettably, they don’t.
After the governor and legislative Democrats put on a great show last December of patching up the lousy job they did on last year’s state budget, another shortfall has now been recorded in the final three months of the current budget year. This time $220 million.
You may ask how, after two massive tax increases, the state could still be in deficit. One of several reasons is that the tax increases you have been paying for the last five years haven’t funded budget solutions. They have essentially funded new spending.
Every year since 2011 when this governor took office budget spending has increased. In fact, if you add up the spending increases under Governor Malloy since he took office, it comes to $2.8 billion, or a 15.8% increase. Amazingly, that number is actually much higher if you include all state government spending, including bonding.
As I mentioned in my last column, I give rare credit to Governor Malloy who has rightly, and finally, called for state government to live within its means; something the state hasn’t done a great job of under the current governor. He recently stated that he would lay off up to 1,000 state employees.
Republicans have offered the alternative of unpaid furlough days to save those jobs, but state employee union leaders aren’t buying. One referred to the proposal as a “Trojan Horse” that would allow the employee contract to be reopened and benefits to be altered. In other words, union leaders would prefer to preserve some of the finest benefits in the world for their members, even if it means 1,000 of their fellow members lose their jobs.
There is a real fiscal crisis occurring but few seem to acknowledge it despite it looming like a black cloud over the Capitol dome.
Governor Malloy has once again asked Republicans to offer their solutions to this continuing budget crisis – a curious exercise as we have done so time and again, only to have meaningful measures rejected in favor of doing things the same old untenable way.
This time, we have offered a comprehensive package that makes significant structural changes to how state government operates while closing the current $220 million deficit. This would also restore the $140 million in promised funding to the state hospitals that the governor has held hostage – funds derived from partial reimbursements for hospitals’ Medicaid expenses and care to those most in need.
Further, this proposal does not include the governor’s layoffs, but does include a 10% pay cut to legislators, and a reduction in legislative caucus budgets for a total of $400,000.
There is precious little time for action, as this session will adjourn on May 4th.
Meanwhile, other important issues have come before legislative committees. The Judiciary Committee recently held a public hearing on temporary restraining order legislation that essentially requires someone who has a restraining order filed against them to surrender any firearms they possess. Framed by its proponents as a domestic violence measure, it is deeply flawed, thinly masking another brazen attempt for more overzealous gun control legislation.
The bill does not provide for any due process before any legally owned firearms must be surrendered, and could in fact be used by a domestic abuser to disarm his victim, taking away the best means of self defense they may have available.
Temporary restraining orders can only be processed during workdays from 9:00a.m.- 5:00 p.m. You can’t get them on holidays or weekends, or after hours. Advancing this bill takes focus away from more effective risk warrants, which require an immediate hearing, can be processed 24-hours a day, 365 days a year and can be acted on within 24 hours. Under a risk warrant, there is due process, and anyone posing a threat will be ordered to surrender their firearms. I spoke in opposition to this flawed proposal during the public hearing, and will vote against it in its current form if it is called for a vote.
Another issue you may have heard of is the proposed “lockbox” amendment. After decades of sweeping funds from the Special Transportation Fund – the account used to fund highway, bridge and road projects – for other budget priorities, majority party leaders are now saying we need an amendment to the state constitution to protect you from them. In that, we are agreed! What we really need is responsible leadership and the courage to vote to make the tough decisions including what our state’s priorities should be. I don’t know about you but I have had enough gimmicks.