The Capitol Beat: April 8-12, 2013

From Gaffney, Bennett & Associates

April 8, 2013 – April 12, 2013

 The gun debate moved on to Washington, D.C. this week, causing attention at the Capitol to return to other unfinished business – such as preparing a 2014-16 biennial budget for a vote before the Appropriations Committees deadline on April 23.  Traditionally, the budget vote is followed forthwith by a vote on a tax package in the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. On Wednesday, the House held a daylong session, without the Senate, to vote on some Executive Nominations and carry out some Calendar cleaning on non-controversial bills.  The session also allowed Mayors and First Selectmen participating in Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) Day an opportunity to make their case to captive lawmakers for restoring cuts in the budget proposed by Governor Malloy and for rejecting the car tax proposal, among other things. Thursday featured Hospital Day, in which hospital employees from across the state spilled into the Legislative Office Building to speak to their state lawmakers about what $550 million in cuts over two years –as proposed in the Governor’s budget – would do to services, jobs, and health care access in their communities.   It doesn’t get much more personal than town services, public safety and health care – and that’s what CCM and the hospitals were in Hartford to underscore. There are a few big problems in the way of full restoration of funding, however: legislative leaders and the Governor have said new taxes are a non-starter and only an avenue of last resort; there are deep philosophical differences about whether to allow big-ticket items such as state employee and teacher retirement benefits (totaling some $2.6 billion) to be exempted from the spending cap over the next two years, as proposed by the Governor; and the state is still facing a $1 billion-plus deficit in each of the next two fiscal years.  This is not for the faint of heart.

One thing seems certain: by this time next week we will likely know what the Appropriations Committee’s budget blueprint calls for and possibly even how the Finance Committee proposes to cover the costs.  Then reconciliation and negotiations will begin in earnest.

Following are some other developments from this week, beyond what we’ve outlined above.

Finance Committee Eliminates Provision Requiring Company-Specific Information from Bill   The Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee Friday stripped a section from HB 6566 – An Act Concerning Transparency in Economic Assistance Programs, which creates a public, searchable database of certain business tax incentive and economic development assistance programs, that would have required disclosure of recipient company names and addresses, conditions for eligibility, compliance status and economic-benefit analyses, among other things.

Also on the Finance Committee agenda Friday were numerous bills referred to it from the House and Senate.  Among them was a Labor Committee bill that was originally a study bill but that has now morphed into a mechanism for the state to bolster revenue, raising questions and concerns among many members of the Finance Committee because of its possible chilling effect on business.  The bill, HB 6614 – An Act Concerning Employers and Health Care, requires certain large employers to pay the Department of Social Services commissioner a monthly fee for each of their employees who receive assistance from state-subsidized health insurance programs — HUSKY A or B — for themselves or their families.  The fee is based on the average annual cost of in-state employer-based commercial health insurance, prorated to the number of hours the employee worked over the previous month. Because the state receives a 50-percent reimbursement from the federal government for enrollees in the HUSKY program, one lawmaker likened this to some type of state “arbitrage” scheme.   Though the Committee voted the bill out without changes, the consensus seemed to be that major changes could be expected if the bill is to be brought to a vote on the floor.

Governor, UConn, Business Trumpet UConn “Next Generation” Proposal    Somewhat ironically, as hospital employees converged in Hartford this week to plead their case for restored funding, over at the Capitol businesses, trade and labor groups gathered to show their support for the Governor’s 10-year, $1.5 billion “Next Generation” initiative (incorporated in SB 840) to help UConn onto the stage of leading research institutions.  The initiative focuses on four core areas: science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines at UConn and is meant to supply the state with new technologies, highly skilled graduates, new companies, patents, licenses, and research innovations. The 10-year initiative is projected to create 30,000 construction jobs through 2024.

While Energy Bills have been Grabbing Headlines, Major Telecom Modernization Bill is Quietly Moving Through the Process   Though much has been said about the major energy bills that have been proposed this session, earlier this week a bill, HB 6402, came out in file that would modernize Connecticut’s telecommunications laws to foster investment and growth in the economy and better align rules, some more than 60 years old, with today’s modern communication methods.  The bill applies to only a few providers and does not allow those covered by its provisions to stop offering local phone services. It also maintains consumer safeguards on non-competitive services. Stay tuned.

List of Upcoming Public Hearings, Meetings, Events

Monday, April 15

10:00 AMJudiciary Committee Public HearingLOB Room 2C
10:00 AMPlanning & Development Committee MeetingLOB Room 2B

Tuesday, April 16

9:00 AMOffice of the Governor: Cabinet on Nonprofit Health & Human ServicesCAP Room 310
10:30 AMPublic Health Committee MeetingLOB Room 1D
11:30 AMFinance, Revenue and Bonding Committee MeetingLOB Room 2E
12:00 PMExecutive and Legislative Nominations: Public Hearing followed by Committee MeetingLOB Room 1A
12:00 PMGovernment Administration and ElectionsLOB Room 2B
12:00 PMHuman Services Committee MeetingLOB Room 2A
2:00 PMGeneral Law Committee MeetingLOB Room 2A
3:00 PMLabor and Public Employees Committee MeetingLOB Room 2B
3:30 PMPRI Meeting Re: 2012 StudiesLOB Room 2D

Wednesday, April 17

8:00 AMHome Builders and Remodelers Association of CT: Home Building Industry Day at the CapitolCAP Old Judiciary Room
11:00 AMHOUSE SESSIONCAP House Chambers

Thursday, April 18 

10:00 AMSpeaker Sharkey: M.O.R.E. Regional Entities Sub-committee MeetingLOB Room 2D
10:30 AMPublic Safety & Security Committee Informational Hearing on Cyber securityLOB Room 2B
12:00 PMExecutive and Legislative Nominations: Public Hearing followed by Committee MeetingLOB Room 1A
12:00 PMSpeaker Sharkey: M.O.R.E. Municipal Tax Authority SubcommitteeLOB Room 2A
1:00 PMSpeaker Sharkey: M.O.R.E. Mandates Sub-committeeLOB Room 1C
1:30 PMSENATE SESSIONCAP Senate Chambers

Friday, April 19 

9:30 AMOffice of the Governor: Sandy Hook Advisory Commission – Mental HealthLOB Room 2D
9:30 AMSpeaker Sharkey: M.O.R.E. Board of Education Functions SubcommitteeLOB Room 1C
9:45 AMAppropriations Committee Public Hearing re Contingency Reserve BillsLOB Room 1E
1:30 PMCT Humanities: Public Launch of the Connecticut Center for the BookCAP Old Judiciary Room

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