The Capitol Beat: March 18-21, 2013

From Gaffney, Bennett & Associates

March 18, 2013 – March 21, 2013

 March can be the cruelest of months, a poet once opined, reflecting on the fickle nature of the weather this time of year.  Goodness knows we’ve experienced this in living lack of color right up to the official start of spring this week. And that’s just outside the state Capitol building.  Inside, state lawmakers and policymakers continued to try to put the fine point on a package of legislation aimed at preventing any more Sandy Hook-type tragedies; discussed whether to give the Governor expanded authority over what expenditures may be subject to the state’s Constitutional spending cap; debated the administration’s proposal to eliminate the property tax on motor vehicles up to a certain assessed value; heard emotional, testimony on proposed “right-to-die” legislation, never before introduced in Connecticut; and listened to the pros and cons of requiring foods to be labeled genetically engineered, among a myriad of other proposals.  There was some discussion that a session day may be in the offing in the coming week to take up gun control and associated legislation in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, and to vote on a bill passed out of the Energy and Technology Thursday aimed at bolstering renewable energy, but that plan went out the window on Friday when legislators received e-mails that there would be no session on March 27. Another stormy week in March comes and goes.

Following are some of the developments and debates that occurred in Hartford this week:

Appropriations Committee Hearing Focus of Lively Debate: Ben Barnes, the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, appeared before the Appropriations Committee on Friday to discuss a variety of bills including changes the Governor is proposing to the state spending cap, expanding his authority to reduce budgets during times of deficit, and reforming the budget process.  The committee members took the opportunity to discuss a wide range of budget related topics including the consolidation of various accounts and state agencies and the implications of redefining the spending cap. Legislators also quizzed the Secretary on the impact the Governor’s budget proposals would have on municipal budgets and noted the difficulty towns will have this year in setting budgets given the uncertainty of some of his proposals.

On the spending cap, the governor is proposing to exclude two items from the cap: 1) payments made to pension funds; and 2) funds that have been appropriated for programs that are 100% funded by the federal government.  The Governor’s proposed budget is over the cap by $460 million and these two statutory changes would bring his budget under the cap by $1 million.

Energy Bill Proposes to Look Elsewhere to Meet Certain Needs:  The Energy and Technology Committee Thursday voted to send SB 1138 – An Act Concerning Connecticut Clean Energy Goals to the Senate.  Among its many provisions, this bill would make significant changes to the state’s regional portfolio standards (RPS). Importantly, it creates a separate Class 1 tier that would allow Canadian hydropower to count towards the a state’s RPS goals.  While the business community generally supports the flexibility provided in the bill, it is still considered something of a work in progress. The bill allows the state to take advantage of the opportunity to use large-scale hydropower from Canada and large-scale regional wind power.  Under SB 1138, power from these sources would count toward meeting RPS requirements but is not part of the Renewable Energy Credit program, which will continue to serve as an incentive for developing renewable power in Connecticut.

Bill Signing to Boost Small Biz:  Governor Dannel P. Malloy Thursday joined Senate President Donald Williams, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, and Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Commissioner Catherine Smith for a ceremonial bill signing to enact Public Act 13-2, An Act Making Manufacturing Assistance Act Funds Available for the Small Business Express Program.  The legislation permits DECD to administer $60 million in funding under EXP guidelines rather than under the Manufacturing Assistance Act, where it was originally allocated. “Over two years we have seen the creation of more than 22,000 private sector jobs—numbers we haven’t seen since the 1990s. EXP and our other economic development tools are strengthening Connecticut’s business climate and increasing our competitiveness. I am appreciative of the efforts of all of our legislative leaders continue to fund these programs,” the Governor said.

Public Act 13-2, which passed unanimously in both chambers, will provide additional support to EXP, a program that provides revolving loan funds, incentive-driven loans, and matching grants to the state’s small businesses.  To date, EXP has provided more than $82 million to 622 companies, which have committed to creating a total of 2,173 new jobs and retaining 5,932 jobs.

Big City Mayors and Advocates Who Represent Them Puncture Governor’s Car Tax Proposal:  Big-city mayors Wednesday sought to deflate Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal to eliminate the tax on motor vehicles valued at $28,500 or less.  Because all cities and towns are not created equal when it comes to the property taxes they levy on motor vehicles—big cities generally take a disproportionate hit due to high mill rates—the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) said the plan is dead on arrival.

The House Speaker has apparently indicated to CCM that the car tax elimination will not happen in this biennium, but he also said that in the future if such a tax is proposed, “there will be an ability for cities and towns to prepare for it, and cities and towns will have a seat at the table in the formulation of the change to the car tax.”

The cost to municipalities of the Governor’s proposal is estimated to be between $600 million to $700 million in lost revenue.

While We’re on the Topic of Municipalities, M.O.R.E. Subcommittee on Municipal Mandates Holds First Meeting to Solicit Input:  The M.O.R.E. Municipal Mandate subcommittee Wednesday held its first meeting to begin compiling a list of mandates it believes are worthy of further study.  Here is a preliminary list of mandates of concern that were put on the list: 1) Binding arbitration; 2) Mediation of contracts; 3) Prevailing wage; 4) In-school suspension;  5) Newspaper notices; and 6) 2/3rds majority vote for mandates. The four subcommittees, which were re-commissioned recently by legislative leaders include: Municipal Tax Authority; the Board of Education Budget; Regional Entities; and Mandates.  For more information or to offer input, visit M.O.R.E.’s website:

Hospitals Mount Major Campaign Against Proposed Budget Cuts Totaling Some $550 Million:  The state’s 29 acute-care hospitals have been mounting a major grassroots campaign to discourage proposals in the Governor’s two-year budget that would cost them some $550 million total over the biennium.  The Connecticut Hospital Association members have sent some 70,000 e-mails to their respective legislators and leadership and plan on holding a Day at the Capitol on April 4 to further elevate their profile and concerns, not least of which involves statewide job loss.  There are rumblings that the campaign is having some effect, at least among members of the Appropriations Committee, which will likely vote out an alternative budget before its April 23 deadline.

Commerce Committee Votes to Defeat Oil Dealers’ Tax:  Against the wishes of some in the administration, the Commerce Committee Thursday axed a proposal to impose an excise tax of 1.5 cents per gallon in the first year and up to 3.5 cents per gallon in the third year to be used to create an energy efficiency fund for homeowners who heat with oil or propane.  The Committee chairs cited the erratic, anemic economy for their decision.

FAA Spares Only Bradley International in its Sweeping Lay Off of CT Controllers:  The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday issued a final list of 149 airports that will close their air traffic control towers because they agency is required to lay off controllers to save money.  In Connecticut, the casualties include: Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport, Brainard Airport, Stratford’s Igor I. Sikorsky Airport, Danbury Municipal Airport, Waterbury-Oxford Airport and Groton-New London Airport.  Under the FAA’s decision, only Hartford’s Bradley International Airport will have a working tower with controllers.

List of Upcoming Public Hearings

Monday, March 25 

  • Judiciary Committee
10 am | Room 2D  
Subjects: Common interest communities and miscellaneous bills.
  • Government Administration and Elections Committee
11 am | Room 2B  Subjects: Campaign finance, centralized state permitting office, and a conflict of interest bill regarding public officials and state employees that includes implications for state contractors and other entities.
  • Appropriations Committee
1 pm | Room 2C
  Subject: Deficiency spending for the current fiscal year

NOTE: Unless specified all hearings will be held in the Legislative Office Building (LOB) in Hartford in rooms indicated.

In the news