The Capitol Beat: March 23-27, 2015

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.  The difference between is sometimes as great as a month. – Henry Van Dyke

Work Winding Down in All but a Handful of Committees; Appropriations and Finance Committees Continue Efforts to Craft 2016-17 Balanced Budget Despite Stiff Headwinds

The Legislature’s Planning and Development, Energy and Technology, and Human Services committees finished voting on proposals originating in their committees this week, leaving only the largest committees left to act on bills, including Judiciary, Government, Administration and Elections, Appropriations and Finance.

The Appropriations and Finance Committees, collectively charged with approving a balanced budget and tax package for the 2016-17 fiscal years, have the latest deadlines – April 30, 2015 and May 1, 2015, respectively.

‘A lot of flags to be dealt with’

At least two bills approved as amended in the Planning and Development Committee Friday have spawned concerns among cities and towns, businesses, and some Republicans.

HB 6861, an administration proposal aimed at encouraging growth along transit corridors, has been revised and largely worked out to the satisfaction of both sides of the aisle. Voted out Friday, the bill removes eminent domain practice provisions balked at by towns; gives the top officials of the affected town a vote on the quasi-public authority; requires a Memorandum of Understanding between parties; and requires compliance with all local planning and zoning and wetlands ordinances, according to Sen. Cathy Osten, P&D Committee co-chair.

Another proposal, SB 1, which was amended and referred to the Finance Committee for consideration, has raised “a lot of flags to be dealt with,” in the words of P&D vice chair, Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester. Businesses are concerned that the bill, in an effort to promote more municipal property tax revenue sharing and regionalization, will increase taxes on commercial and industrial real estate. Cassano agreed that the bill needs to be “costed out” and discussed in more detail.

One Republican committee member remarked that SB 1 represents “a move to county government.”

‘It’s a year of assessment and analysis’

The Energy and Technology Committee this week finished work on bills that would, among other things, ban variable electric rates for residential customers; cap the monthly fixed-costs portion of electric bills at $10; and authorize state officials to explore expanding the capacity of natural gas pipelines in Connecticut.

The pipeline bill, as revised, would allow the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to seek requests for proposals on how to finance higher capacity pipelines; the RFPs would be subject to legislative review, but some argue that getting the state involved will lead to higher costs. More to come on this.

House co-chair of the Energy & Technology committee, Rep. Lonnie Reed, characterized 2015 as “a year of reassessment and analysis” of recently adopted policies.

Human Services punts Governor’s bill to Appropriations

The Human Services Committee this week referred the Governor’s proposed social services’ budget cuts to the Appropriations Committee for further consideration. The Appropriations Committee can restore the cuts incorporated in the bill in its alternative budget, but the challenge will be finding revenue to cover the restorations.

Aimed at helping close deficits projected to eclipse $1 billion in each year of the next biennium, the Governor’s proposal includes significant cuts to Medicaid clients, seniors, and healthcare providers.

Where is everybody going?

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Connecticut’s population declined by a net 2,664 people, or 0.1 percent, between July 2013 and July 2014. The counties that experienced the most significant losses were Litchfield and New Haven.

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