Town Hall-Style Meeting Draws A Crowd To Hear From Legislators
A town hall-style gathering took place at the C.H. Booth Library on Monday, January 29, with Republican State Representatives Mitch Bolinsky, Will Duff, and JP Sredzinski, and Senator Tony Hwang.
The informational meeting served as a presession legislative update on the General Assembly, which begins February 7, where the panel could answer the public's questions on different issues that mattered to them.
Members who attended received a packet provided by the Office of Legislative Research titled "2018 Major Issues" that identified and provided a brief description of specific topics that may be discussed at the upcoming General Assembly.
At the start of the event, each legislator introduced himself, stating the towns they cover and the groups they are a part of.
Rep Sredzinski, who represents all of Monroe and a portion of Newtown (the Botsford and Toddy Hill Road area), has been on the General Assembly for three years and currently serves as a member of the Public Safety Committee, Appropriations Committee, and Energy & Technology Committee.
Rep Bolinsky stated he has been on the General Assembly for five years, is an Assistant Republication Leader, and serves on the Appropriations Committee, Education Committee, and Aging Committee.
Sen Hwang represents five towns including Newtown and is a co-chair of the Housing Committee, vice chair of the Aging Committee and Energy & Technology Committee, and a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Planning & Development Committee.
Rep Duff represents the Second District that consists of Danbury, Bethel, Redding, and a portion for Newtown, and is a member of the Banking Committee, Energy & Technology Committee, and the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee.
The four legislators then gave their opening statements, each welcoming the public for attending.
"The important thing is that you guys took the time, energy, and initiative to show up, and we really want to hear what you want to say," Rep Bolinsky said.
One of the first topics discussed was the State of Connecticut's budget.
Rep Bolinsky said there are clear budgeting issues and that "our fiscal viability is pretty shaky. I think that the most important thing [to work] on this year is budgetary matters and trying to protect critical services for the things that are important to our community, like education."
He explained that as a result there will be a lot of ideas in the legislature this year to raise revenue, which he said is "political speak for raising taxes," but that his intentions are not for taxes to be increased.
Sen Hwang spoke about how the state's inability to manage finances and the cuts against critical needs in the community are adversely affecting local lives.
That conversation sparked the first question from the public that night, which was about the issue of high taxes and its effect on residents choosing to leave the state.
The audience member said he is 55 years old and has lived in Newtown for 25 years, but because taxes are so high, with no change in sight, his plan is to move out of Connecticut when his daughter graduates high school.
Rep Sredzinski was the first to speak on the topic and said, "Affordability has been an issue in Connecticut for a while. When I ran in 2014 for the first time, my platform was affordability, jobs and the economy, and quality of life."
He acknowledged how expensive it is to live in Connecticut and said that the issue stems from who is in charge of the budget, but that it is being worked on.
"With our budget last year, we were able to stop those tax increases," Rep Sredzinski said. "Now did we reduce those taxes? No, we didn't, but I see us making progress towards that."
Rep Duff added that Connecticut is one of the most expensive states to retire in, but he has hope because he suspects next year they will have the majority in the House to address those issues.
A follow-up comment from another individual was that people might not be able to leave Connecticut as quickly as they planned because of they cannot afford to move with property values "plummeting" while tax and mill rates go up.
Sen Hwang answered that it is not a matter of revenue but of the state needing to reprioritize its projects, saying, "Does anybody remember, in this fiscal crisis that we have, that the governor on Christmas Eve day gave his commissioners an eight to 12 percent salary increase? These are appointed political commissioners making six-figures getting that salary increase. Why? We're taking money away from critical services."
Later on in the night an audience member who identified herself to the panel as Janice Butler, a CPA in the area and university professor of accounting, addressed the legislators about sales tax audits.
"What I'm seeing with businesses, particularly when you talk of revenue, is Connecticut state sales tax audits. They're sending out a letter a month before the statute of limitations is up, and they're billing clients 50 to 60 thousand dollars and you either have to pay it or sign an affidavit extending the statute of limitations… I have a business that with this sales tax audit might go out of business," she explained.
Sen Hwang asked to get her information to find out more about her situation in order to follow up with her personally after the meeting, and said, "They're using very aggressive tactics to collect money and put fear in people into paying out more than what they rightfully should. That is a tactic that has been common unless you have advocates that go back to the commissioner and their office and say 'You're out of line. You're using aggressive collection tactics. And we're here to fight for you.'"
He added, "Our offer to you, and this is part of the reason why it's a privilege to do what we do; we want to be your voice."
Other topics throughout the evening included the proposed tolls, immigration issues in Connecticut, budget cuts to Connecticut's Department of Developmental Services' group Families First, and the recycling tax.
At 8 pm, with the closure of the library for the day, the meeting ended, and the panel thanked the audience members for coming out and discussing their concerns with them.
For further information, contact Reps Bolinsky, Duff, and Sredzinski at their State Capitol offices at 800-842-1423 or e-mail Mitch.Bolinsky@housegop.ct.gov, William.Duff@housegop.ct.gov, JP.Sredzinski@housegop.ct.gov. Sen Hwang can be reached at Tony.Hwang@cga.ct.gov and at 800-842-1421.