Newtown Fares Well With State Budget, Sen Hwang Slams Process
While Newtown will end up receiving over a half-million dollars more in state revenues than were budgeted for the local 2019-20 fiscal cycle, Senator Tony Hwang remains incensed over this year's legislative process for completing the $43.4 billion biennial spending plan.
According to Sen Hwang the budget for the Biennium ending June 30, 2021" was negotiated behind closed doors without any input from Republicans, and passed both the House and the Senate on almost Democratic Party lines with a few brave Democrats joining Republicans in voting against the bill."
Senator Hwang, whose 28th District encompasses Newtown and Sandy Hook, lambasted the clandestine process by which this particular budget came about, citing the unusual combining of the budget document and implementer bill into one to include over 60 legislative bills that did not go through the legislative process.
In fact, Sen Hwang said some bills that ended up being passed did not even receive a public hearing — and others were not raised in committee.
“Going into this session, we had a $3.7 billion deficit hole to close. But I was optimistic. We had a new Governor, a new legislature, and I was ready to make hard decisions and have a constructive session,” said Senator Hwang. “We have a legislative process in this building. We propose bills, have hearings, debate, vote in committee, screen, debate some more, until they come for a final vote in the House and Senate. This budget disregarded and brazenly disrespected any effort toward transparency and committee bill vetting process."
He called the final budget bill, "a travesty to the legislative process, and an insult to every person who came up to Hartford to testify on legislation that did go through the proper process."
"This budget includes a financing plan for a Public Option state insurance plan that never received any public, industry and consumer input. It also includes a brand new funding formula to pay for debt-free college based on an internet lottery game that has never been vetted or discussed before the Public Safety and Higher Education Committees," the senator said. "It even includes a hastily-drafted provision to ban non-compete agreements for ‘homemakers, companion, or home health services worker’. It doesn’t define those terms or specify which agreements are now void. Not only does this hurt the home-healthcare industry, but shoddy work like this does us all a disservice. This budget contains over 60 binding laws and regulations that we haven’t seen before or were rejected in the committee process.”
Leading to the question that Hwang asked, “why do we even have a legislative process at all? Why don’t we just put all our legislation in the budget and only have one vote? Why even put on this sham and charade with our constituents where we say ‘we hear you’, ‘we’re listening to you’ and “we represent you’?
"This budget process says to our constituents that ‘politicians know better than you’. This is why people distrust government. It is why when we say we’ll do something; people prepare and expect something else entirely,” Sen Hwang continued. “This budget even includes a massive ‘diversion’ of money from the Special Transportation Funds — $171.6 million over two years. But that money was ‘swept’ or taken out of the Lock Box — it was ‘diverted’ before it got there. So that’s fine. This validates every person on the street who thinks that they can’t trust government.”
Sen Hwang observed that it appeared "the only people who win in this budget are the special interests, big business, and even bigger government, as we punish the middle and working class resident and our fragile local small businesses with the most regressive tax budget I have ever had the displeasure to vote on.”
The budget includes $861.5 million in new or expanded taxes in 2020, and $921.3 million in 2021. It also gives out $9.4 million is pork-barrel spending.
New Taxes include:
*One percent tax on prepared foods in restaurants, bars, taverns, hot dog stands, etc. *One percent tax on soda, beverages and alcohol dispensed at bars or from soda fountains *New tax on digital downloads *New tax on safety apparel *New tax on parking *10 cent tax on plastic bags *Tax on dry-cleaning and non-coin operated laundry services *A tax on interior design services, an industry dominated by women in Connecticut *$50 Million in unidentified fees delegated to the governor *New conveyance tax on properties valued over $2.5 Million
Additional raised or expanded taxes include:
*Increased ridesharing tax (Uber and Lyft) to 30 cents *Increased fees on vehicle trade-ins *Increased filing fees for LLC’s and LLP’s *Massive small business tax increase ($50 million annual increase) *Changes to pass-through entity taxes that would raise revenues for CT *Extends 10 percent corporate surcharge *10 percent tax increase on alcohol
Sen Hwang said non-profits, towns, and cities, and anti-smoking campaigns, to name a few, got less than they needed.
"But there was plenty of pork to go around," he said. "Many of these appropriations are likely for fantastic programs that I would support in better times. Unfortunately, we are in a crisis and some of them seem gratuitous to say the least."
Among those expenditures are:
*$27,000 for the Connecticut Writing Project *$25,000 for the Greek Orthodox Trinity Church in Bridgeport *$50,000 for the Stamford Downtown Special Service District *$100,000 for the New Haven Arts Festival *$140,000 (total) for 3 Little Leagues, including one named for State Rep. Minnie Gonzalez (Hartford) *$37,000 for a Boy Scout Troop
"Connecticut had a $3.7 billion deficit going into this year, an escalating pension liability and other fixed costs, a shrinking population, and a sluggish economy, but still the legislature refuses to cut spending to anything except for social services. We are broke," Sen Hwang said. "We don’t have the leeway for feel good pet projects. We need to fund critical services, keep tax rates flat, eliminate wasteful spending and break down barriers that hinder growth in our business sector and economy as a whole. We are driving people out of state, and we need to change our ways fast before it’s too late to right this ship."
Locally, First Selectman Dan Rosenthal reported to the Board of Selectmen on June 12, that while he believes individual taxpayers will feel the impact of all the aforementioned increases, Newtown as a community fared well on intra-governmental revenues in the first year of the biennial state budget.
In a document prepared by Town Finance Director Robert Tait, the adopted state budget returns $6,987,141 to Newtown, which under budgeted those revenues at $6,408,098 — a positive difference of $597,043.
Newtown did lose $34,404 in Local Capital Improvement Plan or LoCIP allocations, and $278 less than budgeted for road aid, it took in: *$10,097 more from a municipal stabilization grant *$38,659 more in PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) expenditures *$560,288 more than budgeted in Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) grants.