Trumbull representatives give legislative overview

It has been quite the year for politics in Connecticut, and Trumbull’s state representatives stopped by the library Monday night to recap the 2016 legislative season for residents interested in the headlines coming out of Hartford.

David Rutigliano (R-123), Laura Devlin (R-134), and Ben McGorty (R-122), set up shop in the library’s community room to deliver their own State of the State address, highlighting the issues they faced as elected officials this year.

Much of the evening's talk revolved around the budget and how to restore sound fiscal policy to the State of Connecticut and its residents, as well as focusing on major legislative highlights that were accomplished over the last several months.

“There’s a lot of stuff we do, we nip around the edges on a lot of things and we do tackle other issues, but budgeting is our number one responsibility,” Rutigliano told The Times.

Within the last year, the current administration passed a state budget that hit Connecticut with the second-largest tax increase in history, only outdone by the largest tax increase adopted just five years earlier.

Tax increases combined with increased state spending over the last seven years — to the tune of 15.6% — have created a toxic environment that has driven out profitable businesses like GE, the representatives said.

Being three Republicans with similar fiscal views, the state reps stressed the importance of making sustainable structural changes in order to fight off the deficit.

They noted that the Malloy regime through December had made minimal spending reductions, with no structural changes resulting in an unbalanced budget.

As of now, it appears that the state will end the fiscal year with a $256-million deficit, and will be covered by the state’s rainy day fund, which currently stands at $406 million.

Representative Devlin pointed out that the current administration will not acknowledge that tax increases and irresponsible spending is driving residents and businesses to leave the state at an alarming rate.

“I personally have seven friends who have moved or are in the process of moving out of the state,” said Devlin, while addressing the crowd. “They will not acknowledge that GE left because of taxes or business policy, and when I met with the CFO of GE, what he said at that time was, it's not just these taxes, but there is no indication that this looming debt is even being addressed, and there is no structural change.

“We can’t live in this unpredictability,” she said.

Budget cuts

Regarding 2016-2017 state budget, Gov. Malloy released his mid-term adjustment plan in February, which included drastic cuts to social services, hospitals and education.

Two months later, with a looming $900-million deficit, Democrats on the Appropriations Committee approved a plan that closed only a $560-million dollar budget gap.

After discussion of the budget downfalls, the three Trumbull representatives outlined the Republican solution to the fiscal deficit, while introducing a five-year plan that could potentially turn billions of dollars in deficits into surpluses by implementing proposed structural changes.

“We can turn this state around,” said Devlin. “The Republican plan actually had us in the black in five years.

“We are so close,” she added. “We need 12 seats in the house to get a majority and four in the senate. The house or the senate, we have got to flip.”

Predictability and promise

Coined the Pathway to Sustainability, the Connecticut Republicans have built an alternative on the vision of predictability and promise.

This vision includes changes to state employees benefits, reductions to state borrowing and the state workforce, as well as other efficiencies that will, over time, save billions of dollars.

“It’s a problem when the state of Connecticut is the biggest employer in the state of Connecticut,” said Devlin.

As it stands now, Connecticut has one state employee for every 54 residents. Comparatively, California has one state employee for every 172 residents.

In their presentation titled, The State of the State: A Presentation on CT’s State Budget and the Issues That Defined the 2016 Legislative Session, the Representatives outlined what the Democratic budget included and did not include, and it was as followed:

The Democratic budget includes:

  • Education cuts, but ECS carve outs for some towns

  • Cuts to state hospitals

  • Cuts to mental health and substance abuse grants

  • Municipal aid cuts to state-owned PILOT, as well as to college and hospital Pilot

The Democrat budget does not include these significant long-term proposals:

  • A vote on union contracts

  • Implementation of a spending cap

  • Implementation of a bonding cap

  • Overtime accountability

  • Municipal mandate relief

Beyond the numbers

The second half of Monday night’s discussion was centered around more than just the budget. Although there was much fiscal talk, with almost everything tying back to spending, it was a breathe of fresh air, as the state reps rolled up their sleeves and shared why they got involved in the first place.

A member of the public asked why Connecticut is always on the top five list for things such as worst roads in the country, highest taxes, worst state to retire in, and highest cost of living.

“That’s why we all got involved, because we were tired of hearing about it,” said Rutigliano. “We all do our jobs up there, we have certain committees and things that we do and we have certain things that we went up there to run for with agendas to push.

“For the three of us, it's usually financial and business friendliness and overall competitiveness,” he added. “We have a lot to offer here in Connecticut and the future is bright; we’re positioned perfectly.”

Some of the past year’s legislation that helped to form this optimistic view for the future had to do with adoption of measures to curve Connecticut's heroin epidemic.

Rep. Rutigliano said that AARP who supported proposal was on the wrong side of issue of creating a state-sponsored retirement program for workers in small businesses. Rep. Rutigliano believes the bill will unduly burden small business.

The state should focus on solving its own fiscal problems before getting into the retirement for all business, he added.

“We are much older here in Connecticut. We need retirees for lots of reasons. Where there's grandparents and families, it's better for the community,” said Rutigliano.

Success and failure

There were many major legislative highlights that failed over the year but there were far more that were passed.

One such failure was the direct sales of automobiles. This initiative would have allowed for Tesla motors to open stores in CT and directly sell to consumers, which could have helped the failing economy.

A highlight that Rutigliano was very proud of, having worked on it for more than a year, was the adoption of the Cancer Relief Fund for Firefighters. This fund is administered by firefighters to be used to pay lost wages for treatment in the event that they contract cancer on the job. It is funded by redirecting one cent of the 51-cent 911 surcharge on customers telephone bills. It should be noted that no benefits will be offered until the fund collects revenue for three years.

Another new legislation adopted required insurers to pay for 3D-imaging for breast cancer if the patient requests it.

However, the measure does require medical providers to use this form of screening, but does allow for the patient to have the option.

“We’re three fiscal conservatives up here at the table but even we know there’s certain core services that the government should be providing for the old folks and the hospitals,” said Rutigliano. “This is the job we’re supposed to do. So if we could just focus on what we believe we would focus on if we were in the majority — core services and the most vulnerable — I think we’d be better off.

“That’s where you are supposed to spend the money,” added Devlin.