State legislators give update at annual picnic

With another session finished, Greenwich’s legislators are off the clock for the summer.

But before any vacations could begin, there was a very eager audience waiting to hear from the legislators at the annual League of Women Voters Legislative Picnic. There the past months of the legislature were reported on and a look ahead to the fall was discussed over potato salad and deviled eggs.

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36) and State Reps. Livvy Floren (R-149) and Fred Camillo (R-151) were in attendance at the annual event and gave reports on their committee work as well as the overall picture in Hartford. State Rep. Lile Gibbons (R-150), who is retiring at the end of the term, was unable to attend. While the session that just wrapped up was considered to be the “short session” that is typically dominated by budget issues over the course of three and a half months, Mr. Frantz said he couldn’t remember a time when more pieces of “significant legislation” were passed, including the death penalty repeal, education reform and Sunday sales of alcohol in the state.

 

Not all of those major pieces of legislation had full Greenwich support. In fact Mr. Frantz said he voted against the controversial education reform, which drew the ire of teachers unions because he said it didn’t go far enough in trying to close the achievement gap. Mr. Camillo and Mr. Frantz added there was more work to be done on education and they were concerned the legislature would think it was all settled now and didn’t need to be taken up for discussion again until years from now. Ms. Floren said she loved a lot of the bill, particularly the emphasis on early education.

Budget deficits looming?

Mr. Frantz, a member of the finance committee as well as a minority whip of the Republican caucus, took the lead on the budget discussion and did not paint a pretty picture. He claimed that while “most other states were shrinking their budgets due to the severe economic circumstances we all faced, our budget grew.” Mr. Frantz said the hoped for budget surplus will now be a $220-million deficit even after taxes were raised in the state.

“They didn’t deliver the savings they were hoping for in state government and revenues weren’t quite what they expected,” Mr. Frantz said. “People are getting more intelligent in being able to defer taxes.”

The deficit will be covered by borrowed money, Mr. Frantz reported, and he said that bond and credit rating agencies “do not like this.”

“We’re going to get slapped on the wrist for this,” Mr. Frantz said, adding that hoped for surpluses in future years were already being downgraded to “break even” and that believed it would eventually end up with more deficits.

“Having said that I think there will be changes,” Mr. Frantz said. “People are waking up in the administration. Office of Policy Management Secretary Ben Barnes realizes this isn’t working and I think the governor himself realizes this isn’t working. I can’t ask my people to pay any more taxes. It’s not good from anybody’s point of view. It’s not good from an economic development point of view. It’s not good from a political point of view for the governor so they’ll figure out ways to save money going forward and I think we’ll get back on track, which is where we need to be.”

Jobs in Connecticut

Ms. Floren spoke about her work on the four committees she serves on, Finance, Bonding, Aging and Government Administration, and Elections. She said because of her role on Finance, “economic development, job creation and job retention are of paramount importance to me.” Since Ms. Floren’s district covers parts of Stamford too she talked about helping to bring Starwood Hotel’s corporate offices there as well as the expansion of NBC’s presence and the opening of Chelsea Piers. Regarding Greenwich, Ms. Floren said that she and First Selectman Peter Tesei worked with Blue Sky Productions, which produces animated films like the blockbuster Ice Age franchise, to expand and bring more than 500 new jobs to Greenwich.

On the Bonding Committee, she spoke about how she has been able to work in a bipartisan fashion with her Democratic co-chairs. She said that they have done responsible spending that will allow for modernization and better efficiency on the state level by upgrading information technology.

“Other bond initiatives deal with reducing excess government office space, correcting deferred maintenance of state-owned properties and repairing and improving infrastructure,” Ms. Floren said. “Early childhood education, alternative energy and affordable housing projects and programs rounded out the financial legislation. To me the bond package encourages consolidation and efficiency and it’s going to create job opportunities.”

A member of the Government Administration and Elections Committee for her entire 12-year career in the legislature, Ms. Floren said she continues to support the ability for people to register and vote on Election Day, which advocates have said will increase voter participation, but said she also supports having a requirement for photo identification.

“You need photo identification to board an airplane, register at a hotel, cash a check at your own bank, enter a government building or courthouse and even to get a senior discount ticket at the movie theater,” Ms. Floren said. “There is absolutely no hardship involved with any of these ordinary everyday activities and I think protecting the sanctity of the vote is every bit as important.”

Ms. Floren said she remains opposed to taxpayer funding of campaigns. It is the law of the state and she understands why people believe it can help eliminate corruption and encourage people to run for office by creating a level playing field. She stressed, though, that candidate grants are “too extravagant and too costly, especially in this economy” and that she would rather see tax money spent on public education and programs for seniors and people who are ill.

‘Common sense’ laws

Mr. Camillo spoke as a ranking member of the Commerce Committee as well as a member of the Transportation and Environment committees. He reported on what was happening on all those committees, saying they had successfully put a cap on the gross receipts tax for gasoline, which had gone up every time the price of gas went up. Mr. Camillo said raising the tax constantly was “outrageous” and it was unfortunate that it was happening to try and fill the budget gaps that Mr. Frantz had mentioned.

Mr. Camillo also noted the expansion of a law requiring drivers to get out of the way of emergency vehicles by moving to another lane, saying that is something you would think was “common sense” but that people still didn’t do. He said it was done after a state Department of Transportation worker was killed, meaning that now you are required when you see a stopped emergency vehicle to move over an entire lane.

“You can’t legislate everything and I’m a firm believer in that, but sometimes you have to have something there,” Mr. Camillo said.

He called the work of the Environment Committee a “mixed bag” that included good things like a bill requiring the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to post the location and extent when there’s been a sewage spill, something Mr. Camillo said is important in a coastal town like Greenwich, and increased penalties for people convicted of animal abuse. But he said there are issues where he feels the state has overreached in mandating what you can and can’t rebuild on private property after a storm.

 

[email protected]

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© Hersam Acorn. All rights reserved. The Greenwich Post, 10 Corbin Drive, Floor 3, Darien, CT 06820

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress