Click play arrow to see a short slide show of Speaker James Amann and Rep. Cameron Staples during the House Democratic Caucus news conference Friday, Feb. 1, 2008. (Christine Stuart photos)
Unlike their Democratic colleagues in the Senate and Republican colleagues in both chambers, the House Demcrats have no plans to spend the more than $200 million surplus. Instead they are taking a wait-and-see approach to the 2009 fiscal budget.
At a press conference Friday, Speaker of the House James Amann said 42 lawmakers in the Democratic caucus felt that property tax burden was the most important issue the legislature will address during the upcoming session. He said the second most important issue was health care, which lost top billing in the caucus survey by one vote.
Chairman of the Finance Committee, Rep. Cameron Staples of New Haven, said “a simple slogan” won’t cut it when it comes to solving property tax issues. He said last year Democrats tried to offer the middle-class property tax relief by changing the income tax structure to something more progressive and shifting the burden to those who can afford. But in the end, “that was not acceptable,” Staples said. He said a property tax credit that’s income sensitive, such as the Senate Democrats have proposed, may be a short-term way to solve the problem.
Mr. Amann said his caucus doesn’t have any plans just yet for the surplus because like a football game “there may be a fumble along the way.” He said the good news is at the moment there is a modest surplus. He said he wants to see what the governor puts on the table first before making any plans for the surplus.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell is expected to make her state-of-the-state address laying out her priorities for the legislative session Wednesday, Feb. 6.
The cries for universal health care heard at every corner of the Capitol last year will be muted, but not forgotten.
Public Health Committee Chairwoman Rep. Peggy Sayers of Windsor Locks said last year the legislature created two task forces to look at universal health care. She said their reports are due back to the legislature after Dec. 2008, so “we won’t be looking at a lot of that this year.” Meanwhile, Mr. Amann said Majority Leader Chris Donovan of Meriden is looking at expanding municipal employee pools and allowing small businesses and nonprofits to join, which would diversify the risk and lower premiums.