Last year Gov. M. Jodi Rell used her state of the state address to propose historic increases in education aid and recommended paying for it with a hike in the income tax.
In the end, lawmakers balanced the budget on a cigarette tax increase. However, last year Mrs. Rell had Democratic lawmakers applauding her proposals during the first day of the legislative session. At least one Democratic lawmaker called her “Rellsevelt,” a combination of Rell and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This year, that same lawmaker noted that Mrs. Rell lost her title based on today’s address, which elicited a lukewarm reception from most Democratic lawmakers.
While no new tax increases are included in the budget proposal for the 2009 fiscal year, spending would increase 4.8 percent while the $250 business entity tax—which brings in about $35 million to the state—would be repealed.
The policy changes Mrs. Rell proposed will cost the state $47.4 million in additional funding and, according to Democratic lawmakers, many don’t go far enough while others go too far.
Rell revised her three-strikes-and-you’re-out proposal by eliminating the judicial review of the sentence after 30 years. The announcement caused pockets of legislators, mainly Republicans, to stand and applaud, while Democratic legislators like New Haven Senator Toni Harp sat stone-faced.
Rell said she wants to toughen laws dealing with sex offenders, too. “One simple fix I am proposing is to bar offenders from legally changing their names to escape police attention or to avoid registration.” And, she said, “they will also have a special imprint on their driver’s licenses.”
Democratic lawmakers seemed to favor Rell’s proposal to hire 125 new correction officers to handle the increasing prison population, but a spokesperson from CSEA, which represents correction supervisors, warned that investments in new staff should mirror the needs of the prison population and should focus on hiring staff trained to handle prisoners with mental health issues.
Another proposal Rell made was to split the Department of Transportation into two agencies: one to handle highways and another to handle public transportation, aviation, and ports. The changes would take effect Jan. 1, 2010.
“DOT as an institution has simply become too bureaucratic, too inefficient, and too single-minded in its problem solving approach,” Rell said. By splitting the agency in two, each “will be able to focus on its own goals,” she said.
Matt O’Connor, spokesman for CSEA which represents DOT engineers, said splitting the agency won’t do anything constructive unless it increases accountability and leadership. “Shuffling the deck chairs doesn’t do it,” he said.
In addition to splitting the DOT, Rell proposed hiring 100 new state troopers to patrol the highways. That proposal made Democratic Senator Edith Prague say “Oh my God” out loud during Rell’s speech. “What a great idea,” Prague said afterward. She said she’s been trying to get more state troopers on the roads for a long time. “We have maniacs driving on our roads,” Prague said.
Senate President Donald Williams said his caucus still wants to give taxpayers some tax relief. Rell’s budget proposed moving the 2008 surplus into the Rainy Day fund. Williams said doing that “doesn’t meet the needs of struggling families.”
For the second year in a row, Rell proposed her controversial local property tax cap, which would be phased in over a three year period. Since last year, Rell has made a few changes to her proposal and said she wants to work with lawmakers to “design a cap that we all find workable.” Part of that proposal deals the newspaper business a huge blow by proposing the use of municipal Internet sites for public announcements that traditionally appear in local newspapers at the expense of the cities and towns.