House Speaker Brendan Sharkey will enter his second-term as speaker in January having named seven new committee chairs.
The two coveted committee chair assignments being closely watched were the Finance and Judiciary Committees. Sharkey named state Rep. Jeff Berger, D-Waterbury, co-chair of Finance, Revenue, and Bonding, and Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Berger replaces state Rep. Patricia Widlitz , who didn’t seek re-election this year, and Tong replaces state Rep. Gerald Fox III, who instead of seeking re-election as a state representative won a seat as Stamford’s probate judge.
Berger said he lobbied hard to co-chair the legislature’s tax writing committee. The Senate hasn’t announced its committee assignments yet, but it’s widely thought Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, will remain the Finance co-chair.
“It’s something I coveted and wanted to have at some point in my career,” Berger said Friday.
Berger has been a member of the committee for 14 years and had been in charge of a subcommittee looking at the municipal tax structure on behalf of Sharkey for the past few years. The state’s over-reliance on the property tax structure is one of the issues Berger hopes to tackle during the upcoming legislative session.
Tong, who has run for mayor and U.S. Senate over his past nine years representing the people of Stamford, has been a member of the Judiciary Committee since he was first elected in 2006.
The Judiciary Committee tackles a number of thorny issues regarding the courts, parole, legal procedure, and it vets all judicial nominations to the court. Outside the legislature, Tong is associate counsel at the law firm of Finn Dixon & Herling.
Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, was the vice chair of the Judiciary Committee and was widely regarded as someone who was in a position to succeed Fox as co-chair, but was instead assigned to be the new chairman of the Public Health Committee. Ritter will replace Rep. Susan Johnson.
Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, will replace Tong as the new co-chair of the Banks Committee.
Rep. James Albis, D-East Haven, replaces Rep. Linda Gentile as the new co-chair of the Environment Committee, and Rep. Theresa Conroy replaces Rep. Chris Davis as the co-chair of the Internship Committee. Meanwhile, Rep. Auden Grogins will replace Rep. Jason Rojas as co-chair of the Planning and Development Committee and Rep. Brian Becker replaces Rep. Selim Noujaim as co-chair of Regulations Review.
Gentile and Rojas will be members of the screening committee where they will have a hand in deciding which bills move forward through the legislative process. Rojas was also named a deputy majority leader and Gentile will be one of seven deputy speakers. The titles comes with an additional $6,400 in pay.
Committee chairs receive an additional $4,241 in pay on top of their salaries and expenses. Rank-and-file House members receive a base pay of $28,000 and a $4,500 expense account.
“Our chairs bring invaluable experience to their leadership responsibilities, and the necessary enthusiasm and interest for the issues that come before them, that will help ensure their committees are prepared to act in a judicious and timely manner,” Sharkey said.
In a phone interview, Sharkey said since Finance and Judiciary were the only two committees with vacancies he interviewed several candidates for the job. In both cases, the seniority and experience of Berger and Tong is what helped him make his decision.
And while the speaker has the ability to unilaterally make decisions about which lawmakers sit on which committee, Sharkey is doing things differently this year. He said he’s going to sit down with the committee chairs and get their input about committee membership before making a decision before the holidays.
The Senate has yet to release its committee chairmanships.
Click here for the full list of House chairmanships and leadership posts.