Judging from a trickle of pre-file legislation, lawmakers have tax reform on the brain.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have filed 18 bills in anticipation of the opening of the 2016 legislative session in less than a week.
One of the busiest lawmakers was Rep. Melissa Ziobron, R-East Hampton, who has submitted four bills. One would remove the state sales tax from parking fees at state parks and another would eliminate the $250 business entity tax every business, big or small, pays every other year.
Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, and Rep. Gayle Mulligan, R-Hebron, also submitted bills calling for the elimination of the business entity tax, which brings in about $40 million to the state annually.
Ziobron submitted another bill that called for the privatization of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The DMV has been in crisis of late after a backlog of insurance renewals caused Connecticut drivers to be fined or penalized. The predicament, which began in last August when the DMV closed for eight days for a computer upgrade, was followed by Commissioner Andres Ayala’s resignation last week.
In a phone interview earlier this week, Ziobron said that she and her constituents have been “increasingly frustrated” over delays at the DMV and that she wrote the bill with a “broad brush” in order to “push the conversation.” She said the state needs to examine what services offered by the DMV can be done better by other organizations like AAA. She suggested commercial drivers license renewal is an example of a function AAA could take over.
Ziobron, a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said that her legislation was about “shining a light” on an agency that should be about the customer.
Two other bills focused on the estate tax. Harding called for its elimination, and Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, proposed increasing thresholds for both the estate tax and the gift tax.
Crisco said increasing the threshold was a simple measure to ensure that the state encourages people to stay in Connecticut. The threshold for the estate tax is currently $2 million.
Crisco also proposed legislation that would impose a fee on the manufacture, distribution, prescription, and dispensation of opioids. There are several pharmaceutical companies in Connecticut that manufacture opioids. Crisco hopes this will control the opioid and heroin epidemic that reportedly caused over over 300 deaths in the state in 2014.
With the election season looming after this year’s shortened session, Rep. John Piscopo, R-Thomaston, proposed eliminating the Citizens’ Election Program.
The CEP provides campaign finance grants to state-level candidates once they reach a certain threshold of fundraising. During budget discussions in November, the legislature’s Democratic majority floated a proposal to suspend the program to help close a budget gap before withdrawing the proposal under bipartisan pressure.
Suspending the program for the 2016 election cycle would only save the state about $11.7 million. November’s proposal was met with swift opposition from advocates who feared a return to a government controlled by lobbyists and special interests.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said Tuesday that he didn’t anticipate any changes this year to the Citizens’ Election Program.
“I’m not sure we’ll be able to make significant changes this year in a short session and an election year,” Sharkey said.
He said there is still a difference of opinion about the program between the House and the Senate because of the size of the districts the two chambers represent. A House district has about 25,000 residents and a Senate district has about 100,000.
Sharkey said the reality of a campaign in a House seat is different than the realities faced by candidates running for the Senate or a statewide office.
The 2016 General Assembly session starts Wednesday, Feb. 3, and ends on May 4.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.