The 2017 legislative session is scheduled to start Wednesday with hundreds of campaign promises at stake and a General Assembly split by just seven seats in the House and a tiebreaking lieutenant governor in the Senate.
The budget — depending on which analyst you believe — is in deficit by $1.3 billion or $1.5 billion and will be a focal point for lawmakers who don’t want to raise taxes or further cut state services.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will deliver his state-of-the-state address at noon Wednesday and has repeatedly warned state employee unions that more layoffs will be necessary if they are unable to renegotiate the health and pension benefit package that doesn’t expire until 2022. The unions were recently able to reach an agreement with the administration over changes to the pension fund. However, none of those changes would impact the benefits state employees receive as part of the agreement they inked with Malloy in 2011.
Lawmakers can raise the new pension package for a vote. But if they don’t, it will automatically go into effect 30 days after the start of the session on Jan. 4.
In addition to the budget and labor issues that are likely to consume most of the debate, there are also several pressing policy discussions.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, pre-filed legislation calling for the legalization and taxation of marijuana. Looney’s legislation suggests that revenue from marijuana sales should go to the general fund.
While the makeup of the General Assembly has changed, Democratic lawmakers, who hold a slight majority, also raised a proposal for a paid family and medical leave system. The system would require those who want to participate to pay into the system, and then that money would be redistributed to individuals who need it for maternity or medical leave or to take care of a sick family member.
Some lawmakers will also seek to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. The Low-Wage Worker Advisory Board made the recommendation last year in their report.
Exempting Social Security from the state income tax seems to be an issue that has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have pre-filed legislation calling for the exemption. The proposal would cause the state to lose $47 million in revenue, which means lawmakers will have to find another source of revenue or cut spending by that amount.
Other revenue proposals the legislature may consider include efforts to improve the state’s business climate by stimulating new business investments that will in turn increase tax revenue without increasing the tax rates. Malloy has hinted that he will include some of those proposals in his budget, which he won’t release until February.
Lowering the minimum bottle prices for the liquor industry is a proposal Malloy has pitched year-after-year without success. It’s likely the issue will be raised again. Minimum bottle pricing allows smaller stores to compete with larger retailers by maintaining higher prices. Malloy has sought to maintain a per-case price instead of per bottle in an effort to lower prices for consumers without eliminating the entire benefit to the smaller stores.
Malloy has also said that he will once again push hard to pass legislation allowing 18-to 20-year-olds to be tried as juveniles. The proposal is part of his Second Chance Society, an umbrella concept through which the governor is seeking to reduce Correction Department costs and recidivism. The legislature refused to vote on that proposal and one of bail reform last year.
Malloy, who hasn’t ruled out a third-term but is unlikely to seek one according to sources close to the governor, will have far less political capital this year then he has in past years.
According to the Office of Legislative Research, which issues a preview of possible issues for debate in 2017, nuclear energy also will likely be an issue this year. Nuclear plant closures around the country have prompted states to consider ways to help nuclear plants compete in energy markets, which have seen costs plummet because of increased availability of natural gas.
The Senate raised a bill last year to help the Millstone Nuclear Plant in Waterford, but the last-minute bill never passed the House.
The issue of where the state plans to build a third casino will also need to be raised this year, if Connecticut expects to expand gambling in advance of the planned opening of a new casino in Springfield, Mass. in 2018.
Connecticut’s two federally recognized tribes, which have been given permission to scout out a new location for the casino, will need authorizing legislation to proceed.
While increasing regulations for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft is certain to be raised, re-establishing tolls may also be considered. According to the Office of Legislative Research, the Department of Transportation is studying the possibility of using tolls to better manage traffic flow on I-95 between the New York border and New Haven and on I-84 in Hartford.
Lawmakers could also decide to take up some of the issues regarding the landmark school funding addressed by Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher. The state has since appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, but in the meantime, lawmakers could enact legislation to address the issues in the decision, including the Education Cost Sharing grant, which the judge said the state largely abandoned in 2013.
In his September 2016 decision, Moukawsher said the state was “defaulting on its constitutional duty to provide adequate public school opportunities.”