Trying to make good on their campaign promises, House Democrats unveiled a package of 10 bills last week that they said will help improve Connecticut’s economic climate.
“Our package reflects the long-term vision for moving Connecticut forward that we have been talking about with people throughout the state all summer and fall,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said. “Encouraging job growth and economic development, making Connecticut more affordable for our seniors, and keeping our young graduates living and working here are all priorities everyone should get behind.”
The package includes a number of proposals Aresimowicz spoke about during a September 2016 press conference at Goodwin College in East Hartford.
The legislative package includes a bill that would remove the technical high school system from the Department of Education and make it an independent agency.
Democratic lawmakers were upset last year when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked the Education Department to show him what a 10 percent cut would mean for the agency. Education Commissioner Dianne Wentzell said she would have to close two vocational-technical high schools to find $16.3 million in savings.
Aresimowicz said the 17 vo-tech high schools should not be under the control of the state Board of Education because their needs are different than traditional public schools. It’s still unknown whether Malloy would propose closing the schools as part of the budget he will unveil on Feb. 8.
Another bill that’s part of the Democratic package would establish a tax credit against the personal income tax for individuals who graduate from college and agree to stay and work in Connecticut.
It’s unclear how much the total package of 10 bills would cost, but exempting Social Security benefits from the income tax is estimated to cost the state $47 million. That’s on top of an estimated $1.5 billion budget deficit.
Lawmakers won’t have to figure out how to pay it until May when the two budget writing committees are expected to unveil their spending and revenue package.
Back in September, Aresimowicz said they planned to use the money from efficiencies they will achieve in order to pay for some of the revenue they would lose and the spending they would need for new programs.
He said they will examine every program in the budget and “if they’re not getting the results we want, we will cut them and we’ll save money there.”
Others question whether spending cuts alone will be able to resolve the problem, but the path to raising revenue is still murky. Malloy has not ruled out tax increases, but has said that’s not his starting point.
“This legislation represents the hundreds and thousands of conversations every member of the House Democrats had this fall with their constituents and local businesses,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said. “We are targeting the economy, business, jobs, education and tax cuts for seniors. It is an ambitious agenda, but we believe these policies are worth fighting for.”
Ritter said the package has widespread support from both sides of the aisle.