HARTFORD, CT — On the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., a group of advocates and clergy asked lawmakers from both parties to deliver a state budget that honors his legacy.
“We urge you to pass a budget that calls upon the wealthiest individuals and large profitable corporations to pay their fair share,” the letter from faith, labor and advocacy groups said.
At a gathering at the Legislative Office Building Thursday, the group said Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget leaves the wealthy and large corporations “untouched,” but they worry about what will happen if the General Assembly reduces the revenue increases that are part of his budget proposal.
Lamont’s budget leaves the social safety net intact even though it maintains budget cuts from past years.
Sheldon Toubman, a legal aid attorney who was speaking on behalf of the Cross Disability Alliance, said the governor’s budget imposes an asset test of the Medicare Savings Program, requires Medicaid patients to get prior authorizations for certain treatments, and blocks access to essential drugs unless Medicaid enrollees try and fail on other cheaper drugs.
“Many of the revenue proposals in the governor’s budget are not going to pass,” Toubman said.
He doesn’t believe Lamont’s attempt at broadening the sales tax base will work for all the revenue he’s seeking to raise.
“If we believe in economic justice as preached by Dr. King and we expect those who most benefit under our economic system to pay their fair share, the only option is for the legislature and the governor to make those who can afford to do so pay a little more,” Toubman said.
He said they could look at raising the income tax on the wealthiest one percent and gain about $227.4 million. Or they could look at increasing the capital gains rate for the top tax bracket and see $113.7 million in revenue.
Toubman described capital gains tax as the “money you earn from doing nothing.”
He said Lamont “is in a special place to be able to call on the wealthy to pay a little bit more because he himself is in that privileged group.”
“The governor uniquely can ask his peers, who we all know can pay a little more, to step up,” Toubman said. “So poor and disabled folks don’t have to suffer under this budget.”
Lamont was tasked with closing a $1.5 billion deficit in the first year, and a $2.3 billion deficit in the second year of the two-year budget he presented on Feb. 20. The General Assembly and its two budget writing committees are still working on their response to that proposal, which isn’t due until the beginning of May.
Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, said Connecticut needs to figure out what the revenue looks like and where the equity is in it because the middle class is disappearing.
“We continue to balance this budget on the backs of the poor people and the working people and the unions,” Porter said.
She said Lamont is better positioned to speak some truth to his wealthy peers and ask them to contribute a little more.
But at the moment what he’s proposing is “nothing new.”
She said people who work seven days a week should not qualify for government programs, but the reality is they do.
“That’s just not fair,” she added.
The Rev. Josh Pawelek said he’s sick of the “pernicious lie” that paying someone $15 an hour, which isn’t even a living wage, is “bad for business.”
“We are tired of hearing that a robust safety net for people with disabilities in the state of Connecticut is bad for business somehow,” Pawelek said. “And we are tired of hearing that a robust safety net for our elders in the state of Connecticut is bad for business. We are tired of hearing that a healthcare system that actually prioritizes the delivery of healthcare as opposed to profits for corporations is somehow bad for business.”
He said affordable housing and equitable funding for education is not bad for business.
“When poverty is on the rise, when stress is on the rise, and when sickness untreated is on the rise, that’s bad for business,” Pawelek said. “And solving these problems is good for business.”
Pawelek said he’s not talking about class warfare, “we’re talking about what is fair and what is essential for our state to thrive.”
The Rev. John Selders said “this is not a left or right issue. This is about what’s right and what’s wrong.”
The one way to right “historic wrongs” is through legislative action, Selders said.
Selders led the group to Senate Republican and Senate Democratic offices on the third floor of the Legislative Office Building to drop off letters Thursday. No lawmakers were there to accept them, but staff said they would pass them along.