ctnewsjunkie file photo
Senate President Martin Looney (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Democrats in the Connecticut Senate believe they picked up two seats Tuesday, strengthening their advantage potentially to supermajority levels in a chamber where they had been tied with Republicans just four years ago.

As towns continued to return election results Wednesday, Democrats appeared to have bolstered their majority in the upper chamber to 24 to 12. The split would give them a two-thirds majority where they had been tied for control of the Senate after the 2016 presidential election.

The party also saw gains in the House, where as of early Wednesday afternoon Democrats said they had reinforced their majority there by at least seven votes, bringing the House split to 98 to 53 with another upset still possible.

At a press conference outside the executive residence in Hartford, Gov. Ned Lamont said the election represented “a pretty strong mandate” for his party in both chambers but he said Republicans still had a seat at the table in Connecticut.

“People are going to say ‘Oh my gosh, a lot of Democrats and supermajorities.’ I just want people that are looking for solutions,” he said. “I don’t have all the ideas. I put my best ideas on the table… if you’ve got a better idea, come. You’ve got a place at the table and I’m all ears.”

In the Senate, Democratic challengers unseated sitting Republican Sens. George Logan, R-Ansonia, and Gennaro Bizzarro, R-New Britain. State Rep. Rick Lopes will replace Bizzarro next year and Jorge Cabrera won a tight rematch against Logan, whom he narrowly lost to in 2018.

Although it remained to be seen Wednesday morning whether Sen. Alex Kasser, D-Greenwich, would retain her seat in a tight race against Republican Ryan Fazio, Senate President Martin Looney said he was pleased by the results so far.

“At this point, it appears that we will have a net increase of at least two. There are still some races that haven’t been finalized yet,” Looney said.

With a stronger majority, Looney said his caucus would have more opportunities to pursue some of its priorities. During next year’s legislative session, he said he would look to adjust how towns are reimbursed for payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT funds, and explore establishing a public health care option for Connecticut residents.

“I think there will be broad support for a public option… That’s certainly one that’s going to be a high priority for us in 2021,” he said.

Regarding PILOT funds, which are reimbursements from the state for towns with properties they cannot tax, like hospitals and colleges, Looney said he hoped to create a tiered reimbursement system so the neediest municipalities would receive more state aid. He said wealthier towns would continue to be reimbursed at current levels. The goal is to reduce local property taxes, he said.

“The tax I think that most people find most burdensome in Connecticut is not any tax levied by the state but the local property tax,” he said.

To fund these adjustments, Looney said he is not opposed to increasing taxes on some top earners.

“Through the budget process and looking at how we tax levels of wealth or whether we want to have a separate tax on the capital gains and dividends as we did prior to the adoption of the state income tax,” he said.

During a Wednesday morning press conference, Gov. Ned Lamont was asked about some of the legislative Democrats’ priorities. He was generally supportive of the idea of a potential public option.

“One thing we learned with COVID, we know how important it is to have health care broadly available to everybody where nobody is left behind and how dangerous that is if that some people feel like they can’t have a doc or can’t have a test or don’t know if they’re taken care of if they test positive,” he said.

Meanwhile, the governor was reluctant to endorse any increase in taxes.

“I thought the idea of Connecticut jumping forward raising taxes on our own puts our state at a terrible competitive disadvantage right when we have the wind to our back,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, a North Haven Republican who did not seek re-election this year, said the Republican caucus will continue to push for fiscal responsibility and oppose raising taxes.

Although he said a full public option would be a “death blow” to Connecticut’s health care system, Fasano said he believed Republicans and Democrats could work together to pass a hybrid health care plan and on other issues.

“We do have to do something on health care. We do have to get the values down and the premiums less,” he said. “I think there’s still a lot of common ground. They’ll have to battle it out on other issues. But we definitely have to work together on the budget. … We’ve always been part of that conversation because we’ve had a solution. We will continue to do that next year.”

Looney said Senate Democrats would also be looking to reduce the cost of higher education particularly at the state’s community colleges.

“It’s damaging for the state of Connecticut to have young people starting life with so much college debt,” he said.