The 2022 session of the Connecticut General Assembly kicks off this week and among the issues sure to be debated are taxes, what to do with an unprecedented budget windfall, the governor’s pandemic-related executive orders, crime, and health care. That’s already a lot to pack into the shorter even-year session, but there are a few more things that should be on their docket this year.
1. Climate change
Look, the planet ain’t getting any cooler. As each new year breaks heat records, and as we see more intense storms and unseasonable weather, we ought to be focusing as much as we can on both mitigating and adapting to climate change.
The legislature should do more to hurry along the shift from fossil-fuel powered vehicles to electric. The state needs more electric charging points everywhere, but homeowners should also be incentivized to install charging stations in their own garages. Electric cars that can be recharged at home are the future of commuting, especially in places where cars are the only realistic way to get around.
Fortunately, Connecticut already has a program in place doing just that. PURA (the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority) approved a plan last year that would issue rebates for residential EV charging stations and the wiring upgrades that might come with them. This is excellent, but right now not enough people know this plan exists.
The legislature should do two things: advertise this program widely and increase incentives to the point where EV ownership starts looking realistic for car-dependent middle-class families.
Second, the legislature needs to address skyrocketing electric bills. People aren’t going to want to switch to EVs if buying gas is still the cheaper option. We should push the building of more power plants using renewable energy such as wind, solar, hydro and nuclear, and find out what our electric utilities need to bring those prices down.
2. Our Broken Redistricting System
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a bipartisan committee manages to agree on new district lines for the state legislature, but descends into partisan bickering over congressional district boundaries. The state Supreme Court brings on a special master to draw new lines, but only to shift them as much as needed to equalize population. No real changes to the wonky shape of some of our congressional districts will be made.
Yes, it’s the 2011 redistricting process! Oh, and this year’s, too. The special master was even the same guy.
Redistricting and reapportionment are an inherently political process in our state, even though we try to make it bipartisan. The fact that the system has been thrown to the courts for the second time in two rounds of redistricting means the system is broken, and that it should be apolitical.
The legislature should draft and pass a constitutional amendment creating a California-style citizens’ commission to draw new district lines, to then be approved by voters in 2022 or 2024, well before the next round of redistricting gets underway in 2031.
I bet you were hoping this would go away forever, and that I’d forgotten all about it. Wrong! Connecticut still needs tolls on the highways. Yes, it’s great that President Biden’s infrastructure plan was passed, and that Connecticut will now have money to do a lot of the things that need doing when it comes to roads, rails and bridges. But this is a one-time thing, and there’s no guarantee that federal money like this will show up again anytime in the near future.
Our transportation needs are only going to increase as we battle climate change. Money from tolls could help go toward incentives for EV purchase, for instance, or toward better public transit coverage.
There don’t have to be a lot of tolls, but they do have to exist in high-traffic areas. We could use them to implement congestion pricing, for instance, and make it more expensive to travel during peak hours.
Oh, and you want to make people switch to EVs? Make it so that any electric vehicle with Connecticut plates gets to drive right through the tolls without paying a dime. If there’s one thing people love doing, it’s getting out of having to pay for something. Remember how fast we switched from plastic to reusable bags at the grocery store? We’ll be converted to electric in no time.
These are just some of the issues the legislature ought to take up during this short session. And if there’s just not enough time? Maybe we ought to look at making these sessions longer, too.