December 2014 - The Capitol Update
December 12, 2014
Glendower- “I can call spirits from the vasty deep.”
- Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part I”
In a rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial election, former ambassador Tom Foley (R) was convinced he could summon the collective anger of the voters to beat the seemingly vulnerable incumbent Governor Dan Malloy (D). With economic rankings below the majority of the states, unemployment higher than the national average and a favorability rating below 50%, Malloy early on was placed by pundits in the same category as Governors Scott of Florida, Quinn of Illinois and Hickenlooper of Colorado.
In his campaign, Foley hammered away at Connecticut’s stagnant economy, the unpopular $1.3 billion tax increase Malloy pushed through the legislature in 2011 and the impending billion dollar budget deficits for FY16 and FY17. Malloy countered in debates and political ads by tagging Foley as a Greenwich millionaire who paid no or minimal taxes in recent years and as an individual who is not prepared to govern. These negative assaults, combined with Foley’s lack of clarity on a host of issues, sank his campaign. Malloy won reelection by more than 28,000 votes, a margin of 2.5 percent. Clearly, Foley did not connect with voters who were searching for a positive direction for this state. The “red wave” of Republican national victories broke over the “blue rock” of Connecticut. In addition to Malloy’s reelection, all the state’s Democratic incumbent constitutional officers were reelected.
The General Assembly
The 2014 election produced modest but strategically significant gains for the Republican Party in both the State House and State Senate. Advantaged by a series of legislative retirements and a host of Democrat primaries, the GOP picked up 10 seats in the House (87 Democrats to 64 Republicans) and one seat in the Senate (21 Democrats to 15 Republicans). These additional Republican seats foreclose a veto-proof House and Senate and could block any partisan move to override the cap on state spending which, by law, takes an affirmative vote of 60 percent of each chamber. Yet with a Democrat majority in both the House and Senate, it is expected that on opening day of the 2015 General Assembly (January 7) the President Pro Tempore of the Senate will be Martin Looney (D- New Haven) and the Speaker of the House will be incumbent Brendan Sharkey (D- Hamden). The Senate will have new Majority and Minority Leaders- Democrat Bob Duff (D- Norwalk) and Republican Leonard Fasano (R- North Haven). Completing the House leadership posts will be Democrat Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D- Berlin) and new Republican Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R- Derby).
All five Democrat U.S. House incumbents easily won their Congressional races in Connecticut. In the two most competitive races, first-term Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-5) bested her Republican opponent Mark Greenberg by 16,000 votes and third-term Congressman Jim Himes (D-4) was elected over Republican Dan Debicella with a margin of more than 15,000 votes. Again, Connecticut proved to be a political anomaly with the state’s voters pushing back against the national Republican tide in which the Democrats lost 9 seats (54 R/ 46 D) in the U.S. Senate and 15 seats (247 R/ 188 D) in the House giving the Republicans a solid majority in both federal chambers.
THE STATE'S ECONOMY
Confronting Governor Malloy as Connecticut tries to recover from the lingering impact of the 2007-2009 recession, will be the lack of real wage growth, a weak housing market, the possible repeat of a federal sequester and a soft business climate. While the state’s unemployment numbers have improved to 6.6 percent, projections suggest the state will not regain all the jobs lost in the past few years until 2016. Connecticut’s all-important finance industry shrank 11 percent since the end of the recession from $36.2 billion to $32.3 billion in 2013.
On the positive side, with a rebound in the stock market, New York-centric Fairfield County residents can expect to see a dramatic increase in personal income. This will lead to an appreciable growth in the state’s personal income tax receipts which we have not seen since pre-recession days. With Fairfield County generating approximately 42 percent of the state’s income tax, these new revenues will be important in balancing future state budgets that the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis indicates may show a $1.3 billion deficit in FY16 and a $1.4 billion deficit in FY17.
ISSUES - 2015 GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Priority one will be the resolution of the impending state budget deficits. Governor Malloy in his campaign statements pledged not to raise taxes to mitigate revenue deficiencies in the two-year budget he will propose to the General Assembly in February. As a result, the Governor and the legislature will have to look at budget reductions in existing state programs and municipal aid or turn to bonding securitized by future state revenues to balance the budget. In addition, state officials may have to explore greater use of non-profit organizations to provide existing state services, the sale of state assets with lease back opportunities, restructuring state employee and state retiree health care programs and the merger of state agencies.
While difficult budget decisions are debated behind closed doors by administrative officials and legislative leaders, the members of the twenty-two standing and three statutory committees of the General Assembly will have plenty of time to consider and debate a wide range of social and economic issues. Primary among them will be proposals for local property tax reform through mandate reductions and efficiency incentives, possible revision of the state’s campaign finance laws and reform of the process of enrolling voters and election day balloting and a review of consumer protection safeguards for utility customers. Additionally, the legislature will most likely consider a number of measures that failed last year including physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill, removal of a regional trigger mechanism which delays the labeling of certain foods containing genetically modified ingredients, limits on property tax exemptions for non-profit institutions and a proposal to provide post-traumatic stress disorder benefits for on-the-job trauma.
Every two years, it is the prerogative of the leadership of the General Assembly to decide who will chair the legislative committees which raise bills, hold hearings and ultimately report approved measures to the floor of the House and Senate. Unlike Congress, the path to becoming a committee chair in the General Assembly has less to do with seniority than with political allegiance to the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. The following is a listing of the legislators selected by leadership to chair the committees of the General Assembly:
Energy & Technology
Executive & Legislative Nominations
Finance Revenue & Bonding
Government Administration & Elections
Higher Education & Employment Advancement
Insurance & Real Estate
Labor & Public Employees
Planning & Development
Program Review & Investigations
* Indicates a change in chair from last session
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