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Connecticut News

Conn. General Assembly Prepares For Tough Legislative Session

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AP Photo/Jessica Hill
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Tomorrow the Connecticut General Assembly will begin the 2016 legislative session. Lawmakers are facing some tough issues this year. The state budget has a big gap that needs to be closed. There’s the lockbox to protect funding for transportation projects. And GE is taking its headquarters out of Fairfield and relocating to Boston which will be a big hit to the state’s coffers. Susan Haigh, Capitol reporter for the Associated Press, joins us from the AP offices in Hartford to give us a preview of some of the top issues lawmakers will take on this year.

What would you say are the top 5 issues that the General Assembly is likely to focus on this year?

Since it’s the second year of a two year budget, the budget will still be an issue. We won’t be coming out with a brand new one, but budget definitely will be an issue because, as you know, we’ve had problems with ours and we tend to keep having deficits projected. Transportation like you said, definitely. The Governor’s transportation financing panel has just come out with some recommendations on how to try to fund the governor’s $100 billion overhaul of the state’s transportation systems, and they’re talking about all these different taxes- having a higher gas tax, going back to the rate we had back in the 90s, having a higher sales tax, but the Governor is saying he doesn’t expect that will be voted on in the next session until they actually pass this lockbox thing, which needs and extra large number of votes to get it on the ballot for voters this coming November.

What else do you think will rise to the top during this next session?

Another big issue has to do with gaming. This whole idea about the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans wanting to open up a border casino, along the Massachusetts border, to try to compete with the planned MGM casino in Springfield. They’ve said that they probably won’t have a site selected by the time the legislature wraps up,  but there could be some legislation surrounding this issue. I don’t know if we can expect a real up or down vote on whether or not to allow a third casino in Connecticut to open, but I would expect that there will be debate on the issue.

You mentioned the lawmakers looking at ways of making the state more business friendly. Is that a partisan issue at this point and does GE leaving the state give more firepower, so to speak, to those who insist something has to be done to make the state more friendly to business?

There are partisan differences on this issue. The Republican minority, a lot of those leaders feel that Connecticut has really dropped the ball when it comes to business friendliness, and also it’s not just taxes. A lot of this has to do with our continued budgetary problems. Companies like GE have expressed concerns to lawmakers privately that they’re worried about unfunded pension liabilities that the state might have. They’re worried about us lurching from a deficit to a surplus to a deficit. And there’s this unpredictability in state taxes and unpredictability in our state budget.  Mostly, Republicans are very critical about those things. Some Democrats they say, we made a lot of progress. Connecticut is not in as terrible shape as we’re portrayed to be. We recouped all the private sector jobs that we lost during the recession. There’s a difference of opinion, I guess, as to what we need to do to make us competitive. There seems to be a general realization that we need to do some bi-partisan work to make sure that our budget is more stable and that these deficits are taken care and, ultimately, that should be something that should satisfy a lot of the companies to make them feel more confident that they won’t get socked with some massive tax increase down the road.