Legislators discuss state budget in Weston

Weston’s League of Women Voters held a Legislative Wrap-Up on Saturday, Sept. 16 for area legislators to discuss the state budget. The meeting came mere hours after an early-morning vote that saw Connecticut’s House of Representatives pass a Republican-endorsed budget 78-72.

Six Democrats voted in favor of the budget presented by Republicans.

As of press time, Gov. Dannel Malloy has vowed to veto the proposed budget, but he has not yet taken that action. An executive order from Malloy that would cut substantial state aid to some towns and cities, including placing a large share of teacher’s pension costs on towns, goes in effect on Oct. 1 if no budget deal is made.

Weston would be responsible for approximately $2.3 million in teacher’s pensions if the executive order was put into effect.

Weston’s legislators, State Rep. Adam Dunsby (R-135),  Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28) and Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), in addition to State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg (D-136) who represents Westport, attended at the wrap-up and were asked questions by the audience. Laura Smits acted as moderator.

Despite sharing a party affiliation with the governor, Steinberg called Malloy’s executive order “draconian” and “ridiculous.” He called for the state’s Democrats, Republicans and the governor to reach a consensus and make sacrifices to achieve a budget.

“If there is ever going to be a consensus budget then he [Malloy] will have to be part of this process in a different way than he has been,” Steinberg said. “Everybody needs to be all in.”

Steinberg said there were parts of the Republican budget that he liked, but couldn’t support it due to some other aspects, such as the slashing of the Citizen’s Election Program (CEP).

The CEP provides public financing to qualified candidates for statewide offices and the General Assembly. According to the state website, the program was “designed to encourage citizen participation and limit the role of private money in the State of Connecticut's political process.”

Steinberg called the potential elimination of the CEP “partisan” and said Republicans have been trying to kill the program “for years.”

“As much as I liked many aspects of the Republican budget, including many of the structural changes, I could not vote for a budget that included eliminating CEP,” he said. “CEP needs to be reformed, but to eliminate that would be to foreclose the democratic ability for people to run for office.”

Boucher said that she has historically supported the CEP, but believes sacrifices need to be made in order to pass a budget.

“We had to come to an agreement as a whole and as such many of us had to swallow hard and say what is the greater good,” said Boucher. “This was a compromise moment that had to be done.”

Pivotal moment

Hwang said that is a “pivotal moment” in the recent political history of the state of Connecticut.

“The legislative body stood up to the governor and the executive branch and reflected the thoughts, feelings and frustrations that we’ve heard,” said Hwang. “For the first time in my nine years of public service I got a sense that the people were heard and it wasn’t just business as usual.”

Boucher said the Republican budget put forth helps Weston and Westport.

“Every single person that represents either one of these two towns should have voted in favor of this [Republican budget],” she said. “Our alternative will not have shift the cost of teacher’s pensions to our towns. It will not enact tolls with legislative oversight, it will not tax cell phones and it will not tax you on your second home.”

Steinberg said he is vehemently opposed to the sharing of teacher’s pensions that Malloy has proposed in his executive order.

“It’s the governor you all have to work on,” Steinberg said. “He has insisted that he will not approve a budget that does not include pension sharing. He is the problem.”

Dunsby said the teacher’s pensions issue is the ticking time bomb in the budget and opens the doors to the state taking more from each town.

“It can’t be allowed to happen,” said Dunsby. “Even if it’s only 1% of Weston’s budget today, you’re opening up the prospect that it can be 10% of the budget ten years from now. People in the legislature would be perfectly fine with that.”

Bankruptcy in Hartford

When asked if the governor’s veto of the Republican budget would assure a chapter 9 bankruptcy in Hartford, Hwang said allowing that bankruptcy would be a “knockout punch.”

“It undermines any confidence of investment vehicles, not only nationally but internationally, that the state of Connecticut cannot fulfil its obligations,” said Hwang. “The Republican budget has some seed money to enforce them to begin the responsive, representative government that they need, but we did not include the money to bail out the quasi-public XL Center.”

Steinberg agreed with Hwang that bankruptcy in Hartford would have negative impacts on the state.

“Bankruptcy may be inevitable,” said Steinberg. “If Hartford goes under it will have an impact across the state on borrowing and on the state’s perception.”

Dunsby wasn’t quite sure if bankruptcy in Hartford was inevitable, but isn’t sure if the stigma against the state would be as bad as others have assumed.

“The last time you flew an airline, did you check to see if that airline went bankrupt? Probably not,” said Dunsby. “The idea that it’s a huge stigma, I don’t really buy that. Is it a bigger stigma than the situation that we have now?”

Click HERE to see a video of the entire legislative wrap-up.

State Representative Adam Dunsby represents the 135th General Assembly district communities of Easton, Redding, and Weston.

State Sen. Toni Boucher represents the 26th Senate district communities of Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton.

State Sen. Tony Hwang represents the 28th Senate district communities of Easton, Fairfield, Newtown, Weston, and Westport.