Welcome to 2019: Frey sees challenges in state budget, pensions
A new year, a new legislature, and a new face in the governor’s mansion in Hartford — Ridgefielder John Frey (R-111) is heading back to the state House of Representatives after narrowly staving off a challenge from Democratic nominee Aimee Berger-Girvalo this past November.
Top priorities include the state budget, unfunded mandates (laws passed by the state which set new standards or programs without money from the state to implement them), unfunded state pension obligations, and the state’s outstanding debt of about $80 billion.
“Those are all the elephants in the room,” Frey said.
Unfunded mandates are nothing new, according to the 11-term incumbent.
“In my 20 years in the legislature, every Board of Education has asked me to oppose unfunded mandates, so that’s where I come down,” said Frey. “As far as I’m concerned the best decisions are made close to the people.”
As for pension obligations, Frey said some reforms are needed.
“If you’re a [police] sergeant and you make $85,000 a year, your pension is based on that and not your overtime and your uniform and meal reimbursement,” Frey said.
Frey said he also plans to take another look at the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law.
This session he will be on the legislature’s housing committee. “That deals with 8-30g, that’s such a hot-button issue in Ridgefield I wanted to get on that committee,” he said.
The law allows developers to get around most local zoning restrictions — including size and housing density rules — as long as the developer can prove the project won’t negatively impact public health. In exchange, the developer agrees to set aside 30% of the housing units built as part of the project as affordable housing.
Ridgefield had a four-year moratorium on 8-30g, which expired in October.
“I’d like to get rid of [8-30g] but we’re not going to do that,” said Frey.
He has hopes to extend the length of a moratorium from four years to five, and lower the threshold for towns to apply “to something that’s more attainable,” Frey said.
He would also propose limiting development in watershed areas to one unit per acre.
“I’m all for affordable housing — I think that everybody is — but the fact that they don’t have to abide by planning and zoning” rules has a negative impact “for communities like ours,” Frey said.
Ridgefield’s state representative for the 111th District is also concerned about governor-elect Lamont’s proposal to add tolls to state roads.
Lamont has proposed tolls that would apply only to large commercial trucks. “We’ll see if that’s legal or not,” said Frey.
Rhode Island currently has a truck-only tolls — the state uses an array of license-plate cameras over sections of I-95 for billing. But those tolls are currently the subject of a lawsuit by the American Trucking Association, which says the tolls discriminate against trucking companies.
Frey said he is worried that allowing tolls on trucks in Connecticut will be “letting the camel under the tent” for more tolls in the future.
He’s also concerned the tolls will push more traffic through town.
“It’s not hypothetical, we see that when the weigh station is open in Danbury,” he said.
While Frey said he has no problem with adding usage tolls to bridges in need of repair, he balked at the number of tolling gantries Lamont has proposed.
“Eighty-two toll stations would be more than any other state in the country … and we’re the smallest geographically,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Crossing the aisle
When he heads back to Hartford, Frey will be working with a state House of Representatives and Senate that are firmly in Democratic hands.
Frey’s Republican colleague for a decade, state Sen. Toni Boucher lost her seat serving the 26th District to Democratic challenger Will Haskell, a 22-year-old from Westport.
“Toni Boucher is really a loss for the district,” Frey noted.
He recently met with Haskell to talk about the upcoming session.
“The election is behind us and we need to govern, and my expectation is we’re going to do that,” Frey said. “Will certainly brings the enthusiasm of a young person and that perspective … I’m optimistic that we’re going to work together just fine.”
Both Frey and Haskell have supported stronger gun laws — Frey helped pass stricter gun laws in the state in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
“We’re pretty much there, we’ve got the second strongest gun laws in the country,” Frey told The Press.
He said he glad to see that the federal government had stepped in to issue a ban on bump-stocks — devices that allow a semi-automatic gun to fire nearly as fast as a fully-automatic machine gun.
Frey announced support for a state bill that would have banned the devices in Connecticut in March.
Closer to home, Frey acknowledged the town is seeing a glut of closing businesses and falling home values.
Six businesses closed or announced they would be closing in the new year during the month of December.
“That’s a large number of vacancies on Main Street ... it’s disconcerting,” said Frey.
He noted that in some cases, home values have dropped by as much as 50% in town.
“We need to get back to making the state more corporate friendly,” to attract home buyers, he said. “Eliminating the corporate tax would be a step in the right direction.”