Old Lyme — State Sen. Paul Formica (R-East Lyme) and State Rep. Devin Carney (R-Old Lyme) took questions and summed up the 2019 legislative session that ended on June 5 to an audience of about a dozen local residents, including Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder.
Speaking off-the-cuff and from a Senate Republican handout based on information provided by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research, Formica and Carney said that the state would end the legislative session with a $458 million deficit, a number of regressive tax increases on the horizon to fill in the gap, and the question of tolls deferred to a special session sometime this summer.
Reflecting on a budget opposed by both Formica and Carney, and passed by the Democratic majority in the legislature, Formica said tax rates will remain stable in the 2019-2020 budget, but more goods and services will be taxed. “They didn’t raise the rate on taxes but they expanded the base,” he said.
Formica represents the 20th Senate District, which includes Bozrah, East Lyme, Montville, New London, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Salem, Waterford. Carney represents the 23rd General Assembly District, which includes Lyme, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Westbrook.
Some of the changes outlined in the meeting and handout include:
Effective Oct. 1, 2019:
- The sales tax for digital purchases will increase from 1% to 6.35%
- The sales tax on prepared foods will increase from 6.35% to 7.35%
- The sales tax of diesel fuel used for marine purposes will decrease from 6.35% to 2.99%
Effective January 1, 2020 sales tax will include:
- Various motor vehicle parking services
- Dry-cleaning and laundry services, excluding coin-operated services
- Interior design (with the exception of business-to-business services)
From August 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021, the budget also includes a 10-cent plastic bag fee on single-use plastic bags provided at a point of sale. After July 1, 2021, this type of plastic bag will be banned.
“There was a whole conversation about the environment and how we get rid of plastic bags because they’re not good for the environment,” he said. “But I guess they’re good for the environment for two more years at 10 cents a bag because they raise $50 million a year,” Formica said.
Phasing out plastic bags will be a transition for shoppers and supermarkets, said Carney.
“I’m curious to see shoppers’ habits, whether they’ll go to paper bags or actually get reusable bags,” he said.
Reemsnyder suggested that the fee might help break consumers of the habit of using plastic bags before they are banned outright.
Formica, who also owns Flanders Fishmarket in East Lyme, explained that some types of plastic bags will be exempt, including those used for fish or meat, fruits and vegetables.
Carney summarized proposals by Gov. Ned Lamont which included 50 toll gantries that would be on I-95, I-84, I-91 and the Merritt Parkway about every six miles.
Carney said the goal would be to collect around $930 million, of which about $130 million would go toward infrastructure and administrative costs and $800 million would go into the Special Transportation Fund.
Even if passed in special session, the plan would still require approval by the federal government.
“Because after we got rid of tolls in 1983, there were new rules put into place by the feds,” Carney said. “We would have to be in a pilot program with the federal government — this one is called the “value pricing pilot program,” which is congestion price tolling,” he said.
Old Lyme resident Jim Miller said he disagreed with Lamont’s concept of forming a commission to formulate toll rates instead of putting the decision into the hands of the legislature. “As a taxpayer I sure don’t want to see a commission appointed by the governor to set the rates,” he said.
Carney replied that the Connecticut Department of Transportation had also opposed the creation of a tolling commission.
Formica said that tolling would be the focus of one of four special legislative sessions to be called this summer. One session will focus on bonding and school construction. Another will address an economic package that will likely include online gambling, sports betting, with funds directed toward a debt-free college fund. A third session would ratify an agreement on a state hospital tax.
“We don’t know what people’s appetites are for coming back four times,” he said. “This was a long hard session.”