The state’s biennial budget will take center stage in the Capitol this week after Gov. Ned Lamont presents his budget to lawmakers on Wednesday. Along with proposals to lock in funding levels boosted with federal aid, Lamont is expected to announce a plan for a middle-class tax cut, along with already-announced plans to cut taxes for businesses and low-income workers.
Republicans question change to open container law
Republican lawmakers on the Transportation Committee questioned a proposal to ban passengers of motor vehicles from having open containers of alcohol, which the Connecticut Department of Transportation said is necessary to stop federal funds from being diverted away from construction to safety programs.
State Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, questioned why the legislature would ban open containers by passengers, but not give police more power to stop drivers for smoking marijuana while driving. O’Dea and State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, both said they’d like to see more funding for education campaigns to curb impaired driving.
“Why this legislative body has precluded the ability of law enforcement to enforce sober driving if they smell marijuana from passengers, but if they smell alcohol they can pull a person out, is beyond my comprehension,” O’Dea said.
Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto said the state has had $175 million in federal funds diverted to safety and education programs over the last 20 years because the state has not banned open containers for passengers.
“We’ve seen significant improvement in our state with respect to seatbelt usage, because it was an education campaign that forced a behavioral change,” Eucalitto told lawmakers. “Unfortunately that same shift has not occurred with impaired drivers.”
Eucalitto said 40 percent of deaths on Connecticut roads are tied to a drunk driver – the third highest rate in the country. He said there is disagreement over whether banning open containers for passengers helped, but it’s a federal rule they want states to adopt.
Lamont proposes making tax credit boost permanent
Gov. Ned Lamont said he wants to permanently raise Connecticut’s Earned Income Tax Credit – boosting its assistance for more than 200,000 lower-income workers by about 30 percent.
Under Lamont’s proposal, the state credit would increase from 30.5 percent of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit to 40 percent. That would mean that the credit for a qualifying married family with two children would increase from a maximum of $1,880 to $2,465, according figures supplied by Governor’s office.
The credit was capped below 30 percent of the federal credit since 2013, until lawmakers raised it to 30.5 percent in 2021 – which was temporarily boosted to 41.5 percent by federal COVID money. Permanently raising the credit to 40.5 percent would cost about $45 million a year, according to Lamont.
“Numerous studies have shown that the EITC is one of the best anti-poverty tools we can use because it encourages work, boosts economic stability, and uplifts generations to come,” Lamont said in a written statement. “Ultimately, this tax credit helps improve entire communities because these dollars are being invested right back into our local economy through groceries, transportation, clothing, rent, utilities, and other necessary expenses.”
PURA fed up with utilities’ customer service failures
The state’s top utility regulator said it could fine utilities over poor customer service.
PURA’s four-person call center is overwhelmed with 13,000 phone calls a year, increasingly coming from utility customers who are unhappy with the response they’ve received from the utility’s own customer service, PURA Chair Marissa Gillett told the Energy and Technology Committee on Tuesday.
“That is going to result in some additional enforcement action from PURA,” Gillett said. “I want to make sure that we are not putting ourselves out as a band-aid for poor customer service.”
This week, PURA fined Eversource and its subsidiary Yankee Gas, and United Illuminating and its subsidiary Southern Connecticut Gas, $100,000 each for failing to follow the regulator’s orders to update information about how customers with medical issues can be protected from having their service shut off.
PURA has found in the past that the utilities’ customer service training materials and communications with customers is “deficient” and the authority said the companies are relying on the regulator to serve as “quality control” for their work.
“I think we’re seeing a disturbing trend as of late, when we give directions to improve customer service materials, we’re then being used as copy editors,” Gillett told lawmakers.
Supporters turn out for boosting funding to public schools
Nearly 200 people testified in support of a proposal to spend approximately $275 million of the state’s surplus funds on additional funding for public schools in the year 2025.
State Rep. Jeffrey Currey, D-East Hartford, chair of the education committee, said it was critical to fully fund the formula in 2025 because of the looming expiration of the federal coronavirus relief funds that districts have been using to pay for staff, summer programs and academic and mental health supports.
In a forum on Wednesday, superintendents and heads of schools said they viewed the additional funds as a necessary replacement for the money the districts stand to lose once the federal coronavirus relief funds run out.
Other superintendents who testified said that their districts had been underfunded for decades by the current formula.
In addition to providing more funding for traditional public schools, the formula also increases the funding for magnet schools, charter schools, technical high schools, vocational agriculture programs and Open Choice.