Voices from the Capitol (XXIX): Contact Your Senator Today

Back • August 14, 2017 • Uncategorized

August 7, 2017

In today’s email:

Action Alert: Contact Your Senator Today

The Senate Democrats are going to be caucusing tonight at 6:00 about the budget.

It is important that Senators hear from people in their districts – we urge you to call and tell your Senator that you are opposed to program cuts.

Click here to find the contact information of your State Senator, and tell him or her that it is time to pass a budget that puts children and families first. Program cuts in education, social services, health care, early childhood, or mental health are damaging and short-sighted. Connecticut needs a budget that includes new revenue, not just cuts, following a balanced approach that combines new revenue with strategic spending in opportunity and equitable growth.

It is important for Senators to hear from you today before their caucus to strengthen their resolve to preserve important programs. Click here to find your legislator.

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As the budget negotiations continue, we will be sending more action alerts to our "Voices from the Capitol" mailing list. Make sure you are subscribed here.

Budget Update: Concessions

Last week, the Connecticut General Assembly took an important first step towards closing the budget gap when both chambers narrowly approved the labor concessions deal struck by the Governor and public sector unions. The agreement represents $1.57 billion in savings over the next two years in exchange for extending the current contract to five years (to 2027).

This means that lawmakers are now facing a $3.5 billion two-year budget gap instead of a $5 billion one. The agreement reduced the budget deficit by close to a third; the rest will have to be eliminated by program cuts and/or tax increases. Legislators still face a challenging budget picture, but this agreement makes it a bit less daunting. Now is the time for you to take action as requested above: let’s make sure the remaining budget gap is not closed on the backs of vulnerable children and families.

Budget Updates: New Developments

Outside the labor agreement, budget negotiations continue apace behind closed doors. Currently there seem to be three main points of contention: a possible sales tax increase, fiscal reforms, and municipal aid. All three issues are linked; a portion of the sales tax funds municipal aid, and local governments have been looking for ways to become less dependent on property taxes.

Right now, however, there is no immediate consensus on how to raise the sales tax. Our position is that lawmakers should expand the tax base, eliminating exemptions to raise more revenue. House leaders have proposed increasing the current rate by half a point on top of an additional one-percent surcharge for restaurants. Municipalities, however, oppose that move. We expect these proposals to evolve as negotiations continue.

Aside from these debates, the General Assembly does not have a timeline for a budget vote. It is unlikely that we see a budget before September.

The Cost of Not Having a Budget

The lack of a state budget is starting to take its toll in many programs and services. Many social service programs run under contract by nonprofits are facing service reductions and furloughs. Crucial programs for children and families like Care 4 Kids remain closed to new enrollments.

Without a budget, municipalities will face deep cuts in October, when the first Education Cost Sharing payments are sent out. Governor Malloy outlined a $506 million cut in these payments in his executive order; last week he announced that he intends to protect funding for the lowest-performing districts. This would protect poorer cities and towns from the worst cuts, but will represent potentially higher impacts for other school districts.

The ACA Might Be Safe

Senate Republicans voted on three separate plans to repeal the ACA. All three plans were voted down, forcing Senate leaders to withdraw the bill and halt their repeal efforts.

It has happened before. The ACA repeal bill has suffered repeated setbacks, only to come back for another vote later. This time, however, seems to be different. Despite repeated exhortations from the White House asking legislators to persevere in their repeal effort, Senate leaders are talking about focusing on tax reform (some of the proposed changes carry a big risk for Connecticut, incidentally) and introducing some bipartisan fixes to the ACA. It is a big shift from where the debate was two weeks ago, and a very strong signal that the ACA might be safe for now.

There are still some risks on the horizon. The Trump administration is in charge of implementing the ACA, and they have openly talked about weakening the system by not enforcing the individual mandate, cutting key payments to insurers, and scaling back their outreach efforts. Most of these measures would impact the individual insurance market, not Medicaid, but could potentially have significantly impact access to health care.

The good news, however, is that the ACA is here to stay. If you have time, call your Representative or Senator and thank them for their efforts to protect the ACA.

CT Voices News: New Staff!

Connecticut Voices for Children has three new staff members: Karen Siegel, Public Health Policy Fellow; Camara Stokes Hudson, Associate Policy Fellow; and Nipuni Gomes, Communications and Development Assistant.

These new hires will bolster Connecticut Voices for Children’s research in health care, juvenile justice, and education policy, producing high-quality, data-based analysis, as well as enhancing the organization’s strategic communications capacity. Click here to download the press release.

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