Budget, Transportation, Economy Top State’s To-Do List in 2015
Opening his second term and the 2015 session of the General Assembly, Gov. Malloy devoted most of his State of the State address this week on the need to “transform” transportation to improve Connecticut’s economic competitiveness.
“States that make long-term investments in their infrastructure can have vibrant economies for generations,” said the governor. “To be competitive regionally, nationally, and internationally, we need a transformation.”
The state's aging transportation infrastructure, he said, is “one of the largest challenges we face.”
To make sure the challenge is met, the governor proposed a “lock box” for transportation funds so that they aren’t diverted to other budget needs.
“Governor Malloy's plans to ensure that transportation dollars are only used for transportation projects and to begin the discussion on how to transform our current system will go a long way towards making the state more attractive for both businesses and individuals to locate and invest,” said CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan.
Lawmakers are facing another daunting challenge–a projected state budget deficit of more than $1 billion in each of the next two fiscal years.
During the session which will continue through Wednesday, June 3, the administration and legislature will have to develop a new two-year state budget.
Most important is to balance the budget without tax increases and borrowing, while continuing to make state government more efficient and effective.
The governor asked for, and received, a two-week extension on his budget address which will now take place on Wednesday, Feb. 18.
Changes in legislature
There are many new faces in the state Senate and House this year, along with changes in caucus and committee leadership posts. The November election brought 33 new lawmakers to the Capitol.
Now, after Gov. Malloy’s appointment of two Bridgeport lawmakers to his administration and the judicial branch, and another legislator’s move to the administration, the state Senate currently has 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans, with one open seat; and the House has 86 Democrats and 63 Republicans, with two open seats.
There are also significant changes in legislative leadership, especially in three of the four caucuses. There are also several new committee chairs and ranking members.
In the Senate, former majority leader Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven) is the new president pro tem, and Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) the new majority leader. Sen. Len Fasano (R-North Haven) is the new minority leader.
The House leadership again includes Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey (D-Hamden), and House Majority Leader Rep. Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin). State Rep. Themis Klarides (R- Derby) is the first woman GOP minority leader.
Most of the key work in the first months of the legislature takes place in committees, many of them under new leaders, including the Aging, Commerce, Education, Environment, Energy and Technology, Executive Nominations, General Law, Government Administration and Elections, Higher Education, Housing, Human Services, Public Safety, and Veterans committees.
The governor proposed widening I-95 and fixing its entrance and exit ramps; building new rail stations and upgrading branch lines; and creating a statewide bus transit service.
He called for protecting dedicated transportation funds because they have been a frequent source of legislative raids over the years to cover budget shortfalls and other government operating costs.
Republican legislative leaders agree on the need to improve transportation in Connecticut but were skeptical about efforts to safeguard the funds. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano called for a constitutional amendment that would ensure any transportation “lockbox” could not be opened.
Fasano also recommended reestablishing the state’s Transportation Strategy Board that several years ago identified specific priorities for implementation.
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