SOUTHINGTON â€“ Local legislators talked tolls and Gov. Ned Lamontâ€™s proposed budget among other issues Thursday at the Legislative Breakfast at the Southington Elks Lodge.
The event was sponsored by the Southington Chamber of Commerce and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA). It was attended by local business owners, town leaders and representatives from nonprofit organizations.
The event was moderated by Shannon King, CBIAâ€™s public affairs manager. Participating legislators included Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz (D-Southington, Berlin), Sen. Rob Sampson (R-Southington, Prospect, Wolcott, Cheshire, Waterbury), Rep. John Fusco (R-Southington) and Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco (R-Southington, Wolcott). Also sitting at the table were Town Council Chair Chris Palmieri and Town Manager Mark Sciota.
Lamontâ€™s proposed budget
King began by asking the guestsâ€™ opinion of Lamontâ€™s budget, which was announced Wednesday.
Sampson said it is too much spending and too many taxes. He said that it makes the state unattractive to college graduates. He urged people attending the forum to call up their representatives to voice their displeasure.
â€śIâ€™m one of 13 Republicans out of 36 state senators â€“ weâ€™re outnumbered two to one,â€ť he said. â€śWe need a public outcry saying that this is not what we voted for.â€ť
Aresimowicz said the state canâ€™t make cuts everywhere and that some areas, like transportation, are under-funded. He said he wants to have an honest discussion about what issues the state is facing.
Fusco said he wants to come up with legislation that is â€śpalatableâ€ť for both Democrats and Republicans.
Mastrofrancesco said Lamontâ€™s plan represents â€śmore big government.â€ť She said that there is a big ideological divide between Democrats and Republicans.
Palmieri said that Lamontâ€™s budget was an overall loss for Southington of around $190,000. It will see a $65,000 increase in education funding but a $47,000 cut in capital projects funding and expecting the town to pay for $208,000 in teacher retirements. He said he is hopeful that the town can get some of those funds back.
Sciota said that he wants to be sure what numbers he has to work with.
â€śIf these numbers are the worst case scenario, and they could go up, fine,â€ť he said. â€śWhat I canâ€™t do is put in a budget based on these numbers and then find out in April or May that we have to come up with another six or seven thousand dollars.â€ť
King then asked the panel for their opinions on tolls.
Fusco said he has spoken to Lamont about reviewing the transportation fund instead.
â€śWe spend close to $2 billion a year on transportation, why not look at prioritizing what we have?â€ť he said.
Aresimowicz supports tolls. He said that when someone drives to Massachusetts, New York or New Jersey they pay tolls. However, people from out of state coming to Connecticut donâ€™t pay them, which he said is unfair. He said tolls for residents could be offset by a discount with an easy pass, a commuter discount, or a reduction in the gas tax.
â€śAs vehicles become more fuel efficient there are going to be diminishing returns,â€ť he said.
Mastrofrancesco argued that tolls are â€śjust another taxâ€ť and will lead to increased traffic on side roads.
Sampson said that Lamont never was going to only tax trucks, like he claimed. He added that tolls wonâ€™t generate revenue for years.
Palmieri asked if municipalities would receive increased funding for local roads, should tolls pass, to compensate for increased traffic. Aresimowicz said that was a â€śvalid pointâ€ť but the answer was â€śto be determined.â€ť
Paid leave and minimum wage
King asked to legislators to weigh-in on paid family medical leave and increasing the minimum wage to $15.
Aresimowicz said he was in favor of both.
Sampson said that Connecticut is unattractive to businesses already. He said that it will result in less entry-level positions being available.
Fusco said that town residents are â€śby and large opposedâ€ť to both proposals and so is he. He said paid family medical leave is unsustainable.
Mastrofrancesco agreed that paid family medical leave was unsustainable and said that employers can always choose to raise an employeeâ€™s wages to $15 an hour. However, making it the minimum wage would hurt businesses that rely on seasonal work and limit job opportunities for 16 year olds, so she canâ€™t support it.
Sciota said the minimum wage increase would also impact Parks and Recreation, which makes use of seasonal workers that are mostly high school students or college students.
Members of the audience were then allowed to ask questions. A local realtor asked why real estate commissions were being taxed. He argued that his wages were effectively being taxed twice.
Aresimowicz agreed that the current tax system was unfair, which was why Lamont was eliminating exemptions. Sampson said that it is just a cash grab and an expansion of things to tax.
Pete Rappoccio, president and owner of Sign Pro, Inc. argued that the state should be only allowed to hire state businesses for state projects. He said that he has lost out on contracts because Connecticut businesses have to pay for 70 percent of every dollar on workmanâ€™s compensation while Massachusetts only pays for 50 percent. This lets Massachusetts businesses come in as lower bidders. He argued that if Connecticut businesses got more contracts, they could expand more and hire more workers.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.