HARTFORD – As the start of the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2017 regular session nears, state legislators are establishing their talking points and putting together their agendas for the new year.
Peter Tercyak, a Democrat representing House District 26 in New Britain, said he will continue to do what he’s done in recent years: fight for workers rights.
“It will be an interesting year,” Tercyak said.
The representative served as a co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee in the Capitol in 2016, so labor issues and wage disputes are often at the forefront of his work.
Tercyak said he has a few focuses going into 2017, specifically minimum wage and paid family and medical leave.
Minimum wage in Connecticut will rise from $9.60 an hour to $10.10 an hour on Jan. 1, but Tercyak expects more discussion on minimum wage in the coming years.
“More and more pressure to change minimum wage is coming from government,” Tercyak said.
The representative will also actively fight for paid family and medical leave, specifically paternity leave, something not mandated by the federal government.
“We can do better than to provide nothing,” Tercyak said.
Tercyak said the United States needs to catch up to the rest of the world, where most countries mandate paid paternity leave at the federal level.
“There are only two other countries in the world that don’t have paid paternity leave,” Tercyak said. “Let’s think about what’s best for the childs development,” Tercyak added.
Robert Sanchez, a Democrat representing House District 25 in New Britain, also plans to fight for an increased minimum wage in 2017.
The representative said many of the citizens he met while knocking on doors this year mentioned minimum wage as an issue important to them.
“I do want to see the minimum wage reach $15,” Sanchez said.
With incremental raises every year, Sanchez hopes Connecticut’s minimum reaches $15 by around 2020.
Sanchez is also focused on increasing the salary of preschool teachers, specifically those working with nonprofits like the YMCA.
These teachers are underpaid, Sanchez said, so he is working on bills to help scale their pay and job requirements.
“If we want quality teachers, we should at least have the decency to give them a good salary,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said paying good teachers more is a great way to ensure they stay in the school system.
The representative also said he is committed making sure the state helps fund New Britain’s Smalley School renovation.
“I’m going to be advocating for that 80 percent,” Sanchez said, referring to the amount of money the state would fund if it signed off on the project.
For Rick Lopes, a Democrat representing House District 24 in Newington and New Britain, a balanced state budget is Connecticut’s biggest concern.
“Everything else is secondary,” Lopes said.
Lopes said his focus is, “crafting a budget that is balanced, and doesn’t eliminate safety net programs or greatly raise taxes.”
Lopes said too often the state’s budget yoyos year to year, with a tax cut-filled budget being passed one year only to be followed by a tax increase-filled budget passed years later.
“I’m a true believer in balance,” Lopes said.
Lopes also said he will explore ways to help the state’s economy amongst nationwide economic struggles.
“Bringing revenue to the city and district is becoming more and more difficult,” Lopes said. As the national economy hopefully improves, Lopes said Connecticut’s should too.
Terry Gerratana, a Democrat who represents Senate District 6 (Berlin, Farmington and New Britain,) expects to continue her focus on education and fair taxation in 2017.
“The way we fund our schools is not equal across the board,” Gerratana said.
The state Senator is currently working on an educational equity bill aimed to fix funding for education in the state. She expects the bill to have a big impact on communities like New Britain.
Gerratana also plans to push fair changes to the state’s taxation system.
“I certainly feel like our tax system needs an overhaul,” Gerratana said. The state senator said tax overhaul efforts would help, “Take some of the burden off the middle class.”
Whether financing education or taxing different income brackets, our state needs consistency.
“The bottom line here is fairness,” Gerratana said.
In Plainville, Rep. William Petit Jr., a Republican representing the 22nd State House District, which includes Plainville and New Britain, said his first priority is to “get the state’s fiscal house in order.”
“We already have an over $2 billion deficit in fiscal year 2017-18,” he said. “Our state government should focus on funding the core functions of government - public, safety, infrastructure, services for the most vulnerable - and then we must make long-term structural changes to the budget, including implementing a functional spending cap and a hard bonding cap to get us on a path to fiscal sustainability. We have to make changes now.”
Petit said if spending cuts are necessary to fix the budget, he would look for administrative cuts in specific non-service accounts and cuts to legislative givebacks with reduced salaries and unsolicited mail privileges. He would also look to amend overtime protocols for state employees.
Petit said that his plan for growing jobs in Connecticut will focus on small businesses, “with attempts to decrease the excessive taxes, fees and regulations that prevent small businesses from starting and/or expanding.” his other priorities include attacking state debt, reducing unfunded mandates and ensuring that education is funded. He added that he would like to focus on STEM and vo-tech education.
Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, a Democrat representing District 30, which includes Berlin and Southington, and who is also the current House majority leader, said he will “fight to continue the partnership between vo-tech schools and private industries and help create a qualified workforce.” If cuts need to be made, he wants to cease all expenditures to private consulting groups employed by state agencies.
“We need more front-line workers and fewer layers of management and bureaucracy,” he said.
Aresimowicz said that that the growth he has seen in vo-tech schools is “incredible” but that it still needs “significant capital investment.” His plan for creating jobs involves partnering with vo-tech schools and reaching out to local businesses
“I have toured more than 200 businesses big and small,” he said. “In January, I would like to bring them together with legislators and get from them the top 10 things they think we could do to grow the economy. Too many times in Hartford, decisions are made without asking the people who do the work.”
Aresimowicz’ other priorities include improvements to transportation, keeping recent college graduates in the state and making sure that seniors’ social security is exempt from state taxes.
Staff writer Brian Johnson contributed to this report.