OP-ED | Nobody Scores! The Winners and Losers of Session 2015
Posted to: Analysis, Business, Campaign Finance, Gaming, Town News, Labor, Media Matters, Opinion, State Budget, Taxes, State Capitol, Transparency, Tribes
The gavel came down at last, and the 2015 regular session of the General Assembly is in the history books. So as legislators and reporters collapse in exhaustion after yet another marathon run, who came out on top? Who saw their hopes crushed? Let’s find out.
Republicans — I am cautiously impressed with the usually hapless opposition party’s performance this session. Themis Klarides has done a good job of leading her enlarged caucus in the House, and the alternative budget Republicans offered was better than the bare frameworks or awkward silences they’d offered in the past. We desperately need a real opposition party around here and the GOP is finally stepping up.
Charter schools — Despite angry opposition from teachers unions and others, funding for charters survived. They will be subject to new rules and increased transparency, but language imposing a moratorium on new ones sadly didn’t survive.
Long Island Sound — The “blue plan” for conserving the sound was passed on Earth Day. Let’s hope it makes a difference.
Transportation — I hope that transportation really will be a winner — there’s certainly enough money set aside for it. However, that money isn’t guaranteed or protected, and that’s a worry.
Car dealerships — Tesla won’t be coming to the state after all.
Public health — Some rules for vaccinating children were tightened. There should be zero exceptions, but tighter rules are a good start.
Transgender people — It’ll be easier to change sex listed on birth certificates now.
State employees — No labor concessions were demanded and the state workforce wasn’t reduced. Lucky, lucky.
Titanium — It’s now the state element! Good?
Casinos — Get ready for gambling north of Hartford. A process for establishing a casino somewhere along the I-91 corridor is now in place — now it’s up to potential host communities to figure out if they want a casino in their town. It’ll probably end up in East Windsor.
News media & transparency advocates — The Freedom of Information Act has been strengthened thanks to the passage of H.B. 6750. Police will need to make more arrest information available to the public, including the news media whose job it is to inquire about — and where appropriate, publicize — arrests and prosecutions. The bill will provide public access to official documents like arrest warrants as well as depictions of an arrest that may come from body cameras or dashboard cameras.
Lobbyists — They never lack for work, do they?
This year there are too many to list in this column, but here are some:
Democrats — Who dithered away a chance to pass a lot of useful bills, had to be reminded by a last-minute filibuster by their own members that they shouldn’t let Second Chance and Excessive Force bills die, and still almost lost the budget vote? The same party that actually passed a bloated, tone-deaf mess of a budget over the objections of just about everyone, as it happens. Nice work, Democrats. The way our state works, though, they’ll likely never feel the consequences at the ballot box. A pity.
Republicans — Wait, weren’t they in the winners category, too? Well, yeah, but take a look at the breakdown of votes on the budget in the House. Five Republicans were absent, and the budget passed by three. I know members had good excuses but, man, it’s important to show up. Republicans had a huge chance here and they blew it.
Business — Big companies like GE and Aetna took the rare step of speaking against the budget’s tax increases. Didn’t help. Now they have to determine whether to follow up on threats of moving out of a state that often seems actively hostile to them, or hope that they can get some changes pushed through in the special session to be held later this month.
Hospitals — The Democrats appear to have taken every opportunity they could think of to soak the state’s hospitals this year.
Taxpayers — Hope you like taxes. You do, right? Good. Changes to the minimum budget requirement for local school boards are good, but overall taxpayers took a beating.
Gov. Malloy — The governor seemed out of touch, and if he ends up signing the budget he’ll have broken campaign promises not to raise taxes. Worse, the budget fixes everyone had to sacrifice for in 2011 have failed. Feels like a low point.
Vapers — E-cigarettes will now face the same restrictions as regular cigarettes. Good.
Towns and cities — The cap on car taxes passed in the budget has a lot of municipalities worried, and with good reason.
Deer — You can kill them with a bow and arrow now!
Campaign finance reformers — Republican reforms to campaign finance rules passed with bipartisan support in the House, but died in the Senate. The rules would have made it more difficult for state parties to raise and spend money. Infuriating.
Fans of punctuality — Once again, like hung over college students who stumble out of bed at noon before realizing they have a paper due in an hour, everything was done sloppily, in a rush, and at the last minute. But what else is new?
Connecticut — The losses feel heavier than the wins this year, and people are more frustrated than ever. Oh, and in 2018, this happens all over again. Just remember that town elections aren’t too far away.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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