Governor Ned Lamont delivered a wide ranging budget address. In his speech, Lamont talked about tolls, changes to sales tax exemptions, an overhaul of the teacher pension system and cost saving moves being made in state government.
On the tax side. Lamont is proposing an increase in the hotel tax from 13-percent to 17-percent. He also have proposed a tax on vaping products equal to cigarettes, a 1-and-a-half cent tax per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages, a 19 cent tax on plastic bags and expanding the bottle bill with a 25-cent deposit to include wine and 50 milliliter liquor bottles.
On the operating side of the budget, Lamont pledged to cut back on middle management. Commissioners have also raised ideas to cut costs and to find efficiencies, including a suggestion to replace the State Trooper auto fleet every five years instead of four and putting civilians on desk jobs to allow more State Troopers to be on patrol. With over 2,000 forms, less than 5-percent of which can be completed online, Lamont proposed digitizing more transactions.
Lamont plans to honor the Education Cost Sharing formula adopted last year, bringing underfunded districts closer to full funding, while accelerating phase-down. He also called for an incentive for strategic decisions where larger schools and districts which pool resources, sharing superintendents and back-office functions, would receive priority for new bonding.
Lamont did not proposed raising the income tax rate, which has been raised 5 times over the last 15 years. He is also leaving the sales tax rate flat. The Governor also called on Connecticut businesses to step up and partner with him to help the next generation of talent repay their student loans and save for their futures. To kick-start this effort, Travelers and Stanley Black & Decker have agreed to offer their own loan forgiveness programs, to train, attract and retain top talent in the state.
Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker applauded Lamont for tackling hard issues head on, but opposed a move to transfer a quarter of teacher pension costs onto municipalities. A larger percentage would be placed on districts paying over the state average. Knickerbocker says that doesn't take into account the vast differences in cost of living from county to county. He understands that this would be on future pension costs, not legacy costs, but it will lead to an increase in property taxes.
Knickerbocker says the towns did not have a seat at the table when these pension benefits are negotiated. He'd prefer covering all of the pension cost, if the town could negotiate it locally.