Three Connecticut lawmakers met with the Yale College Democrats Monday evening to discuss the upcoming legislative session and push for more student involvement in enacting liberal reforms on the state level.
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, State Rep. Roland Lemar and State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield — all Democrats from New Haven — thanked the College Democrats for being a “great advocacy base” for progressive causes in Hartford. While Holder-Winfield raised the prospect of right-to-die legislation and Lemar called for automatic minimum wage increases on an annual basis, the legislators focused on the upcoming budget to be presented by Gov. Dannel Malloy and the impact it would have on social programs throughout the state.
Looney promised that the legislature would take up the governor’s plan to deal with the 2012–’13 budget shortfall as soon as it is released.
“It will be harder this year because of the general reluctance to raise more revenues, as we did two years ago,” Looney said.
Looney also suggested Monday that lawmakers might look at expanding legalized gambling as a last-ditch measure to increase revenue without raising taxes again.
But Lemar said he disagrees with Gov. Malloy’s promise to keep tax hikes out of the current process, insisting that there is room for compromise.
“Connecticut’s competitive advantage is in the fact that we have a lower rate on high-income earners than New York and Rhode Island,” Lemar said, arguing that the state should look at raising the top rate from 6.75 to 7.25 percent. “Instead of this conversation about cuts, we should be talking about raising taxes.”
Holder-Winfield agreed with the idea of raising taxes as part of the effort to close the shortfall, but he acknowledged that cuts would have to be a part of the new budget deal and asked students to let legislators know what programs were important to them.
“The role of students is to remind Democrats that they ought to be acting as progressives,” he said. “Everything is going to be on the chopping block. If there is a program you care about, start writing those letters now.”
Education reform was also stressed as a priority Monday evening, with the legislators saying more attention must be paid to early childhood intervention. The General Assembly passed an education reform bill earlier this year, aiming to assess student performance at an early age and provide tutoring to make sure children do not fall behind.
But even with the new programs implemented, they said, much more needs to be done.
“We have far too many school districts in the state that are far too expensive to run,” Looney said, suggesting that regional districts might be a way to save money and maximize efficiency.
Holder-Winfield said the Democratic legislators need to be open to hearing proposals from both sides of the aisle, criticizing some of his fellow legislators for ignoring proposals from the right.
Dems campus and community coordinator Sterling Johnson ’15 said that the organization plans to work with legislators to make sure that the budget deal does not cut into essential programs in the state. He also said he hopes that the organization would work to help Hartford enact further education reforms and to look into changing statutes within the juvenile justice system.
Nicole Hobbs ’14 added that the group has not discussed some of the more hot-button issues currently being debated around the state, including the prospect of right-to-die legislation.
“In the past, we’ve been most effective when we’ve taken on specific issues,” Hobbs said.
Connecticut legislators are expected to conduct a special session before the end of the year to begin budget negotiations.