Gov. Lamont on Wednesday proposed a $46 billion budget for Fiscal Years 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 for Connecticut that focuses on COVID-19 and boosting the economy.
Lamont’s “Connecticut Comeback” budget plan includes a wide range of proposals including promises for legalization of recreational marijuana and internet gambling, in addition to new transportation funding through a wholesale tax on gasoline. Lamont has also promised to propose bills to the Connecticut General Assembly to address postsecondary education and expanded broadband access.
But on one critical item, Lamont proposed no major changes: income tax rates. Lamont’s budget largely maintains the current tax rate even as local officials call for increases to fund their municipal budgets. New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker — an outspoken proponent of a tax on Connecticut’s wealthiest — on Wednesday expressed frustration that by not increasing taxes on Connecticut’s wealthy, Lamont is not providing “desperately needed revenue” for New Haven.
“The Governor has made clear he does not want to raise taxes on the wealthy,” Elicker wrote in a press release. “Let’s be clear, the Governor’s unwillingness to raise taxes on the wealthy means effectively raising taxes on the working poor in New Haven.”
Lamont’s plan for local aid includes $100 million for 25 municipalities with the most funding needs due to the pandemic-induced budget hits. The $11.8 million Lamont allocated to aiding New Haven through the state’s coronavirus relief funds would not be enough, Elicker said. New Haven’s projected $14.8 million budget deficit for FY 2020-2021 is projected to increase to $66 million in FY 2021-2022.
The mayor has been a proponent of expanding the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, or PILOT, which gives cities funds that they would otherwise be receiving from tax-exempt properties. Because all Yale academic buildings are tax-exempt, New Haven would receive ample funds through the program. Elicker specifically advocates for Tiered PILOT — a tiered version of the program proposed by Sen. Martin Looney that supplies funds based on city needs.
Elicker said in the press release that supplying funds through a Tiered PILOT program would have fallen in line with Lamont’s core goals for the budget.
“The Governor mentioned in his address a Connecticut that ‘works for everyone,’” Elicker wrote. “Tiered PILOT is one of many levers we can pull to create equal opportunity for all. I am wholly committed to continuing working with our State Delegation, the Governor, municipal partners, and all those committed to equity and sound government to see it happen.”
The Governor’s budget would raise state spending by 2 percent in the first year and 3.5 percent in the second year. The state may rely on federal funding to address its own budget shortfalls. The federal government is set to cover $1.3 billion in shortfalls each of the next two fiscal years.
The Governor’s budget also includes a new wholesale tax on gasoline in an effort to combat climate change. His proposal would increase gas prices by between 5 and 32 cents per gallon, according to estimates from various think-tanks. However, Melissa McCaw, Lamont’s budget director, said gasoline price increases could range from 2 cents to 5 cents per gallon and that increases are not certain.
Lamont hopes the initiative will reduce motor vehicle pollution, the largest source of greenhouse gases in the state. The gas tax is expected to raise $80 million a year that will go toward combating climate change and investing in public transportation. Passing the gas tax would also allow Connecticut to join the multi-state Transportation Climate Initiative, a regional collaboration to improve transportation and reduce emissions, along with Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
Lamont also mentioned a new Highway Use Tax which would be a mileage-based tax on large heavy weight trucks. This tax is estimated to bring $90 million a year to the state.
The governor committed to proposing education legislation centered around increasing postsecondary enrollment. The budget includes recommendations to raise charter school funding per student from $11,250 to $11,525, a total increase of $3 million. The budget also pauses increases in the state’s education cost-sharing payments to low-performing school districts. In total, the payment grants would have increased by $32 million for FY 2021-2021 and $64 million for FY 2022-2023.
The Governor’s proposal includes legalizing recreational marijuana. He also committed to erasing the criminal records for those with marijuana-related drug possession charges and convictions.
The pandemic, according to Lamont, “has led to historic reductions to vital transportation revenue sources,” and the state’s transportation revenue forecasts have dropped over $100 million for the next four years compared to the corresponding forecasts last year.
To help adjust for this lack of revenue and a lack of public transportation ridership due to the pandemic, Lamont is removing $34.9 million for both FY 2021-2022 and FY 2022-2023 from the New Haven Line rail operating budget. For FY 2021-2022, cuts to the New Haven Line account for over 75 percent of total Connecticut transportation route cuts listed in the budget.
In contrast, Lamont is providing $1.2 million to the Greater New Haven Area bus system to extend the bus schedule to 1 a.m. to adjust the “public transportation schedule to current needs reflective of 2021 travel patterns.”
“We have learned through the public health pandemic of major gaps in transportation service specifically for essential workers in hospitals, nursing homes and grocery stores, for example, whereby expansion of service will support maintaining economic opportunities,” the budget reads.
Lamont’s budget awaits approval by the Connecticut state legislature.
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