August 16, 2017

Voices from the Capitol (XXX): A Nation Built on an Idea

Sharon Langer, MEd, J.D. and Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

A Nation Built on an Idea

Ellen Shemitz, Executive Director, Connecticut Voices for Children

The United States of America is a nation built on a single, powerful idea: all people are created equal. That idea drives much of our work here at Connecticut Voices for Children. We fight every day to bring down barriers to opportunity and to advance policies that will ensure that every child in our state has a meaningful chance to achieve her or his full potential.

Over the years, our work has come to focus increasingly on issues of race and racism: the institutional barriers that children and families of color face on a daily basis in our state. This work often creates discomfort and at times denial. But, if the events this weekend in Charlottesville teach us anything, they must teach us the importance of recognizing and taking action against the forces of bigotry, intolerance, and racism in every form.

Today in Connecticut, many racist policies and laws remain on the books. Did you know that two-thirds of people of color in Connecticut are concentrated in 8 percent of towns in the state? This did not happen by accident. Local control, a much valued system in New England, has allowed the perpetuation of racist zoning policies. State and local laws and policies shape access to schools, health care, and opportunity across Connecticut. Criminal justice practices discriminate against minorities. Economic disparities and job opportunities leave people of color behind.

The risk today is greater than at any time in my lifetime. Just this afternoon we received notice that the Trump Administration has targeted a key civil rights provision, suspending a housing rule that would have allowed more low income families to find housing in higher opportunity neighborhoods. It is not just white nationalists carrying tiki torches who undermine our core values: it is often the more subtle and less discernible actions that cause the most harm over time.  

It is time to end all this. Together, we can build a Connecticut that is welcoming, diverse, and inclusive. Equitable growth and opportunity should be the cornerstones of our work. It is the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do - and each of us can play a role in making it happen.

 

Budget Update: Nothing New

No real budget news these past few days, and no news expected this week either, as legislative leaders have not scheduled any meetings. State finances are still managed by executive order, with across the board cuts on services now and deeper cuts to municipal aid and education this fall. No budget deal is now expected until at least mid-September.

The CT Mirror has an excellent article Monday that provides an overview of municipal finances, with a detailed calendar of when local governments will lose funding from each grant, and how big the cuts will be. The first major cut will be PILOT funding (Payment In Lieu of Taxes, the funds that municipalities receive to compensate them from tax exempt properties), which goes out next month.Things get worse from there.

These impending cuts should give us a new sense of urgency. Negotiations might be on a lull, but we should keep reaching out to legislators to tell them that it is time for Connecticut to approve a budget that makes children and working families in the state its priority. We need a balanced budget approach that includes both a sound strategy for state spending and new revenue so Connecticut can preserve crucial services and build a strong foundation for the future.

Click here to find your legislator - contact them today.

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Federal Preview: a Busy Fall

Congress is in recess during August. Once they are back in Washington next month, however, they are going to have a lot of issues on their plate, almost all of them having a direct impact on children and families. We will talk about them in more detail as they come up next month, but it is important to have a good sense on how busy the agenda is going to be. Considering how little legislative bandwidth Congress has shown so far this year, it is going to be a challenge.

Congress will have four main issues to address this fall. First, the budget resolution for fiscal year 2018. A first version, including dramatic cuts to programs for low-income children and families was passed by the House Budget Committee. It contains reconciliation instructions for tax reform legislation (more on that in a bit). It is unclear if House and Senate leaders have the votes to pass a budget right now, meaning that they might need to pass continuing resolutions to avoid a government shutdown by September 30th. One of the many important programs pending to be voted on is CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program which helps pay most of the costs for children’s health care in the HUSKY B program.  

In addition, Congress must raise the debt ceiling before September 29th, or risk a default and an unpredictable financial crisis. Debt ceiling increases are usually “clean”, without strings attached, but we have seen fierce debates in the recent past.

Tax reform is next on the list. There is no word yet on what this is going to include, other than tax cuts for high-income earners paid by cuts to social programs. Leadership wants to include reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution enabling the Senate to pass the tax cuts with 50 votes instead of the usual 60.

Finally, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal effort might have failed, but Congress could try again later this year, and the administration has threatened to undermine the law even without Congress’s help.There has been talk of a possible bipartisan plan to stabilize the ACA markets, including Connecticut’s Access Health CT, but it is too early to tell whether or what this will mean for those who purchase coverage through the exchanges.

 

What We Are Reading / Listening To

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Health