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Voices Speaking

April 23, 2018

Voices from the Capitol: The Final Stretch

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

Bond Lock Updates

With less than three weeks remaining before the end of session, we issue a call for united action to repeal or delay implementation of the bond lock: an untested legislative mandate that would create nearly insurmountable hurdles to our state’s economic revitalization, long-term prosperity, and shared opportunity.  

Thanks to your support, we can celebrate some progress. The General Assembly is considering H.B. 5590 An Act Concerning Bond Covenants and the Bond Issuance Cap: a bill that would delay implementation and require study of the Bond Lock.The Finance Committee voted in favor of the bill and referred it to the Legislative Commissioners Office. Now it is under review by the Office of Legislative Research and the Office of Fiscal Analysis, the last step before getting a file number and landing on the calendar.

H.B. 5590 is a tremendous step forward, but it requires further revision to extend its study and delay provisions to the volatility cap, as well as the spending cap and bonding cap. “Locking in” the new volatility cap, which is not drafted according to best practices followed by other states, may jeopardize Connecticut’s already tenuous bond credit ratings. We need to work together to build support for legislative passage of an amended bill. We urge you to visit our website to download some of the new resources we have prepared. You can direct interested partners and legislators to our Bond Lock display at the LOB cafeteria (until the end of April). You can watch our presentation about the Bond Lock here, and you can download the posters here.

Breaking News: Budget Proposals

Late breaking news this afternoon regarding the state budget. Both the Democratic leaders of the House Appropriations Committee and their Republican counterparts released their budget proposals today.

Both Democratic and Republican plan reverse several of the budget cuts in the current budget, relying in part on the unexpectedly high income tax revenues coming in this year. The revenue increase has been large enough to actually go over the volatility cap (one of the fiscal restrictions included in last year´s budget that we fear the Bond Lock might set in stone), so it is unclear if and how legislators might use the money to close this year´s deficit. The CT Mirror has two good pieces on this issue here and here.

Democrats are set to vote on their plan today, although it is unclear if they have the votes. As usual, we will have a deep dive analyzing both budget proposals in the coming days.

What to Expect at the End of the Session

The legislative session officially ends on May 9 at midnight. With committee hearings done, the legislative work moves to the full House and Senate chambers. For the first 2-3 weeks, the General Assembly will largely take up non-contentious bills--proposals that have solid bipartisan support. Work on the budget and on more divisive bills continues behind closed doors until closer to the end of the session, when the House and Senate will begin to bring to the floor legislation that generates more debate and is harder to pass. The Bond Lock legislation will likely come to a vote closer to the end of session.

Other Updates: Bills Moving Forward, Bills Defeated

Right now, most of the bills we track are still going over the legislative process, so we only have one update:

H.B.5450 An Act Concerning The Staff Qualifications Requirement For Early Childhood Educators just passed the House unanimously. Although Connecticut Voices for Children opposed the initial version of this bill, which would have lowered the required certification for early childhood educators in state-funded classrooms from a bachelor’s degree to an associate’s degree, the Education Committee introduced substitute language that delays the education requirements, something we support.

Legislative Jargon: the House and Senate Calendars

As we enter the home stretch of the legislative session, it is useful to revisit some of the jargon and procedures of the General Assembly. Before a bill comes to a vote in both chambers, there are four terms that will come up: “file number,” “business on the calendar,” the “go list,” and “markings.” Let's see what they mean.

  • File number: This is the number that a bill gets once reported out of committee, printed, and sent to the floor. This means that the bill is ready for consideration by both houses. A bill might end up having two or three file numbers - if it is amended in the House, the Senate, or receives substitute language in another committee, it will get a new one.
  • Business on the Calendar: A list of all the bills that are waiting for a vote in either the House or the Senate. Bills get a calendar number when placed there; the lower the number, the longer the bill has been sitting on it. A bill needs to sit on the calendar for two days before being ready for action. Once it has sat for two days, it gets two little stars by its name.
  • Go List: The list of bills that the House intends to take up that particular day. Bills on the Go List might not get to a vote if debate on other bills on the list takes too much floor time.
  • Markings: The equivalent to the “Go List” in the Senate. The list is not posted in writing, but read aloud in the chamber.

New Brief: HUSKY Caregiver Cuts, by Town

In 2015, Connecticut reduced the income eligibility limits for parents and caregivers enrolled in HUSKY A (Connecticut’s Medicaid program for children and their relative caretakers) from 201% of the federal poverty limit (FPL) to 155% FPL. In 2017, a further reduction to 138% FPL ($34,638 for a family of four) means that as of January 2019 approximately 13,522 parents and caretakers will lose access to HUSKY A insurance coverage.

Many families cannot afford to purchase health insurance on the regulated health care exchanges, even with subsidies and limits on cost-sharing. Even if they can, families often experience reduced services and out-of-pocket costs. Over 78% of parents/caregivers who lost coverage in the first round of cuts have no known health insurance.

In this policy brief, we detail the coverage reductions, with data on the number of caregivers affected by the 2017 HUSKY eligibility reduction by town.

You can also download the impact of the cuts by legislative district here.

Federal Update: Farm Bill and SNAP

The House Agriculture Committee is starting to debate the 2018 Farm Bill, a key piece of legislation for nutrition assistance programs. This bill contains the funding and regulations for SNAP ( formerly food stamps), one of the most important anti-poverty programs in the country.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities just published an excellent report on the new proposal. Their main takeaway:

The nutrition provisions of the farm bill that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway plans to bring before his committee on April 18 would, if enacted, increase food insecurity and hardship. The proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) would end or cut benefits for a substantial number of low-income people.

The bill will likely need significant changes to pass the Senate, but the initial proposal is worrisome. Click here to read the full report.

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
April 16, 2018

Happy Tax Day!

Rachel Silbermann, Ph.D.

Happy Tax Day!

Connecticut Voices for Children believes that tax day offers a chance for us to reflect on the “why” and “what” of taxes. Simply put, democratic societies cannot function without fair, transparent, and adequate tax systems. By paying taxes, we contribute to our community, state, and nation, and it’s thanks to our taxes that our government can work for us. Tax day offers us the chance to celebrate some of the ways our taxes contribute to the high quality of life in Connecticut:

Even as we celebrate what our taxes support, we can also pause this tax day to reflect upon how we can improve the tax system and address the significant disparities in our state. Our tax system works best when everyone pays their fair share. The new federal tax law gives massive breaks to special interests, with the wealthy receiving the lion’s share of the tax cut in almost every state. In Connecticut, the majority of the tax cut will go to those with incomes above $250,000. Cuts like this have consequences, with the new federal changes creating a projected deficit of more than one trillion dollars, giving rise to calls for cuts to some of the very programs and services we value most: like health care and clean air and water.

On this tax day, take pride in doing your part. Remember that we can act at the state level to create stronger, fairer economies and cleaner tax codes, with the goal of having more dollars to spend on the public services that ensure meaningful opportunity for all of our residents. #ProudToPay #TaxDay

 
Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Tags:
budget, Connecticut, fiscal, Good News, Tax day
April 11, 2018

Bond Lock News Update

Rachel Silbermann, Ph.D.

Connecticut Voices for Children would like to express our deep appreciation of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, which approved a bill on Thursday that would partially delay implementation of the “Bond Lock.” The bill would also initiate a study of how the Bond Lock might affect Connecticut’s economy.  

The Bond Lock stipulates that whenever Connecticut issues a bond for a two-year period beginning in May, it must vow not to alter three new spending restrictions included in the bipartisan budget passed in October. Notably, none of these restrictions had public hearings to fine-tune the language and mechanisms. This covenant limits the state’s ability to address both existing and unanticipated challenges and threatens state investments necessary to build thriving communities. Because bonds are considered contracts, Connecticut will be legally bound to maintain these spending and revenue restraints despite what future Governors or legislatures find to be in the best interests of the state.

We applaud the bill for delaying the implementation of the covenant for two of the three caps, - the spending cap and the bond cap - and requiring a study of their potential impact. Further action will be needed to amend the bill and build legislative support for passage. We will send additional information once it becomes available.

Delay or repeal of the bond lock remains Voices’ top priority this session.

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Tags:
bond lock, budget, delay, fiscal, spending cap
April 5, 2018

Voices from the Capitol: Bond Lock and Revenue Options

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

Key Bill This Week: The Bond Lock

On Monday, Ellen Shemitz, our Executive Director, testified in front on the Finance and Bonding Committee about H.B. 5590 An Act Concerning Bond Covenants and the Bond Issuance Cap.

The bill seeks to change the Bond Lock, a fiscal restriction included in last year's budget agreement. H.B. 5590 would partially delay its implementation. Under this proposal, bonds issued by the state after May 15, 2018 would include a covenant locking in the state’s volatility cap. Bonds issued after the end of the session (July 1, 2019 and onward) would lock in the spending cap and bond cap.

We commend the legislature for addressing this issue, but we believe that the potential impacts of the Bond Lock warrant a broader delay for further consideration. Connecticut Voices for Children supports HB 5590 with the following proposed amendments:

  1. Delay the bond lock’s application to the volatility cap until July 1, 2019
  2. Establish a Commission to study the bond lock and associated fiscal restrictions in depth and report back to the legislature by March 1, 2019.

Call to Action: The Bond Lock

We urge you to join us in requesting passage of an amended bill. Inaction is not an option. Existing law poses real threats to our state. If implemented, the Bond Lock would:

  • Risk billions of dollars in cuts to social services and other crucial programs for children and families in the state.
  • Create uncertainty regarding Connecticut's fiscal health, potentially damaging our credit rating and increasing our borrowing costs.
  • Leave Connecticut powerless to respond to emergencies. We do not know what the federal government is going to do regarding funding. We don't know if a natural disaster is coming. With the Bond Lock, we will know that we cannot address any of these challenges without facing serious penalties.

The Finance Committee has until tomorrow Friday, 4/6/2018, to vote on H.B.5590. Contact your legislators today and ask them to act on this bill and break the bond lock.

Do You Want to Learn More?

The Bond Lock is a provision included in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2018-2019 budget aimed at restricting changes to Connecticut's budget rules. It stipulates that whenever Connecticut issues a bond for a two-year period beginning in May, it must vow not to change three new spending and revenue restrictions—the spending cap, volatility cap, and bond cap— for the life of the bond (typically 10 years) except in extraordinary circumstances.

Because bonds are considered contracts, Connecticut would be legally bound to maintain these spending and revenue restraints despite what future Governors or legislatures might find to be in the best interests of the state. Any effort to break the covenant would invite litigation and risk significant penalties.

The fiscal restrictions that the Bond Lock cements into place all have significant flaws, threatening state investments necessary to build thriving communities. By making it virtually impossible to change any of these restrictions for more than a decade, the Bond Lock limits the state’s ability to address both existing and unanticipated challenges, today and into the future.

For more information about the Bond Lock, download our Bond Lock FAQ. You can also watch our presentation on the Bond Lock here.

Other Updates: Bills Moving Forward, Bills Defeated

The committee work is coming to a close, with the legislative debates now moving to the House and Senate floor. The vast majority of the bills that did not receive a vote in committee are no longer in play (they can come back as amendment to other bills, but that is fairly unusual), so the list of proposed legislation we are currently tracking has narrowed down considerably. We are currently revising our priority list, and will offer a more in-depth take on our top remaining priorities in our next newsletter.

Here are some updates on some of our key priorities:

In Case You Missed it: Revenue Options

Connecticut´s prosperity depends upon smart public investments in high-quality schools, reliable roads and bridges, and adequate infrastructure. To make these investments, we need a stable, balanced, and predictable budget that raises sufficient funding without undermining economic growth or closing pathways to opportunity.

In our new report, we analyze a wide range of possible tax changes geared towards two primary goals. First, making the overall tax system less upside-down, so low-income families no longer pay a higher share of their income than wealthy residents. Second, making the overall tax system more conducive to economic growth, by simplifying and broadening the tax base to raise adequate revenue.

We offer revenue proposals in four separate areas:

  • Strengthening Connecticut´s corporate tax system, eliminating loopholes and ineffective tax breaks
  • Reforming wealth and income taxes, increasing the capital gains and dividends tax and restoring the estate tax exemption
  • Modernizing the sales tax system, broadening its base and taxing internet sales and digital downloads
  • Introducing public health-supporting taxes on sugary drinks and tobacco products
     

Click here to download

Federal Update: Census Questions and Health Updates

Two important sets of federal updates this week. This week in our blog, Karen Siegel provided an overview of a slew of federal initiatives:

“As Connecticut races toward legislative deadlines, the federal government has been crafting important new legislation that impacts children and families on matters ranging from food security to gun violence. Here is a brief update on three important issues—Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Public Charge, and gun legislation—together with three things you can do right now to raise your voice for children.”

In addition, the US Census has decided that for the first time in decades that the 2020 census will include a question asking about citizenship status. This has the potential to make the Census considerably less accurate, with far reaching implications on issues from federal spending to congressional district maps. Arloc Sherman, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, explains:

“The Trump Administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census will not only reduce responses by immigrants and thereby make the count less accurate, experts say, but it also could trigger new costs that offset part of the added census funding that the President and Congress just provided.”

The New York Times also had an excellent overview of the ramifications of adding this question, especially for communities of color. Several State Attorney Generals, including Connecticut’s George Jepsen, are challenging this decision in court.

What We Are Reading

Issue Areas:
Budget and Tax, Child Welfare, Early Care, Education, Family Economic Security, Health, Juvenile Justice
April 4, 2018

What is the Bond Lock?

On March 14th Connecticut Voices for Children held our ¨Breaking the Bond Lock" roundtable, where we explained in great detail the potential impact that this fiscal restriction will have on children and families. You can watch the presentation below. 

 

For a full analysis on the Bond Lock, a FAQ, and supporting materials, check our publications here

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Tags:
bond lock, budget, fiscal, tax
April 3, 2018

Federal update: SNAP, Gun Control, Immigration requirements

As Connecticut races toward legislative deadlines, the federal government has been crafting important new legislation that impacts children and families on matters ranging from food security to gun violence. Here is a brief update on three important issues—Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Public Charge, and gun legislation—together with three things you can do right now to raise your voice for children.

 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

 

SNAP provides food support to families who are struggling to make ends meet. As of February 2016, it affects over 230,000 households in Connecticut. Cuts to SNAP increase the risk of children going hungry, which makes it harder for them to concentrate in school and more likely that they will be ill.

Intense negotiations over the Farm Bill Reauthorization Act, which includes SNAP funding, have stalled. Republican leadership has decided to move ahead with a bill that would shift funding from benefits to job training programs and make individuals ineligible for SNAP if they meet state, but not federal, asset test limits. It is likely that any bill will require bipartisan support to pass. There is no final word on how proposed changes might affect SNAP in Connecticut, but rumors of complex requirements and cuts have us watching carefully. 

We will include updates in our newsletter. In the meantime, call your federal representatives and urge them NOT to pass a farm bill that will harm Connecticut’s low-income families.

 

Public Charge:

 

“Public charge” is a term used by immigration officials to determine that a person seeking to enter the United States, immigrate, or apply for a Legal Permanent Resident or “green card” through a family-based petition is or is not likely to be dependent on public services.

To date, this definition has included only cash assistance and institutionalization for publicly funded long-term care. A draft of potential changes to these rules has resulted in fear and concern.

It is important to note that these changes are only in draft form and are not yet in practice. If undertaken, changes would expand the definition of “public charge” to include participation in Medicaid, SNAP, HeadStart, Affordable Care Act and Earned Income tax credits, and more. Under the proposed changes, government officials could consider the use of these services by citizen children and other family members as well. These rules are NOT final, but it is important to remain vigilant as such changes could impact the decision of families to participate in services that help them thrive and/or impact appeals for visas. In their current form, these recommendations would NOT affect anyone who is already enrolled in services.

Please spread the word that it is safe to access social services, for now. We will share alerts if/when the draft regulations sent to the Office of Budget and Management are posted for public comment.

 

Gun legislation:

 

Gun violence is a public health crisis in the United States and public discourse about gun violence has become a theme of protest and calls to action in 2018. While Connecticut’s strict gun laws have reduced gun deaths here, over 150 people still died from firearm-related injuries in 2016. For more on state efforts to curb gun violence, see our recent testimony. The omnibus spending bill makes a few small changes:

  1. Clarifies that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CAN conduct gun violence research, but does not fund these efforts specifically
  2. Improves, in a small way, the current background check system

Unfortunately, this bill did not close the loopholes in the background check system or include an anticipated national concealed-carry provision. Given the dramatic, evidence-based success of Connecticut’s permit-to-purchase laws, we hope to see these taken up nationwide.

Tell your federal representatives that the whole country should benefit from Connecticut’s strict gun laws.

Issue Areas:
Family Economic Security, Health