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Voices Speaking

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
March 30, 2018

Call to Action - Bond Lock Hearing Monday, April 2 - H.B. 5590

The Finance Committee will hold a hearing this coming Monday, April 2, to discuss a slew of new fiscal bills, including one to amend the Bond Lock: H.B. 5590, "An Act Concerning Covenants and the Bond Issuance Cap".

HB 5590 would not fully repeal the existing Bond Lock, rather it would partially delay implementation. Under this proposal, bonds issued after May 15, 2018, would include a covenant locking in the volatility cap. Bonds issued after the end of the session (July 1, 2019, onwards) would lock in the spending cap and bond cap.

While an improvement over current law, further change is needed. We are calling on the Finance Committee to amend the bill to:

  1. Delay the effective date of all provisions of the Bond Lock until July 1, 2019.
  2. Study and issue a report on the impact of the Bond Lock, with a committee hearing on the same, prior to the new effective date.

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.

We ask you to testify on Monday, April 2 and urge the Finance Committee to break the Bond Lock.

  • WHAT: Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee public hearing
  • WHEN: Monday, April 2, 2018 at 10:30 A.M.
  • WHERE: Room 2E, Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Avenue, Hartford.
  • HOW TO TESTIFY: A lottery will determine public speaker order; sign up is from 8:30 A.M. to 9:30 A.M. in the first floor atrium of the LOB.  You can also email written testimony to FINtestimony@cga.ct.gov.

About the Bond Lock:

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

Issue Area:
Budget and Tax
Tags:
action alert, bond lock, budget, cap, spending, tax
March 23, 2018

Voices from the Capitol: Bills moving forward and a big hearing today

Roger Senserrich

In today’s email:

Key Bills Moving Forward

After weeks of public hearings, legislative committees are starting to vote on bills. As a result, several bills we have supported are moving forward. More to come, as committees finish their work.

S.B. 1 An Act Concerning Earned Family and Medical Leave. Our testimony in support.

S.B. 256 An Act Concerning Racial and Ethnic Impact Statements. Our testimony in support.

H.B. 5328 An Act Concerning The Admissibility Of Admissions, Confessions And Statements By Children Under The Age Of Eighteen. Our testimony in support.

H.B. 5388 An Act Concerning the Minimum Wage. Our testimony.

S.B. 188 An Act Establishing the State Oversight Council on Children and Families. Our testimony.

H.B. 5463 An Act Concerning a Medicaid Public Option. Our testimony.

S.B. 323 An Act Requiring Notice Prior to The Transfer Of A Child To A New Out-of-home Placement. Our testimony in support.

Unfortunately, some bills we opposed are also moving forward.

S.B. 187: An Act Concerning The Transfer Of A Child Charged With Certain Offenses To The Criminal Docket And The Grounds For Detention Of An Arrested Child. Here is our testimony opposing the bill.

S.B. 373: An Act Concerning The Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange, Low Option Benefit Design And Short-term Care Policies. Our testimony.

Legislative Hearings:

The General Assembly continued to hold hearings this week in several key areas. Most committees are now hitting their deadlines to vote on the legislation in front of them (see calendar here). Appropriations, Judiciary, and Finance still have hearings pending; their deadline is early next month. Below are the relevant dates and locations of hearings related to children and families. The full schedule is available here.

There is one hearing that stands out, both for its breadth and unusual setting: the Fiscal Stability Commission report hearing.

Key Hearing: Joint Hearing, Fiscal Stability Commission Report

Appropriations Committee

Commerce Committee

Finance, Revenue, And Bonding Committee

Planning And Development Committee

Friday, March 23, 2018, 12:30 P.M., House Chamber.

A joint committee hearing hosted by four committees in the House Chamber is quite out of the ordinary, only seen on rare occasions. The issues at hand are the findings from Commission of Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth report, an ambitious document that proposes many fiscal and regulatory reforms to promote economic growth and close Connecticut´s structural budget deficit.

You can find the full report here. We provided an quick overview of the report in a previous newsletter; Ellen Shemitz, our Executive Director, gave a longer response in an op-ed in the CT Mirror.

Recent Hearings:

Judiciary Committee

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

We testified on the following bills:

S.B. 13 An Act Concerning Fair Treatment of Incarcerated Women

H.B. 5531 An Act Concerning Enhanced Employment Opportunities for Incarcerated Individuals

We opposed S.B. 486 An Act Concerning Notification to Boards of Education of the Release of a Juvenile Sexual Offender and a Model Policy Concerning the Reentry of Such Juveniles into the School System

Judiciary Committee

Friday, March 23, 2018

We are supporting the following bills:

H.B. No. 5540  An Act Concerning Ghost Guns And The Permit Application Process.

H.B. No. 5542  An Act Concerning Bump Stocks And Other Means Of Enhancing The Rate Of Fire Of A Firearm

H.B. No. 5556  An Act Concerning The Evaluation And Tracking Of Prosecutions Of Crimes Committed With The Use Of A Firearm

H.B. No. 5526  An Act Implementing The Recommendations Of The Juvenile Justice Policy And Oversight Committee

We are opposing the following bills:

S.B. 515 An Act Concerning Minor and Technical Changes to Various Statutes Concerning the Juvenile Justice System
H.B. 5558 An Act Concerning Juvenile Matters

H.B. No. 5559  An Act Concerning The Transfer Of Cases Of Repeat Juvenile Felony Offenders To The Regular Criminal Docket.

Other Upcoming Hearings

In addition, the following committees have scheduled hearings in the coming days. We are still reviewing the bills under consideration; expect a follow-up email with the highlights later if we find anything relevant. We will post our testimony on our website. You can find the full list of hearings here.

Judiciary Committee

Monday, March 26, 2018, 10:00 A.M., Room 2C

Wednesday, March 28, 2018, 10 A.M., Room 2C

A lottery will determine speaking order, sign up takes place from 8:00 A.M. to 9:30 A.M. in Room 2500 of the LOB on the day of the hearing. Bring 50 copies of your testimony. You can also submit written testimony to JUDtestimony@cga.ct.gov.  

Appropriations Committee

Wednesday, March 28, 2018, 10:00 A.M., Room 1E

Speaker order will be determined by a lottery, as well. Sign up to get a number will be from 8:00 A.M. to 9:30 A.M. in the first floor atrium of the LOB. Bring 60 copies of your testimony. You can also email written testimony to APPtestimony@cga.ct.gov.  

Highlights: Key Testimony from CT Voices

Connecticut Voices for Children testified on several bills last week covering a broad range of topics that directly impact children and families.

Upcoming Release: Revenue Options

Good schools, modern infrastructure, and quality public services are the cornerstone of economic prosperity. Connecticut needs a stable, balanced, and predictable budget that raises enough money to fund these services in an equitable manner.

In our upcoming report coming out next week, we provide a list of revenue options to adequately fund these services. We analyze several alternatives and possible reforms, covering income, sales, and business taxes, as well as tolls. We also look at the impact of Connecticut’s newly imposed fiscal restrictions on our revenue system, especially the Bond Lock.

Expect to see a full report early next week.

In Case You Missed it: the Bond Lock FAQ

The Bond Lock is a provision 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 to abide by three new spending and revenue restrictions — the spending cap, volatility cap, and bond cap — for the life of the bond except in extraordinary circumstances.

In our new policy brief we answer the most pressing questions about the Bond Lock and its impact:

  • What is the Bond Lock?

  • What fiscal restrictions are included in the Bond Lock?

  • What is the Bond Lock’s impact on children and families?

  • There are escape clauses in the Bond Lock. Why aren’t those sufficient?

  • Is this even legal?

  • What are the best solutions to the Bond Lock?

You can download the FAQ from our website, alongside an in-depth report by Jesse Marks (Yale Law School) about the technical aspect of this damaging budget provision.

Federal Update:

Congress passed the long-awaited omnibus spending bill, a $1.3 trillion piece of legislation that will fund the federal government's operations until September 30. It is a large piece of legislation, but it does not include that many big funding changes. A welcome development, after recent White House proposals pushing for major cuts.

It also includes one seemingly minor, but very welcome provision: The bill bars employers from taking their workers’ tips, blocking a regulatory change proposed by the Labor Department that sought to allow this practice.

What We Are Reading

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