Governor Lamont Delivers Budget Address
Governor Lamont delivered his FY 2022-2023 proposed mid-term budget adjustments to the General Assembly in his state of the state speech this month. The $24.2 billion budget proposal Governor Lamont offered is 2.4% more than the biennium budget approved in June 2021 and is $5.6 million under the spending cap. It is compliant with the revenue cap, volatility cap and statutory debt limit. It includes $325 million in revenue policy changes and $274 million in expenditure policy chances.
With an influx of federal COVID-relief monies and swelling revenues from investors and high-income earners during the pandemic, the state’s financial picture is rosier than it has been in recent years. The State Comptroller has projected a FY 2022 budget surplus of $1.48 billion and other analysts predict it could grow to almost $2 billion. The Rainy Day Fund also stands at its statutory maximum of $3.1 billion.
Governor Lamont proposed a package of modest tax cuts, including:
(1) increasing the property tax credit from $200 to $300 and expanding it to all property owners with household incomes of up $130,500; (2) accelerating a planned phase-in to exempt pensions and annuities from state income tax from 2025 to 2022; (3) expanding the student loan tax credit for employers who pay down workers’ student loans; and (4) lowering the mill rate cap on motor vehicle property taxes from 45 to 29 mills and reimbursing local governments for lost revenue.
Several weeks ago, Governor Lamont announced that he would use federal COVID relief funds to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 30.5% to 41.5% for tax year 2020. In this budget proposal, he maintains most of that increase for tax year 2021, but does not continue it in future years.
In addition, better than assumed revenue projections caused Lamont to propose shifting $810 million of federal ARPA funds previously allocated for revenue replacement into an off-budget account for new and expanded programs. The mechanism would allow the Governor and policymakers to bypass the spending cap.
And while we are glad that Governor Lamont took a step in the right direction by proposing $15 million for pandemic pay for essential state workers (which is in addition to the $20 million that was previously allocated for state essential workers in the FY 2022-2023 biennium budget), he refused to include any for municipal or private sector essential workers. None of those funds have been distributed and are part of ongoing negotiations. Despite declaring healthcare workers, firefighters, janitors, teachers and school staff, police officers, transit workers, grocery store employees, corrections officers and many others “essential” with the stroke of a pen, Governor Lamont has ignored their sacrifice and the risks they have had to take.
Another disappointment was the Governor’s failure to adequately fund the State Contracting Standards Board. Instead, the Governor largely moves oversight of state contracting to the Auditors of Public Accounts and allows the Auditors “to receive referrals of procurement issues” from the State Contracting Standards Board. This change will effectively neuter one of our state’s most important oversight entities. The proposal to eliminate the Board’s enforcement powers, at a time when contracting procedures need as much transparency as possible, is dangerous and shortsighted.
CSEA members have been busy testifying in front of the Appropriations Committee to ensure that our legislative priorities are pushed through this short legislative session. If you are interested in testifying - either in person or by submitting written testimony - please contact Danny Medress, our Political Director, at DMedress@csea760.com. He will be able to help you craft your testimony, walk you through the process of signing up for in person testimony or submitting written testimony.
2022 Legislative Agenda
As we say goodbye to 2021 and look forward to what 2022 has the potential to bring, CSEA members are focused on the coming start of the General Assembly’s next legislative session. From February 9 through May 4, 151 state Representatives and 36 state Senators serving constituents from throughout the 169 municipalities of Connecticut will convene to conduct the people’s business. What this session will look like - in-person or virtual - and which people will be served - working and middle class residents or the super rich and large corporations - remains to be seen. The ongoing pandemic will dictate the former, but the latter is up to us. CSEA members have a long history of pushing General Assembly members to make the right choices when it comes to budget and legislative priorities, and that involvement and activism will be crucial to ensure our elected officials are advancing legislation which puts working people first.
The CSEA Legislative Action Committee (LAC), which is composed of members from every council in our local, working with rank-and-file members, member-leaders, and staff have recommended and the Executive Council has approved a strong and expansive agenda for the 2022 legislative session. It is one that includes items which impact every member of CSEA. The next legislative session presents a range of challenges and obstacles, but also significant opportunities to shape critical public policies that will improve our careers, our lives, and the services we provide.
2022 Legislative Agenda
Approval of Collective Bargaining Agreements. All state employee collective bargaining agreements and arbitrated awards must be voted on by both chambers of the General Assembly. Currently, the seven state bargaining units represented by CSEA, as well as the 27 others represented by different union locals, are negotiating contracts with the State. In the 2022 legislative session, we are hopeful that all state employee bargaining units will have agreements or awards before the legislature. CSEA members will fight to pass, not only, our own contracts, but will work with our fellow union members to ensure that every contract is approved. CSEA represents multiple state bargaining units:
*P-3A (Education Administrators);
*P-3B (Education Professions);
*P-4 (Engineering, Scientific, & Technical);
*NP-8 (Correction Supervisors Council);
*Police Inspectors Council;
*Supervising Judicial Marshals; and
*NP- 9 (State Police Lieutenants and
SEBAC Legislative Proposals. - The State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) is made up of the unions that represent state employees. And, while the coalition was created by state law to consolidate bargaining over pensions and healthcare, there is no denying the power of all state employee locals coming together to advocate with one clear voice.
For the 2022 session, SEBAC unions will be working to advance legislative proposals that fund services and jobs, protect against the misguided push for privatization, and address the longstanding problem of short staffing. CSEA members will also work with our allies in SEBAC to get the General Assembly to, not only, restore full funding of the State Contracting Standards Board (SCSB), but also pass legislation that will improve and enhance its operations. A properly resourced SCSB will be an effective tool for safeguarding public dollars, services, and jobs.
Recovery for All Legislative Proposals - CSEA members helped form the Recovery for All coalition because we know that every working person is an ally in the battle to create an economy that works for everyone. Recovery for All is a statewide coalition of labor, community, and faith organizations representing hundreds of thousands of people united in a long-term mission to eliminate systemic inequalities and rebuild a better Connecticut. CSEA will work with our partners in the Coalition to support legislation focused on creating a truly equitable state tax system, protecting funding for public services and jobs, and establishing racial and economic justice.
Paraeducator Legislation from the School Paraeducator Advisory Council - Last session, CSEA members helped pass House Bill 6621: An Act Concerning Assorted Revisions and Additions to the Education Statutes which included language directing the School Paraeducator Advisory Council to put together a study and legislative recommendations regarding improving para career development, professional training, pay, and benefits.
The Council formed a task force, that includes CSEA members, which is working on the study and
recommendations which will be submitted to the Education Committee for action in the 2022 legislative session.
Zoning for Child Care Providers - In the previous legislative session, CSEA supported a bill championed by our allies in All Our Kin - an organization that trains, supports, and sustains family child care educators, SB 87: An Act Concerning Certain Protections for Group and Family Child Care Homes, that would “clarify and enforce protections for licensed group child care homes and licensed family child care homes and prevent landlords from placing restrictions on the operation of such homes.” This is an important bill for the home-based family child care providers represented by CSEA that made it all the way to the floor of the Senate, but was not called for a vote before the end of session. Next session, we will join with our allies to get it to the Governor’s desk.
Indoor Air Quality in Schools - During the 2021 session, CSEA joined with a wide range of other unions and organizations to support a bill to improve indoor air quality in schools, SB 288: An Act Concerning Indoor Air Quality in Schools. This bill made it out of the Education Committee, but did not make it any further. This has always been an important piece of legislation, but especially so in the time of the airborne, deadly COVID pandemic. While this bill fell short in the last session, CSEA members and the other supporters of this legislative proposal will be working hard to get it signed into law in the upcoming one.
Probate Court Collective Bargaining - For the past several sessions, CSEA has been working to pass a bill that will give employees in Connecticut’s probate court system collective bargaining rights and the ability to join a union if they want. Last session, the bill was HB 6382: An Act Concerning the Status of Probate Court System Employees. It is just plain wrong that there is a group of workers who are legally barred from even thinking about joining a union and engaging in collective bargaining. CSEA members stand with the probate court workers and will work with them to pass this necessary update to Connecticut’s labor laws.
It turns out the old saying “Laws are like sausages. It is best not to see them being made,” is wrong. The only way to ensure good laws - or sausages that won’t give you food poisoning - are made is to be involved. That’s why we put forward this agenda, testify at public hearings, contact our General Assembly members and do what we can to be part of the legislative process. Afterall, there is another old saying that is accurate: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
CSEA SEIU Local 2001 Political Education Director, Daniel I. Medress Delivers an End of Session Wrap Up on June 11, 2021
Since March of last year, we have found ourselves in unprecedented times. A deadly global pandemic has caused disruption on a scale we have not seen in any of our lifetimes. And, we all bore witness to the insurrection in Washington, D.C. on January 6. We have lost friends and loved ones, we have watched our democratic republic challenged like never before, and we have tried to continue on in the hopes that some semblance of normalcy returns. CSEA members, like too many others, have had to put their lives on the line to make sure that the critical work we do gets done.
And, just like we have continued to serve the public, on January 6, members of the Connecticut General Assembly convened their regular legislative session to conduct the people’s business. As we are every year, CSEA members were deeply involved in this year’s session. From proposing bills to testifying at public hearings to contacting legislators and so much more, CSEA members adapted to the challenges of this legislative session. We fought hard for a legislative agenda that put members first while honoring and respecting the important work we do.
2021 General Assembly Session Highlights
The Budget: At the top of CSEA’s 2021 Legislative Agenda was passing a fair budget that increases revenue through taxes on Connecticut’s wealthiest residents, rejects privatization schemes, and funds the services we provide and the benefits we have earned. While the General Assembly was able to pass a biennial budget (House Bill 6689) and a bond package (House Bill 6690), they were not able to pass the so-called “implementer bill” (this is the legislative term for the bill(s) that outline how the money allocated in the budget is spent - the bill implements the budget). As the CSEA News goes to print, we do not yet have a date for the Special Session the General Assembly will hold to pass an implementer bill. During this Special Session, the House and Senate will also take up legislation detailing the distribution of the remaining federal funds received through the American Rescue Plan (ARP). They are also expected to take up legislation to legalize and regulate the recreational use and sale of cannabis; a bill to do this (Senate Bill 1118) passed the Senate, but stalled in the House on the final day of session.
The $46 billion budget that covers FY2022 and FY2023 falls short in many areas. As is constitutionally required it is balanced, but, to achieve that, legislators relied on over $2 billion in money from the ARP. This use of federal money is a one-time thing. Two years from now, Connecticut will not have this resource to balance the books. That was part of the reason why CSEA joined with allies in the Recovery for All coalition to advocate for a realignment of our current tax system, which places too much of a burden on working people, and instead ask our state’s millionaires and billionaires to pay a little more in taxes. Governor Ned Lamont was adamant that this was a policy decision he was unwilling to explore, but the problems of Connecticut’s unfair tax system is not one that is just going to go away. Going forward, the work CSEA and other Recovery for All coalition partners do to fix this unequal system will be vital to ensuring that Connecticut has an economy that works for everyone and a budget that is not balanced on the backs of public employees.
The budget does not make progress in addressing short staffing issues that are experienced firsthand by CSEA members. It does not include increased funding for the educational programs in our state’s prisons provided by CSEA members. And, it does not include a consultant line item in the Department of Transportation’s section of the budget. All things CSEA members fought hard to achieve.
The budget, also, does not fund pandemic pay bonuses for workers who were required to go to worksites during the pandemic. CSEA members like those working in the Southbury Training School, in our state’s prison facilities, as family child care providers, or board of education workers like bus drivers and paraeducators literally put their lives on the line to do their jobs. Recognizing the commitment and bravery of these people with a pandemic pay bonus for the time they spent at their worksites is the right and fair thing to do. Creating a pandemic pay program and passing legislation to fund it with ARP money and put it into effect is at the core of CSEA’s Special Session agenda.
As frustrating as these things are, there are a few bright points in this year’s biennial budget: municipalities and boards of education are receiving an increase in state funds, the State Contracting Standards Board will finally be properly funded with enough money to do it’s important oversight work, and billions of dollars are going into the state employee pension and health care funds. This is not the budget that we would have passed, but it contains no layoffs and no attacks on collective bargaining.
Pass State Employee Contracts. All state employee collective bargaining agreements and binding arbitration awards must be approved by a vote of the House of Representatives and Senate. This session, the contract for the newest members of the CSEA family, State School Principals, passed through both chambers of the General Assembly with bipartisan support.
Paraeducator compensation improvement and career development. After many years of hard work, CSEA paraeducators, working with our brothers and sisters in other union locals that represent paras, passed legislation that will start the process of dramatically improving their pay, benefits, training, professional development, career opportunities, and working conditions. Sections 509 and 510 of House Bill 6621 will direct the School Paraeducator Advisory Council to spend the next several months compiling a series of legislative recommendations for the 2022 legislative session. This proposal will allow for the development of a statewide, uniform system for paraeducator qualifications, career development, pay rates, and retirement and health care benefits.
Post-Traumatic Stress Injury coverage for Department of Corrections workers. For years, members of CSEA’s Correction Supervisors Council have been working to pass legislation that expands PTSI coverage to include them, and other emergency responders. Although current law covers police officers, DOC-employed parole officers, and firefighters diagnosed with PTSI, other DOC workers, emergency dispatchers, and EMS workers were excluded. Senate Bill 660 corrects that problem and passed unanimously through both chambers of the General Assembly.
Early voting and no excuse voting by mail. Allowing voters to vote early or by mail without an excuse is something Connecticut should have done long ago. CSEA and allies helped pass two constitutional amendments that will give voters the chance to finally create a system of early and no excuse voting. House Joint Resolution 58, a constitutional amendment to allow no excuse absentee voting, passed through both chambers, but because it did not pass with a supermajority, it needs to be voted on again by legislators during next year’s General Assembly session. If it passes through the House and Senate, it will be placed on the 2024 General Election ballot. House Joint Resolution 59, a constitutional amendment to allow early in-person voting, passed through both chambers and will be on the 2022 General Election ballot for voter approval (it was already approved by both chambers during a previous session).
Protecting collective bargaining after the Supreme Court’s bad decision in the Janus case. Anti-union forces funded the Janus case because they saw it as an opportunity to deliver a body blow to the labor movement. For them, it was not about public policy or free speech, but a chance to financially hamstring labor unions. Labor unions are still here, members are still here, and now, thanks to the passage of Senate Bill 908, we have a key tool to ensure that members rights, jobs, and benefits are protected. The bill (1) requires public employers to provide the union with access to orientations for new public employee hires and up-to- date bargaining unit lists with worksite locations and contact information; (2) clarifies the dues deduction authorization process; (3) maintains the union’s ability to meet with members during the workday to respond to grievances, complaints and other issues; and (4) requires public employers to refrain from deterring or discouraging public employees from becoming or remaining members of a union.
These are just a few highlights from the 2021 Connecticut General Assembly session. With the State Capitol closed to the public due to the ongoing deadly COVID-19 pandemic, CSEA members rolled up their sleeves, literally and virtually, to pass, amend, and defeat legislation of crucial interest and importance. Some parts of our agenda - the public health care option (Senate Bill 842) and collective bargaining rights for probate court workers (House Bill 6382), for instance - did not move forward this session. Other bills we were able to stop - such as the privatization of building inspections (Senate Bill 846) - or fix - Senate Bill 920, for example, started as a bad public-private partnership bill, but CSEA members got it amended to take out dangerous language and to put in strong protections for workers and the general public - can always come back later.
As we close the chapter on this very unique legislative session of the Connecticut General Assembly, we look ahead and remember the words of former 1199 President Carmen Boudier, “The work, it never ends.”