There are new restrictions on gun ownership and limits on the release of crime-scene photos. The minimum wage is going up, as is the cost of gasoline. Immigrants here illegally will be able to get driver’s licenses in a couple of years, and genetically engineered foods will get labels — maybe. There will be a new type of gambling at restaurants and bars. There won’t be any move, as the governor had sought, to auction off the right to serve energy customers. Political parties will get to spend big on campaigns for state legislative races, but major donors will have to disclose more information. Tattoo artists will have to get licensed. And you’ll still have to pay local taxes on your car.
The ultimate impact of the decisions made during the 2013 legislative session will take years to determine. But here’s an early assessment of who came out ahead and who didn’t.
UConn: Legislators authorized borrowing $1.6 billion for the university’s “Next Generation” initiative, which will fund the construction of science, technology and engineering classrooms to accommodate a 30 percent jump in enrollment over the next decade. The university will also receive $15 million in the upcoming state budget to hire 66 new faculty and counselors to accommodate an estimated 650 additional students beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.
Cities and towns: The state budget for the next two fiscal years leaves largely intact the $3 billion in aid that cities and towns get each year. The education grant program that accounts for most of the state’s municipal aid will rise by 2 percent over the next two years. And Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to eliminate the tax on motor vehicles, a proposal that municipal leaders hated, got shelved. But stay tuned on the future of the car tax. A task force launched by House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey recommended repealing the car tax on a phased-in basis in the coming years.
“GMO labeling warriors”: For a time, it looked as if the advocates for labels on genetically engineered foods would come up short on their wish for a second straight year. After the Senate passed a proposal they endorsed, the House passed a more restrictive version that they considered too weak. The “warriors,” as leader Tara Cook-Littman called her grass-roots backers, made thousands of phone calls to a lukewarm Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and House leaders, who had concerns about being the only state to require labeling. In the end, Malloy and legislative leaders compromised, but it means labels on GMO foods could be a long way off, if they ever arrive in Connecticut grocery stores. First, four other states with a combined population of at least 20 million people must pass similar measures, a trigger that one national food safety organization has criticized. The agriculture establishment and biotechnology industry opposed the measure. Depending on what other states do, they might emerge as the ultimate winners.
Education Reform: State lawmakers opted to build on the reforms passed last year by providing millions of dollars to help districts implement new teacher evaluations linked to student performance. The budget also provides funding for the state to intervene in about a dozen more of the state’s lowest-performing schools and money to open four new state charter schools over the next two school years.
Farmland preservation: The legislature unanimously saved from development more than 800 acres of farmland at the state-owned Southbury Training School. Through a conservation easement it will be kept in agricultural production by the Department of Agriculture. It becomes one of the largest farm properties in the state, where the average farm is 80 acres.
Community health centers: In a budget that trims or slashes funds for many health care providers, community health centers got a rare increase in state funds. The centers mostly serve the uninsured and people on Medicaid, and are expected to absorb much of the new demand for health care once thousands more state residents gain coverage under federal health care reform. Under the upcoming two-year budget, the state’s 14 health centers will get an extra $10 million a year through the Medicaid program, although it’s not yet clear how the money will be distributed.
Child welfare advocates: Lawmakers decided to require the Department of Children and Families to begin reporting the educational progress of children in state custody. Lawmakers also decided to launch pilot programs in the state’s three largest cities to bolster the education of those on probation or parole. And they are requiring that the department ensure that children under 3 who have been abused or neglected receive screenings for developmental or social and emotional delays, and, if necessary, referred to services that can help.
Shoreline and storm preparedness: The Shoreline Preservation Task Force offered a modest array of bills based on its recommendations in the wake of Irene and Sandy. All passed largely intact and are considered wins for both environmentalists and the administration, though some would argue that private property owners came out on the short end. Most notable was a bill that allows the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for the first time to consider sea level rise in the criteria for infrastructure projects that use money from the Clean Water Fund. And another began the process of establishing a climate change resource and education center through the University of Connecticut. But no money was provided. Officials are already talking with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about funding possibilities.
State Judges: Legislators approved the first pay raise for judges in seven years. Judges will earn an extra 5.3 percent starting July 1, and get another 5.3 percent raise in the 2014-15 fiscal year. The increase will cost the state just under $5.5 million over the next two fiscal years combined. Superior Court judges earn $146,780 per year. According to an analysis prepared by the National Center for State Courts, that ranks 45th among all states once adjusted for inflation. Connecticut’s Appellate Court judges earn $152,637, while Supreme Court justices earn $162,520.
Hospitals: Hospital officials decried the governor’s proposal to cut more than $500 million in funding from hospitals, saying it will lead to job cuts and hurt patient care. But their pleas went largely unanswered. The next two-year budget slashes payments hospitals receive to compensate them for treating uninsured and underinsured patients, and money they currently receive as reimbursement for a provider tax they pay. The Malloy administration says the hospitals will still receive more money because more people will have health insurance, but hospitals counter that the funds will only come from treating thousands more poor patients. Some hospitals will get a slight boost: The final budget includes $15 million for hospitals with low costs and a high percentage of patients covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
Environmentalists: Roger Smith of Clean Water Action called it “the worst legislative session for energy I’ve seen in a decade.” Chris Phelps of Environment Connecticut said, “Connecticut is going backwards.” Environmentalists were unhappy with most provisions of two key energy bills pushed by the Malloy administration: one that reset renewable energy standards for the state and another that implemented a comprehensive energy strategy. Environmental groups decried the renewable energy legislation as a rollback of the state’s commitment to renewable energy because of the special status afforded large-scale Canadian hydropower. And they criticized the energy strategy’s reliance on conversion to natural gas heat, which they saw as reinforcing reliance on fossil fuels. For its part, the Malloy administration viewed the clean energy bill as a win for cheaper, cleaner energy, and saw the energy strategy as a way to dial back reliance on oil. The next state budget also gives environmentalists something to groan about: It raids two pots of clean energy and energy efficiency funding — money that would normally go to the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority and funds that come through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative for energy efficiency.
Businesses and power plants: A 20 percent surcharge on the corporation tax scheduled to expire this December will hang around for another two years, costing businesses an extra $118 million in the next biennial budget. And a $2.50 per megawatt/hour tax on electricity generators was extended for another three months. Originally scheduled to end on June 30, it now runs through September and will cost power plant operators an extra $17.5 million.
The Working Poor: The state’s new Earned Income Tax Credit, equal to 30 percent of the federal EITC in the 2012 calendar year, falls in the new budget to 25 percent in 2013. Working poor families filing their state income tax returns next spring will lose an estimated $21 million. The state credit rebounds to 27.5 percent in 2014, but the working poor still will collect $11 million less that year than they do now.
Problem gamblers: Keno — a bingo-type electronic game — will likely begin operating for the first time in facilities outside of the state’s casinos. The state budget counts on Keno bringing in $31 million, but that depends on getting approval from the state’s two Indian tribes, which have exclusive gambling rights in Connecticut.
AT&T: The telecom giant lost an effort to deregulate the landline business, which the company said was necessary as consumers increasingly rely only on cellular service. The measure was strongly opposed by advocates for seniors and others who still rely on landlines.
Inmates serving lengthy sentences for crimes they committed as children: Efforts to make those inmates serving 20 years or more for crimes committed when they were under age 18 eligible for parole fell flat. This effort was in response to a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that found that requiring children convicted of serious crimes be sentenced to life without the chance of parole unconstitutional.