Consternation over healthcare, the state budget and the president’s pronouncements
For many in Connecticut, it was hard to say which was the more confounding issue last week: federal health care legislation, the development of a state budget, or the behavior of the president of the United States.
The healthcare debate was certainly as dramatic and unconventional as it was controversial and significant, since members of the U.S. Senate assembled to vote Tuesday without knowing which version of the healthcare bill — that would potentially affect one sixth of the U.S. economy — would be up for vote. Condemned by Connecticut’s Democratic senators, the procedural measure to proceed with debate narrowly passed on the yes vote of Sen. John McCain, who arrived at the Capitol only days after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
It was McCain, as well, who helped put the nail in the Republican’s immediate hopes late Thursday, urging instead that Congress develop a bipartisan approach to improving the healthcare system. Connecticut Reps. John Larson, D-1st District, and Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, have one suggestion: Let people ages 50 tp 64 buy in to Medicare.
The Senate’s so-called “skinny” bill was “the most irresponsible thing I have seen in public service,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. Neither was he positively impressed by President Donald Trump’s speech to the Boy Scouts of America — one Murphy described as “icky” and which later elicited an apology to the scouts from their chief executive.
Earlier in the week another iteration of the campaign to replace Obamacare had Murphy ticked off. He wanted to know whether Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price misused taxpayer money through advertising and public relations efforts aimed at undermining the Affordable Care Act.
Among many others, meanwhile, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was apparently appalled by President Trump’s tweeted announcement Wednesday that he will ban transgender individuals from the military. Malloy — one of many critics — called the decision “ignorant” and “profoundly troubling.”
The governor also was engaged by the ongoing and unresolved dispute as to whether the Millstone Nuclear Power Station is in need of state help to remain financially viable. He ordered a study of the issue despite complaints from Dominion Energy, Millstone’s owner, that it is too little too late. The nuclear facility is the state’s largest source of carbon-free power — an increasingly important element of the state’s new comprehensive energy strategy.
There was also unrest and more nail-biting over the state budget as Democrats in the House of Representatives approved a state employee concessions agreement that is projected to save up to $1.57 billion in the next two fiscal years. State Attorney General George Jepsen issued a formal opinion warning legislators of the risks involved in trying to rewrite existing labor agreements by legislation but noting the flexibility they have once those agreements expire. State Republicans are opposed to the concession plan, which they say is insufficient and fraught with limitations.
At least the state will have a little extra money in its pension accounts as the result of better than average return on its investments, State Treasurer Denise Nappier reported.
Municipal governments, without a solid idea of what to expect from the state budgetarily, have been conservative in their spending and in many cases have been cutting services or freezing spending. Their suffering will intensify in the weeks ahead — by a factor of about $100 million.
What a legislature hath granted, of course, a legislature can taketh away. Such appears to be case with federal money for Electric Boat. The U.S. House of Representatives appears poised to deny funding EB was hoping to receive to increase the rate of submarine production for the Navy. The U.S. House also passed a bill that would, if approved by the Senate, block the sale of Plum Island off the Connecticut coast.
State legislators, meanwhile, in a very close vote, overrode Malloy’s veto of a bill that loosens the state’s affordable housing standards.
That’s politics, which is never far off. The rumblings of a distant state election were audible last week as gubernatorial hopeful Tim Herbst, Trumbull’s first selectman, hit the summer circuit and state Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said he is considering a run for Comptroller Kevin Lembo’s office.
The rumblings of a commuter train pulling into the station grew figuratively louder, too, with the choice of TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts as the operators of the New Haven – Hartford – Springfield commuter rail line beginning next May. Connecticut chose not the lowest bidder, but the company that scored the highest in a system ranking quality. It will remain to be seen whether the new service will spark any further interest in transit-oriented development.
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