Finance panel OK’s sports betting measure

The legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee approved a bill Thursday that could launch Connecticut’s own sports betting industry — provided the U.S. Supreme Court gives the green light to such activity.

It also approved a measure to protect state taxpayers from new federal tax changes and narrowly rejected a bill to further analyze a new report on stabilizing state finances.

The committee voted 31-16 to endorse a bill to establish a regulatory framework for sports gaming. A case that could legalize sports betting in all 50 states is currently before the Supreme Court.

The state’s casinos, licensed off-track betting facilities and the Connecticut Lottery Corporation would be authorized to offer sports betting. The Department of Consumer Protection also would have the authority to license new providers.

“If the Supreme Court’s going to allow states to do it, we can either choose to participate or not,” said Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, the committee’s House chairman and a supporter of the bill. “And if other states around us are going to participate and realize some revenue, I think it would be a missed opportunity for Connecticut.”

“This stuff is happening. It will always happen,” said Sen. John Fonfara of Hartford, the Senate Democratic chair of finance and another supporter of the bill. “If people want to legalize it as opposed to doing it illegally, I’m not offended.”

Sen. L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich, the committee’s Senate Republican chair, opposed the measure, saying, “Anything having to do with gambling, I don’t approve of.”

The measure also would authorize the lottery to begin selling tickets online, which analysts say would provide the state with an extra $700,000 in revenue next fiscal year, and $2.2 million by 2019-20. The lottery also would be required to transfer an extra $100,000 per year to support treatment services for chronic gamblers.

Federal tax changes and the fiscal stability panel

The finance committee also overwhelmingly adopted a measure aimed at protecting Connecticut households and businesses that may face higher federal taxes under the tax changes passed earlier this year by Congress.

One component of the bill would allow municipalities to create charitable organizations to support local services, offering property tax credits in exchange. The rationale behind the bill is that charitable contributions are still deductible under the new federal tax law, but local property taxes are not.

A second element would help small businesses to reduce federal income tax liability through a change in how they pay taxes to the state — at no cost to Connecticut.

The changes were recommended in February by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The committee voted 26-25 to reject a bill that would have required the panel to work with three other committees to analyze the recommendations of the state Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth and report back to the full legislature.

The stability commission’s report has drawn mixed reviews from both parties. It recommends sales and corporation tax increases to offset a major reduction in state income taxes. And while it would end collective bargaining for public-sector employee benefits — which frustrated labor supporters — it also calls for the state minimum wage to rise to $15 per hour.

Other bills approved Thursday by the Finance Committee would:

  • Reverse an increase in teachers’ contributions to their state pensions. The new state budget adopted last October boosted employee contributions from 6 to 7 percent of payroll starting Jan. 1, 2018. The new bill would return it to 6 percent starting July 1.
  • Eliminate a directive to boost various state fees by $20 million next fiscal year.
  • Eliminate a directive to cancel $10 million in tax credits and exemptions starting next fiscal year.
  • Extend by three years a plan to gradually reduce the state’s gift and estate taxes to match federal tax thresholds. This would save the state $28.3 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year and $15.1 million in 2021-22.
  • And delay by one year a required $30 million payment by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to the state. The tribes, which are seeking to develop a new casino in north central Connecticut, would have to make the payment by June 30, 2020 according to this bill.

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