House Minority Leader Themis Klarides
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby

The top Republican in the House of Representatives took aim Tuesday at proposals to regionalize school districts and expand the sales tax.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, challenged Gov. Ned Lamont and his fellow Democrats in the legislature’s majority to focus more on options to reduce government spending.

Democrats regained control of the Senate and expanded their advantage in the House of Representatives by making big gains in last November’s elections.

“Nobody wants to give up their individual power in their towns and I get that,” Klarides told reporters during a late afternoon press conference in the Legislative Office Building. “I believe regionalization, where it naturally fits, is a wonderful thing to do in this state.”

For example, Klarides said, she represents a portion of the Amity Regional School District, which serves students from Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge. These communities also share social services, chambers of commerce and civic groups.

But Klarides said proposals raised by Democratic lawmakers would force consolidations in a “very haphazard way.”

One bill introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, would require communities with populations of less than 40,000 to consolidate with another school district.

A second measure, offered by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, would direct any district with fewer than 2,000 students to merge with at least one more so that the expanded district’s student population exceeds 2,000. If a community did not wish to do so, it would have to explain its hardship in writing to the state Department of Education.

The Senate Democratic Caucus did not comment immediately after Klarides issued her statements. 

But Looney put legislators and others on notice when the 2019 session convened on Jan. 9 that a more aggressive approach to consolidation would have to be considered.

Surging state pension and other debt costs have weakened state aid for schools in recent years and are projected to place increasing pressure on state finances at least into the early 2030s.

Nonpartisan fiscal analysts already have warned about major projected deficits for the next two-year state budget.

Finances, unless adjusted, are on pace to run $1.5 billion in the red in the 2019-20 fiscal year. And the potential deficit reaches $2 billion the year after that.

Lamont, whose first biennial budget proposal is due to legislators on Feb. 20, has asked his budget staff to research ending several longstanding sales tax exemptions — including those on groceries and medications — and mitigating this somewhat by reducing the overall 6.35 percent sales tax rate.

Klarides said her office has received numerous phone calls and emails from constituents since this first was reported on Monday. 

“That is the one thing that has made the biggest splash, I think, in the state of Connecticut, and I’m sure my colleagues have been getting the same phone calls.”

Klarides said taxing groceries is a “nonstarter” for her caucus.

“These things are hurting middle class families and hurting businesses big and small,” Klarides added. “The only proposals we have seen thus far this year are proposals that are trying to bring more revenue into the state.”

The governor’s office did not comment immediately after Klarides’ press conference.

But besides trying to close the deficit, Lamont also has said he wants to freeze state income tax rates and deliver property tax relief to lower- and middle-income families by expanding the property tax credit within the income tax system.

Klarides also objected to a bill introduced by Looney that would add one-half of 1 percentage point to the 6.35 percent sales tax rate, and dedicate the additional revenue to cities and towns.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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  1. Regionalization cannot be limited to only school districts to be effective. In each of the towns named within the article, the town/municipality is a significant source of employment, according to CERC. Jobs/employers are needed to remove the municipalities as a significant source of employment. We need manufacturing jobs and incentives for employers to come to Connecticut- eased taxation during startup(s), etc. Connecticut is almost 50% woodlands. A thoughtful approach has to develop and be put into motion that makes job creation in Connecticut more than a wonderful dream while at the same time working to maintain the landscapes of the State- enhancing existing forests, improving water ways, etc. Connecticut cannot afford politicians on the left or right of an aisle, so the removal of the “R” and remove the “D” from elected titles and, instead, governing would be the place to start.

    1. Job creation happens in an explosive, tension filled, capitalist environment. The government’s responsibility is to provide a petri dish for this environnent to multiply. It will not happen in Connecticut where Democrats believe their responsiblity is to pontificate then legislate on their personal perceptions of societies ills. This would include the many evils of capitalism as they perceive it. In short, they can’t get out of their own way.

  2. Isn’t it ironic the republicans are speaking against raising taxes through groceries and nothing from the democrats. The republicans, portrayed to be against the middle class and poor and only for the rich, is against a bill that primarily taxes the middle class and poor at a higher percentage of overall wealth. The democrat representatives from CT have backed the calling republicans deplorable, but have no issue with slapping the poor in the face with higher taxes. Well, I guess the democrats have went back on their campaign promise. I wonder what new democrat presidential candidates will have to say about these new taxes? Seems to me like what the democrat candidates are saying is groceries, medicine and more should be rights except to republicans.

  3. If you have a cancer in your stomach you don’t address it by amputating off a arm you go after the cancer in the stomach.Ct has a cancer as union pensions and bloated state spending go after they direct cancer with out destroying the hard working tax payers of Ct

    1. Yes that’s precisely how CT politicians work for their public Union supporters. Why complain ? Savvy CT residents understand what’s happening. Just look at numbers of houses for sale – considerably greater than much larger Mass. Honey call in the movers.

  4. We get the Government we deserve. In 2019, we deserve endless proposals from the supermajority party on how to increase revenue with little consideration of how to cut our insatiable appetite for spending. We knew what we were going to get and its here. Its only a matter of time before this state is insolvent at this rate.

  5. Why do we tax food when you buy it at restaurants or fast food locations but not in the grocery store? Why do some buy lobster without a sales tax and other buy cheap hamburgers and do pay? The structure of the sales tax makes absolutely no sense–it is utterly dysfunctional and ought to be overhauled. A much lower (say 4%) rate broadly applied would generate a more stable revenue stream (the current sales tax, applied in a bizarre pattern, now collects hundred of MILLIONS less than it did just five years ago, measured as a shared of aggregate household consumption). And it is easy to address the regressive nature with a REBATE to every household for the equivalent of a basic food and clothing budget.

    And then let’s get serious about what is the really important challenge: RESTORING ECONOMIC GROWTH. Connecticut’s economy is the worst performing of ANY state economy over the last decade–it is now about the size it was in 2005, almost 10% SMALLER in real terms. That is the challenge on which we ought to be focused.

    1. Nice thoughts. But everyone, especially major business leaders know exactly what are the prospects of our failing State overseen by Democrats and their public Union supporters.
      Even if the politics were “straightened out” someday we still lack modern cities with hi-tech modern industries that give Boston and NYC their vitality. Save Stamford our major cities are seriously depressed lacking good jobs, housing and education – “welfare cities”.

      Decades have gone by w/o any thought of revitalizing our depressed cities home to almost 1/3 of CT’s population. No wonder CT is widely viewed as the nations’ most dysfunctional failing State. Some 4,000 homes for sale in our Gold Coast dosn’t even attract attention in Hartford. Even though the Gold Coast provides 40% of our State income. So we know our future. Florida is booming with CT license plates. See for yourself.

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