The nation avoided another costly government shutdown last week, but not a national emergency. .. and likely not a Constitutional confrontation, either.
While Connecticut Democrats fumed over what U.S. Rep. John Larson (D-1st District) called President Donald Trump’s “extraordinary abuse of power” by declaring a national emergency at the southern border, Trump himself said he was taking the action so he could use billions more in federal funds than Congress agreed to give him to build a border wall.
“I could do the wall over a longer period of time,” he said outside the White House. “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”
The matter will no doubt wind up in court, but the furor over the President’s maneuver overshadowed debate on the “New Green Deal” being promoted earlier in the week by progressive Democrats, which, after some hesitation by two members, the majority of Connecticut’s solid blue delegation whole-heartedly endorsed.
The mood at the State Capitol, meanwhile, was better than in Washington, but still combative, as progressive members of the Democratic party began pushing back against Gov. Ned Lamont’s plans to broaden the sales tax base and cut back on state borrowing. Reacting to some of the governor’s initial plans, a 44-member block of progressives advocated raising income taxes on Connecticut’s rich households, saying “you can’t simply be giving money to rich people.”
Lamont will fully unveil his first budget proposal this week, but has begun warming up by announcing that he will advocate imposing highway tolls on automobiles as well as trucks – a reversal of his position during his election campaign.
He has also let it be known that the public should expect him to hold the line on spending and recommend a broadening of the state’s sales tax base to increase revenue. He also wants to put the state on what he calls “a debt diet,” and is urging legislators to abide by the newly adopted spending cap of $430 million.
Lamont also agrees with Republicans that public-private partnerships may help the state reduce costs and improve the delivery of various human services. Some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and the governor, himself a multi-millionaire, also see eye-to-eye on repealing the inheritance tax which applies to estates valued at $3.6 million or more.
The governor is also proposing to do away with the $250 fee nearly all Connecticut businesses pay every other year.
Probably the biggest budget question remains deciding how to deal with paying the massive debt caused by decades of underfunding the pension fund for teachers. That is not the only budget problem, of course: The Connecticut State College and Universities could face a shortfall of up to $57 million if the state doesn’t increase its support from last year.
There are other legislative ideas which may or may not gain traction as the legislative session evolves – a state-offered public health insurance option, for one.
Another would strengthen the voting rights for prison inmates. That is unlikely to be any relief to Connecticut native and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort following prosecutors’ recommendation that he serve 19.5 to 24.5 years in prison and pay back nearly $30 million for his conviction of financial crimes and lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.