When my colleagues and I go in to convene the new legislative session, we have the daunting task of crafting a balanced state budget in the face of massive unemployment and billion-dollar deficits that will make providing relief to working people struggling in a global pandemic, indeed, a heavy lift.
As I begin my fourth term as state representative, I am keenly aware how disproportionately this pandemic has affected residents of Connecticut. Specifically, I am compelled to start the new session thinking about two of my Hamden constituents, Denise Rogers, and her late husband, Howard.
Denise is a shuttle driver in the city of New Haven who transported doctors, nurses and others to Yale New Haven Hospital. Early in the pandemic, Denise and her husband contracted the novel coronavirus while on the job. They both left home on March 26 by ambulance to Yale New Haven Hospital. Denise spent weeks in critical condition fighting for her life, and was discharged on Good Friday. While Denise recovered, she is now considered a “long hauler,” who suffers from severe headaches, fatigue, burning in her stomach, and memory loss.
Howard was not so fortunate. He spent 48 days hospitalized and on a ventilator for over 40 of those days before tragically passing away on May 14 – one of over 5,500 people in our state to die from COVID-19. And if the enormity of her husband’s loss wasn’t enough, Denise is still fighting to get workers’ compensation nine months after getting sick on the job. In fact, she has yet to receive a burial or death benefit due to her for Howard’s tragic death. So, when I join my colleagues to get sworn-in on January 6, I will be holding Denise, her late-husband Howard, the entire Rogers family, and so many families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, in my heart.
With this in mind, one thing is clear – this is the greatest crisis of our lifetime and working people are suffering the most. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated the vast inequalities that have always existed in our state and across America, and now we have an obligation to undo the systemic policies that have allowed such deadly inequities to persist. And while the legislature must certainly work to immediately address the effects of this pandemic, we must also address the massive budget deficits facing Connecticut by creating real structural reform, like providing substantial relief to working families who are contending with poverty, food insecurity, and the specter of eviction that looms over countless families, with or without timely action from the federal government.
While workers and the most vulnerable are struggling, billionaires have continued to profit during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the beginning of this pandemic, Connecticut lost nearly 300,000 jobs. As of today, there are nearly 200,000 workers in our state that are still out-of-work. At the same time, America’s billionaires have increased their wealth by more than $1 trillion since March while Connecticut’s 14 billionaires have comfortably held their $54.7 billion of net worth during this pandemic.
We must face reality: Connecticut has a regressive tax system that dooms our economic recovery. That means working- and middle-class families pay a larger percentage of their incomes in taxes than the wealthiest families in our state. But it’s even worse than you can imagine: our poorest families in our state (making less than $53,000 a year) pay an effective tax rate more than triple that of the wealthiest families (making over $680,000 a year).
Working- and middle-class people have suffered enough. It’s time for the wealthiest and the corporations profiting, to step up and invest in the very ones who have labored with dignity and dedication to deliver unsurmountable dividends. We can no longer allow our state’s essential workers to shoulder a disproportionate share of taxes while also risking their lives to keep our state running. After all, if we truly deem them “essential,” should they not have “essential” pay and healthcare? The answer is a resounding YES!
Now, we face the stark reality: We can either cut services, housing, and health care for low and middle-income families suffering record unemployment, or we can come together as a state and have the courage to reform our tax structure and finally make it more equitable for everyone, positioning our economy to be stronger than ever. We also respect the math: We can’t simply cut $4 billion worth of services, the projected shortfall over two years, with over half of our state budget committed to fixed debt liability and constitutional obligation costs of Medicaid/Medicare.
I know what I will choose. I will stand with working people ravaged by this pandemic. I will stand with our state’s essential workers. I will stand with Denise and other survivors like her, who have given their all because in our time of need, they stepped up. Now, it’s our turn to step up and do right by them.
State Representative Robyn A. Porter (D-94) represents Hamden and New Haven and serves as the House Chair of the Labor & Public Employees Committee.