NORTH BRANFORD – From revising liquor laws to the tax-heavy, deficit-ridden state budget, hot topics at the state level affecting towns including North Branford were discussed by State Senator Ed Meyer (D-12) and State Representative Vincent Candelora (R-86) on Feb. 29.
Both legislators spoke at the North Branford Chamber of Commerce State of the Town/State of the State event last week at town hall (see “State of North Branford” on page 1 for town officials’ input).
In 2011, both Meyer and Candelora voted against what they termed the “tax increase package” in Connecticut’s bi-annual budget. That budget was “hoisted” upon the state and now must be “tweaked” during this shortened legislative period to address a $150 million deficit that’s really a $234 million deficit, with new GAP accounting practices, said Candelora.
“It’s a $234 million deficit, and you can only tax so much,” said Candelora.
Meanwhile, the state’s experiencing reductions in estimated income taxes.
“We need to really take a look at the effect of that tax package, and so with that there are some proposals I put forth to help better examine the budget,” said Candelora. “About two months ago, we saw a decline in the cash flow and it gave us [an] early alert as to where our budget was going-we sort of knew we were getting into trouble-so the deficit wasn’t a surprise, and there’s been an attempt to try to come up with some proposals to try to tighten our belts a little bit quicker.”
Both Candelora and Meyer said the state’s fledgling economic revival could be hindered by supporting a current bill to increase minimum wage (from $8.25 per hour to as much as $9.75).
“Now’s not the time to increase the minimum wage,” said Meyer, adding he would support the concept in a better economy but, “This is not the time, in an economic revival.”
Candelora pointed out the legislation being considered includes eliminating tip credit for bartenders and waitresses, about which he has reservations.
“We really have to tread lightly on businesses,” said Candelora. “It’s the wrong time, when we potentially are looking at an economic recovery, to ask for more money from our businesses.”
Both legislators spoke just a day after being at a state capital flooded by people responding to proposed state liquor law changes. One of the main tenets would be to allow Sunday liquor sales, but beneath the surface lurk items that could be bad for small local businesses, both legislators said.
“My inclination is to support a much more modified bill that does protect package stores,” said Meyer.
“The devil is really in the details,” agreed Candelora. “It’s what’s behind the bill that’s being submitted that ends up becoming of graver concern.”
The current bill would end Sunday Blue Laws, but, “That is really only one percent of what that bill does,” said Candelora. “In Connecticut, if the bill passes as is, I think regardless of where your stores are located, it’s going to hurt all of our package stores in this district and surrounding districts.
“[The attempt] is to eliminate minimum pricing of alcohol, which has allowed the small mom and pops to sell at a competitive rate, so the larger big box stores can’t sweep in and give a lot of discounts and sell at significantly lower prices,” Candelora continued. “By eliminating that, it squeezes out the competition.”
The current bill potentially will also allow “big box stores” to purchase and hold multiple liquor permits.
“The old proposal-it is morphing into the new structure now…but the old proposal is they can hold up to nine liquor permits,” explained Candelora. “So you could have [a big grocery store chain] coming in and buying up nine package stores in the area, then closing [some] of them down, and ultimately that is going to cost jobs.”
Both legislators also discussed how the state’s current proposal for an education reform bill, largely geared to assist in urban communities, won’t have a great impact on North Branford.
“It looks like we’ll get a small Education Cost Sharing increase for North Branford, but I don’t think the other reforms are going to affect us,” said Meyer.
Candelora cautioned the bill includes a caveat in which districts of 1,000 or fewer students would be required to regionalize, or be penalized with withheld grant amounts.
“That should be removed from the reform bill and discussed as separate policy,” said Candelora.
Meyer, who is also the State Senate’s Environmental Commission chair, reported the commission’s looking into better preparing to address future storm impacts on towns after the likes of a Tropical Storm Irene or October 2011 snow event.
“[We’re looking at] Irene damage not occurring again on shoreline; and as we look inward, utilities have not had performance standards…We will have a bill this session on performance standards in (weather emergency) situations,” said Meyer.
In addition, a tree-trimming bill will be introduced.
“We’re very serious about trying to avoid these awful shortages,” said Meyer.
Article source: http://www.theday.com/article/20120305/NWS01/303089783/-1/rssthesound