Greenwich legislators discuss session at League picnic
GREENWICH — When looking back on the most recent legislative session, which ended in May, one thing Greenwich’s delegation to Hartford could easily agree on was that it was like no other.
“It was one of the most bizarre sessions I’ve been a part of in my 10 years there,” state Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-36, said Wednesday.
“Another weird, weird world in Hartford,” said state Rep. Livvy Floren, R-149.
Both were speaking at the League of Women Voters of Greenwich’s annual legislative picnic. They were joined by state Reps. Michael Bocchino, R-150, and Fred Camillo, R-151. All spoke of the unique 18-18 power split in the State Senate, and the uncommonly slim majority Democrats clung to in the House.
The unusual dynamic led to what Floren called “your government inaction” — but also some positives, the representatives said.
“We were really able to work alongside the individuals on the other side of the aisle, which was great,” Bocchino said. “Finally because of the 18-18 split in the Senate we’re having conversations that are actually moving good legislation forward and also killing bad legislation.”
Floren touted the women’s health bill led by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee she is on.
“This is one that protects a wide range of benefits like hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse services, ambulatory and emergency services, pediatric care and prescription drugs,” Floren said. “This is groundbreaking coverage. It’s a belt and suspenders operation. Women and people in general are going to be covered here in Connecticut no matter what transpires in Washington.”
Bocchino pointed to a successful pay equity bill, providing for equal pay for equal work.
“That was very important to both sides of the aisle, even though our side of the aisle didn’t get much press from the media about it,” Bocchino said. “It was a very important thing for us to move forward. No longer can employers ask a female what their past salaries were and it takes into consideration their bonus structures. It was a working group with myself and Rep. Floren and both sides were working on it since October making sure it was legislation we could be proud of on both sides of the aisle.”
The question and answer session at the picnic focused on are areas that could likely be a focus of the next legislative session: tolls and the ongoing pension liability for state employees and retirees.
All members of the delegation have voiced their opposition to tolls.
“You don’t have to have higher gas taxes or tolls,” Frantz said. “There is definitely enough room in the bonding budget every year to have about $1.1 billion for transportation purposes solely. You can do that for 30 years no problem without seeing much in the way of school construction or other things that require bond funds available.”
Instead Frantz said the state spends too much money on projects he called “boondoggles.”
Bocchino and Floren both advocated for people to support a referendum on the ballot in November creating a lockbox for the state transportation fund.
“This is incredibly important,” Bocchino said. “We can no longer allow any governor or any legislature to raid the special transportation fund.”
Regarding the pension liability, often cited as a major cause of the state’s ongoing deficits, Frantz said existing agreements with unions must be ripped up and renegotiated because it is a “completely unaffordable number going forward.”
The others took a somewhat softer approach. Camillo said the state’s word had to be its bond and expressed hope a new agreement could be reached without ripping up the old one.
The League of Women Voters of Greenwich is a non-partisan organization. But 2018 is an election year and Frantz, Bocchino and Camillo all have opponents in their bids for new terms. Each managed to work in plugs for their campaigns.
“If we are up there again we will keep on fighting for you,” Frantz told the attendees. “We’re right on the cusp of getting this (state fiscal) ship turned in the right direction and, I don’t want this to be a campaign speech, but it is so important to pay attention to what has happened and what could happen because we’re not in great shape but we could be in good shape.”
Camillo later added, “I don’t mean to be political but if you had something for 40 years and it’s getting worse and worse and worse you wouldn’t have a job or in sports you wouldn’t be on that team.”
Two of the opponents in November’s election were in attendance for the picnic, Alexandra Bergstein, who is running against Frantz, and Laura Kostin, who is challenging Camillo.
Stevens is a vocal supporter of installing tolls and challenged Frantz’s contention they were not needed.
“It’s time for something new,” Bergstein said. “It’s time to look at sources of revenue that are not taxes and are not going to burden taxpayers as bonding does. Tolls are the obvious way to do it. Tolls have no relationship to what they were 25 years ago. They would be a dedicated revenue stream we could leverage with private financing to make major improvements in infrastructure.”
Kostin agreed with Camillo about the importance of sitting down with the state unions over the pension liability and not ripping up the current agreement. But she said her approach would be better.
“It would be morally wrong and unethical in my view to do that to people who are already retired and can’t get another job,” Kostin said. “We need to do things like divesting assets that are laying fallow in Hartford and elsewhere. We can look at ideas put forth by (Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont) that are attractive to me, including diverting some money from the state lottery to help fund pension liability for a certain number of years.”
Democrat Stephen Meskers, who is running against Bocchino, did not attend and could not be reached for comment.