Legislators listen to their constituents

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Mon., Feb. 28, 2011
Donna Dauphinais, Fred Ruder and Dale Dauphinais came to the open office hours to speak with state reps. Mae Flexer and Danny Rovero and state Sen. Don Williams, Jr. Photos by Denise Coffey.
Donna Dauphinais, Fred Ruder and Dale Dauphinais came to the open office hours to speak with state reps. Mae Flexer and Danny Rovero and state Sen. Don Williams, Jr. Photos by Denise Coffey.

State Representatives Mae Flexer (D-44th District) and Danny Rovero (D-51st District), along with state Sen. Donald E. Williams, Jr. (D-29th District), held open office hours on Feb. 26 at Killingly Town Hall to field questions from their constituents. About 25 residents from Pomfret, Thompson, Killingly, Plainfield and Putnam came to have their voices heard by their representatives. The session was intended as an opportunity for residents to share concerns and questions with their elected officials. Individuals were able to meet one-on-one with, if they chose.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s recently-announced budget was a top concern for many in attendance. Flexer said she thought the proposal that Malloy presented was a good starting point for a debate. “I don’t envy the job he has,” she said. “He has put together a budget proposal that addresses a massive deficit.” Of the $3.2 billion deficit, $1.5 billion is in tax changes and $1.7 billion is in cuts and concessions, said Williams.

Rovero, who said he had read through about 15 percent of the massive budget, said that he wants “to see a budget that isn’t one penny more than last year’s.”

Dale Dauphinais was one of several people who came in hopes of getting more specific information on the budget. “We don’t know any specifics of the budget,” Dauphinais said. “We want to see what’s in it. I’d like a rep. to explain it to me.”

Flexer said that the governor would negotiate with the state employees’ bargaining coalition in order to hash out concession agreements. “They determine what the concession package will be. That’s between the governor and the bargaining unit. It isn’t made public until they come up with an agreement,” Flexer said.

Not everyone was convinced that the governor could come up with enough concessions to make up $1.7 billion.

“I don’t know where that is going to come from,” one woman said. “He’s very specific in his list of taxes, line for line, but there’s no definition of those concessions.”

Retired teacher Carol Taylor was concerned that the state had not put in its required contribution to the health insurance premium. “Retired teachers are living on very little money, and in the last two years the state has taken $61 million away that they were required to fund. I hope that isn’t one of the places that this new governor is going to look to take money,” she said.

Flexer thought that the teachers' health and retirement fund were in the governor’s budget.

Taylor said, “We’d like to have it restored. It should be restored. But at least he shouldn’t take any more.”

Williams spoke about the details of the pension obligations the state faces down the road, calling it the big gorilla sitting in the room. “It’s not your fault that the state didn’t ask enough in terms of contributions to the pension plan,” he told Taylor. Of the three tiers of state pensions, Tier 1 - which was begun about 40 years ago - didn’t require enough of a contribution from state employees to pay for it. It was a pay-as-you-go system, Williams said, and people were making low salaries. It has put the state in a position where adjustments have to be made, he said. Tier 2 came out about 25 years ago, and “this is pretty much paid for in terms of what’s asked for,” Williams said. He believes that Malloy will ask for more contributions in the future from state employees.

“The state’s indebtedness depends on any given moment at how the stock market is doing,” Williams said. “When market is up, state investments are up. As the stock market goes down, then all of a sudden those assets diminish and those obligations grow.”

“As the economy improves, we’re helped on a variety of fronts, not only on revenues, but in terms of our obligations, as well. So there were changes that were made with Tier 2 and 2A that made the system more solvent. That initial decision decades ago [Tier 1] does create a big problem for the state,” Williams said. “I think, going forward, you will see folks at the state level asked to contribute more to pay off that state employee obligation. I think, at the municipal level, you will see the state encouraging towns to do the same, when it comes to municipal contracts with town employees and with teachers.”

Michael Clarke said he was stunned when the budget was announced. He is worried that the state is approaching bankruptcy. “It’s a tax-and-spend budget. We tax a lot. We spend a lot. We also entitle a lot. There is a lot of free stuff in the state and many people are receiving it - some for good reason, Some for not good reasons,” he said. “That’s been the case in this state for two decades.”

For specifics on the proposed state budget, you may call the governor’s office at 866-712-6998. For more information, visit the website, www.ct.gov/malloy.

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