December 21, 2015
5 We Watched in 2015

Bye takes away lessons learned in tough budget fight

PHOTO | HBJ file
PHOTO | HBJ file

Being a state lawmaker is supposed to be a part-time gig, but it was more of a full-time role in 2015 for state Sen. Beth Bye (D-West Hartford).

The legislature was in constant budget negotiations this year as the $40.3 billion, 2015-2017 biennial state budget passed in June quickly fell out of balance. As Senate chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee, Bye had input on key decisions on the state's spending priorities.

"It was a big learning year," Bye said. "We had to define our priorities. It's going to continue to be a challenge. I've learned so much about the budget and I've learned about myself. I've learned what's important to people who live here. It gives me a good understanding of residents' priorities."

Business Tax Relief

Bye and her fellow policymakers finally finished their 2015 work when they passed a deficit-mitigation plan Dec. 8, which cut $350 million from the budget and provides modest business-tax relief.

While lawmakers have taken the lion's share of blame for a budget that went out of balance nearly as quickly as it was passed, Bye said ratings agency Moody's, the state's revenue predictor, shares some fault.

She said Moody's was off in its growth projections across the country because of the continued slow recovery from the recession. In Connecticut alone, the revenue projections were off by $100 million.

"The biggest difference is wages have remained deflated," Bye said. "Economics is not an exact science."

Revenue Problem

"What we have here is a revenue problem," said Bye, adding that income taxes and other revenues are coming in lower than expected. "If your revenues aren't coming in, you have to go to spending."

Bye said the original budget lawmakers passed in June had cut $600 million in current services spending from the 2015-2016 fiscal year. "We started off with a budget that was less," she said.

Bye said one story that was overlooked and that she is proud of is the legislature's commitment to tackling mental-health issues in the current budget. She said legislators were able to help constituents with mental-health needs and developmental disabilities with a multi-million dollar investment.

"We have a mental-health crisis and a developmental-disability crisis," Bye said. The General Assembly didn't cut spending in those areas because lawmakers felt it was a vital role of government to protect those people. "We had to cut other things," she said.

Property Tax Relief

She said the General Assembly is also not going to get credit for the property tax relief it enacted. "You don't get rewarded for things that take years," she said, explaining her town will receive $5 million in state aid in 2017 due to one-half percent of the sales tax being diverted to property tax relief. That equals 2.5 percent of the town's budget. Local property owners would have seen a tax increase without it. "The property tax is so regressive," she said.

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