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January 5, 2015 5 To Watch 2015

Sen. Bye leads efforts to balance CT's $1.4B budget deficit

PHOTO | Pablo Robles State Sen. Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) co-chairs the Appropriations Committee.

Any year in which the Connecticut General Assembly has to balance the budget, talks of raising taxes and making spending cuts often dominate the political discussion. With the state legislature facing a projected $1.4 billion deficit in the first year of its next budget, those conversations will be all the more extreme.

“The state budget situation is the single biggest issue on business owners' minds right now,” said Andrew Markowski, Connecticut state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “It creates so much uncertainty about our economic condition and how state government operates.”

At the center of all this debate will be State Sen. Beth Bye, (D-West Hartford). As co-chair of the all-important Appropriations Committee — along with State Rep. Toni Walker (D-New Haven) — Bye will be in the thick of all the public and behind-the-scenes discussions/negotiations over how Connecticut will spend and raise money to balance its budget for the next two years.

“I don't think there is any appetite for increasing taxes,” Bye said. “We have to look everywhere to make as many cuts as possible.”

The no-more-taxes credo has been repeated by other key legislative leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, but the last time policymakers faced such a large budget deficit — when Malloy took office in 2011 — it led to the largest tax increase in the state's history.

To avoid that fate, lawmakers and lobbyists will have to face reality about the amount of cuts that will be necessary, Bye said.

“No one wants to give up what they have,” Bye said.

The Appropriations Committee will take a hard look at business tax credits to see if any cuts can be made, Bye said.

Tax credits are a good way to incentivize businesses, especially companies important to the state's economy like manufacturing, but the legislature needs to make sure those tax credits are benefitting Connecticut as a whole, Bye said.

Another spending area on the chopping block will be healthcare costs, Bye said. Connecticut needs to work to provide more home-care programs and keep people out of expensive nursing homes, which will trim healthcare spending.

Bye said she will try to avoid any cuts to municipalities — which keeps property taxes down — and to education.

“There will be a lot of conversations this year about equitable funding of our school districts,” Bye said. “If we don't address our education issues now, then we won't have a high-quality workforce in the future.”

The spending negotiations will start after Malloy releases his proposed budget in February. After that, the Appropriations Committee will form several subcommittees on the various spending and revenue areas and make recommendations after public hearings; and then Bye, Walker, and other legislative leaders will go back and forth with the executive branch until a budget agreement is reached.

“When everyone starts off saying we are going to work it out, it will get done,” Bye said.

Bye's other pet project in 2015 will be her work with the consumer counsel, comptroller, and local officials from around Connecticut to bring an ultra-high speed gigabit Internet network to the state, in order to assure Connecticut has among the fastest Internet speeds in the country.

“It will be like having the first train station in the 1800s,” Bye said. “This would be so big for business … We have a really cool opportunity.”

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