NAUGATUCK — From the state budget to the death penalty, local lawmakers touched on a myriad of topics during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that the budget is going to be in the forefront of everybody’s mind,” said state Rep. Len Greene Jr. (R-105) during the Feb. 24 breakfast at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant.
Greene said there are very disconcerting signals coming from the revenue stream that the state may have a shortfall.
Last week, it was projected that the current fiscal year’s budget is running an estimated $39.1 million shortfall — a shortfall state officials described as manageable.
State Rep. David Labriola (R-131) felt the shortfall is going to happen because the revenues are not going to be what they were projected to be. He felt any shortfall should be dealt with through cuts and that raising taxes isn’t the answer.
“I believe that that shortfall should not be born on the backs of small businesses and small business owners,” Labriola said.
State Sen. Joan Hartley (D-15), who is a member the General Appropriations Committee, said legislators are looking at the budget to see where and why there are deficiencies and to see if there are any additional economies of scale that could be implemented in the budget.
The General Assembly is several weeks into a short session, which runs through early May. Typically, short sessions are dedicated to budgetary issues. However, this go-around, there are a number of “pressing social issues,” as Hartley described them, before the legislature.
“I don’t think this is the year for them. I don’t think we have the time for them,” Hartley said. “But nonetheless they are out there.”
Among the issues facing lawmakers is an education reform proposal put forth by Gov. Dannel Malloy. Headlining the proposal is teacher tenure reform, which would require teachers to earn tenure based on evaluations.
Labriola applauded Malloy for taking on one of the “third rails of politics” in teacher tenure. He said he’s heard concerns from teachers over the proposal but felt the topic needs to be vetted.
“We’ve seen a lot of states address this very issue,” Labriola said. “I do think that it’s a discussion that’s worth having.”
State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-70) said education reform is an issue the state should have been talking about years ago. Rebimbas said she plans to form an education advisory committee comprised of local education leaders to examine how any reforms would specifically impact the local community.
“It may be positive for the borough of Naugatuck. There may be aspects of it that maybe don’t apply necessarily to us. … It may not go as far as we all want it to. There’s no reason why our own school system can’t take that step forward,” Rebimbas said.
The debate over repealing the death penalty will once again heat up in Hartford.
On Feb. 22 the Judiciary Committee voted 23-15 to draft legislation to abolish capital punishment for future crimes in Connecticut. The committee also voted unanimously to raise another bill on habeas corpus petitions that could serve as a vehicle for supporters of limiting death row appeals.
State law and court rules currently do not limit the filing of habeas actions.
“I do think there are some crimes that are so awful the only just punishment is the death penalty,” Labriola said.
Labriola said other states have working death penalties and that Connecticut has to streamline its appeal process to make the death penalty work in the state.
“Can we do it? Of course we can. If there’s the will to do it we can make a working death penalty,” Labriola said.
Hartley said the death penalty must be “a real death penalty not this print on paper.” She contended that people who favor life in prison over the death penalty may not really know what life in prison means. She said prisoners sentenced to life are given opportunities to mingle with the general population, to work and earn purchasing power under the system, and in some cases allowed visitors.
“To me that’s not the definition of life in prison,” Hartley said.
Despite majority support among the public for the death penalty, state Sen. Joseph Crisco (D-17) said he’s heard more from the opposing view point.
Crsico said he has met with the families of three victims of violent murders.
“All three want to repeal the death penalty,” Crisco said.
Crisco said the families he spoke with want the death penalty repealed because the appeal process was too painful for them.
“We have been seeing the opposing view point, from my perspective,” Crisco said.
Legislators ended the breakfast with a topic close to the hearts of many of the business men and women in the audience — a proposal to increase the state’s minimum wage.
A proposal has been put forth to raise the minimum wage $1.50 to $9.75 by the summer of 2013. None of the five legislators on hand spoke in favor of the increase.
“I think it’s irresponsible,” said Rebimbas, who added now is not the time to raise the minimum wage.
Everyone wants to work and earn a decent wage, Greene said. However, he contended if the state increases the minimum wage it will put additional stress on businesses and smaller businesses struggling to get by.
“There’s a lot of them out there that are hanging by a thread. If we push this it’s just an additional stress on your community. … If we put one business out I think we’re failing the system,” Greene said.
Hartley said the proposal is well intentioned, but that it will have unintended consequences. She felt raising the minimum wage would keep young, seasonal workers from finding work.
“There are times when the minimum wage has to be addressed,” Hartley said. “But they have to consider the entire picture.”
The Republican American contributed to this article.