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Westport's Legislative Team Takes On Budget, Transportation Issues

From left, Chamber Chair Matt Mandell, Rep. John Shaban, Sen. Tony Hwang, Nicole Cline from CBIA, Sen. Toni Boucher, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, and Rep. Gail Lavielle
From left, Chamber Chair Matt Mandell, Rep. John Shaban, Sen. Tony Hwang, Nicole Cline from CBIA, Sen. Toni Boucher, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, and Rep. Gail Lavielle Photo Credit: Roy Fuchs

WESTPORT, Conn. — Legislative leaders from Westport warned constituents last week that they should be worried about the state budget for the next fiscal year, which was just passed over the weekend with nearly $900 million in cuts.

Westport’s General Assembly members — Reps. Jonathan Steinberg, Gail Lavielle and John Shaban and Sens. Tony Hwang and Toni Boucher — presented the end-of-session update on Wednesday at the Westport Library.

The session was co-hosted by the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce and the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

Chamber Chair Matt Mandell welcomed an audience of about 30 and introduced Nicole Cline, CBIA’s Public Outreach Specialist. Steinberg framed the conversation.

“You should be worried about this budget, but even more concerned about the policy changes we need to make in subsequent years,” he said. And, to the positive, he added, “We are putting things in place that we are hopeful can turn Connecticut into the vibrant state and effective economy we need.”

He called for “structural changes.” He said there will be $800 million in program cuts that will carry over to next year, but “these are not strategic, policy-driven changes” that represent structural change.

The 2016-17 budget had yet to be approved Wednesday, but the $19.7 billion plan passed both the House and Senate by the weekend. It brings spending back to the 2011 level, and closes a $1 billion shortfall without raising taxes, although it has deep program cuts and state employee layoffs.

Talking to the immediate issues, Shaban said the state’s “burn rate is too high. … We are collecting more state taxes that ever before, but we’re still a billion bucks short.” Similar points were made by the other Republicans.

Hwang added that the state is in a “crisis mode,” that it must operate more predictably, so businesses can plan.

Mandell introduced a second topic — transportation — saying “Route 95 and the Merritt are clogged, and we need to repair our bridges and Metro-North. If the budget is in such dire shape, what are we going to do?”

Boucher called Gov. Dannel Malloy's $100 billion, 30-year transportation program too large. She said it must be reduced, and priorities must be set.

Setting priorities, Lavielle said, would eliminate “pet projects.” Upgrading Metro-North will get people off the roads and enhance Connecticut’s business climate, she added.

Steinberg said congestion and infrastructure problems will dominate discussions for years. He said that we need to invest in transportation and infrastructure, particularly for mass transit, and said that investment must be weighted toward Fairfield County “because we are the engine that drives the state’s economy.”

“This is in the best interest of Fairfield County, and everybody in this room needs to care about it.”

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