Going into November’s election, state Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello expected House Democrats would retain their majority by winning somewhere in the range of 83 seats.
Instead, Democrats “outperformed in the House” by growing their slim majority, 79-72 after the 2016 election, to a sizable 92-59 lead when the new General Assembly takes over on Jan. 9.
“To put it in a nutshell: people were just motivated, and people were more motivated to Democrats than Republicans this time,” Altobello, D-Meriden, said during a recent interview for the “Morning Record” podcast.
State Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, agreed during her own interview that voters were sending a message.
She also said the results — Democrats also retook control of the Senate — mean Democrats “better perform, better come out with some good ideas, better listen to our communities.”
The interviews were part of the “Morning Record” series talking with area lawmakers ahead of the start of the legislative session. Episodes will air daily through Friday.
Altobello, looking to return to the legislature’s Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Commission, expressed optimism about the state’s budget, even with a projected deficit of $1.7 billion.
New projections in November showed state revenues ahead of budget, shrinking the deficit from its original forecast of more than $2 billion.
“I think that projected deficit is going to go down even further,” Altobello said.
To close that deficit, he expects a combination of spending cuts and new revenues but added the state has “very little flexibility” to raise taxes.
He expects the legislature to adopt tolls as a way to charge out-of-state drivers for some of the state’s transportation costs. He also expects sports betting to become legal.
As for recreational marijuana, Altobello describes himself as “reticent” but acknowledges an influx of new Democrats and strong support among younger residents could mean legalization soon.
Santiago, also a past member of the Finance Committee, said the state needs to take a broader look at its tax structure to avoid deficits again after the two-year budget cycle.
“I think we need to be a little bit more creative, we need to be more conscious of what we’re doing with the budget and look for revenues that are going to work for everyone in our community,” she said.
One option, she added, could be revisiting a proposal to raise the sales tax from its current rate of 6.35 percent up to 6.99 percent, with a designated portion going to municipal aid as a way to protect against property tax hikes.
Santiago, a member of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, also said the legislature will need to make sure funding is available for nonprofit organizations that service Hispanic residents, particularly those Puerto Rican evacuees who remain after Hurricane Maria.
“This is the first place that a lot of evacuees went to in the local cities to get help,” she said.
She also said the caucus wants to improve diversity among teachers, pointing to a concern that the hiring of minority teachers is not keeping up with the growth of students of color.
To hear more from Altobello and Santiago, listen to the “Morning Record,” the Record-Journal’s daily news podcast, at https://bit.ly/2CHdjQl
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