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Grocery tax, school regionalization proposals spur heated debate

January 30, 2019

HARTFORD — The phones to Gov. Ned Lamont’s office were ringing off the hook Wednesday with calls from constituents upset over the idea of adding a sales tax to groceries, which are now exempt.

Lamont has until Feb. 20 to present a two-year budget to the General Assembly, but his administration floated a trial balloon earlier this week.

“Connecticut residents care about their state, and their willingness to share thoughts about this and other important issues is critical to getting us back on track and growing again,” said Maribel La Luz, Lamont’s communications director.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he’s not willing to take any ideas off the table this early in the legislative process.

“We should hear them all. We should have the public hearing,” Aresimowicz said.

He said he could easily find fault with a grocery tax. At the same time he also sees the fairness issue.

“How is it fair that I drive down to McDonald’s and pay the sales tax there, but I pick up the same hamburger and I cook it at home from Stop and Shop and I don’t pay sales tax,” Aresimowicz said.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said Lamont hasn’t even prepared a budget yet.

Ritter said he doesn’t understand why everyone is getting so fired up.

“Maybe I should do a press conference every time I see a bill that I don’t like,” Ritter said.

Aresimowicz said there will likely be 5,000 bills introduced and only half will get a public hearing.

“If the governor’s not turning over every stone then he’s not doing his job,” Ritter said.

The same philosophy applies to the concept of regionalizing school districts.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, proposed a bill which would force school districts in towns with less than 40,000 residents to consolidate with a neighboring district.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, have submitted a bill that would “require any school district with a student population of fewer than 2,000 students to join a new or an existing regional school district so that the total student population of such new or expanded regional school district is greater 2,000 students.”

Ritter said if people have issues with legislation that’s actually submitted then they should be contacting the lawmakers who proposed it.

Ritter said he doesn’t know why he’s getting calls about regionalization of schools.

“Why are you emailing me?” Ritter said.

Osten is the first selectwoman of Sprague and the one to propose the bill calling for smaller school districts to join existing regional school systems.

Neither bill has been raised yet by the Education Committee for a public hearing.

However, Aresimowicz said the time for the carrot may have passed and now it’s time for the stick.

“If you don’t want to regionalize and you don’t want to do it in the most efficient way then you pay for it,” Aresimowicz said.

Aresimowicz said he voted for tax increases in the past, “a majority of which were to keep the municipalities whole.”

An estimated $5 billion of the $20 billion state budget is given to municipalities.

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