On many policies, lawmakers get it right

In revisiting some of the editorial positions this newspaper took over the last few months, we are happy to see many lined up with the actions of the General Assembly. On issues of public policy, the legislature largely got things right.

Keno

The legislature repealed the last-minute bill approved in the 2013 session that would have introduced electronic keno in bars and restaurants across the state, operated by the Connecticut State Lottery.

A year ago, Democratic lawmakers gave two primary reasons for legalizing keno - other states do it and the state needs the money. Neither reason justified coming up with another way to separate people from their money, particularly when studies show those least able to afford it would likely gamble the most on keno. It was good to see the legislature repeal the law, even in the face of disappointing tax revenues. Special credit goes to retiring state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, who led the way early in the session in pushing for repeal.

Taxing hospitals

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey's proposal to tax nonprofit hospitals and colleges suffered a slow demise as he repeatedly agreed to water it down, before finally seeing it die in the Senate, never coming to a vote.

While Rep. Sharkey's desire for property tax reform is admirable, shifting the burden to these nonprofit institutions was a half-baked idea. If hospitals and universities are to be required to contribute something toward the cost of the municipal services they depend on, that major change in tax policy should be part of a comprehensive property reform package. The speaker said he plans to make tax reform a priority in 2015. He should.

Recycling

The General Assembly took an important step by renaming and, more importantly, redefining the mission of the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, which becomes the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority.

The CRRA was created 25 years ago to implement the state policy to use garbage as a fuel, burning it in incinerators and generating electricity. This allowed the closing of landfills across Connecticut that were causing serious pollution problems. But changes in the electric and recycling markets require the closing of some incinerators and more aggressive recycling.

The law sets an ambitious goal of recycling or reusing 60 percent of the waste stream by 2024. The number is now 25 percent. Even if the state falls short of the goal, a more aggressive approach to recycling and reuse will save energy, is good for the environment, and makes economic sense.

Judge retirements

Lawmakers made long-needed changes to the way the state compensates judges in retirement. Up until now, any judge retiring at 70, the mandatory age, has received a full pension, currently a little more than $100,000. The fairness of the policy was brought into question with the appointment of a couple of judges in their 60s this year.

The new law, if signed by the governor as expected, would reduce a judge's pension by 10 percent for each year less than 10 years served. For instance, a judge who retires after three years of service will receive an annual benefit of about $30,133 instead of $100,443. That's still a lot of money for brief service, but a big improvement.

In the context of a $19 billion budget, the new judge retirement policy will not save much money, but it was the right thing to do.

Connecticut's ports

Also approved in the recent session was the creation of a quasi-public Connecticut Port Authority. Connecticut must become more focused on improving its deep-water ports and attracting shipping if it wants to be competitive with adjoining states.

This action is an important step. New London's deep-water port has a lot of untapped potential.

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