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Public policy and the state legislative races

The spectacle that is the titanic struggle of the septuagenarians for the presidency can cause a loss of perspective that the election is about nothing else. In reality, the most influential result in Connecticut in terms of its effect on our daily lives could well be the makeup of the state legislature.

Democrats have solid control, a 22-14 state Senate majority, 91-60 in the House of Representatives. I see no political path for Republicans to gain control of either chamber, but if they could erode the size of those majorities it could influence some major policy decisions. Conversely, if Democrats increase their dominance, that would change the political dynamics.

Republicans head into a tough headwind named Donald Trump. My expectation is anti-Trump fervor will drive turnout, hurting down-ticket Republicans, who must find a way to encourage ticket splitting.

Following are some big policy issues that could be influenced by the election results.

Budget and taxes

Though the damage to the state budget caused by the pandemic-influenced recession has not been as bad as feared, the legislature is likely to again face closing a deficit when it reconvenes in 2021. If Democrats enlarge their majorities, or even maintain them, there could be growing pressure on Gov. Ned Lamont to support increasing the tax rate on its richest citizens, now 6.99% on single filers with incomes over $500,000 or married joint filers with incomes more than $1 million.

Lamont has resisted that move, expressing fears it could drive more super rich from the state and actually end up dropping income tax revenues. But labor groups and advocates for social safety net programs say more should be asked of the 1 percenters. If Republicans can grow their numbers, Lamont could well find enough fiscally moderate Democrats to join them and block a tax-the-rich agenda, turning instead to other tax tweaks and finding budgetary savings.

Transportation

Yet Lamont could revive his toll proposal if Democrats gain a stronger hand. No good alternative solution has been offered for how to pay for the state’s transportation needs since Lamont conceded he did not have the votes to introduce tolls.

Republicans were united in their opposition to tolls and a significant number of Democratic lawmakers, noting the unpopularity of the proposal, would not sign on. But with the election behind them, and if they pick up a few more seats, Democrats might find enough votes to revive Lamont’s toll agenda, particularly when the only alternative is borrowing.

Housing

Also on the line is the likelihood of a strong affordable housing initiative to emerge. Progressives argue that as long as the affordable housing stock is clustered in Connecticut’s urban centers, it will remain a state of haves and have nots, with little opportunity for social and economic mobility. As noted by the Connecticut Mirror in its in-depth series on the topic, current policies place the housing “in areas with high crime, few jobs and struggling schools.”

If suburban communities are to accept affordable housing, most will have to be force fed using state laws that overcome the zoning regulations that keep housing segregation firmly in place — financially and, by extension, racially. The Mirror working with ProPublica found that over the past 20 years more than three dozen towns have blocked construction of any privately developed duplexes and apartments within their borders.

Republicans, largely representing suburban and rural communities, will resist attempts to overcome home rule in the name of providing affordable housing. And many Democrats don’t want to push the issue and alienate voters. But Democratic super majorities could be a game changer on the issue.

So, elections do matter, and not just for president.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

 

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