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A session not just about the budget

In even-numbered years such as 2022, the Connecticut General Assembly starts its legislative session in February and adjourns in May. Known sometimes as the "off-year" session, this one is two months shorter than in odd-numbered years, when the legislature develops the two-year budget. The state has had a $46 billion biennial budget in place since last June. This is supposed to be the year for tweaking the finances, not for introducing major new issues. The session begins Wednesday, Feb. 9.

Not at all coincidentally, this is an election year for state senators and representatives. They have a lot of electioneering to do before November, and they are part-time legislators with day jobs. The short session would typically leave them more time for campaigning and less baggage from potentially unpopular votes.

In reality, most topics that come before the legislature involve spending and/or revenue, so advocates of new legislation can make a case on the basis of budget impact. The special interest groups and lobbyists have been marshaling their arguments, some of which involve tangible impact close to home.

On Tuesday the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the organization that represents the interests of towns and cities, announced its list for the 2022 session. Connecticut municipalities are used to being underfunded on excess spending for state mandates like special education costs, but they never give up trying for fairness on those matters and the best-known state fiscal shell game, PILOT funding — payment (to municipalities) in lieu of (property) taxes.

Since the budget was adopted in the second spring of the pandemic, the state, towns and schools have received unprecedented Covid relief federal funding — enhanced revenue — followed by high inflation — increased costs for doing the people's business. These add to the simmering issue of local property taxes being neither adequate nor equitable as the basic revenue for municipalities. Among its proposals, CCM is advocating steps that The Day has long endorsed: reducing "over-reliance" on the property tax system and giving towns and cities incentive to regionalize services, thereby cutting costs.

The property tax structure is sure to be a noisy part of the short session, with both party caucuses signaling their intention to bring it up and the governor acknowledging that the discussion is expected. Given these extraordinary times of ongoing pandemic issues, a topped-up rainy day fund, and an urgent need for momentum in the state's economy, a rebalanced tax system should be at the top of the legislative agenda.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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