Groton legislators talk tolls, deficit and more at town hall meeting
Groton — About 25 people showed up at a town hall meeting that state Reps. Christine Conley and Joe de la Cruz held at the Groton Senior Center on Thursday evening, with some asking questions about tolls, the state deficit, influx out of Connecticut, voter turnout, Section 8 housing, nuclear energy, climate change and death with dignity.
Both legislators are Groton Democrats entering their second term. Both also were assigned Wednesday as assistant majority whips, a role that Conley described as "working to make sure we can get our group of 92 Democrats in the House going in the same direction."
This was the last organized, in-person chance for constituents to voice concerns with the two ahead of the 2019 legislative session, which begins next Wednesday.
Both are supportive of tolls on tractor-trailers, an idea that Gov.-elect Ned Lamont also supports. Noting there were four tolling bills last session, Conley said the General Assembly soon will have Lamont's bill and others. But because the federal government would need to approve a toll plan, it would be years before tolls might be implemented.
De la Cruz said legislators need to address revenue for infrastructure, considering that high-mileage and electric cars are becoming more prevalent, thereby reducing revenue from the gas tax. More than 300 of the state's bridges are considered structurally deficient.
"I keep waiting for someone else to tell me a different way" than tolls, he said.
One of de la Cruz' priorities is increasing the minimum wage, partially on the basis that minimum-wage workers can now cross the border and make $1.90 more per hour in Massachusetts or $0.40 more in Rhode Island.
Responding to general concerns from mom-and-pop businesses, de la Cruz said that if Walmart paid its employees $15 an hour, there would be less need for social services, resulting in lower taxes on the small businesses.
This priority is the main reason de la Cruz joined the Progressive Caucus last year. Conley said she didn't join that caucus because she feels going through the committee process is the better way to get bills through.
Their respective committee assignments remain the same: Conley sits on the Judiciary, Planning and Development, and Transportation committees, while Cruz is on the Energy, Housing, and Insurance committees.
Responding to a question on addressing the deficit, Conley noted that Lamont has hired fewer people so far than Malloy, and that the budget process starts in February.
"It was a 40-year problem to get into; it might take 30 years to get out of," de la Cruz said, referring to the state not budgeting properly or saving for teachers' pensions. "Most politicians are not going to say that."
Anne-Marie Foster, a geriatric care manager who does medical advocacy, lamented ways in which other states do things better than Connecticut, citing payments to assisted living facilities and the use of Miller trusts as examples.
She concluded, "Connecticut drives me crazy!"
Groton Town Council member Aundre Bumgardner brought up climate change, asking, "What do you think the state can do to make our shorelines, in particular, more resilient to rising sea levels?"
Conley said a bill to study coastline issues didn't make it very far in the Environment Committee last year but she would be supporting it again.
Responding to the idea that environmental regulation is bad for business, de la Cruz commented, "Their business isn't here if their business is underwater." He added that Millstone and Eversource understand the importance of climate change because they have lines near the water.
Dane Stevenson voiced his support for more nuclear energy but de la Cruz expressed that the "mountain of public sentiment" against building a new plant would be too high.
Jim Young asked Conley and de la Cruz for their thoughts on compassionate aid in dying for terminally ill people. Both expressed support, though Conley said she hasn't seen it come up in her time in the General Assembly.
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