The Darien League of Women Voters hosted the Legislative Coffee on Friday, Feb. 15, at the home of Joyce and Mike Critelli, where state Reps. Terrie Wood and William Tong and state Sen. Carlo Leone fielded sharp questions.
Joyce Critelli who moderated the discussion, which included 20 league members and their guests and several Darien town officials. Topics included the state's $2.5 billion deficit over the next two years, the modification of the affordable housing law, transportation, unfunded education mandates, energy and gun violence.
The legislators were asked to comment on Gov. Dannel Malloy's proposed budget, which calls for increased spending for preschool education, reduction in pension funds, and borrowing of $750 million to make up for lower revenue projections and increased Medicaid spending. The governor's proposed budget calls for spending increases of 9 percent per year over the next two.
Wood, R-141, was in favor of the increase for preschool education for underserved districts, but opposed many of the governor's new spending proposals. Tong, D-147, said he believes the state can resolve its financial situation as the economy improves and revenues increase. His concern is that the state might lose jobs without increased spending.
Wood reported that she has been working to alleviate the burden of affordable housing laws, which cost Darien taxpayers more than $600,000 last year in litigation-related expenses. She has proposed several bills, including one that would give seniors a full point credit toward affordable housing versus the half-point they currently get. Another proposed bill would provide penalties for people who lease or sell affordable housing to people who do not qualify, and another would extend the period of affordable housing from 40 years to perpetuity.
There was a feeling among the legislators that the builders were "holding people hostage" with long judicial hearings, which were costly to the taxpayers.
Board of Education member Heather Shea asked about the proposal to reallocate special education funding on the basis of a community's wealth. She stressed that Darien needs more certainty as to when and how much it will get reimbursed for the amounts it spends on special education, since last year the town was only reimbursed for 73 percent of these costs. Another Board of Education member, Clara Santori, asked about the new unfunded mandate that would require teacher evaluations and whether high-performing districts could be exempted, since such unfunded mandates increase expenses.
On the topic of transportation, Tong and Leone, D-27, were asked about the demolition of the Stamford Train Station parking garage since there was a concern that the new garage might be built up to a quarter-mile away. The legislators said that the project would be a public/private partnership to save money, although it is still likely to cost taxpayers $40 million.