STATE OF CONNECTICUT
THE STATE COMPTROLLER
|COMPTROLLER WYMAN ISSUES 2004 LEGISLATIVE AGENDA|
|Contact: Steve Jensen|
State Comptroller Nancy Wyman today proposed a series of initiatives that would strengthen the state's financial position; tighten rules regarding political contributions by some state officials, and provide affordable health and medical programs for workers.
Comptroller Wyman's proposals, submitted to the General Assembly today, include measures that would:
Connecticut's total long-term state debt has nearly doubled in the last decade. The debt of approximately $12.4 Billion is the highest per capita in the nation, at more than $3,000 for every state resident. The state will spend approximately $1.5 billion in the next fiscal year on the debt's principal and interest, which translates into more than 10 percent of the overall budget. Much of this debt is incurred through borrowing approved by the state Bond Commission for capital improvement projects.
Comptroller Wyman, a member of the Bond Commission, is proposing the creation of an committee that would give greater scrutiny to bond projects pending authorization, as well as projects previously approved but not yet funded.
"Connecticut's status as one of the wealthiest states in the nation does not excuse the extremely high debt load that we are carrying," Wyman said. "The state needs to better monitor and identify what items should and should not be eligible for debt financing."
The proposed Debt Affordability Committee would be modeled after a similar panel created by the Vermont state legislature, which has substantially reduced its total outstanding debt and annual debt service costs.
The committee would be charged with reviewing and recommending techniques to improve and clarify the state's policy objectives as it relates to funding capital projects.
Wyman's proposal calls for the committee to be a public/private partnership whose members would include the Treasurer, Comptroller and Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management. In addition, legislative leaders would select other members from the private sector with backgrounds in finance, economics and banking.
The Comptroller is proposing that members of the Ethics Commission, the Elections Enforcement Commission, and the Freedom of Information Commission be prohibited from making monetary contributions to political action committees, town committees, or campaigns of candidates for office. Members of these commissions serve in a quasi-judicial capacity and are responsible for regulating the conduct of individuals in public office.
The Comptroller believes this provision would remove even the appearance of a conflict or bias by commission members and will further public confidence in the state's open-government process.
Seeking to protect Connecticut against inevitable economic downturns, Comptroller Wyman has long advocated for the state to deposit a greater portion of surplus revenue into the Budget Reserve Account, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund.
Her stance was supported by the General Assembly in 2003, when it voted to raise the fund to a maximum 10 percent of net general appropriations. Unfortunately, the fund was drained of its $590 million balance to deal with a budget deficit in 2002, and remains empty.
This session, Wyman will urge the legislature to raise the fund's limit to 15 percent - roughly the amount needed to cover a typical two-year deficit. The Comptroller's bill also calls for surplus deposits to be made into the fund on a monthly basis, ensuring that surplus dollars are not spent during the fiscal year.
"Putting more surplus in reserve during the boom of the mid-1990's would have insulated the state from the fiscal nightmare of the past two years," Wyman said. "The time to plan for the next downturn is now."
The Comptroller purchases and administers health insurance coverage for all state employees, retirees and their families. In recent years, she has sought to use the state's buying power to provide affordable coverage for thousands of workers, both in the public and private sector, who may not otherwise be able to afford it.
"It is clear that the cost of health care is not only hurting workers and their families - it is preventing businesses from expanding and creating more jobs," Wyman said. "I believe the state should use its leverage to help these businesses and boost the state economy overall."
In 2003, the legislature adopted Comptroller Wyman's proposal to allow small businesses to obtain health insurance coverage through a state-sponsored plan - the Municipal Employee's Health Insurance Program. The plan is funded fully by premiums paid by the participants and imposes no additional costs on taxpayers.
The Comptroller this session is seeking to provide small businesses with even greater savings by allowing the state and other association-sponsored plans to pass along administrative-cost savings to those business in the program.
The state Insurance Department in 2003 ruled that these administrative savings could not be passed along to the consumers without additional legislative intervention. The bill submitted by the Comptroller today would satisfy that requirement.
The Comptroller is introducing legislation to allow the Treasurer discretion to utilize any unappropriated surplus either to reduce of the state's bonded indebtedness or to reduce outstanding pension fund liabilities.
The Comptroller is proposing to allow state employees to put aside up to $4,000 annually on a pre-tax basis to pay for certain medical expenses, such as co-pays and items that are not covered by the employees' health plan. This benefit, common in the private sector, will also save the state $46.50 in FICA contribution for every $1000 set aside by a state employee.
The State Comptroller appreciates input on this and other issues from residents of the state. Please feel free to contact her office by phone - (860) 702-3300; mail - OSC, 55 Elm Street, Hartford, CT 06106; or, via E-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org
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