Sen. Chris Murphy’s Fight Back CT Project

While away for a week and then sick for another week, a lot has happened to the progressive movement in Connecticut. One of the biggest developments is Sen. Chris Murphy’s Fight Back CT project.

On Sunday May 21, Sen. Murphy’s project officially began with organizational meetings in homes across the state. In a video from that day, Murphy explains the project as encompassing strategically targeted swing voter contact on the effects that the Trump agenda (focusing on his health care plan and his complete budget, to be unveiled today) will have on people in Connecticut.

Fight Back CT asks participants to devote three summer weekends of one’s choice (or at least three days on three separate weekends) to contacting, preferably in person, swing voters in their areas (contact info to be supplied). Murphy says that there is nothing more effective than personal contact with volunteers, and that it is especially effective when it is not tied to a particular election or candidate, when it is just a conversation about how issues affect us personally.

One of the most exciting things about this project is that it is only happening here, that is, it is being done as an experiment and may serve as a model for other states. People can make a difference not only here, but also nationwide.

The goal is to win future elections — local, state, and federal — (and data about the conversations will be reported back to the project), but discussions with swing voters are valuable for more than just elections. With the right acting so badly, this is a good time to bring change to our communities, in terms of views, values, and priorities, and in terms of active participation.

You can sign up for this project here.

The State Budget

Progressives can make a real difference with respect to the Connecticut state budget, because everything is up for grabs right now, and no one is particularly happy with the budget put forth by Gov. Malloy. We can lobby our representatives and organize protests, petitions, resolutions by local party committees and other organization, and testimony on both sides of the budget, revenues and expenditures. It’s going to be a long fight, well into the summer, so now is the time to start understanding the issues, setting priorities, and organizing.

However, the issues are many and they are complicated. And sometimes it’s not clear where progressives should stand, especially in areas that affect government employee unions.

The best place to start is by insisting that an austerity budget (expenditure cuts) is neither good nor appropriate for Connecticut. Part of making this argument is criticizing and replacing the effective Republican narrative that Connecticut is an economic mess, that people and businesses are leaving (GE, the example most often given, didn’t leave; Boston paid it to build a new headquarters there) because taxes are too high (the top 5% of CT taxpayers pay a lower effective tax rate than the other 95%; see page 4 of CT Voices for Children’s Revenue Options brief; in addition, according to a Dec. 2016 report by Ernst & Young LLP, CT had America’s lowest total effective business tax rate (TEBTR), an absolute measure that captures business tax rates as a share of the overall economy).

Despite what the Republicans say, Connecticut’s economy is not in terrible shape (see an April 2017 report from three Central CT State Univ. professors, commissioned by the AFL-CIO, which tells a very different story about the state’s economy and taxes). What is terrible is the inequality of our educational and health systems, as well as our regressive taxes, including sales and property taxes and fees; even our progressive income tax isn’t progressive at the highest income levels.

A progressive narrative is that Connecticut has many advantages to offset its being expensive (that’s a Northeastern problem, not a specifically CT problem), and that we can afford to be fair, in both taxes and spending, rather than unnecessarily thrifty.

CT Voices for Children calls for a balanced budget approach (see its Revenue Options brief). On the revenue side, this means the following increases:  (1) modernizing the sales tax by applying it to services and more online transactions (by far the largest tax increase it recommends, it is less regressive than the sales tax on goods, because poor people don’t buy many services); (2) strengthening the corporate income tax, especially by getting rid of tax breaks; (3) reforming wealth and income taxes by increasing income tax for top earners (to make their effective tax rate closer to the average CT resident), increasing the tax rate on dividends and capital gains, and entering a joint regional compact to close the carried interest loophole, and (4) supporting a low-wage fee on employers and a tax on sweetened beverages (although this latter tax would be seriously regressive; it’s about personal health not economic health).

The Malloy budget proposal would put 40% of the burden of revenue increases on the poor and middle class. The largest burden on the middle class would be the elimination of the property tax credit on state income tax returns. The largest burden on the poor would be the reduction in the state Earned Income Tax Credit, an important credit for the working poor. An increase in the cigarette tax would affect both groups.

Gov. Malloy (but not the Democrats in the legislature) wants to make municipalities pay for 1/3 of the amount going into the teachers’ pension funds. An important argument for this is that school districts bargain for the salaries that pensions are based on, but don’t have to pay for the pensions. This situation creates an inappropriate incentive. On the other hand, municipalities are dependent on regressive property taxes and have trouble raising their mill rates. One solution is to let municipalities have a small add-on to sales tax, but this is also a regressive tax. Another alternative is CT Voices for Children’s proposed statewide property tax system to ensure a more fair and stable tax base for education.

With respect to expenditures, proposed cuts across agencies seems fair at first glance, but the burden once again falls more on the poor (and on state employees) than on others.

For some good maps and graphs concerning the CT budget, see this CT Voices page. For those who like to read in-depth analyses, check out the Office of Fiscal Analysis’ Feb. 2016 Tax Expenditure Report.

Presentation on the CT League of Women Voters CE Proud Program This Evening in North Haven

The Action Together CT New Haven Women’s Advocacy Group and the North Haven-Wallingford and Spring Glen Progressive Action Networks are co-sponsoring a presentation by Elona Vaisnys about the League of Women Voters’ (LWV) CE Proud program, which seeks to raise awareness of the state’s Citizens’ Election public campaign financing program. Elona is the Chair for the CE Proud program, former co-president and current member and moderator for the local Hamden/North Haven LWV chapter, and an LWV national coach since 2011. This is a great opportunity to learn about the important work of the League of Women Voters and how we (men as well as women) can get involved.

The event will begin at 7:30 pm at the North Haven Recreation Center at 7 Linsley Street. It will be preceded by a business meeting of the Action Together CT New Haven Women’s Advocacy Group at 7 pm.

Campaign School in New Haven

For those interested in getting involved in Connecticut political campaigns and activism, there is an all-day program Saturday, March 25, in New Haven, called Campaign School. It has three tracks:  for activists, for those who want to run for office, and for those who want to work in municipal or state political campaigns. I’ll be attending, on the activist track. Hurry, because it’s nearly sold out (28 tickets left as of going to blog).

After Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman’s keynote address, there are four concurrent 80-minute sections throughout the day, covering such practical topics as Field Operations, Social Media, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers, Ballot Access & SEEC Compliance, and Effective Strategies for Peaceful Crowds and Civil Rights Protections. Section leaders include alders, state senators and representatives, a state elections staff member, Democratic party operatives, a civil rights advocate, environmentalists, and the program organizer, Alyson Heimer, who lists herself as a member of Hamden’s Democratic Town Committee, but also holds a position I once held: Administrator of the New Haven Democracy Fund, the city’s public campaign financing program. The schedule can be found here.

The program costs only $50 (and I believe there are scholarships). It will be held [new location!] at Wilbur Cross High School, 181 Mitchell Drive, from 8:30 to 6:00, followed by a reception at Anna Liffey’s Irish Pub at 17 Whitney Ave.