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As Session Nears End, House Speaker Prioritizes Longterm Growth

As Session Nears End, House Speaker Prioritizes Longterm Growth

Source: Kevin Maloney, New Haven IndependentConnecticut Speaker of the House Matthew Ritter helps pick which bills make it to his fellow legislators for a final vote. What he’s looking for in those bills is investment in long-term growth.

Connecticut Speaker of the House Matthew Ritter helps pick which bills make it to his fellow legislators for a final vote. What he’s looking for in those bills is investment in long-term growth.

Ritter talked about his priorities in an appearance on WNHH FM’s “The Municipal Voice,” hosted by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and WNHH, as the legislative season draws to a close.

“We find time to manage the things that we need to manage,” Ritter said.

This means long hours and compromise—between parties, between legislative chambers and with the governor’s office.

To avoid lengthy debates, the leaders pick bills based on a “really robust screening process” of different viewpoints.

“We really try to make sure the right people are in the room.”

One of Ritter’s priorities is a Connecticut that works fiscally for everyone.

Across a sample of topics—economic development, Covid-19 priorities, legalizing marijuana, passing a bottle bill—Ritter wants to ensure that Connecticut grows in the long term, as opposed to “year over year or governor after governor.”

“I want us to think about a 10- or 12-year plan that really gives people and investors an opportunity to say they’re doing some stuff differently.”

One of those issues is PILOT, or Payments In Lieu Of Taxes, the program where municipalities receive a portion of the taxes that would otherwise be paid by tax-exempt properties. This year, they passed a new PILOT formula that sees the funds going to towns and cities that need it at higher levels than wealthy towns that don’t.

Ritter projects that the $120 million added to the program – half from the general fund and half from bonding – will truly make revenue more predictable in the future.

In addition, Connecticut is seeing growth beyond the “big checks” that towns and cities received from federal coronavirus relief packages.

“I would imagine that this summer, this fall will be about as good for the economy as it has been in Connecticut since the early 1980s in terms of growth,” Ritter said.

With a $3.2 billion rainy day fund, $100 million saved by pre-paying pensions, he “doesn’t see why the state of Connecticut doesn’t enter this biennium, the biennium after that, in pretty good financial condition.”

This gives him and the rest of the legislature time to think on “very big and bold initiatives” – ones that he knows might get some jeers from the get-go.

He said that Connecticut needs more money for brownfields, streetscapes and libraries, plus a consistent revenue stream to provide comfort to the poorer urban and rural areas of the state.

For those that disagree, he cites former governors John Rowland and Jodi Rell who both revamped and renovated higher education institutions. Those projects were “deemed expensive at the time” but turned out to be “worth every single penny.”

Optimistic that the darkest days of the pandemic are in the past, Ritter is ready for the big ideas – to grow Connecticut’s cities and make the state a much more equitable place.

“I think that every dollar that [the state bonds], yes the state pays interest, but you are helping your cities grow and prosper, which hopefully means you’re bringing in more people who want to live there and alleviating and lifting people out of poverty,” he said.

“That’s a worthwhile investment.”