Toni Boucher – November 21, 2013

Toni Boucher, Republican Deputy Minority Leader of the Connecticut State Senate, spoke on a variety of issues affecting the state.

Ms. Boucher began by commenting on the opportunity she has had working in many public roles from the local level to the state level, providing breadth of experience and exposure to many fine people working to help. She related her experience of immigrating with her parents from Italy at the age of five in 1954. Her parents were farmers with little education but with a drive to provide opportunity for their children.  “Education is everything,” her father said.  Toni and her brother studied hard and have done well, fulfilling her father’s dream, and Toni feels she can draw on her experience to help others. Education, she said, is Number 1, and has been a focus of hers. Quality of life is key as well.

Connecticut, Ms. Boucher said has gotten into a mess economically. It ranks among the lowest among states in long-term job growth, business property tax burden, economic competitiveness, state debt per capita, and legislative friendliness to business. Unemployment is high, particularly in the cities. A high gas tax penalizes workers and income taxes weigh on small business. We pay companies to stay, even when the choice is between locations in the state. The combination of income and inheritance taxes drives too many residents away, particularly to Florida.

Ms. Boucher feels we need to restructure the state’s tax, budget and other economic policies to bring the budget under control, ease the tax and regulatory burden on individuals and companies, and encourage a more pro-business, pro-growth climate.  She suggested phasing out the inheritance tax, phasing in reduction in income taxes, reducing the gasoline tax, and addressing the largest part of the state’s budget, administrative costs. Public pensions are structurally unsound and must be restructured and public workers should pay higher proportions of their health care costs.

In the Q&A, Ms. Boucher made the following points:

Common Core addresses the problem of (i) high school students who are inadequately educated to serve the needs of businesses, causing some companies to institute their own remedial education program, and (ii) an inability to compare student performance between states. It is a K-12 specific curriculum for math and language initiated by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The program has been adopted by 45 states, including Connecticut, where both parties are behind it. The new tests place greater emphasis on technical competence than past tests. Leaders in towns like Stamford and Norwalk favor the program, because it promises improvement in performance. Towns like Westport are more wary.

Ms. Boucher is against the legalization of medical marijuana because of her concerns that it will lead to substantial increase in use by the young and anything that results in smoke in one’s lungs is not good. Her focus on the issue has lessened with her greater interest in the economy and governance.

Continuing state deficits are due to increasing expenditures and disappointing revenues. The influence of state employee unions heavily affects the process and we continue to see budget games, such as the removal of $6 billion from the constitutionally adopted spending cap.

She agrees with the proposal that a law be passed to ensure that property tax payers can understand the math and methodology behind their property taxes.  She said that she would get to work on it when she returns to her office.

The motivations behind proposed mergers of towns and formation of new regions can be murky. There can be efficiencies, for example, when health districts merge, but other questions arise, such as funding for education and whether a proposal is motivated by only by desire for more federal support. We also do not want to lose the benefit of the great diversity in the forms of our town governments.

We need to be careful in how we cut costs. It can be better, for example, to shave health care costs consistently over time. A merger of the UConn hospital with another proved not to be cost effective because of the resulting increase in certain costs.

Good teachers are a great asset and deserve appropriate compensation. Education is the great equalizer.  However, college tuition continues its long-term climb, burdening students. College administrator salaries need to better controlled.

Education and job training for inmates has its merits, but are a hard sell because many believe prisoners are there to be punished.

Term limits also have their merits. She knows from her experience that people lose creativity and drive over time and become part of the system, but you want people there long enough so that they become good at their jobs.