When the Connecticut General Assembly opens its 2016 “short” session Wednesday, Feb. 3, Latino legislators plan to weigh in on statewide issues such as transportation and the budget deficit, but they also intend to pursue measures that could impact their districts and the Latino community.
“I want make sure that as we talk about Connecticut’s business climate and future we do not forget about many of the small businesses that are Black and Latino owned, said Rep. Christopher Rosario. “We have to make sure that they are not left out and afforded the same opportunities to grow here in our state,” the Bridgeport Democrat added
On Rep. Robert Sanchez’s wish list is funding for a Borinqueneers monument in his hometown of New Britain. This an ongoing project to honor the predominantly Puerto Rican regiment that served in three U.S. wars.
State Sen. Art Linares, a Connecticut Valley Republican and the lone Latino state senator, plans to work on several projects related to local infrastructure and water projects in his Connecticut Valley district.
Improving transportation and expanding highways is a major focus of Rep. Angel Arce, who points to traffic congestion in parts of his of his Hartford district as underscoring the need for action.
Even though the Latino legislators, with exception of Linares and Rep. Aundre Bumgardner of Groton , are members of the Democratic majority, they are aware it will not be easy to turn their interests into successful legislation. The length of the session and political realities loom as major factors in determining what gets accomplished.
The biggest challenge, however, for any measure that involves spending will be how well the governor and legislature are able keep state spending and revenue in balance.
“Our biggest concern will be how to manage the budget,” said Rep. Jason Rojas, noting this will involve difficult decisions.
Another concern for scores of legislators, many of whom have already filed for re-election, will be to continue to enjoy their constituents’ favor. Representatives of high tax rate cities, such as Hartford and Bridgeport, are counting on some good will from the cap on the property tax levied on vehicles, a measure passed last year. The public’s reaction to this change, noted Rosario, will not be known until the tax bills go out during the summer.
The session is due to run three months or less than half of last year’s. Moreover, the state Constitution restricts the introduction of non-financial bills to committees and the House and Senate leaders.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey has been meeting with his committee chairman and will work with the Democratic caucus to develop an agenda, said Larry Perosino, his press secretary.
Even though Republicans typically have found it difficult to gain Sharkey’s ear, Linares, the only Latino in the Senate, is hopeful that some of his district needs and concerns related to the state pension system and union contracts, can be discussed in bipartisan bills. “We need to work together,” the Clinton Cuban-American said.
Among the Latino delegation, Rojas is particularly well situated. The East Hartford Democrat is deputy majority leader and co-chairman of the screening committee which reviews all bills that come out of the 27 committees and manages the flow of legislation on the House floor.
Moreover, Rojas is vice chairman of the Municipal Opportunities for Regional Efficiencies (MORE) Commission which was created by Sharkey. The speaker’s main priority for the coming session is to continue to develop ways for local governments to operate more efficiently, particularly through regionalism, Perosino said.
“We need to do more,” Rojas said, citing the challenges of sustaining state aid to towns. He said the legislature has to work on more strategies so that state funding can be used as an incentive to regionalization.
Sanchez faces a double-edged task in his effort to get a suitable monument erected in the New Britain park area already set aside to honor the Borinqueneers, the predominantly Puerto Rican regiment that served in World Wars I and II and the Korean War. The Democratic incumbent will need to not only secure state funding, but also has to make sure that there is an appropriate agency in the city to receive the money, such as the parks department.
Rosario said he will focus on quality of life issues such as urban blight and lead-free housing. He also will want to make sure his district gets its fair share of funding as he pursues what is best for Bridgeport.
Arce, whose Hartford district, covers much of the federally targeted Promise Zone in the city, said transportation and infrastructure are his major concerns. The big question, the Democratic lawmaker said, is how to fund this work and that one option may be highway tolls.