State Representative, Edwin Vargas (D-Hartford) spoke with Identidad Latina’s Maricarmen Cajahuaringa.
Let’s talk about the state’s new budget, which went into effect July 1.
Edwin Vargas: I feel the approved budget is balanced. There was more revenue than what the state expected. We passed an amendment to Connecticut’s Constitution before there was an excess of money coming in. Spending was not going to increase more than 5 percent above the previous budget, and the extra money was going into an emergency fund. When the budget was high, many programs were approved and when the budget was low, those programs had to be cut. So now, no matter how much money comes in, there will only be a 2 percent increase above the previous year’s fiscal budget. The extra will be put into an emergency fund.
Many people were worried about the pension fund being dipped into. We know that Gov. Lamont is working with the state’s treasurer’s office to reach an agreement.
EV: A few years ago, the state government managed seven retirement systems. The largest being the public employee system followed by the teachers. The public employee system had been sorted out a few years ago, annual costs had been reduced, and there was not much strain on the budget. The teachers’ retirement fund has big problems because, over the years, other administrations did not put money into it, the only one who did was former Governor Dan Malloy. But he couldn’t compensate for 30 years of neglect. Now, Lamont wants to increase the teachers’ pension. They will be taking out a loan to pay for the retirement of teachers and it requires the state to make a smaller payment. The best part is that payments will be equalized after 30 years, and will be a small percentage of the budget.
During Dan Malloy’s term, there were many complaints about the health sector. What are your thoughts on Ned Lamont’s proposal?
EV: The healthcare sector is becoming increasingly costly. Many health plans no longer want to offer health programs to employees. Other companies tell employees to pay their own health premiums. Healthcare in the United States has become a huge business. Each sector accuses the other. The hospitals accuse the health insurance companies; the insurance companies accuse the doctors. The doctors say it’s the pharmaceutical companies, but the truth is that they have all profited, and the only one being harmed is the patient. The federal government under Trump has cut funds to Medicaid and Medicare, the programs that were used the most to reimburse costs.
Some say this has led to the emergence of Access Health. What are your thoughts on this?
EV: There are various factors. Many say that Medicare should be expanded because doing so will allow the negotiation of prices with hospitals and doctors. The problem is that small businesses cannot negotiate with powerful groups, like the federal government.
The budget doesn’t include tolls, Lamont has said he will continue to try to convince legislators to put the tolls in place. What can you tell us about this?
EV: During the 2016 election, Connecticut voters chose to have a “safe” made which would be used to improve road infrastructure. But, right now, that safe is empty, and the Governor believes the best way to fill it is through tolls. At some point this summer, Lamont will call a special session to discuss the toll issue. Everyone wants better highways, but no one wants to pay. But when they travel to other states, they pay tolls, but people from other states travel our highways without paying. A discount for people who travel through tolls daily on their way to work has also been discussed or a credit on their state income tax.
Let’s talk immigration. The Trust Act, which protects many immigrants, passed, but without a single Republican signing on. What are your thoughts on this?
EV: I supported the Trust Act because I believe that police already have their hands full doing their job and they should not be doing the federal government’s job. We don’t want state or local police working for ICE. If a crime occurs, the victim’s family should be able to go to the police without fear of being deported.
Do you think Donald Trump will be re-elected?
EV: If we do our job, he won’t be president. Trump is an opportunist, he clearly uses the immigrant issue, the border wall to win votes, especially from the right. Many people stayed home in 2016 because they thought Trump had no chance of winning, now we must ensure that people register and vote.
Publisher’s Note: CTLatinoNews.com and Identidad Latina are partners in better serving the Hispanic/Latino community in Connecticut.