From a new truck tax to the first pay raise for state legislators in 22 years, a host of changes will be coming to Connecticut in the new year.
Several laws will go into effect, including a new tax on large tractor-trailer trucks that proponents say will fix crumbling highways and critics say will be passed on to consumers. Criminal records will be expunged for those convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana, and convictions for other misdemeanors and certain crimes are expected to be expunged in the coming months under the clean slate law that has been adopted by the Democratic Party. controlled legislature.
The most controversial tax of 2023 is the new freeway user tax that has been heavily favored by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and lambasted by Republicans.
Commonly known as the truck tax, this measure is expected to generate $90 million a year to help repair roads and bridges. The issue has been highly political as Republicans complained throughout this year’s election campaign that the tax would simply be passed on to consumers who buy food, retail items and other goods delivered by trucks. .
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski said the measure was a “consolation prize” for Lamont because the Democratic-controlled Legislature failed to approve his controversial plan for electronic road tolls. Democrats, however, say the truck issue and others have been essentially contentious during election season as Lamont and Democrats have emerged victorious in the election — often by wide margins. Lamont and Democrats say the heavy trucks are inflicting massive damage on the roads and that tax money is critically important to paying for the state’s crumbling infrastructure of highways and bridges.
Lamont also said earlier this year that the money was needed to help balance the once-struggling special transportation fund that is separate from the state’s general fund.
“This will at least bring some solvency to our transportation fund in the short to medium term,” Lamont said.
He argued that it is unfair to Connecticut that large trucks can pay tolls of more than $100 to cross the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey, but then cross Connecticut for free.
Salary increases for lawmakers
After decades of political dithering, the legislature finally voted to raise his salaries, which will take effect for all those who won in November and officially take office on January 4. The base salary for entry-level legislators will be $40,000 per year, compared to $28,000 for a job that is considered part-time but requires working the full year.
The governor’s salary will rise to more than $225,000 to reach the level of chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, who leads the entire judiciary in the same way that the governor leads the executive branch. Judges’ salaries have risen far more often than those of lawmakers, who received their last increase in January 2001. Lamont, who earned $54 million last year largely from investments, is currently not accepting the state salary, but the level is set for whoever holds the position. .
Constitutional officers like the state attorney general, treasurer, comptroller, and secretary of state will earn nearly $190,000, matching the level of superior court judges.
The salary increases were approved in May by the legislature after bipartisan votes of 95 to 53 in the state House of Representatives and 23 to 13 in the Senate.
A key provision is that wages will now automatically rise through a federal formula as part of the Employment Cost Index – the same way Social Security benefits rise without a vote each year by the US Congress.
The two top state lawmakers, the Speaker of the House and the acting Senate President, will receive $52,000 per year, while Republican and Democratic leaders in each chamber will earn $50,000 per year.
Members of the US Congress, on the other hand, receive an annual salary of $174,000 per year, plus perks and various perks that include everything from travel to their home state and use of the congressional gym. which includes a swimming pool and sauna.
In a polarized country and state, raising politicians’ salaries has been an unpopular idea in many quarters.
The last increase was approved in May 2000 on the last night of the legislative session. Lawmakers voted at the time to nearly double the governor’s salary to the current level of $150,000 a year and increased the legislative salary by about $6,000, to the current base level of $28,000, from January 2001.
“It’s hard to recruit people to run for the General Assembly because it’s a full-time job,” House Deputy Speaker Robert Godfrey of Danbury said earlier this year. “I don’t care what other people say. Any day of the week or any night, my phone rings with a voter, and I’m on it. This happens all year round. I may not run around Hartford every day, but I work from my district office, which takes up half my room.
Expansion of the bottle bill
The state’s longstanding bottle bill is being expanded on Jan. 1, as there will now be a required deposit on iced tea, coffee, sports drinks, plant water and other beverages that don’t have never been billed in the past.
Bottles printed without a label will still be sold under recently passed legislation through a grandfather clause until current inventory is sold. At that time, bottles with the appropriate labeling will be available.
“They have nothing to do,” State Rep. Sean Scanlon said of beverage retailers recently. “They are just proceeding as usual. … This means they don’t have to retroactively go back and correct labels.”
The latest changes, which include doubling the deposit and expanding recycled items, are part of a broad, multifaceted plan to improve recycling. For over 40 years, Connecticut residents have been flipping bottles and getting the same 5 cents back. Now the deposit will double to 10 cents next year, starting in January 2024.
In the short term, however, the biggest change is the expansion to a new group of containers, including juices, energy drinks, hard seltzers and hard ciders, among others.
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Marijuana and a clean slate
As part of the legalization of recreational marijuana, various aspects of the complicated law have come into effect at different times.
Starting Jan. 1, prior criminal convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana will be expunged, in part because prior convictions may pose a barrier to employment. Some of the erasures could be delayed as the vast project takes time under the state computer system.
Some lawmakers had said they would not vote for the marijuana bill unless the expungement of criminal convictions was included.
“Especially as employers in Connecticut seek to fill hundreds of thousands of job openings, a past conviction for low-level cannabis possession shouldn’t stop someone from continuing their career, housing, career and educational aspirations,” Lamont said recently.
Similarly, the new “clean slate” law will erase criminal convictions for more than 300,000 inhabitants. This process could be delayed for six to eight months due to several complexities related to clearing Class D and E misdemeanors and felonies.
Lamont and Republicans narrowed the list of felonies that would be cleared after some Democrats called for more serious Class C felonies to be removed.
Crimes that will not be erased include burglary with a firearm, harassment, voyeurism, sex crimes involving minors, and assaults on the blind, the elderly, or pregnant women, among others. Many of the 300,000 residents have never served jail time after being convicted of crimes such as drug possession, breach of the peace, bar fights and more.
Misdemeanor convictions would be erased if the person was not convicted of another crime for seven years, while some crimes would be erased 10 years after the most recent conviction.
Republicans have criticized the law that allows erasures of certain violent crimes, such as first-degree threats with the intent to terrorize, second-degree harassment that involves two or more acts, third-degree theft, hijacking car and interference with a policeman. Others to be cleared include first-degree riots that result in physical injury and criminally negligent homicides that cause the death of another person.
If a person commits 10 crimes and five are eligible for expungement, only those five would be expunged, lawmakers said.
Automatic erasure, passed in May 2021, has already been delayed because the state needed time to prepare for the law and recode computers on a major basis for 300,000 people who may have committed multiple crimes.
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