119th race: Ellen Beatty talks about tackling state budget

Ellen Beatty, Democratic Milford alderman running for the 119th District state representative seat, has a list of ideas for generating revenue to tackle the state budget shortfall.

“Nobody’s asking me about this, and [the] budget is looming in our face,” Beatty said last week when she took a break from door-to-door campaigning to chat with a local reporter.

“That is one of the reasons I decided to run. We have a very large deficit,” Beatty said, adding, “I do not find that there is much discussion about solutions.”

She has a folder full of notes and numbers concerning state spending, and while she said politicians, including herself, don’t like to talk about taxes, she said the state has to pay its bills and provide services. One reason she’d like to be state representative is because she’d like to problem-solve and find solutions, as she did when she was associate vice president of academic affairs at Southern Connecticut State University and oversaw a multi-million dollar budget.

She says it took strategic planning when she worked for Southern, and, for example, introduced computers in the 1990s. “Bringing IT into instruction in the 1990s, we didn’t have IT,” Beatty said. “There wasn’t $3 million to do it. We had to move money around.”

She said if the school used the mentality she sees in state government — that there isn’t money to pay for progress — the schools would have stayed status quo.

“If you use that frame of mind that’s [being touted by the opposition], we wouldn’t have new programs. The university, in 2010, when I retired would have been the same as in 1980.”

At the state level, she said, “I don’t think there’s any strategic planning going on.”

Beatty said she doesn’t support tolls or a $10 million toll study. Rather than tolls she’d like to look at other ideas for paying the state transportation bill, such as user fees for truckers based on weight or various formulas. “There could be a way of using formulas and catching some of the revenue from the out-of-state truckers, commerce,” she said. “I don’t think the legislators examined the whole issue of funding transportation.”

She says the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) fund has been underfunded for years as has the state pension fund. She thinks the state has an obligation to fund both and suggested that 10% of lottery funds might be directed to the ECS.

Beatty said she doesn’t see big areas at the state level to make cuts, though she did talk about a spending area she thinks needs oversight, which could result in savings. She said the state spends $10 billion a year on purchases, and competitive bidding is not required on most of those.

“Seventy-three percent of current contracts are listed as noncompetitive, and this was a report by the State Contracting Standards Board,” Beatty said. She said the state’s chief procurement job has been vacant 18 months and she thinks the post is needed to oversee purchases: Studies, she said, suggest that competitive bidding could save the state $170 million to $250 million a year.

Beatty has more ideas for generating revenue, such as a low wage employer fee for big corporations that pay less than $15 an hour, which she said could generate $300 million and compensate the state for government subsidies that low wage earners wind up needing. “The cost of low wage employment subsidized by state-funded programs has been well-documented,” Beatty said, listing food stamps as one example of a subsidy.

She also talks about expanding the sales tax to include various services, like financial and legal services, with the goal of lowering the tax on various goods that families use most.

She said the state could generate another $217 million by increasing taxes for the state’s top 5% wealthiest people.

She also wants to examine the unearned income tax rate, which she said is lower than that on earned income. “There’s room to grow there,” Beatty said, adding that “the tax burden is not equally shared.”

The Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth recommends $475 million in additional corporate taxes, Beatty said. She acknowledges that big companies like GE have left the state, but she doesn’t think there is a mass exodus and she doesn’t think state taxes are driving companies away. Rather, she thinks there are complex issues that drive companies to a different state, including changing desires of today’s generation.

“Connecticut has a ways to go to be attractive to the young professional," she said.

She wants the state to end the carried interest loophole, which, according to Investopedia, has “essentially given a tax break to some of the wealthiest U.S. citizens — exacerbating the growing income inequality — for years.” Beatty said closing that loophole, as other states are considering, could generate $545 million each year for the state.

Beatty got into politics in 2015, when she was elected alderman, because she found retirement left her wanting to do more. “I really wanted to change things,” she said. After one term, she realized she wanted to expand beyond the local level: she wanted to do even more.

Her top issues are health care, education, jobs and the economy, infrastructure and the environment. Especially in light of a climate change report released by the United Nations recently, she thinks climate change education should be mandated in public schools.

“The UN just came out and said the climate problem is much worse than we thought,” Beatty said. “It’s much more immediate. It’s much more in the forefront and we have to take action.”