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Senator Tony Hwang Responds to Governor Ned Lamont’s Connecticut State Budget Presentation and Priorities

Hwang2017openingdayState Senator Tony Hwang (R-28) released the following statement in response to Governor Ned Lamont’s presentation to the General Assembly concerning his budget priorities and the first draft of the Connecticut State Budget.

“I have been optimistic about Governor Lamont’s approach since he won election in November. He has consistently been open to all good ideas and sensible viewpoints, seems steadfast in his commitment to collaboration and inclusivity. I hope the Governor continues to display these qualities as we press on into the legislative session, because many of the proposals outlined here clearly need some work,” said Senator Hwang.

Governor Lamont’s first biennial state budget proposal offered his blueprint of choices for addressing Connecticut’s fiscal challenges and closing a nearly $4 billion deficit in the $40 billion 2-year budget while meeting the critical roles and responsibilities of state government.

“The most disappointing aspect of the Governor’s proposal, as we learned earlier this week, is certainly the breaking of his campaign promise that he would only seek to charge tolls on tractor trailers using our major interstates and instead offering options to toll/tax all types of vehicles. Although I did not agree with that proposal, I was glad that in his presentation, he seemed to offer an understanding that working Connecticut residents could not afford the added financial burden of tolls.”

“I have fought hard over the last several years to ensure that our municipalities receive the education funding they are promised by the Education Cost Sharing formula, and that they are not put on the hook to pay for the teacher pension liabilities that were promised by state government.  I am extremely disappointed that Governor Lamont has decided to propose that municipalities cover 25% of teacher’s pension obligations.

Furthermore, we should not be picking winners and losers based on the fiscal health and efficiency of a municipality. We have a fair and equitable Education Cost Sharing Formula and we are constitutionally obligated to pay for the public education of all children, regardless of where they are from. I penned a letter to my town leaders last month to warn them this might happen, and also wrote a letter to the Governor with the support of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle asking that he respect the ECS formula and our obligation to all Connecticut students. I hope we are more persuasive as the legislative session continues and the budget becomes more concrete.”

“While I am glad that the Governor has proposed much needed structural changes to the way we operate pensions for our state workers, and to administer public-private partnerships where it is sensible and feasible, I am opposed to the many proposed tax increases mentioned. Liquor bottle deposits and sugar taxes could hurt smaller merchants that operate on already slim margins and disproportionately affect low income families. I agree that we should be raising the age to purchase cigarettes and vaporizers, but increasing the tax on those items is just a revenue grab. Instead of taxing plastic bags, why not ban them? We shouldn’t be allowing people to pollute the environment for pocket change, we should be preventing them from doing so at all.”

“To give credit where it is due, I want to acknowledge Gov. Lamont’s request to the state employees to come back to the negotiating table for more substantive shared sacrifice, his earnest effort to collaborate on public/private partnerships for delivery of social services, and renewed commitment to greater government efficiency.”

“I appreciate Governor Lamont’s genuine and thoughtful approach and I eagerly look forward to being a part of the bipartisan solution that is urgently needed to move our state forward.”

State Senator Tony Hwang represents the Legislature’s 28th Senate district, including the towns of Fairfield, Westport, Weston, Easton, Newtown and Sandy Hook.

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Westport Lawmakers Stand Together to Eliminate Gasoline Zone Pricing

 

Wednesday, February 13th the Legislature’s Transportation Committee held a public hearing to discuss a range of issues, including a proposal introduced by Transportation Committee Members Senator Tony Hwang (R-28), Senator Will Haskell (D-26), and Representative Jonathan Steinberg (D-136) to prohibit the practice of zone pricing for gasoline (SB 419). All three legislators represent portions of Westport.

Gasoline zone pricing is the practice employed by gasoline distributors to sell gas to local retailers at artificially-determined prices within the same “zone”. These price zones are not mandated by government, and are proprietary and unavailable to the public. Not only do these practices stifle competition, but they create arbitrarily high cost zones, and also prohibit entry to the market because they can control prices to make it difficult for newcomers to succeed.

The FTC has stated that these price zones provide significant market control to incumbent distributors, and that large distributors have used these zones to “target entrants without having to lower price throughout a broader market area….by targeting price-cutting competitors, incumbents can (and have) deterred entrants from making significant investments in gasoline stations (which are specialized, sunk cost facilities) and thus from expanding to a scale at which the entrant could affect price throughout the broader metropolitan area.” (OLR Report 2009-R-0011)

“We who believe in the competitiveness of the market have been trying to eliminate this practice for over two decades and it is time we get this law passed and start encouraging transparency, market competition and consumer fairness in the gasoline market,” said Senator Hwang. “In higher-cost areas of the state, these price zones increase the cost of living even further. Although the cost to distributors does not change, the price to the retailer and the price to the consumer does, based on these proprietary, arbitrary zone pricing maps. This system is inherently non-competitive. It’s time we level the playing field.”

“The gas distributors shouldn’t determine whether you pay $2.25 or $2.55 per gallon of gas based on anti-competitive practices,” said Sen. Haskell. “Our bill would allow for increased competition and fairer prices in the market, helping relieve financial stress on consumers in our community. This bipartisan bill represents a fight to give Fairfield County a break,” said Senator Haskell.

“Our proposal really comes down to fairness for Connecticut citizens, but particularly for Fairfield County residents, who pay the highest per gallon in the state..  All we’re asking for is parity in the gasoline market across the state,” said Representative Steinberg.

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Hwang on Recent Toll Proposals (WFSB)

HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) – Tolls could be a tough sell for many here in Connecticut, but some are trying to make them a little more palatable.

One lawmaker is proposing a discount for low income residents.

There are a few plans out there, including one by Governor Lamont.

The state needs revenue and tolls are one way to get it.

 

Another lawmaker is proposing a discount for people with low incomes and those on a fixed income such as the elderly.

“My position on electronic tolling is very clear. We are going to focus on just on those big tractor trailer trucks and that will raise something like 250 million dollars, something I think I can get through this legislature,” said Governor Ned Lamont.

In his first state of the state address, Lamont announced major transportation improvements. He supports tolls but only on big trucks.

Some Republicans say they don’t like tolls in any form.

“We’ve had very little details. We range from 82 gantries to the amount of money it will raise, all of it is speculation,” said Senator Tony Hwang.

Republicans say there are other ways to pay for transportation, prioritizing what they borrow money for, but that could mean less money for cities and towns.

As for details, we may learn more when Lamont makes his budget address next week.

 

Read the full article here

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Sen. Hwang Advocates for Plastic Bag Ban

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WESTPORT — Hoping to demonstrate a united front, a group of state legislators, local officials and environmental activists held a beach news conference Saturday afternoon focused on banning single-use plastic bags in Connecticut.

Westport was the first municipality in the state to do so, 10 years ago, and several involved with that fight, including state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, spoke Saturday of its importance.

“I do believe it is important to bring all the shareholders into this dialogue,” noted State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, noting the manufacturing of the single-use bags was poor business.

“I’m fully supportive of (a statewide ban) … for the environment, but for good business as well,” he said.

Read the Full Article HERE

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Senator Hwang Wants Positive Train Control Fully Operational for CT Commuter Rail Safety

Hwang Train Station

On Wednesday, February 13th, the Transportation Committee will consider HB 7098, a raised bill concerned with all commuter rail infrastructure projects. State Senator Tony Hwang (R-28) released the following statement insisting fully operational Positive Train Control is a necessary component of this legislation.

“Metro-North Railroad is part of the way of life in southwestern Connecticut. Every day, thousands of residents rumble over its tracks for work, school, or to head into New York City for a show or a ballgame. Like the other parts of our daily lives, we want Metro-North to be efficient and, most importantly, safe. We don’t want to have to worry when we travel. Ten years ago, Congress passed legislation that all railroads in the United States must install Positive Train Control (PTC), a life-saving system that helps avoid deadly rail accidents, on their railways.

A computerized network of GPS, sensors, transmitters and other equipment that reduces the potential for human error, PTC could have prevented multiple rail accidents in the years since Congress instructed Metro North to act. The U.S. Government gave the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) $1 Billion to complete the task on all the rail lines they oversee, including Metro-North. A decade later, it’s still not finished.

In recent conversations with Metro-North leadership as well as CT DOT, I have been told that metro north has been fully installed, but is not yet fully operational.

I penned a letter to Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi, as well as an op-ed to the Hearst CT NewsTimes on September 7th, asking Metro-North leadership to answer this important question:

What is the plan to get PTC fully operational as quickly as possible and When?

Unfortunately, we learned that although Metro-North’s PTC system would be installed by the December 31st 2018 deadline, the system will not be “fully operational.” In her response, Metro-North President Catherine Rinaldi stated she is “highly confident” that metro-north will have met the four required criteria to be approved for an “alternative schedule for PTC implementation” that gives them until 2020 to have the system fully operational.

A two-year delay? That is unacceptable and deeply troubling. Neither Metro-North nor CT DOT seem to grasp the urgency with which they need to act to ensure it is fully operational.

Passenger and worker safety, not meeting arbitrary deadlines, should be Metro-North’s and our CT Department of Transportation’s top priority in Commuter Rail service. We know PTC will improve railway safety. CT DOT and Metro-North needs to get this done. No excuses.  No more delays. It’s about our money, our safety, and our rail line. We want accountability and action.

As Sarah E. Feinberg, [then] administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said in 2016, “Every day that passes without PTC (Positive Train Control), we risk adding another preventable accident to a list that is already too long.” If the FRA administrator was that concerned, I am and our legislature should be too.”

For anyone wishing to submit testimony in support of this legislation, please write an email to me (tony.hwang@cga.ct.gov) and to the Transportation Committee (tratestimony@cga.ct.gov) with the subject heading “Vote Yes to Pass HB 7098 – Implement Positive Train Control”

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Hwang Proposes Office of the Cybersecurity Czar

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Just last month, Apple iPhone and Mac users were shocked to hear that a glitch in the device’s FaceTime app allows anyone calling to use the recipient’s phone to eavesdrop. The glitch allows anyone to place a FaceTime call to any number, and even without the recipient accepting the call, the caller could gain access to the recipient’s microphone and even a live feed of the recipient’s front-facing camera.

 

This is an incredibly concerning breach of privacy, and highlights the need for government and private sector to coordinate and cooperate to ensure individual user privacy as well as the security of government and corporate entities.

 

State Senator Tony Hwang has introduced a bill to the CT General Assembly that, if passed, would establish the Office of the Cybersecurity Czar within the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP). This bill will enhance and broaden the scope of our current Chief Cybersecurity Risk Officer beyond the Department of Administrative Services focusing on governmental and homeland security. This bill stipulates that the position would have the responsibility to develop policies, suggestions, and resources that will address the needs of (1) National and State Homeland Security including security of utilities and infrastructure, (2) Corporate Cybersecurity to protect trade secrets and clients’ data privacy, and (3) protection for individual consumer’s personal data and application security.

SB 709 – AN ACT CREATING A DIVISION OF CYBER SECURITY WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF EMERGENCY SERVICES AND PUBLIC PROTECTION

“It is time that our state has a dedicated group of people that deals with every level of cybersecurity in our state. We know that the pervasiveness of cyberspace and the World Wide Web has created opportunities for criminal and possible terror tactics to operate within it. Our personal and business dependency on unruly digital and cyber technology pose a real threat to the security of our state and the safety of Connecticut residents,” said Senator Hwang. “Government institutions, major corporations and individuals have suffered from hacking, and I believe the creation of this position within DESPP is a necessary step towards confronting the problems we are facing now and will continue to face in the future.”

 

“I envision this senior cybersecurity position to have the vision and responsibility to consult with and advise the Governor, the Legislature, state agencies, and private companies in the state to develop and implement a more integrated approach to protecting our cyber space, in addition to creating very clear recommendations and accessible resources for individuals,” Hwang continued. “It should be in everyone’s interest to protect our own and each other’s information, data, finances, etc. and the person who fills this position would have the expertise and the mandate to ensure we are all on the same page in this pursuit.”

 

This legislation has been reserved for a subject matter public hearing on February 14th at 11:00am. For any individuals, agency officials, and private sector professionals wishing to testify on this bill, please contact my office to arrange in-person testimony or send a copy of your written testimony to the Public Safety and Security Committee (pstestimony@cga.ct.gov) and to my office (tony.hwang@cga.ct.gov) with the subject line: “Vote to Pass SB 709 – Make CT Secure”

 

Read the article in the Fairfield Citizen here

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Sen. Tony Hwang Statement on New President of UCONN, Thomas C. Katsouleas

State Senator Tony Hwang (R-28), Senate Ranking Member on Higher Education & Employment Advancement Committee released the following statement in regard to the announcement by the University of Connecticut that the Board of Trustees had selected Katsouleas to be the 16th President of the University

“I would like to extend my most sincere congratulations to Thomas Katsouleas for his unanimous selection to be the new President of the University of Connecticut. Mr. Katsouleas is clearly an excellent fit for UConn, as a dedicated research scientist and focus entrepreneurial public/private collaboration, these are critical skills to lead our flagship state university,” said Senator Hwang.

“UConn has experienced some difficult times recently, as the state struggles to balance our budget and provide stability and appropriate financial assistance to its’ academic and community mission. However, the University has continued to offer academic and athletic excellence to it’s students, and I look forward to working closely with Mr. Katsouleas to ensure that UConn has what it needs to continue to be an economic and educational driver for this state. I hope especially to work with him on encouraging students to live and work in Connecticut after graduation. There are so many opportunities here, and we need to do our best to not only help develop these young adults but also provide them with the opportunity to find a good, high-paying job, an affordable place to live, and a community to enjoy.”

“I would also like to extend my thanks to UConn’s outgoing President, Susan Herbst, who did an admirable job during a very difficult time for the state and for the University. I appreciate her hard work and her willingness to make difficult decisions during her tenure. I will want wish her continued success.”

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(Watch) Senator Hwang at Feb. 6th Transportation Committee Forum

I am excited to work with new DOT nominee Joe Giulietti, a former executive of Metro North, to foster a reinvigorated relationship between Connecticut and our MTA partners. Rail lines in Fairfield county are a part of everyday life for so many of my constituents, but have been neglected, slow and in disrepair for far too long. I am encouraged that our new Transportation Commissioner comes from such a rich background of railway management experience who understands what needs to be done to improve the safety, speed, and reliability of Connecticut’s railways.

An integral part of that renewed infrastructure is the full implementation of Positive Train Control, a mechanized system of warnings and safety nets that will significantly increase commuter safety. Metro North has been slow in both its implementation and reporting of this system it is mandated to install, and I am hoping that Acting Commissioner Giulietti can assist in pressuring Metro North to finish this decade-long process.

Take a look at the footage from the Transportation Committee hearing yesterday where I had a chance to speak on these issues.

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