MERIDEN — A new car registration fee, legalization of sports betting and marijuana and the state’s shortage of skilled manufacturing workers were some of the issues residents raised to lawmakers during a forum this week.
All four members of Meriden’s state legislative delegation — Reps. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, Hilda Santiago and Cathy Abercrombie and Sen.-elect Mary Daugherty Abrams, all Democrats — participated in the forum at the public library to hear constituents’ concerns in advance of the new legislative session next month.
Here are some of the issues raised during the forum, which lasted just over an hour and was attended by about 20 residents.
Legalized sports betting
Resident Vincent Mule told lawmakers he would like to see Connecticut join other states like Delaware and New Jersey in legalizing sports gambling.
Altobello said there was support among lawmakers last session and the governor entered negotiations with the two tribal casinos, but those talks stalled because the tribes insisted they should take in all the revenue from sports gambling.
Altobello said he believes legalizing sports betting should be a “no-brainer” this session for the General Assembly.
Legalization of marijuana
While surrounding states like Massachusetts have already legalized recreational marijuana, Altobello said some lawmakers “are still very reticent” about the issue. Altobello said legalization will probably occur, but added the biggest concern is the potential impact on teens.
Altobello noted that governor-elect Ned Lamont, unlike his predecessor, supported legalization during the campaign, which could make for an easier pathway to legalization.
Passport to Parks fee
Resident Dan Zabrowski raised concerns about the state’s new Passport to the Parks program, which adds $10 to motor vehicle registrations. The money is given to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for parks in exchange for free parking for residents at state parks.
Zaborowski, who owns three cars, pointed out residents who own multiple vehicles are charged for each vehicle they own.
“I own three vehicles, I’m not going to ever get three vehicles to a park … It’s just another tax,” Zabrowski said.
Lawmakers said they’ve heard complaints from others about the fee.
“I didn’t know so many people had 10 motorcycles,” Altobello said.
Santiago called the fee, which was included in the bipartisan budget passed by the General Assembly, a “Republican tax” and expressed confidence the legislature will repeal it this session.
Skilled workforce shortage
Resident Mark Nati, who is president of the Central Connecticut Labor Chapter and an employee of Pratt & Whitney, said there’s a shortage of skilled workers relative to the number of manufacturing job openings.
Nati said a recent study showed that computer science skills among Connecticut students are “well below average” and added “high school education for aviation is seriously lacking” compared to other states. He also noted many trade laborers, like plumbers and electricians, are getting ready to retire so “obviously we need to have tech schools still funded at the proper levels to get that generation of new workers to take over.”
Abercrombie asked Nati for advice on enticing students to enter trade and manufacturing fields. Nati suggested taking students on field trips to facilities like Pratt and Whitney’s facility in East Hartford to show them they’re not “old and dingy.”
Low-income residents losing housing
Dona Ditrio, director of the nonprofit New Opportunities of Greater Meriden, raised concerns about low-income residents who face eviction after they incur health issues and either become too sick to work or can no long afford both medical costs and rent.
She said her organization has seen a rise in these clients, adding “another landlord is not going to take them” following an eviction. The organization also recently expended the hours of its food pantry due to increase demand.
“We’re still working on our November figures, but we’ve had more people come in and it’s not people that we normally see,” Ditrio said.
Altobello asked Ditrio why she believes the numbers are trending upward. Given that the unemployment rate locally and across the state is “way down,” Altobello said, “it shouldn’t be that way.”
Ditrio said she believes unemployment numbers are misleading because once someone is “off unemployment or not getting public assistance, or you’re exiting out because of age and downsizing, you’re not in the labor market pool.”
Ditrio attributed the problem to a lack of jobs that don’t require training and also said many people who work jobs in retail or fast food are underemployed because their weekly hours fluctuate.
Read more articles like this and help support local journalism by subscribing to the Record Journal.
Unlimited Digital Access just 99¢
Read more articles like this by subscribing to the Record Journal.
Unlimited Digital Access for just 99¢