OLR preview...

QUICK LINKS:  "About Town" bills of interest;  C.G.A. site (tracking, etc.) ;  analysis of bills, Office of Legislative Research (OLR);  Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA).
LINK to Comptroller's search on CT budget elements.  CT General Statutes - http://www.cga.ct.gov/2011/pub/titles.htm

THE CONNECTICUT GENERAL ASSEMBLYSpecial Session(s) here after June 2012

       Last year, "Short Session"
      Previous year...the "long session":  Plus special session 2011.
        And...it seems like a zillion years ago.

Report on CT Senator Maynard - re-electable but he won't be debating any time soon.

Luther Weeks' comment below: This is from the straightest shooter (only proverbially) in CT. 

The truth hurts, from a partisan source.


After all the fuss about gun-control, all the angst about Sandy Hook, the proof is in what they didn't do. Will the administration blame this boo-boo on Former Governor or outgoing Senate President Pro-Tempore?

Coming to a public hearing in 2015...
New Security Measures At State Capitol Complex

by Christine Stuart | Aug 29, 2014 5:29am

The new security measures at the state Capitol complex went live Thursday morning to mixed reviews from lawmakers and employees.

The new measures, which include metal detectors, security vestibules, and swipe card technologies, were all employed Thursday for the first time.

As with the first day of any new technology there were some glitches. Namely the shadows being cast in the vestibule used by staff and lawmakers periodically detected more than one person inside the glass booth.

The technology only allows for one person to enter at a time, so the person was asked by an electronic voice to step outside the vestibule and wait 10 seconds before trying to reenter the building. The glass around the vestibule, which is not bulletproof, is scheduled to be tinted in the next few days to resolve the issue. Other staffers had problems getting through the door with their backpacks or boxes of paperwork. It’s unclear at the moment how that problem would be solved.

The public and lobbyists now have to go through metal detectors which are located at the entrance of the Legislative Office Building and the west side of the state Capitol. However, once inside the building they can walk freely between the Capitol and the Legislative Office Building, which are connected by an underground concourse.

Rep. Pam Sawyer, R-Bolton, who is retiring after 22 years in the legislature, said she remembers when all the doors in the building were opened and there were no badges or cameras.

She tried out the new turnstiles Thursday, but commented that “it’s a sad day” when all these security measures become necessary.

Although metal detectors are a common security measure at the Capitol buildings in many states, they have rarely been used at the Connecticut Capitol complex. Capitol police temporarily installed two metal detectors in the Legislative Office Building in January 2013, when more that 2,000 people came to the building for a public hearing on gun control.

The Capitol police announced the new security measures this January, but work on the project didn’t get underway until after this year’s legislative session.

Capitol Police Officer Scott Driscoll said the first day went well.

“We haven’t heard of any issues,” Driscoll said.

But Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the true test of the new system will come when large crowds of people show up at the complex for a public hearing. He said he’s going to reserve judgment of the new system until then.

Legislative Management was unable to immediately say how much the project cost.  But security measures like the ones installed in Connecticut are not unusual in state Capitols around the country.  According to the National Conference of State Legislators, there are metal detectors installed at 23 state Capitols, including those in New York and Massachusetts. Some state Capitols screen all visitors with the metal detectors, while some — like California — exempt state employees and legislators.

Prior to installing the ones in Connecticut, Capitol Police visited capitol buildings in Albany, New York; Boston, Massachusetts; Trenton, New Jersey and Providence, Rhode Island.  Back in January information on deployment, protocols, and best practices were gathered on the trip and used by Connecticut Capitol Police to formulate their recommendations to legislative leaders, who accepted them.

The Joint Committee on Legislative Management chaired by outgoing Sen. President Donald Williams and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey never met this year to vote on the recommendations. In 2013, the committee met twice, but the security upgrades were never raised at either meeting.

What Does Supreme Court’s Personal Home Care Worker Decision Mean for Connecticut?
by Hugh McQuaid | Jun 30, 2014 5:42pm

In a ruling that could impact Connecticut’s unions, the U.S. Supreme Court found Monday that personal care attendants in Illinois are not “full-fledged” state employees and can’t be compelled to pay public sector union dues.

The justices ruled 5-4 in Harris v. Quinn that home health care workers in Illinois who are paid through Medicaid but who work for private individuals are not subject to the law that requires public sector workers to pay unions for their representation. That law had clear boundaries in that it applied only to public sector workers, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion.

“Extending those boundaries to encompass partial-public employees, quasi-public employees, or simply private employees would invite problems,” he wrote.

The Illinois case could have ramifications here Connecticut, where home care attendants voted in 2012 to have SEIU District 1199 represent them in collective bargaining with the state under a similar arrangement.

The process was put in motion by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy through an executive order. The order was controversial to some and was challenged in a lawsuit that claimed the process amounted to the forced unionization of some workers. The lawsuit was unsuccessful after the legislature codified and expanded the executive orders.

Since then, the union negotiated an agreement that included pay increases for the personal care workers.

The local impact of the Supreme Court decision was unclear Monday.

Malloy issued a statement calling the decision a blow to the rights of American workers, but said his office was working to determine what effect it will have in Connecticut.

“While we review today’s ruling to determine exactly how it will impact workers in Connecticut, I can guarantee that we will continue to stand with them and keep improving the jobs and fair wages that they have worked for,” Malloy said.

Attorney General George Jepsen called the ruling “disappointing” in a statement and said his office was also reviewing it to determine “what effect, if any” the decision will have on home health care workers in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, SEIU 1199 New England issued a press release framing the decision as damaging to Illinois workers but limited in scope. President David Pickus said Connecticut’s personal care attendants already have made gains since unionizing.

“No court decision is going to stop them from continuing to improve their lives and the lives of the people for whom they care. We’re committed to working with the state and our allies to ensure home care workers have a voice for good jobs and quality home care,” Pickus said.

The decision was praised by the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, the conservative think tank that backed the lawsuit against the executive orders in 2012. In a press release, the group said the ruling “effectively invalidates” both Malloy’s executive order and the law codifying it.

Yankee Institute President Carol Platt Liebau said the court made two things “crystal clear” through the ruling.

“Home health care workers work for their elderly or disabled patients — not the state — and private homes are not union shops. Obviously, this opinion does not prohibit any worker from paying union fees if he wishes to do so. But no longer can the state force home health care workers to join a union and pay dues against their will,” she said.

Daniel Schwartz, an attorney with Shipman & Goodwin who writes the Connecticut Employment Law Blog, said it remains to be seen how the ruling will impact Connecticut home health care workers.

However, Schwartz said the court issued a more narrow ruling than some expected by making a distinction between “full-fledged” and “partial public employees.” He said it will not impact on the “full-fledged” employees.

“People were wondering if the court’s decision was going to be broader than it was. It certainly was not as far reaching as some had expected or feared depending on their point of view,” Schwartz said.

Judiciary Committee Shakeup Coming
by Hugh McQuaid
May 22, 2014 1:13pm

There’s certain to be a leadership shakeup on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee next year. Rep. Gerald Fox III, the panel’s co-chairman, announced Thursday he will not seek another term in the legislature and will instead pursue a nomination for probate judge.

The announcement from Fox, a Stamford Democrat, comes days after the panel’s Senate chairman, Sen. Eric Coleman, lost the Democratic nomination for his seat. Coleman has said he plans to primary the candidate who won the nomination, Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden.

But Fox said Thursday he has made the decision to leave the legislature when his current term ends in an effort to replace his father Gerald Fox, who is currently serving as Stamford’s probate judge and plans to retire.

Fox said he was proud of his work on the Judiciary Committee.

“I think we accomplished a tremendous amount as chairs for four years including a lot of controversial issues,” Fox said. “Even though some of it was controversial I think we were able to work well with both sides of the aisle… There’s so many issues that come before the committee. In my opinion, it’s the best committee in the legislature.”

Fox, a measured and reserved lawmaker, co-managed the committee as it drafted some controversial bills. Since he and Coleman took over the panel, the General Assembly passed legislation prospectively abolishing the death penalty and decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana.

He took over as House chair of the panel after Rep. Michael Lawlor, the committee’s chairman for the previous 16 years, took a job with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration as criminal justice policy advisor.

Lawlor praised Fox Thursday for maintaining a bipartisan committee by including ranking Republicans in the panel’s bill screening process. Lawlor said it is also important for leaders of the Judiciary Committee to keep a straightforward and business-like tone while explaining sometimes complicated legal bills to colleagues who are not lawyers.

“Gerry certainly took that seriously and I think that it’s to his credit that he ends up leaving the committee pretty much liked by everybody, which I think is more than you can say for me,” he said.

Lawlor also commended Coleman, who became the Judiciary co-chairman at the same time as Fox. Coleman also inherited the post from a Malloy appointee, Sen. Andrew McDonald. McDonald accepted a job as the governor’s legal counsel and has since been made a Supreme Court justice.

Fox urged residents of Coleman’s district to support him in the upcoming primary election.

“I would certainly encourage anyone who could vote for Eric to vote. He is a valuable member of the legislature and I think he has served his constituents well,” he said.

Coleman did not immediately return calls for comment Thursday but told the Hartford Courant that he has overcome a convention defeat in the past. In 2004, a town councilman from Windsor beat out the longtime senator for the Democratic nomination. However, Coleman defeated that candidate, Tim Curtis, in a primary election and went on to reclaim the seat he has now held for 19 years.

Fox’s post is likely to fall to Rep. Matt Ritter, a Hartford Democrat who became the committee’s vice chairman after Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield was elected to the state Senate earlier this year.

2014 Short Session over. 
My Kousa saved - Sen. Duff report!!!  Plus here is news of the New Britain-Hartford Busway latest!

Not Much Progress Made This Session On The Economy
by Christine Stuart | May 9, 2014 3:57pm

CROMWELL — The Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s vice president of government affairs told a group of business executives Friday that the business community had one win, one loss, and blocked a lot of “bad” bills during the 2014 legislative session.

Bonnie Stewart, CBIA’s vice president of government affairs, said they were successful getting the legislature to approve an apprenticeship tax credit for manufacturing companies. There are only about 150 individuals in apprenticeship programs outside of the ones run by the utilities or other trades. The measure was approved as part of the language implementing the budget.

While she only cited that one victory during her prepared remarks, Stewart said afterward that another victory was the workers’ compensation legislation, which changes how the default rates for workers’ compensation-related services are set.

But she admits that neither of those victories increases the state’s economic competitiveness. CBIA and its partners have created a campaign to move the state up in the national rankings. The goal is to reach 20th by 2017. Connecticut ranked 45th in the 2013 CNBC rankings.

The big loss this legislative session, according to Stewart, was the increase in the minimum wage.

“The increase in the minimum wage was a problem,” she said. “Most of Connecticut does not pay the minimum wage, but we did hear from a lot of our members that their wages for other employees are tied to the minimum wage.”

Stewart, who has been with CBIA for 26 years, said she had never experienced a volume of calls like the ones produced by the news that Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature wanted to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017. Malloy signed the increase into law in late March, making Connecticut the first state to heed President Barack Obama’s call for the increase.

“It was a definite priority for the governor. It was something he wanted,” Stewart said.

Meanwhile, “we’ve got a huge problem when it comes to the state budget,” she said. “We’ve seen our revenues fall and there’s a huge deficit projected for two years out.”

She said all the gubernatorial candidates are saying they won’t raise taxes if they get elected, but “that means they have to get their spending under control.”

Traditionally, cutting spending is something “the legislature, to put it nicely, has a great deal of trouble with,” Stewart said.

Connecticut’s budget may be “balanced” but it doesn’t account for all the liabilities and debts the state has incurred over the years, Camille Murphy, the president of the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants, said Friday.

“Folks, we’re in trouble,” Murphy said. “We’re in trouble with a capital T.”

Nationwide, states will need to report all pension and “other post employment benefits” on their financial statements starting in 2014. Connecticut has some of the highest unfunded pension and “other post employment benefit” liabilities in the nation.

In 2012, Connecticut’s State Employees’ Retirement System had $9.7 billion inassets, which is enough to cover 42.3 percent of its $23 billion in liabilities. The Teachers’ Retirement Fund had $13.7 billion in assets, which is enough to cover 55.24 percent of its $24.9 billion in liabilities.

At the moment, “we make promises today for people who work for the government and we don’t put those balances on the balance sheet,” Murphy said. “That all changes this year.”

Based on last year’s annual financial statement, Murphy calculated that if state government was shut down on June 30, but continued accepting revenue for 60 days there would be a $1.1 billion deficit.

“It doesn’t even make sense,” Murphy said.

When all the liabilities are accounted for under the “full accrual” method of accounting, there is a $15 billion working capital deficit on the balance sheet. Next, she wondered what it would look like if all the debt and all the promises the state made were on the balance sheet.

“If we did that we would have a $59 billion operating fund deficit,” Murphy said. “Do you think this is sustainable?”

She said everyone hopes things are going to get better and the economy is going to turn around, “but hope is not a strategy.”

Good try on budget, GOP!

No Special Session yet in 2014... 

RADICAL PROPOSAL FOR PILOT:  How is this different from other hijackings in the news?   Newspapers are for non-trained animals;  do they know where thay are headed?

Tuesday afternoon in the House
NEXT TO LAST DAY OF THE SHORT SESSION...Republicans doing a good job asking questions to help shed light on the topics in question.

Tuesday afternoon in Senate


Monday night

Income inequality and the Fairfield County ATM theory of governing...

As we said regarding Miles Rapoport's interview as reported, hold onto your pocket book when the Legislature is in Session - but this year it may be more than just cfilling holes in the budget - it may  be the opening, or second shot across the bow of "The One Percent"...

IN THE SENATE, 9:30pm Monday:  SEIU favored bill goes after private nursing homes.  Senator Boucher stands to support amendment modifying the underlying bill.  IN THE HOUSE, 9:30pm - discussion of end of life legislation.

"BUDGET ADJUSTMENT" like a miracle of clothing design? Pix# 2 & #3, the budget; #4 (legislation laundry list).
Rainbows leading to a pot of gold? Design feature show only from the right angle;  new laws pass - maybe no one will notice what's there in time - known as a "rat."???

Big Pieces of
Legislation Hang In The Balance As End Nears
by Christine Stuart and Hugh McQuaid | May 5, 2014 12:00pm

The clock is ticking on the 2014 legislative session and there are still some big issues waiting to be debated.

One of those issues is hospital conversions. Lawmakers wanted to modify the process that a nonprofit hospital must undergo in order for it to be purchased by a for-profit company, but there seems to be little agreement about how to move forward.

Rep. Susan Johnson and Sen. Terry Gerratana, the co-chairs of the Public Health Committee, said Friday that they haven’t reached an agreement yet on exactly what should be included in the bill.

“It’s a big decision to have a for-profit come in and take over a community hospital,” Johnson said. “We haven’t come to an agreement.”

SEIU Director Paul Filson, who has been following the discussion closely because many of his members work in hospitals, said he doesn’t know whether there’s enough time.

“Everybody wants a process moving forward for hospital conversions,” Filson said. “There are broad based agreements on everything, but there are still some specific parts that need to be fleshed out.”

Lobbyists for the hospitals are keeping a close eye on closed-door negotiations, but declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Waterbury Hospital, which is having the most financial difficulty of the four Connecticut hospitals being courted by Texas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp., seems to be close to an agreement with the labor unions giving some lawmakers hope that nothing needs to be done. The Office of Health Care Access and Attorney General George Jepsen recently granted the hospital a 120-day extension on its “certificate of need” application.

Juvenile Sentencing

Lawmakers have also failed to address the issue of juvenile sentencing. The bill died on the Senate calendar last year after passing the House.

This year’s bill cleared the House in early April and has been awaiting action in the Senate since. Republicans have filed more than 20 amendments on the legislation, which is a clear sign they plan to force a lengthy debate if it is ever called on the floor. That often means the end for a bill this late in the session.

“It’s not looking good, but I’m not ruling it out,” Judiciary Committee Co-chairman Eric Coleman said Saturday.

Essentially, the U.S. Supreme Court has three times upheld a position that juvenile criminals are less culpable and therefore less deserving of severe punishment than are their adult counterparts. But Connecticut has failed pass legislation that would eliminate life sentences for offenders under the age of 18.

Trash and Fracking

A bill that restructures Connecticut’s largest regional trash agency and reduces its staffing from 70 to 45 passed the Senate last week and is awaiting action in the House. The state would be required to issue a request for proposals to redevelop the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority’s trash-to-energy facility in Hartford.

There’s also a bill to establish a three-year moratorium on fracking waste. There’s no natural gas mining/fracturing operations in Connecticut, but some lawmakers are concerned other states would look to dispose of their fracking waste in the Nutmeg state. Environmental advocates have pushed for a ban on the waste.

Freedom of Information

The recommendations of a task force charged with balancing the public’s right to know with victim privacy are likely going nowhere. Lawmakers wrote two pieces of legislation based on the panel’s report: one that favored the public’s right to know and the other that favored victims privacy. Although one of those bills could technically still be acted on, an agreement on the decisive issue is unlikely.

The task force was created last year when lawmakers were concerned the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting may be released to the public.


No piece of legislation, concept, or idea is ever dead until the clock strikes midnight. Essentially, lawmakers will still be able, if their ideas don’t require a fiscal note, to shove it into a budget implementer.

The big bills which implement the budget adopted Saturday by both chambers will be debated in the coming days. Those bills are used to implement policy ideas that wouldn’t be able to pass both chambers in separate smaller bills. This year they’re expected to be extra thick.

Lawmakers Approve Budget That Increases Spending, Gambles On Future Revenue
by Hugh McQuaid & Christine Stuart
May 3, 2014 10:16pm

The legislature approved an $18.9 billion state budget plan this weekend that preserves municipal aid and preschool funding. The budget repeals keno but gambles on future revenue collection and unidentified savings.

Legislators in the House debated and passed the plan on a 91-55, mostly party line vote with Democratic Reps. Edward Moukawsher, Frank Nicastro, and Daniel Rovero joining Republicans in opposing it. A few hours later the Senate voted 21-15 to give the bill final passage early Sunday morning. Democratic Sen. Joan Hartley voted with Republicans against it.

Legislative Democrats and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration negotiated the budget this week after budget analysts concluded the $505 million surplus anticipated earlier had dropped to about $43.3 million based on disappointing income tax revenue.

“Let’s face it, we’re all humbled at the fact that budget projections really rely on the best guess of economists and fiscal analysts and those estimates can fluctuate so many states across the country have had to revise numbers,” Senate President Donald Williams said.

The new plan assumes that the Department of Revenue Services will, in 2015, collect an additional $75 million in unpaid taxes from tax delinquents identified last year during the tax amnesty process.

The budget increases spending 2.5 percent and it assumes the administration won’t spend $132 million that it had planned to spend when it approved the two-year budget last year. If spending patterns in the 2015 budget are maintained, the state will face a $1.3 billion deficit in 2016.

The budget assumes no revenue from keno and repeals the state’s authorization to implement the bingo-style game. Although keno was legalized last year, it was never rolled out and is generally unpopular among voters.

“This budget speaks to Connecticut’s priorities. Municipal aid, education, transportation, jobs, the environment, criminal justice, healthcare, and above all it provides the help to the people that need it in Connecticut,” Rep. Toni Walker, a New Haven Democrat who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said.

The budget will again spare municipalities from most cuts. It increases the Education Cost Sharing formula’s payment to municipalities by about $47.5 million and boosts payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, for state property by $10 million and an additional $10 million for colleges and hospitals. It also seeks to distribute $12.7 million in the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account that was mistakenly caught in limbo after last year’s budget.

The budget further preserves spending for private, nonprofit providers who serve the developmentally disabled and the addicted. It transfers $11.5 million from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to substance abuse and mental health services.

“We were looking for a way that we could keep mental health providers, people who treat people with addiction in business because that system’s so fragile,” Sen. Beth Bye, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said. “We believed it was a very appropriate use of the Tobacco Settlement Fund.”

The budget also includes an additional $4 million to open residential slots for 100 intellectually and developmentally disabled adults who have been on a waiting list because their parents are elderly. It was one of the additions the Appropriations Committee made to Malloy’s budget.

The budget scales back the tax relief Malloy planned to offer retired teachers by phasing it in over a period of three years. Under the budget adopted Saturday, 10 percent of the retirement income would be exempt. That exemption increases to 25 percent in 2016 and 50 percent in 2017.

“This budget is on time, balanced without any new taxes, and under the state spending cap. It invests in our children’s education, helps working families, encourages economic growth, and bolsters the Rainy Day Fund to protect taxpayers from future budget fluctuations,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said in a statement.
Republicans, however, claimed the budget is built on faulty premises. House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero compared the budget to superficial repairs to a house in order to get its sellers through closing day. He said lawmakers were using “Band Aids and duct tape” and a fresh coat of paint to prop the budget up through the next Election Day rather than address its fundamental problems.

“We have water in our basement and our roof is leaking. If we’re honest people, and I believe we are, we have to tell that to the people of the state of Connecticut and we have to fix the roof,” he said. “The budget that’s before us now is a house built on a faulty foundation and unless and until we change that foundation, that house will crumble.”

Republicans questioned the reliance upon $75 million from previously uncollected taxes. Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, called it a “wish fund,” for which the tax department has been given no new resources to collect.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Rep. Patricia Widlitz said the Commissioner of Revenue Services has the ability without legislation to reach out to taxpayers who have fallen behind on their taxes and negotiate a way to help them “meet their commitments.” She said that “most people want to pay their taxes.”

“Not these people,” Rep. Sean Williams, the Finance Committee’s ranking Republican, said.

The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis told Cafero in a letter Saturday that it has “not been able to obtain other information to support the $75 million in enhanced collection initiatives.”

“The very people who have not in the past paid their taxes and who did not pay their taxes vis-a-vis a tax amnesty program, a very aggressive tax amnesty program,” Williams said. “. . . All of a sudden we are expected to believe this revenue is going to come right in and our whole world’s problems are going to be solved right here in Connecticut.”

He said it’s decisions like this that cause the state to continue to run into deficits.

Already, the current fiscal year budget fell $462 million short of the $505 million surplus budget analysts predicted in January. That’s in addition to the loss of keno revenue.

In addition to the $75 million in miscellaneous tax revenue, the budget assumes that a number of Correction Officers eligible for retirement won’t be retiring, which means the state won’t have to find $51 million to fund their retiree health benefits.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo told the governor’s office and nonpartisan budget analysts that he believed it was prudent to add that money to the budget. The Appropriations Committee did added it to their budget, but after revenue estimates came in lower than expected, Bye said “the committee has a level of comfort that the Office of Policy and Management will be able to meet their obligations to retiree health care.”

State budget director Ben Barnes said he doesn’t believe the Correction Officers will retire despite their eligibility because most are fairly young.

Breaking News...PRR Committee votes out standards late April, ending defacto moratorium.
Connecticut moratorium stalls wind power proposal

By Stephen Singer, The Associated Press
Posted: 03/30/14, 11:00 AM EDT

HARTFORD >> As Connecticut moves on several fronts to diversify its supply of energy, proposals for wind power have stalled as state lawmakers struggle to reach agreement on rules for turbine locations, shadows created by spinning blades and other details.  A 2011 law called for the state Siting Council to adopt regulations governing wind power, but the legislature’s Regulation Review Committee has rejected several proposed rules since late last year.

“It’s not good for this state for regulations to take this long,” said Sen. Bob Duff, Senate chairman of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee.

Wind power is not expected to become a major source of Connecticut’s energy, but developers see potential to serve many consumers. It is also important symbolically for an administration that has emphasized renewable energy as part of a strategy that also involves a huge expansion of natural gas pipelines.  The lack of rules has stalled proposals, including Pioneer Green Energy’s plan to build four to eight turbines in eastern Connecticut.

Adam Cohen, vice president of the renewable energy company, said its project would be cost competitive, particularly when the price of natural gas spikes as it did during several cold spells this past winter. It proposes to generate 10 to 20 megawatts, enough to power 3,000 to 5,000 homes.

In Union, one of the towns that would host the turbines, First Selectman Albert L. “Andy” Goodhall Jr. said the Planning and Zoning Commission has adopted regulations that would allow wind turbines.

“There is support for the most part. It’s been dragging along for a few years,” he said.

In their discussions of the rule proposals, legislators have discussed concerns that regulations for a waiver for noise are ambiguous, whether money is required to be placed in escrow to handle abandoned equipment and the distinction between wind turbines on land and offshore.  A revised set of regulations was approved Wednesday by Attorney General George Jepsen, who reviewed the proposed rules to make sure they comply with state laws and the Constitution. The rules now head to the Siting Council and back to the legislative committee.

State Rep. Selim Noujaim, the House co-chairman of the Regulation Review Committee, said he doesn’t know when regulations may be drafted and the moratorium lifted.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” he said.

Connecticut is not generally seen as a top-tier source of wind power. The state has no mountains to produce wind corridors and no access to the Atlantic Ocean, which powers stiff winds. Still, Duff said, Connecticut has a role to play in generating wind power.

“There are definitely opportunities,” he said. “We need to have clear and concise regulations that protect the state but also help to site them.”

Connecticut is not alone in New England in what Cohen called a “troubling trend of moratoriums and unreasonable requirements” for wind power projects.

A recent report says that although Maine leads New England in wind power generation, the state produces only about 450 megawatts of it, or enough to supply about 175,000 households. To meet its 3,000-megawatt goal, about 600 more wind turbines — about three times as many now — would need to be built, according to Maine Audubon, an advocacy group.  In Massachusetts, a proposed first-in-the nation offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound scored 17 legal victories to get to the financing stage, said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for the project. While the involvement of federal regulators may have drawn out the approval process, the project’s backers expected a three-year effort, he said. It took 10 years.

Wind power in New England often is generated along ridges and offshore, sometimes in view of affluent homeowners, Rodgers said.

“That can result in well-financed opposition, which could certainly slow down a project,” he said.

In Connecticut, wind power regulations could be drafted before the legislature adjourns May 7. But that’s not certain.

“It’s all up in the air, unfortunately,” said Goodhall, Union’s first selectman. “We’re just sitting here waiting.”

Merrill Not Ready To Mandate Electronic Reporting of Election Results
by Christine Stuart | Mar 18, 2014 7:00am

She would like to get more election results sent to her office electronically, instead of by fax or police escort, but Secretary of the State Denise Merrill doesn’t believe it should be mandated.

That’s what she told the Government Administration and Elections Committee on Monday.

Merrill, who has been pushing to modernize the election system in Connecticut, isn’t ready to require local registrars of voters, who have until 6 p.m. the day after an election, to send results electronically to the state. She would prefer email, but many still fax it or drive it to Hartford.

Even when they are emailed, the results shared with Merrill’s office are in a rudimentary form. Most Election Day tallies are still handwritten, depending on the municipality, and 2013 was the first year pdfs of those results were uploaded online.

But Merrill encouraged lawmakers Monday to vote against a bill that would require the Auditors of Public Accounts to do a performance review of the electronic vote tally system tested by Merrill’s office and 32 municipalities in the Nov. 5, 2013 election.

The 2013 municipal election marked the second year in which the state attempted to pilot a real-time, web-based reporting system intended to replace the laborious and outdated process utilizing paperwork and fax machines to collect the data. Merrill said the system was designed for about $100,000 by PCC Technology Group, which has an office in Bloomfield.

“This is still in the testing phase,” Merrill told the committee. “That’s why we’re still going slow on this.”

She said she wants to make sure the system works for every town before they put it online.

“I don’t think this should be a mandate on towns because there are so many different ways people calculate their results,” Merrill said. “You have lots of clerks who are already developing their own computerized systems.”

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, wanted to know why the state was using a contractor to do something that could be done with free spreadsheet software.

“Why did we opt to do something much more complicated?” McLachlan asked Merrill on Monday.

Merrill said the state already had a contract with the vendor who is working on project.

PCC Technology of Bloomfield has a multi-year contract with the state and has been working with Merrill’s office in developing the reporting system and the online voter registration system.

“What might work in your town might not work in New Haven,” Merrill told McLachlan.

She said there needs to be a standardized system across the state and what the state is developing will have the results, but it will “bring all the calculations to another level.”

In 2013, some 32 municipalities tried the results reporting software but only 13 of those were able to submit their head moderator results using the program. That means there were 19 towns that logged in and filed at least one moderator’s return, but did not finish the process by submitting the head moderator’s return. Some of the problem was related to the availability of wifi at specific polling locations. Completing the real-time results via the Internet also wasn’t mandatory, so there was no incentive to use the web-based form.

West Hartford Town Clerk Essie Labrot was the only other member of the public to submit testimony on the proposal. Labrot said an audit of the system may be “premature” because even those towns piloting the system in 2013 did not rely on it for the official results, but rather as a way of see how the system performed. She said they offered suggestions for how to improve the system based on their experience.

Merrill reminded lawmakers that “elections in Connecticut are remarkably de-centralized.” There’s no standardized way that towns and cities collate and tabulate their results.

Change CT motto from "Land of Steady Habits" to "Hijacking Central"
Sharkey Shakes Up Property Tax System With Reverse PILOT Proposal
by Christine Stuart | Mar 14, 2014 11:38am

EAST HARTFORD — House Speaker Brendan Sharkey told a group of business executives Friday that he wants to turn the tax system on its head by reversing the way colleges and hospitals are treated under the local property tax system.

Currently, cities and towns get a PILOT grant from the state, which refunds them about 32 percent of the property taxes those entities would be paying if they were on the tax rolls.

Under Sharkey’s proposal, colleges and hospitals could negotiate with the municipality about how much they should be paying in property taxes based on the benefit they bring to the community. Then the colleges and hospitals could apply for a grant from the state to offset some of those taxes.

“At least in this case the towns have the leverage,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey was the keynote speaker at the Hartford Business Journal’s Municipal Collaboration Summit on Friday at Goodwin College.

As far as hospitals are concerned, at least four in the state are looking to transition from nonprofit to for-profit entities, a move that would automatically put them back on the tax rolls.

He pointed out that over the years there has been a blurring of the traditional lines between nonprofit versus for-profit entities. He said there are nonprofits that are paying six and seven figure salaries to their top management.

“That traditional notion of the nonprofit as the do-good agency that runs on a shoestring and everybody’s doing it for the common good has kind of gone away,” Sharkey said. “They are actually recognizing it’s a different world.”

But the Connecticut Hospital Association said that like the rest of the nation, Connecticut enacted property tax exemptions for hospitals in recognition of their critically important role in the community.

“It is our hope that the state will keep the current tax exemption and PILOT funding structure in place,” Michele Sharp, communications director of the Connecticut Hospital Association, said. “We understand municipalities are under financial strain, and we applaud the governor’s efforts to increase funding to the PILOT program, which will provide them with additional needed relief.”

From a public policy standpoint, Sharkey argued it’s not fair that these organizations receive the police and fire services of the town, but don’t contribute to the tax base.

He said the lobbyists for the organizations that would be impacted are expressing concern, but also acknowledge this is the direction things are headed. He said this has been on the horizon for quite some time and the entities should have known this was coming.

The legislation was filed Thursday, but Sharkey has been talking about the concept for years.

In East Hartford, Goodwin College is the only entity that qualifies for PILOT funding and would be impacted by Sharkey’s legislation. Prior to 2004 and the construction of its Riverside Drive campus, Goodwin College was a for-profit entity and as such paid property taxes.

No one from Goodwin College was available for comment Friday, but Judith Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, said she doesn’t think Sharkey’s proposal makes sense.

“We don’t have drawers of money,” Greiman said Friday. “This would have a profound impact on our institutions at a time of high need for students.”

She said the colleges have a good relationship with their municipalities and many have voluntary payment agreements where they give money to the towns to use public services. She said this proposal would damage the critical partnerships that colleges, which are large employers, have with cities and towns.

But municipalities have largely embraced the proposal.

“The point of the matter is they’re growing their footprint and we’re ecstatic to have them in our town, but the demands on our public safety alone are significant,” East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc said Friday.

In a sense, Leclerc said they are paying taxes because when the community needs a donation or needs something, the college makes its resources available. But these are difficult times and municipalities are struggling to find revenue from the only source they can — the property tax.

She said the state of Connecticut needs to look at itself, too. East Hartford receives PILOT funding for state property in town like Rentschler Field and even though the state promised it $1.2 million a year that money has never arrived. She said the most the town receives is about $300,000.

“There’s a huge gap there and it’s being pushed onto the backs of our taxpayers in East Hartford,” she added.

Asked Friday what he thought about the proposal, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a former mayor for 14 years, said he hasn’t spoken with Sharkey and wants to “reserve judgment.”

Pressed further about what he may have thought about such a proposal when he was mayor, Malloy said, “One side of the brain may think it’s a wonderful thing, and one side of the brain may think it’s a difficult thing.”

Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, also has a PILOT proposal which would give a greater percentage of the grant to municipalities with a larger number of these tax exempt entities.

Sharkey is looking forward to a robust debate on the issue of property taxes.

He said prior to the current worldwide economic crisis the state of Connecticut was focused on the property tax. He said there were talks about how it should be capped and taxpayers were angry about the property tax.

“It was really the crisis before the crisis before the great recession hit,” Sharkey said.

At a time when municipalities are focused on finding efficiencies and the state understands that the more it’s able to give municipalities in funding the less they will have to increase the property tax — makes it a good time to look at the tax structure.

“If we don’t utilize the opportunity to address it, it will be the crisis after the crisis,” he said.

Sharkey said reforming more of the tax system and looking at a cap on property taxes will be at the top of his agenda during the next legislative session.

Sharkey Gives Municipalities A Boost By Supporting Legal Notices Bill
by Hugh McQuaid | Feb 26, 2014 5:30am

Municipal governments are trying again to reduce the amount of information towns must pay to print in newspapers, this year with the support of House Speaker Brendan Sharkey.

For years, towns have pushed to change the state law requiring them to post legal notices in local daily newspapers, but the legislation has always failed to pass the General Assembly. Current law requires towns to advertise in their local newspaper to advise residents of things like town meetings, referenda, and ordinance changes.

In the months leading up to this session, Sharkey backed recommendations crafted by legislative group he commissioned to encourage regional cooperation and reduce burdens on towns. The group recommended passing the changes towns have requested to their requirements to publish the notices.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is asking the state to allow towns to push summaries of the traditional notices with instructions for how to obtain the full document on the town’s website. The idea is to reduce the amount of newspaper space towns must purchase, while preserving the notification for newspaper readers.

“It seems like a reasonable compromise,” Sharkey said Friday. “Without imposing a huge cost on cities and towns.”

During a public hearing last week Leo Paul, first selectman of Litchfield, told lawmakers that his town, a small municipality with about 8,500 residents, has had to budget around $16,000 a year for newspaper notification in each of the last two years. He called it “a rather costly venture.”

“Local governments spend millions of dollars every year publishing lengthy documents in their entirety in local publications. In the 21st Century, the quickest, most transparent and cost effective way to get information to the most amount of residents is via the internet,” Paul said.

Sharkey said he believes it is critical that Connecticut residents are kept informed of what’s happening in their local governments, but said the public is looking increasingly toward the internet for updates.

“The way the public gets information on what’s going on in the community is changing,” he said.

Although the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association acknowledges the public notices are a significant revenue stream for the state’s financially struggling newspapers, the group has framed the debate over the years in terms of government transparency.

Chris VanDeHoef, the group’s executive director, argued against the bill in written testimony presented to the Government Administration and Elections Committee last week.

“Our society is founded on the premise that the public has access to its government and what that government is engaged in,” he said. “....We feel that public notices provide this information in an unadulterated and verified manner. A manner that the internet can not guarantee.”

During last year’s legislative session, daily newspapers throughout the state ran a series of full-page advertisements likening the proposal to an April Fool’s joke.  However, Sharkey said the current proposal preserves public access to documents without eliminating the notifications from the pages of newspapers altogether.

“If the issue is not about revenue to newspapers and is about maintaining the public’s right to know, I think the M.O.R.E. [Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies] commission recommendation accomplishes latter,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the House speaker’s support will be enough to push the perennial issue over the legislative finish line during this year’s session. A spokesman for Senate President Donald Williams said supporters of the proposal will need to prove that it will not impact the ability of the public to easily obtain important information. He also said Williams has yet to discuss the issue with other Senate Democrats.

On Friday, Sharkey said he had not polled support for the proposal in his chamber either.

“I don’t know for sure if we’ll have the votes to get something done this year. If there’s not enough support we’ll maybe wait and try again next year,” he said.

Teachers fear proposed cuts to health care funding; Some worry state budget plan could deplete insurance fund

By Johanna Somers Day Staff Writer
Article published Feb 23, 2014

While Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing in this year's budget that retired teachers pay less state income tax on their pensions, he is also seeking to reduce the state's funding for their health insurance.

The reduction would affect both those covered by local school boards' plans and participants in the Teachers' Retirement Board Medicare supplement program. Some fear it could start depleting the health insurance fund by fiscal year 2017.

The Teachers' Retirement Board administrator, Darlene Perez, said last week that if the state continues to contribute less than is legally required, teachers could have to put more toward their benefits, the state could have to fill a funding gap or the insurance plans might have to be changed.

Malloy's biennial budget proposal in 2013 included zero funding for the teachers' Health Insurance Premium Account this year and next, but the legislature raised it to 25 percent of the retiree health insurance costs, still less than the statutory requirement of 33 percent.

Now the governor is proposing the state keep the 25 percent rate but reduce its contribution in fiscal year 2015 by $6.5 million because monthly premiums have gone down.

"Instead of reducing the money, or taking out money because premiums went down, why not leave the money in and make it closer to the 33 percent?" said Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the 43,000-member Connecticut Education Association. "The issue of robbing Peter to pay Paul is pervasive."

The state is required by law to cover any shortfall caused by insufficient contributions. The retirement board expects $133.6 million in revenue and $135 million in expenditures in fiscal year 2017. If the health insurance fund were to run out, the state and Teachers' Retirement Board would have to determine a different cost-share plan, Perez said.

"If they continue underfunding the system, it could put it in jeopardy," Waxenberg said.

"There is always concern," Perez said. "But I feel like we are in a more secure environment today than when we adopted the (current) two-year budget."

Teachers have increased contributions to the fund in the past, Waxenberg said, but "there has to be good faith on everyone's part." In 2004, active teachers' contributions were increased to 1.25 percent of their salary from 1 percent. Retirees also pay a portion of their premiums.

The state, the active teachers and the retirees are supposed to each contribute one-third of the total toward retired teachers' health insurance. If the teachers have to pay more than their share, that is not a good-faith negotiation, Waxenberg said.

Matt O'Connor, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, said a solvent health care fund would allow teachers to retire with dignity.

"Going forward, we'll continue to support efforts to shore up the fund because it is consistent with our commitment to health care for all," O'Connor said.

The state contributed nothing to the retired teachers' health insurance fund in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, before Malloy was elected.

"We will lobby this year to restore the one-third funding," said Robyn Kaplan-Cho, retirement specialist for CEA. "They should pay the full one-third just like teachers have always been required to pay their full share.

"We still have major concerns about the solvency of the retiree health fund moving forward," she said.
Perez said, "What I am hearing from the teachers is that they are not happy that he has cut it back, but they are thankful that he didn't take it away altogether."

Both of the state's teachers unions, CEA and AFT Connecticut, support Malloy's tax cut proposal to reduce income taxes on retired teachers' pensions by half. This cut would decrease retired teachers' pension taxes by $23.1 million in fiscal year 2015. The governor has said this is fair because teachers don't receive Social Security. Connecticut would join several other states in reducing the income tax on teachers' pensions for that reason, Waxenberg said.

"But one shouldn't be played against the other. That is a separate issue," he said. Teachers have been working for at least 15 years to reduce the income tax on their pensions and will continue to lobby for restored state contributions to the teachers' retiree health fund, he said.

Teachers' health benefits are more vulnerable than those of state employees because they are not the result of collective bargaining. The general statutes uphold teachers' retiree health benefits, but the General Assembly could amend or override that legislation.

CEA initially advocated for a state constitutional amendment that would have prevented underfunding the pension or reducing the benefits promised to teachers. "We were not able to get any traction on that," Kaplan-Cho said.

The compromise was to make teachers' pensions a "contractual right" by law in 2003. That change specifically left out retiree health benefits, which suggests that health insurance could be changed by future legislatures for vested employees and retirees, according to a 2010 report by the state's Office of Legislative Research.

The state "didn't want to be locked into the inability to change retired health benefits," Kaplan-Cho said.

Conn. lawmakers revisit assisted suicide issue

By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press
Feb 21, 7:22 PM EST

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut lawmakers agreed Friday to revisit legislation allowing doctors to prescribe medication to help mentally competent, terminally ill patients end their lives, launching one of the more hotly contested issues of this year's short legislative session.

Both opponents and proponents claimed they're being outgunned by the other side.

In recent weeks, the socially conservative Family Institute of Connecticut has sent out urgent fundraising messages seeking contributions, claiming proponents of the legislation have deep pockets, spending thousands of dollars on advertising and lobbying.

"What we have is a group whose out-of-state funders have funded a major campaign here in Connecticut, saying, `Here are your marching orders in Connecticut. Pass this bill,'" said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute.

Citing state ethics filings, he said the national advocacy group Compassion and Choices spent more than $165,000 lobbying for the legislation last year and more than $20,000 in January of 2014.

But the Connecticut director of Compassion and Choices says apparently multiple groups are battling this year's bill at the state Capitol, including the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference.

"We know there are some powerful interests aligning against this and they have deep pockets too," said Tim Appleton, referring to the Catholic leaders. "I think at last count, there are a lot of lobbyists out here trying to deny residents choices at end of life. And they have a very powerful voice here as well."

Appleton said his group has seen growing grassroots support for the legislation in Connecticut, adding how many residents have been turning out for informational forums the group has held around the state recently.

"Last year, I would drive all the way down to Stamford and meet with three people. Now I drive down to Stamford or Greenwich, and there are maybe 80 people in the room," he said. "The crowds are growing and that gives me great comfort."

On Friday, the legislature's Public Health Committee okayed a bill for consideration that would legalize aid-in-dying. A public hearing will likely be held in March.

Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Willimantic, the panel's co-chairwoman, said she expects lawmakers will work off the bill that was crafted last year and make any changes based on testimony from the public hearing and input from lawmakers. Johnson, who supports the legislation, said she could not predict whether the bill will make it out of committee this year. She said a vote was not taken last year because there were not enough of them.

Last year's bill added restrictions to the original measure, based on concerns raised during hearing testimony. For example, a doctor must make a diagnosis that a terminally ill patient who requests to end his or her life must have six months or less to live. The doctor would then have an agreement with the patient that he or she would sign with two witnesses, who agree the patient was not under duress. Last year's bill required that same agreement to be signed again two weeks later, with two witnesses. The patient would then have access to the medication.

"Once they have the access, many people don't use it. They just have the access," Johnson said.

Johnson said she isn't aware of any extraordinary lobbying efforts by Compassion and Choices. She said there appear to be more lobbyists opposing the bill.

"I heard they hired all the rest of the lobbyists in the building. We only have, I think, one firm that's doing it," Johnson said. "It's one group."

But Wolfgang denies the opposition is spending big money to defeat the bill. One of the Family Institute's partners is Second Thoughts Connecticut, an advocacy group for people with disabilities that says it is running on a shoestring budget.

"What we do have is a wide coalition," Wolfgang said.

CT college system to be transformed.  More like "micromanaged"...read e-op-ed here.

Declining Enrollments Blamed For CSCU Budget Shortfall

Tuition Revenues Off By $15.5 Million At State Universities And Colleges
By KATHLEEN MEGAN,The Hartford Courant
7:42 PM EST, February 20, 2014

Declining enrollments have left the state's four regional universities and 12 community colleges with a $15.5 million budget shortfall at mid-year.

The lower-than-expected enrollments "plaguing" the system have hit the community colleges the hardest, Erika Steiner, chief financial officer of the Board of Regents for Higher Education said at an executive committee meeting Thursday. Much of the shortfall already has been offset, she said, but community colleges still face a $4.5 million gap to close by the end of June.

Gregory Gray, regents president, said he has met with the presidents of all of the institutions in the Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system to discuss their budgets.

"I asked several to give me a plan of how they are going to bring their budget in the black by June 30th," Gray said, "and they've done it and it's not easy."

On average, enrollment is down about 1.4 percent this year across the CSCU schools, but at some community colleges the declines run as high as 8.3 percent.

The $15.5 million shortfall in tuition and fees is 3 percent of the expected revenues of nearly $502.9 million.

Gray said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal to spend $134 million for "Transform CSCU 2020" would help upgrade the colleges and universities, but the proposal won't resolve current operational budget problems.

"We're going to be very careful about any costs that we incur throughout the system," Gray said.

However, he added, "Transform CSCU 2020" would include steps to shore up enrollment, including the establishment of a "Go Back To Get Ahead" program that would provide college dropouts with up to three free courses if they return to school.

In a move to keep the schools affordable, Gray has proposed a 2 percent cap on tuition and fee increases over each of the next three years. Last year, the regents raised tuition by 5 percent. Since 2000 tuition and fees at the schools have more than doubled.

Steiner said the universities and colleges have offset about $11 million of the $15.5 million shortfall by holding down personnel costs, including not filling inessential non-academic positions. She said that various programs for students also have been cut back, though schools try not to do that.

The four state universities — Central, Western, Southern and Eastern — have been able to cover their shortfalls, Steiner said, but the community colleges still are working to close the $4.5 million gap.

Daisy Cocco De Filippis, president of Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, said enrollment there has flattened in the last few semesters and has gone down 4 percent this semester compared to last year, bringing with it a revenue decline of about $400,000.

To shore up the college's budget De Filippis said class sections have been consolidated so that they're closer to capacity, and she has made "a lot of little efficiencies."

"I spend an awful lot of time trying to figure out how we do this and maintain the spirit of the college, keep it always about teaching and learning and supporting the faculty who are so good," said De Filippis. "It's like really nickel-and-diming our way."

De Filippis said a $30,000 donation from the college's foundation means the library and tutoring center can stay open this semester on the weekends.

De Filippis noted this year's decline in enrollment follows years of increases, and enrollment at Naugatuck now is 19 percent higher than it was in 2008.

David Levinson, president of Norwalk Community College, said he is facing a 2.6 percent decline in enrollment this semester compared to last spring. However, he said the college anticipated that it might face a 3 percent enrollment decline, so he already had taken steps to control costs.

In January, he imposed a spending freeze, allowing the purchase of only essential supplies until the budget situation becomes clearer. In addition, he said, some classes were consolidated to save money, which has meant fewer opportunities for adjunct faculty.

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant

Public Safety Tackles Keno Repeal, Mixed Martial Arts, & Movie Theater Noise Levels
by Hugh McQuaid | Feb 20, 2014 2:12pm

The Public Safety Committee reached its deadline to raise bills Thursday, but not before raising proposals that could repeal keno, tweak last year’s mixed martial arts law, and regulate noise levels in movie theaters.

The panel had until Feb. 20 to raise concepts for action during this short legislative session and during their Thursday meeting they created a legislative vehicle to undo the legislature’s last-minute 2013 decision to legalize the bingo-style game, keno. At this stage the bills are only concepts without specific language.

That proposal comes in the wake of growing support from legislative leaders to stop implementation of the game. House Speaker Brendan Sharkey signaled Wednesday he wanted to repeal the law and Senate President Donald Williams suggested he was open to discussing the concept. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said keno was not his idea and has left the game’s future up to lawmakers.

Public Safety Co-Chairs Sen. Joan Hartley and Rep. Stephen Dargan were critical Thursday of the process that legalized the game in the first place. The concept never received a public hearing.

“We think it’s important to vet that process out because it seems like nobody’s taking ownership of it,” Dargan said. “... Where’d it come out of thin air? We don’t know who it came from.”

Hartley said keno was only discussed well after the Public Safety Committee’s deadline.

“Had it come earlier we would had the conversation we’re planning to have going forward,” she said.

Neither knew how much money has already been spent by the Connecticut Lottery Corporation on implementing keno.

Anne Noble, president and CEO of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, said Thursday that her organization has spent about $53,000 in developing the game of keno. She said they’ve been largely in a “holding pattern” until they receive the agreement the state needed to ink with the two tribal run casinos.

According to the Office of Policy and Management the revenue sharing agreement has been sent to the tribes and they are waiting for it to be returned by at least one tribe.

Mixed Martial Arts

The committee also raised a bill to take a second look at mixed martial arts. Following several failed proposals, the legislature voted in 2013 to legalize the popular, but violent sport that includes elements of wrestling, boxing, and karate.

However, although he allowed the bill to see a floor vote in the Senate, Williams opposed the sport and ushered the passage of another bill that makes anyone who hires someone to fight in an MMA match liable for the fighter’s health care costs relating to injuries sustained during the match.

Williams said he felt that asking promoters to foot the bill for injuries sustained by participants was “the least we can ask of these folks.”

“This is a sport where the ultimate goal is not about scoring touchdowns or shooting baskets or shooting goals, it’s about whaling away on another person, hitting them and kicking them repeatedly. That is what the sport is about. I think it’s reasonable to assume there will be injuries,” he said.

Hartley said the committee’s Vice Chairman Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport, asked that the panel raise a bill bringing MMA’s liability policies more in line with liability policies in boxing.

“The mixed martial arts folks are saying that we now have the statute accepted as functionally un-operable because of this part of it and therefore we won’t get any events,” Hartley said.

Noise Levels in Movie Theaters

Although there is no language yet for this proposal, it would place a limit on the maximum decibel levels at the state’s movie theaters.

“I have to tell you, I sit in the theater when I go with my kids and I go like this,” Hartley said, sticking her fingers in her ears.

Consolidation of State Police Dispatch Centers

Dargan and Hartley said they met with Dora B. Schriro, the new commissioner of Emergency Services and Public Protection, on her agency’s ongoing controversial merger of state police dispatch centers throughout the state. The process was begun under Schriro’s predecessor Reuben Bradford but is essentially on hold as she assesses the issue.

“We’re going to have a conversation,” Hartley said. “First and foremost it’s about public safety. Was the first approach working and do we need to refine this to make sure we’re providing stable public safety.”

No Gun Proposals

The committee does not plan on raising or acting on any proposals related to gun control, the chairs said.

“Nobody was really looking to do any gun-related bill this legislative session,” Dargan said. “And there was a number of them.”

Many of those proposals related to last year’s sweeping gun control law, either re-opening the registration period for now-banned rifles or repealing the law altogether. The committee opted not to take up the topic this year.

“It’s a short session and that’s a long conversation,” Hartley said.

OP-ED | In Defense of The Public’s Right To Know
by James H. Smith | Feb 23, 2014 11:11pm

Crime is a problem in the United States and in Connecticut. A big problem...read full op-ed here.

OP-ED | Lawmakers Should Stiff-Arm The Secrecy Crowd
by Terry D. Cowgill | Feb 14, 2014 5:30am

The cause of freedom of information in Connecticut went through a bleak period last year. The ghastly school massacre in Newtown had prompted frantic lawmakers to pass laws restricting FOI in the dead of night and without public hearings. And just when open-government advocates thought things had quieted down, along came the “Task Force on Victim Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know.”

Beware of any panel with 11 words in its title. The name alone sounds inherently political, contrived as it was to balance competing interests. But the reality is any effort to impose yet more secrecy on government has far less to do with victim’s rights than it does with appeasing emotional constituents and shielding our eyes from what the government is doing in our names and with our money.

Be that as it may, the task force, which was created last year when the General Assembly bravely passed laws restricting access to crime-scene photos on the last day of the legislative session, was stacked in favor of secrecy and everyone knew it.

The task force’s latest product comes in the form of a recommendation by a 15-2 vote last month to the General Assembly that 911 call recordings be exempt from disclosure under the state’s FOI Act. The report also calls for five years in jail for anyone convicted of copying certain crime-scene photos or 911 recordings. That’s right, such copying would be put right up there with Class D felonies such as threatening a legislator and practicing medicine without a license.

And yet another organization is jockeying for more secrecy. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, a lobbying group for the state’s 169 towns and cities, seeks, in the words of CTNewsJunkie’s Hugh McQuaid, “to establish an ‘executive privilege status’ for local officials in an effort to protect the confidentiality of conversations between mayors or first selectmen and their key advisers.”

But far more troubling is that CCM is seeking an exemption to prevent someone who is suing a town from using the FOIA to obtain town records related to the lawsuit rather than seeking them through discovery. In other words, anyone who is suing a municipality would become a second-class citizen who could obtain certain documents currently covered by FOI only through the courts...full story here.

Winners and losers in the governor’s budget
By: Mirror Staff | February 7, 2014

The legislative session began in earnest Thursday with the introduction of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal. Now it’s up to legislators to come up with their own plan or plans (in some years, Republicans, who are in the minority in the House and Senate, issue their own budget proposal), and to pass a final agreement sometime before the session ends May 7.

Here’s an early look at who wins and who loses under Malloy’s proposal. It's an election year and there's a budget surplus projected, so perhaps it's not surprising there are more winners than losers, at least for now.


Middle-income households: They would share the governor’s proposed $155 million rebate of sales and gasoline taxes.  Individuals earning less than $200,000 per year would receive $55 and

Teachers: Connecticut's 23,000 retired teachers would receive a two-stage break on state income taxes. The governor’s plan would exempt 25 percent of retired teachers’ pensions from state income taxes retroactive to Jan. 1. That exemption would climb to 50 percent in January 2015. Once it's fully implemented, the tax break would cost the state $23.7 million per year.

Low-income seniors: The proposed budget allocates $6.5 million to add about 12,700 slots to the state’s rental subsidy program for low-income seniors and disabled residents. Individuals, who must earn $34,100 or less to qualify, can receive a rebate ranging from $50 to $700. Married couples, whose joint incomes must not exceed $41,600, can receive between $50 and $900. The proposal reverses a cut to the program Malloy made last year, which was unpopular.

Municipalities: Malloy preserved existing levels of aid to towns and cities, including a $41 million boost in education funding passed last year, and recommended an $8 million increase in the grant for communities that lose revenues tied to tax-exempt colleges and hospitals. The governor also proposed exempting municipalities from a tax on insurance premiums. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities praised Malloy’s proposals but appealed to lawmakers for relief from other costs, too.

State parks patrons: As part of the 100th anniversary of the Connecticut State Park system, folks will be able to enter any park for free one to-be-determined weekend this summer. No guarantees on rain, however.


Hospitals: The two-year budget enacted last year set up hospitals to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding. Some legislators, worried that the cuts could translate to lost jobs at hospitals, had hoped that some of the money would be restored this year, but Malloy’s budget proposal didn’t do so. (The administration has said hospitals should make out fine without the state funding since more patients will have insurance as part of Obamacare, although hospitals say that’s not the case.) Hospital officials had hoped that the state would begin phasing out a tax on hospitals that Malloy implemented in his first year in office, but the governor’s proposal would not do that either.

Juvenile girl offenders: The budget provides funding for the state to open a secure facility to house young females who break the law. The facility that will open next to the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a detention facility for boys in Middletown will house up to 12 girls. Child advocates object to the plan, saying many of these young girls are being locked up for non-serious offenses.

The next governor's budget director: Malloy's budget proposal would push the projected post-election deficit to about $1 billion. That means that next year at budget time, there could be a lot more losers.

Gubernatorial Hopefuls Mine Speech For Nuggets They Can Run With
The Hartford Courant
 6:47 PM EST, February 6, 2014

HARTFORD — Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's State of the State address Thursday sounded to the Republican skeptics who want his job like it should have been delivered on Dec. 25 instead of on Opening Day of the General Assembly's legislative session.

"It's Christmas here in the Hall of the House, and there's a lot of presents under the tree for core constituencies," said Mark Boughton, Republican mayor of Danbury and a candidate for governor. "He's got trouble with teachers … so what does he do? He provides a tax reduction on pension liability for retired teachers. … At the end of the day, the public sees through this stuff."

Boughton and the other Republicans running for governor listened as Malloy outlined his agenda for the 2014 session. After the address was over, they were ready with responses for the reporters working the room.
They said Malloy's speech was larded with give-aways for key blocks of voters, some of whom have grown disenchanted with the governor's leadership. In addition to reducing taxes on teacher pensions, Malloy is proposing increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by Jan. 1, 2017 – after refusing to support a smaller minimum-wage hike in 2012. Also, he's offering $228 million in tax breaks to businesses and individuals.

"I think we should have elections for governor every year," said Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, another contender for the party's gubernatorial nod. "For three years, this governor has raised taxes; now he wants to cut taxes. For three years this governor was asking retired teachers to pay more; now he wants to give them a break."

McKinney added, "the only difference between the last three years and this year, is it's an election year, and he's coming out with policies to get re-elected."

Andrew Doba, the governor's spokesman, rejected such assertions.

"The idea that they would call increasing access to [preschool], increasing the minimum wage, and responsibly managing the state's finances pandering shows just how out of the mainstream Republicans are,'' Doba said. "In public opinion polls, a majority of Republicans support increasing the minimum wage. Regrettably, none of them apparently serve in the legislature."

Malloy's 43-minute speech before a joint session of the legislature was punctuated by applause every couple of minutes. With sunlight streaming through the elegant, arched windows of the House chamber, the Democrats who control both houses of the General Assembly greeted him warmly, rising to their feet about 20 times for standing ovations.

The first-term governor is up for re-election in November and, while he has not formally announced his plans, most observers expect him to run — and his Republican would-be opponents said the speech proves it.
As has become routine in presidential State of the Union speeches, Malloy invoked the experiences of everyday citizens to make his points. To illustrate resilience, he told the story of Steve Weinstein, who is rebuilding his East Hartford farm with state aid after a devastating snowstorm last year.

To highlight his record on jobs, Malloy recounted the experience of Emily Thomsen, a UConn grad who landed a job with an Oxford biomedical company that received a state loan. "After years of complacency, Connecticut is playing an aggressive role partnering with employers to create jobs and grow our economy,'' he said.

The Republicans accused the governor of over-hyping his administration's achievements and offering too sunny an assessment of the state's economy.

"It sounded to me like a 'happy days are here again' speech," said Tom Foley, the Republicans' 2010 nominee, who is again seeking the nomination. "For this phony election-year budget, he's irresponsibly handing out money based on a supposed surplus. You and I know there's no surplus, and we're facing a billion-dollar deficit next year. So we simply have to get control over spending and start from there."

State Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican from Wilton who is exploring a gubernatorial bid, struck a similar theme. "There's some kernels of good things in there but it was a campaign speech, no question about it,'' she said.

Still, Boucher said she detected a slight shift in Malloy's discourse. From the start, the Democratic governor has blamed the state's fiscal woes on his Republican predecessors, M. Jodi Rell and John G. Rowland. "In the past all we heard was that it was everyone else's fault,'' Boucher said. "It was that big bad other administration that caused the problems."

But on Thursday, Malloy said: "No person — and certainly no government — is perfect. Lord knows I'm not. All of our progress has come with setbacks along the way,'' Malloy said.

But in a remark that could have been intended for his GOP foes, Malloy said: "We hear plenty of critics. Even as sunshine begins to break through the clouds, there are some intent on hoping for thunderstorms. … We should not listen."

Copyright © 2014, The Hartford Courant

State Plans A Website Makeover
by Christine Stuart | Jan 20, 2014 5:30am

The state of Connecticut’s official website ct.gov is about to get a makeover and state officials say it will increase its functionality and usability.

“The state’s official website was created almost 20 years ago,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said last week. “Since that time, many best practices have been established and new technologies that dramatically increase usability have been created. By utilizing this self-funded plan, we are going to modernize the way state government interacts with its citizens and put a process in place that will ensure the state’s online presence continues to keep up with technological advances.”

NIC USA Inc. of Kansas was awarded the $2.5 million, three-year contract on Jan. 10.

The contract is being described by the administration as “public-private partnership” that “allows the portal to be developed and operated without tax dollars.” Under the agreement, the state will continue to accept the statutory fees for various services, but it will allow the contractor to charge an “enhanced fee” when it comes to bulk purchases of government information, such as motor vehicle driver histories.

Lawmakers passed legislation last year that made it possible for a company like NIC USA Inc. to get paid through fees it collects from businesses that purchase data from the state in bulk. However, it also added some checks and balances by making sure the state maintained control over any “enhanced fees” a contractor collects.

All of the fees must first be approved by the Finance Advisory Committee, which includes members of the executive and legislative branches. The legislation also calls for the services to be provided by non-electronic means so that people will still have an opportunity to pay the fee without the increased “e-service” convenience fee.

One of NIC USA Inc.’s responsibilities, aside from revamping the state’s home page, will be to launch a new Connecticut Business Portal that consolidates the various business-related solutions provided by different state agencies.

“This agreement increases our focus on the businesses and citizens of the state, making it possible to conveniently do business with the state on whatever device you have and at whatever time of day you wish,” Mark Raymond, the state’s Chief Information Officer, said.

Launch of the project will occur in stages throughout the year, but the business portal maintained by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office will be a top priority, according to the press release.

“There is a wealth of important public information housed in many different state agencies,” Merrill said. “Anything we can do to centralize the information we have in state government and make it more accessible online to the public, and more importantly to the entrepreneurs who start businesses and create jobs in Connecticut, is something we should all support.”

According to a press release, NIC USA Inc. will open an office in Hartford and expects to hire 10 to 12 technology, marketing, and project management professionals.

The company currently works with 29 states and more than 3,500 federal, state, and local government agencies, according to its website.

In 2012, NIC made Forbes’ list of the “25 Fastest-Growing Tech Companies in America.” That year it processed $22.5 billion in payments and generated $211 million in revenues.

Jepsen Sides With Watchdog Agencies
by Christine Stuart | Dec 23, 2013 5:30am

Attorney General George Jepsen, a longtime friend and political ally of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, dealt his friend some tough love last week when he concluded that the heads of the nine independent watchdog agencies have the power to evaluate a governor-appointed administrator.

In a formal opinion released Dec. 16, Jepsen concluded that the commission “has the authority to set goals and expectations for and to evaluate periodically the executive administrator.”

But according to a Malloy spokesman the governor is not disappointed in the decision.

“It was always the governor’s intention to make sure that the watchdog agencies maintained their independence, so we are not disappointed by the attorney general’s decision in any way,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, said Sunday.

The Office of Governmental Accountability was created two years ago as a way to trim costs, reduce the size of government, and improve accountability. It put together nine previously separate agencies under one roof over the objections of some of the agency executives who worried that a governor-appointed administrator would hinder their ability to do their job.

Unwilling to upset the governor, the Democrat-controlled legislature sought a compromise that allowed the agencies to maintain separate staff and propose their own budgets. Agency heads, who comprise the Government Accountability Commission, also understood the bill to have given them the ability to fire the Malloy-appointed administrator who oversees the umbrella office. However, David Guay, the former executive administrator of the Office of Governmental Accountability, disputed that point.

“Giving the GAC [Government Accountability Commission] the authority to evaluate and possibly terminate a governor’s appointee appears to be inconsistent with the appointment of other gubernatorial appointees,” Guay wrote in a Dec. 2011 report.

Jepsen clarified in his opinion that the Government Accountability Commission does have the power to terminate its governor-appointed executive director.

“The GAC has the authority to terminate the employment of the executive administrator. Surely if the legislature intended to confer the power to terminate, it must have meant to allow the GAC to set expectations to evaluate whether the executive administrator has met such expectations before exercising its termination power,” Jepsen wrote. “To conclude otherwise would create a nonsensical and unworkable obstacle to the GAC’s exercise of its termination authority, and statutes must be construed to avoid such results.”

In his opinion, Jepsen cited remarks made by Sen. Toni Harp on June 1, 2011. According to Jepsen, Harp stated during debate on the bill that the GAC has the “power to evaluate and terminate the executive administrator.”

In October, Guay stepped down from the post and was appointed to the state Contracting Board, which was created in 2007 but never before staffed. The agency is one of the nine under the Office of Governmental Accountability umbrella.

Doba said Malloy is close to naming Guay’s successor.

On Nov. 22, the Governmental Accountability Commission met to discuss a replacement. According to the draft minutes of the meeting, it forwarded the names of five individuals to Malloy for consideration.

Shelby Brown, Matthew Reed, Josephine Agnello-Veley, Christopher Forster, and Walter Murray were the five names forwarded to Malloy. The names were ranked from one through five. Brown was the commission’s first choice.

The commission was successful this year in defeating legislation that sought to further consolidate the agencies by forcing them to share legal staff. Malloy’s proposal also would have transferred fiscal, information technology, and communications staff members to the Office of Governmental Accountability’s administrative office.

The agencies under the Office of Governmental Accountability include the Office of State Ethics; the State Elections Enforcement Commission; the Freedom of Information Commission; Judicial Review Council; Judicial Selection Commission; Board of Firearms Permit Examiners; Office of the Child Advocate; Office of the Victim Advocate; and the State Contracting Standards Board.

CT Emergency Services and Public Protection Department
New head is appointed - formerly, Commissioner of Correctons in NYC.  Story in full hereCTNEWSJUNKIE article specifically mentions the issue of consolidation of dispatch functions - important for Weston..

Police file on Newtown shooting to be released

Associated Press
Article published Dec 27, 2013

New Haven (AP) — The planned release Friday of thousands of pages of police documents from the investigation into last year's school massacre in Newtown could shed light on the world of the 20-year-old gunman.

State police said their report totaling several thousand pages would be released at 3 p.m. The report "has been redacted according to law," and includes text, photos and 911 calls received by state police, they said Thursday.

Prosecutors issued a summary of the investigation last month that portrayed the gunman, Adam Lanza, as obsessed with mass murders, but the report concluded that Lanza's motives for the massacre might never be known.

The summary report referred to items found on a computer at Lanza's house that included writings detailing relationships, personal beliefs, a daily schedule, desires, goals and other topics.

Lanza gunned down 20 first-graders and six educators with a semi-automatic rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, after killing his mother inside their home. He committed suicide with a handgun as police arrived at the school.

The summary says Lanza had "significant mental health issues."

The report said that in 2005, Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger's disorder, a mild form of autism that is not associated with violence, and that he lacked empathy for others and behaved strangely. Nobody was allowed into his room, he wouldn't touch doorknobs, his food had to be arranged on the plate in a certain way and he changed clothes often during the day, according to the report.

In fifth grade, Lanza wrote "The Big Book of Granny," in which the main character has a gun in her cane and shoots people, and another character talks of liking to hurt people, especially children. The book was among items seized from Lanza's home, but there was no indication he ever handed in the book at school.

Lanza became obsessed with the 1999 bloodbath at Columbine High in Colorado and other mass killings, the report said. He even kept a spreadsheet ranking mass murders.

State Police Commissioner Reuben F. Bradford To Step Down
The Hartford Courant
By DAVE ALTIMARI, daltimar@courant.com
10:28 AM EST, December 26, 2013

State Police Commissioner Reuben F. Bradford has resigned, ending his three-year tenure as the first African American to lead the state's largest police organization.

Bradford submitted a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy earlier this week saying that he was retiring as head of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, surprising many state police administrators who had expected Bradford to remain in his position until the next election.

"Working at the Department has presented many challenges, but the underlying work ethic of the people who make up this critically important agency made the task at hand worthwhile," Bradford, 67, said Thursday in a prepared release. "While we have accomplished much, there is much more to be done."

Bradford, who left a high-paying job as director of security for the National Football League to return to the state police, has been dogged by questions about his health and by criticism of his administration's decision to consolidate emergency dispatch centers to save money.

The department also has been criticized by some for taking so long to complete the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting investigation. The state police have still not issued their final report on the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting.

"Commissioner Bradford did an exceptional job of leading the state's first responders through a period where they were tested time and time again," Malloy said in a prepared statement. "Through five presidential emergency declarations and unspeakable tragedy, he worked with the dedicated men and women at the department to make sure that residents received assistance often during their darkest hours. He also led the department through administrative changes that were both necessary and long overdue."

It is unclear who would replace Bradford, but several law enforcement sources indicated that Deputy Commissioner William Shea is the leading candidate. The agency is comprised of six divisions: the Division of State Police; the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security; the Division of Statewide Emergency Telecommunications; the Division of Scientific Services; the Division of Police Officer Standards and Training Council (POSTC) and the Commission on Fire Prevention and Control/Connecticut Fire Academy.

Shea was appointed last May by Malloy to direct the department's Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. The division is responsible for disaster and crisis response and the coordination of the state's emergency planning and counterterrorism efforts. He reports to Bradford.

Bradford's retirement will be effective on Feb. 1. "Work to find his replacement began several weeks ago when the Commissioner raised the possibility of his retirement with the Governor's Chief of Staff," Malloy's press release stated.

Bradford returned to run the state police after a 15-year hiatus in the private sector, including the NFL job. Bradford had retired as a major after stints as a barracks commander, with the Statewide Narcotics Task Force, with the Bureau of Criminal Investigations and as chief of staff for former Commissioner Bernie Sullivan.

His appointment in December 2010 was considered a smart one by Malloy, bringing in someone experienced in working with several factions of the sprawling state police agency, as well as its first African American commissioner.

In a press release, the governor's office said some of Bradford's accomplishments include restoring the state crime lab's national accreditation and "virtually eliminating" any backlogs at the facility; meeting "every deadline during the implementation of the recent Gun Violence Prevention Legislation; and significantly expanding the scope of his department's work to incorporate the former Department of Homeland Security and other offices in order to achieve greater efficiency in state government."

The beginning of Bradford's term was relatively quiet, with concerns about a backlog at the State Police Forensics Laboratory being the biggest issue. Bradford has a reputation of being a behind-the-scenes leader, rarely quoted publicly unless he was testifying before a legislative committee.

But then, when state officials were deciding budget cuts, word leaked that as many as 56 troopers could be laid off and even though that plan was later rescinded, issues with the state police union started cropping up.

The biggest one has been the decision to consolidate the emergency dispatch centers in an effort to save money and deploy more troopers to other positions. But union officials argued that the consolidation meant that barracks, especially ones in eastern and western Connecticut, would not have a person on duty 24 hours a day to handle emergencies.

Just last week, police union officials held a press conference to highlight their safety concerns with the consolidation of dispatch centers, pointing out a major problem earlier this month in which emergency calls from eastern Connecticut were rerouted to the Litchfield dispatch center, causing confusion and delays.

In a press release, the union said that the malfunction potentially sent calls "across the state to Litchfield where local dispatchers are less familiar with Eastern Connecticut or State Police operations on the opposite end of the state. The malfunction occurred approximately during rush hour."

The consolidation plan, publicly backed by Bradford and State Police Col. Danny Stebbins, is expected to be reviewed by the state legislature when it convenes in January.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

Arbitrator calls for Conn. state police raises
By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press
Oct 1, 2013 5:15 PM EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut state police would get pay raises of 2 percent this fiscal year and 3 percent next year while retaining nearly unrestricted off-duty use of their cruisers, under an arbitration decision that now goes to the state legislature.

An independent arbitrator settled contract negotiation disputes between the Connecticut State Police Union and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration and recommended the raises and other measures that would be included in a new three-year contract. The arbitrator's decision was issued last week and obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press through a public records request.

The new contract would cover 1,072 troopers, sergeants and master sergeants, who have been working without a contract since July of last year because negotiations with administration officials reached an impasse.

The agreement would run from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2015, and include no pay raises for the first year, which ended June 30 of this year. Union members would get 2 percent pay raises and annual "step" increases this fiscal year, but they wouldn't be effective until Oct. 1. Three percent pay raises would be awarded for 2014-2015, the same increase other state employees will get that year.  Union members also would pay higher pension and health care costs, under a previous agreement with the administration.

"The union respects the arbitrator's decision and the collective bargaining process and we believe that the award was fair and reasonable for both parties," Sgt. Andrew Matthews, the union president, said in a statement Tuesday.

Matthews said later in a phone interview, "We worked really hard on behalf of our members and families."

The proposal of the arbitrator, Joel M. Weisblatt of Skillman, N.J., will go before the Legislature when it reconvenes in February. If lawmakers take no action on it within 30 days, the proposal will go into effect.  Malloy's chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, said in a statement Tuesday that he first wanted to thank thousands of state employees who provided wage and benefit concessions during the state budget crisis in 2011. All the state employee unions approved pension and health care concessions that year, and all unions except state police and state prison supervisors approved the wage proposals.  After the state police union rejected the wage concessions, 56 union members were laid off but rehired six weeks later.

"On the recent state police award, we respect the collective bargaining process and will be submitting the award to the General Assembly as required by law," Ojakian said.

As part of the 2011 concessions, nearly all state employee unions agreed to a five-year wage plan that included pay freezes in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 and 3 percent pay raises in each of the following three years. The administration had wanted state troopers to agree to wage freezes in 2012-13 and the current fiscal year.  The last raise the state police union received was a 2.5 percent increase in 2011-2012. Troopers in their first few years on the job generally make between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, while those in the top pay level earn about $83,000 annually.

Matthews also said the union won a big victory in keeping the unrestricted off-duty use of cruisers. The administration wanted to limit off-duty cruiser use by not allowing civilian passengers during non-job-related trips.

Matthews said off-duty use of cruisers is a significant public benefit because state police provide many services while off-duty including pulling over hazardous motorists, helping stranded drivers and backing up on-duty troopers during calls.

Weisblatt, the arbitrator, said in his decision that it was an established public benefit that off-duty troopers can respond in their cruisers to emergencies as they arise. He mentioned the Newtown school shootings last December that killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

"Off-duty trooper response to the tragic situation at Newtown was swift and helpful," Weisblatt said. "It is clearly a `win-win' working condition."

Sharkey Says Legislature Will Tackle Property Taxes
by Christine Stuart | Sep 12, 2013 1:25pm

He didn’t get the phase out of the car tax that he wanted last session, but House Speaker Brendan Sharkey wants the conversation on property taxes to continue during the 2014 legislative session.

“Before the current recession we’re coming out of now, the crisis before the crisis was the property tax,” Sharkey said Thursday at a Capitol press conference. “Here in Connecticut, there were people in the state who were talking about open revolt over the property tax and the impacts it was having on their local communities.”

Municipal leaders opposed phasing out the car tax because they didn’t trust the state to replace the nearly $700 million it collects from the tax. The House passed the proposal, but there wasn’t enough support in the state Senate to get it passed earlier this year.

“We have to work with the communities that will be affected by the eventual elimination of the local property tax,” Sharkey said.

Rep. Jeff Berger, D-Waterbury, said that Connecticut is the only state that taxes vehicles according to a town’s mill rate. He said he looks forward to continuing work on “comprehensive car tax reform.”

To prove to municipalities that the state is serious about reimbursing any lost revenue from elimination of the car tax, the legislature established the Municipal Revenue Sharing account and dedicated about $4.9 million to it over the next two years.

“We’ve already committed to the notion of trying to provide cities and towns with a level of compensation for the lost revenue, but ultimately we all have to get to a more efficient place,” Sharkey said.

He maintained that the state has to change its tax system, but danced around the notion the state would have to increase taxes in other areas in order to get there. He said the property tax accounts for 40 percent of all the taxes collected in the state and is the most regressive.

“We have to have a tax system in the state of Connecticut that matches the government that we want and need,” Sharkey said. “Currently we don’t have it. Currently our overall tax system is broken.”

He said when there’s an over reliance on the property tax, bad decisions are made.

“When we have a disproportionate reliance on the property tax, we engage in dumb growth,” Sharkey said. “Because towns and cities have to rely so heavily on it that sometimes bad development decisions occur and we’re not looking at the long run.”

But if the comments from the local officials who attended the press conference were any indication, Sharkey will have another uphill climb in addressing the property tax and other efforts to regionalize services.

Weston First Selectwoman Gayle Weinstein told Sharkey that her town comes in second-to-last in economic development. Like every town, she said hers relies upon the property tax to fund the education system and local government.

“If you start eliminating property tax, if you start eliminating car taxes without another mechanism for funding, it is going to create a big problem in our districts,” Weinstein said.

The Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies Commission, which Sharkey reconstituted Thursday, is tasked with looking at how local governments can cooperate on a regional level to help find efficiencies.

“We’re hearing from our residents that they don’t want their taxes going to other districts,” Weinstein said. “. . . They’re happy to pay high taxes in Weston, if they know it’s going to fund the Weston School District.

Sharkey said he’s in favor of municipal options and not necessarily imposing these regional efficiencies on cities and towns, but when 169 towns offer the same services he believes that’s “inherently inefficient and costly.” He said the goal of the commission is to eliminate those inefficiencies, but none of it should come with a mandate.

“We have to do everything we can to get out of your way,” Sharkey said.

Weinstein suggested that the legislature look at eliminating some unfunded municipal mandates, which would allow the town to reduce property taxes.

Sharkey told Weinstein he thinks the legislature has done a lot of work on reducing municipal mandates and will continue to do so through the M.O.R.E. Commission.

Madison First Selectman Fillmore McPherson said that if a municipality were knitting one sleeve of the sweater, it feels like the state is unraveling the other sleeve when it comes to unfunded municipal mandates.

Also, McPherson said he’s glad that the state has found efficiencies, but he expects it can find more.

“I would suggest there are a lot more efficiencies that could be coming out of the state,” McPherson said.

The last time the state commissioned a study of property taxes was October 2003. The resulting report, which has been available online for 10 years, did not offer a consensus conclusion to eliminate the car tax. However, it did recommend implementing a temporary spending cap on municipalities to limit spending growth to 2.5 percent per year, or the rate of inflation. That idea seems to have faded from lawmakers’ agendas.

The Two Connecticuts:  Remember the first use of this phrase? 
Not meant as a nautical a reference to modern income and education disparities among CT towns. 

Lawmaker Says Report Is ‘A Joke’
by Christine Stuart | Sep 12, 2013 12:00pm

The lawmaker who raised questions about the state’s contribution to Amistad America, called a three-page report from the state’s Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith a “joke.”

“This really is what’s destroying faith in government,” Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said Wednesday.

For the past few months, Urban has been raising questions about Amistad America Inc., the organization which manages the replica schooner taken over by African captives back in 1839. The captives landed in Long Island Sound and were jailed in New Haven, but a group of abolitionists secured their freedom in a landmark court case.

The organization recently lost its nonprofit status and Urban has been critical of the decisions being made by its board of directors. She has called for the dissolution of the board and believes the state as one of its primary funders should have the ability to hold it accountable.  Hearing the criticism, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, asked Smith what can be done to hold the organization accountable.  The three-page report released Wednesday by Smith concluded that her agency has little control over an organization it funds.

“DECD administers a pass-through of these funds to Amistad America, but has no authority to impose conditions on the funding or to withhold payment for non-performance,” Smith wrote Wednesday in her three-page report.

“Under current law, there are no requirements we can impose on line-item recipients—other than ensuring they get a clean audit,” Smith wrote.

The Office of Policy and Management has hired an outside auditing firm for $78,000 to audit Amistad America. The money for the audit will come from Amistad America’s annual $379,000 allocation from the state.

Basically, what the state is saying is it’s “not our bad,” Urban said.

Urban applauded the decision to audit the organization and she’s aware that the organization has said it would seek to have its nonprofit status reinstated, but she isn’t confident the organization is actually moving in that direction.  Hanifa Washington, executive director of Amistad America, said Thursday that she’s done talking to the media about this.

“Every time I take a minute to talk to the media, it’s a minute I’m not spending doing my job,” Washington said after an event at the state Capitol.

She said her message has not properly been conveyed and the media continues to ignore all the good programming the organization does. She said she is done answering questions about it because it only furthers “Rep. Urban’s political agenda and that’s not my job.”

In Wednesday’s report, Smith said the legislature should give her agency or the Office of Culture and Tourism, which she oversees, more control of individual line items.  Urban concluded that since the organization submitted applications to DECD for the funding and they should have the ability to approve or deny those applications. But having looked at those applications, Urban said the organization simply copied and pasted the information from year-to-year. That’s “unacceptable,” she added.

In addition to funding the $2.5 million cost of constructing the ship in 1999-2000, the state has invested more than $9 million in the ship and its facilities, including an annual allocation of about $379,000 from the state budget.

The 129-foot Baltimore clipper that according to state statute is Connecticut’s “flagship” is currently in Puerto Rico where it’s being used in a TV series about pirates. Urban said it should be at the Connecticut Schooner Festival in Mystic that started Wednesday. She said she worries about the boat being so far south of its port during hurricane season and she doesn’t think the $200,000 the organization is receiving for the TV series is enough.

Legislative Wrap by Senator Boucher and Representative Shaban is excellent,  not about Newtown.  NOTE: Air onditioning in the Community Room was super!
At Weston Library, the enormity of Connecticut's problems can sometimes appear overwhelming.  What does the one-Party control mean?  A two-year plan to go further into a  deepening hole...

What is happening on the Newtown front...
Connecticut teachers, officials to discuss school safety
Associated Press
Article published Aug 8, 2013

New Britain (AP) — A panel created after the Newtown school massacre is meeting with teachers, principals, administrators and teachers unions to discuss improving school security.

The School Safety Infrastructure Council was scheduled to hear Thursday evening from education professionals from around Connecticut during a special meeting, to be held at New Britain High School.

The General Assembly charged the council with developing new standards to improve or enhance school safety and security in schools constructed in Connecticut.

Members are examining a variety of measures, including the feasibility of reinforcing entryways, and using ballistic glass, solid core doors, computer-controlled electronic locks and buzzer systems. The group is also looking into using cameras on school grounds to enhance security.

The council must submit its new recommended safety infrastructure standards by Jan. 1.

Wall Street Downgrades Outlook For CT Bonds To ‘Negative’
by Christine Stuart | Jul 2, 2013 1:46pm

One of the four Wall Street rating agencies downgraded their outlook for Connecticut bonds Tuesday, citing “the state’s failure to return to more structurally sustainable budgeting.”

Fitch Ratings changed its rating for Connecticut from stable to negative, but it maintained its AA rating for the state prior to the sale of $200 million in general obligation bonds. The other rating agencies, including Moody’s, Standard & Poors, and Kroll maintained their current ratings, all with stable outlooks, in anticipation of the sale.

“The Negative Outlook reflects the state’s reduced fiscal flexibility at a time of lingering economic and revenue uncertainty,” a Fitch analyst wrote. “The enacted budget for the new biennium delays repayment of deficit borrowing, adds to an already high debt load, and fails to rebuild the state’s financial cushion.”

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said in a statement that he’s “pleased” with the ratings, including the one from Fitch.

“Fitch’s concerns about our vulnerability to continued economic weakness are reasonable, but ultimately not so great as to change our high-quality rating,” Barnes said. “They have affirmed that our revenue forecasts are reasonable, that our budget is balanced, and that our bonds continue to be an extremely safe investment in line with our AA rating.”

State Treasurer Denise Nappier said a “negative outlook” generally means that a credit rating will be under review for one to two years, and “is less concerning than a credit watch.”  She said 15 states have negative outlooks from one or more of the credit rating agencies.

“We believe the nationwide economic recovery will continue to result in improved budget revenues and, in turn, will enable the state to address some of Fitch’s concerns,” Nappier said.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said he wants to know what Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration is drinking because “obviously it makes you feel good when you’re not supposed to.”

The negative outlook means the state of Connecticut has failed to use responsible budgeting and failed to heed to warnings of Moody’s back in January 2012 when it downgraded its rating, Cafero said.

“We going to pay the price for this,” Cafero said. “All the borrowing we do to balance the budget will have to be made at a higher interest rate.”

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, chimed in with a similar sentiment.

“Either the Malloy administration is looking at the negative impact of their fiscal mismanagement through rose colored glasses, or they’re just not being honest with the people of Connecticut,” he said. “The facts speak for themselves. Connecticut’s bond ratings are worse than they were when Gov. Malloy took office, they have not recovered, and they are heading in the wrong direction.”

Fitch cited the state’s high debt burden and inability to rebuild its Rainy Day Fund as one of the reasons it changed its outlook from stable to negative. It said the budget reserve fund—which is also called the Rainy Day Fund—would remain modest through the fiscal year 2014-2015 budget.

“In the event that budget performance fails to meet the state’s forecast, Fitch views the state as having reduced flexibility to respond effectively,” analysts found.

That wasn’t always the case during past economic recoveries Fitch analysts pointed out.

“During past economic recoveries the state has demonstrated a willingness and ability to rapidly repay deficit borrowing and rebuild its rainy day balance. With the slow nature of the current recovery, the state does not expect this to happen until after the end of the current biennium in 2015.”

Barnes remained confident Fitch Ratings would changes its tune in the near future.

“I am optimistic that continued progress on economic recovery, coupled with continued prudent management actions by the state, will lead to the prompt restoration of our stable outlook,” Barnes said.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the rating agencies have treated Connecticut with “kid gloves.”

“They’ve been kind to Connecticut for the most part,” he said. “For the last six years we’ve seen a lot of budget gimmicks that contributed to the structural hole and we haven’t gotten out of the spiral.”

He said the negative outlook from Fitch shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“Since Gov. Malloy took office we’re seen unfunded capital projects go from $2.8 billion to $5.1 billion,” he said. “We’re spending money at a pace quicker than we can fund it.”

But the Malloy administration continues to be optimistic about the news and what it’s done to address the state’s problems during a recession.

“The state continues our commitment to responsibly addressing our significant long-term liabilities,” Barnes said. “Unfortunately, our considerable economic strengths, including high incomes, high levels of education, strong property values and high productivity, have been mitigated by the long, sluggish recovery from the national recession.”

The rating agency also found some fault with how the state decided to borrow $750 million in order to implement Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. But it wasn’t necessarily concerned about the state’s decision to delay payment of the Economic Recovery Notes it borrowed back in 2009 to close the 2010 budget deficit.

Republican lawmakers warned last year that delaying the payment of the Economic Recovery Notes would be frowned upon by rating agencies.

“Fitch recognizes the immediate cash flow benefit of the GAAP borrowing, although notes that the use of bond proceeds essentially replaces the use of budgetary surpluses to make the transition. The borrowing would have a limited impact on the state’s debt burden, already high in Fitch’s view,” analysts said Tuesday.

Candelora said he believes the economic recovery notes point to the structural hole in the budget and he speculated that the GAAP borrowing is being done to fulfill the state’s cash flow needs. Since the money for GAAP isn’t owed to a third party, it’s a debt owed to the state, he finds it curious that the state is borrowing to cover the self-inflicted debt.

Not all the rating agencies were as harsh as Fitch’s.

Moody’s, which downgraded its rating of the state back in January 2012, applauded the state for taking steps to reduce some of its unfunded pension liabilities.

“The outlook for Connecticut is stable reflecting the positive steps the State has taken to address its long-standing balance sheet weakness and reduce its fixed post-employment benefit costs through pension reforms, as well as the adoption of a budget that largely relies on recurring solutions,” Moody’s analysts wrote. “We expect that Connecticut’s revenue trends should improve as it emerges from the recession and the state will maintain its new commitment to replenishing its rainy day fund over time.”

Fitch Ratings also changed its outlook for the University of Connecticut’s bonds to negative in anticipation of the sale of $225 million in general obligation bonds for the school. The downgrade in the outlook was tied to the school’s relationship to the state.

“UConn’s GO bonds are rated one notch below the GO bond rating of the State of Connecticut (the state) based on the state’s debt service commitment equal to principal and interest and appropriated without further legislative approval. Higher education is a constitutional state priority, and legal protections are strong,” Fitch analysts wrote Tuesday.

Who says Connecticut doesn't have any manufacturing "plants" any more or was that M.O.R.E.?

Marijuana plant proposed for former Conn. factory
Jun 21, 5:13 PM EDT

WATERTOWN, Conn. (AP) -- A Colorado man wants to convert a former paint factory in Watertown into a large-scale marijuana production plant.  Ethan Ruby presented the plans of his company, Theraplant, at a meeting of the Litchfield County town's Economic Development Commission on Thursday.

A year ago Connecticut adopted legislation to allow medical marijuana. To apply for a growing license, Theraplant would have to post a $2 million bond which the state would hold for five years.

The Republican-American of Waterbury reports ( http://bit.ly/12Sp0gn ) Ruby said the marijuana would be distributed in unmarked vans to state-licensed dispensaries where the product will be available to patients with a doctor's prescription and a state registration.  Roby said the company has an extensive security plan at the former Keeler & Long plant that calls for 160 security cameras, guards on the site 24 hours a day, and a safe to store the finished product.

"Some teenager can't throw a rock through the window and go and steal some plants," Watertown's Economic Development Coordinator Joseph Seacrist said.

Ruby said Theraplant has operated a marijuana-growing plant in Denver for more than three years, but it is stopping production so that he can focus on the Connecticut proposal.  Under Connecticut's new law, patients receiving medical treatment for an applicable debilitating medical condition may qualify for a temporary registration certificate to legally use medical marijuana.

Angels and Demons, indeed - that's St. Peter's Basilica, not in Connecticut - but the movie it reminded me of is "Mr. Smith Goes to...Hartford."

Closing credits: CT sours on movie incentives

Neil Vigdor and Tim Loh, CT POST
Published 11:42 pm, Thursday, June 20, 2013 He'll be the first to admit that he's no economist. But he does have a gold statuette at home named Oscar.

So when his home state of Connecticut decided to follow a national trend and suspend tax credits for the motion picture industry for the next two years, former child star-turned-director Ron Howard was not whistling the theme from "The Andy Griffith Show."

"Obviously, I think that's a horrible mistake," Howard told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers. "It's a deciding factor in just about every conversation you have with major studios or independent film production entities when discussing where and how you're going to make a movie. When tax credits come and go, these financiers that do rely on them as sort of the tie-breaker lose trust and faith in an area."

A state that just a few years ago relished the opportunity to be associated with Robert De Niro, Jennifer Aniston and Leonardo DiCaprio is now leaving the theater before the final credits, however.

Architects of the state's two-year $44 billion budget have seen enough to conclude that Connecticut taxpayers should not be subsidizing big-budget movie productions whose economic benefits are difficult at best to quantify, or independent film projects for the matter. The moratorium is expected to save $6 million.

The big screen's loss is the little screen's gain.

The state is preserving tax credits for television and digital animation companies, such as ESPN, WWE and Blue Sky Studios that are based in Connecticut. Recipients of the credits can recoup 30 percent of their in-state production costs.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle support the shift, saying that the economic benefits of the TV and digital-first strategy are much more easily demonstrated. All one has to do is look at the hundreds of jobs created here and the infrastructure investments by media conglomerates, they say.

"I think there's long been a suspicion that a lot of the location shooting of motion pictures probably had less downstream economic impacts because of the large number of out-of-state firms involved in film production," said Ben Barnes, budget chief for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Republican Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, a native of Fairfield, where Michael Douglas is now filming the Rob Reiner comedy "And So It Goes," is similarly skeptical.

"I would argue that in the best-case scenario, that making the local businesses whole, using local caterers, I don't think that's a net positive," said McKinney, who is considering a run for governor.

Others warned that the state's decision could backfire because the digital, TV and movie talent pools are intertwined. That could stop the momentum of recent media progress in Connecticut, they say, and scare away entertainment investors to other states.

"It will be an ongoing saga, and I'm not sure where it will finally end," said Professor Sam Craig, who directs the entertainment, media and technology program at New York University's Stern School of Business.

"How important is a robust film industry to support TV, because they're not necessarily independent."

Goodbye Hollywood

Across America, the Connecticut debate is being mirrored as other cash-strapped states rethink how effective film and TV incentives can be in stimulating growth. Taken together, it amounts to something of a backlash against last decade's eager courting of Hollywood.

"Every independent analysis of film tax credits has found that they're not a good economic deal," said Joseph Henchman, a lawyer and policy analyst with the Washington, D.C., based Tax Foundation.

The bonanza kicked into gear in 2001, when four states offered such tax credits for a total of $1 million. By 2010, the number of states had swelled to 40 and the tax credits up for grabs had ballooned to $1.4 billion, according to the Tax Foundation.

In this latest chapter, though, several states -- one of the most recent is Michigan -- have eliminated the incentives. Others are putting tighter limits on how much money is available.

Yet at the same time, states like New Mexico have sweetened the incentive for specific sectors like TV. There, the so-called "Breaking Bad" bill, named after the smash-hit AMC show filmed in Albuquerque -- upped TV tax credits from 25 percent of in-state production costs to 30 percent, the same as Connecticut.

Connecticut, for its part, has swiftly retreated from the big screen.

Between 2008 and 2012, the state reduced tax credits given to motion pictures from $79 million to $19 million. Meanwhile, it increased tax credits to TV and digital media from a combined $1 million in 2008 to $39 million for TV and $18 million for digital media in 2012. By last December, the state had handed out a total of $297 million in such tax credits since 2006.

"We've sort of found that our bread and butter has been TV," said George Norfleet, director of the state's Office of Film, Television & Digital Media. "We want them all, including film, but when resources are limited, we have to make sure we put them behind the longterm benefit."

Kevin Segalla embodies the transition. In 2006, when he opened the Connecticut Film Center in Stamford, he quickly landed big-name actors like Uma Thurman and Robin Williams to his studios for films. More recently, his biggest grabs have been luring TV entities such as NBC Sports and the YES networks, along with programs like "The Jerry Springer Show," "People's Court," Showtime's "The Big C" and online soap operas "All My Children" and "One Life to Live."

"It's beyond anything we could have imagined," Segalla said. "We want to see digital media, video games, web creators based in Connecticut. We'd like to ratchet it up and it's starting to happen."

Among state officials, there is some disagreement about whether the transition is smart.

"My gut tells me (the film tax credit) was break-even at best," said State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich. "The reason for (my hunch) is these film crews come and go. Do they use local catering companies and service support companies? Yes, they do. But they leave as quickly as they come."

Former House Speaker James Amann, the godfather of the tax incentive program, bemoaned the shift. Citing figures from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, he said the Connecticut media hub is a $1 billion industry that has created 15,500 jobs since 2006. He warned that movie production companies will bypass Connecticut.

"Once you take the carrot away, they're going to start using the studios in other areas such as New York, Massachusetts, Vancouver and New Mexico," he said. "I think it's a mistake not bringing the high-profile movies here."

But Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch sees it differently. In recent years, his city has hosted the likes of De Niro and Sean Penn.

"While we are always happy to showcase our city, we have not yet seen a measurable impact on our local economy," he said.

Indie crisis

The moratorium is certain to make life harder for the state's independent film makers.

Because their movies so rarely turn a profit, these filmmakers have trouble enough cobbling together financing for projects. The tax credits were a godsend of sorts. They provided investors with the security that they would at least get something close to 30 percent of their money back.

That alone helped develop the cottage business to the point where several two- to three-month projects employing a few dozen people could operate simultaneously across Connecticut, said Alex Calvo, 45, who has produced four such features in the last few years. He was in the process of trying to green-light two more -- but now he's got his work cut out for him.

"I finally started to climb that ladder and have access to people I hadn't had access to, but this has really thrown a monkey wrench in it," he said.

Last year, Calvo's friend Greg Friedle directed "The Word," a 90-minute, $350,000 thriller that premieres this weekend at the Manhattan Film Festival.

The movie is about a single dad who suspects his son has been kidnapped and murdered by a Satanic cult. It was written by a Fairfield native and features an actor from Weston. It was filmed primarily in Bridgeport. But Friedle can't imagine making another such film soon.

"This is my home state. It's where I want to film," he said. "But without the film tax credits, there's no way I'm going to do an indie film here."

Blurring landscapes

Notable among those predicting Connecticut to fall out of favor with filmmakers is Howard, whose own post-production facility in his hometown of Greenwich has received tax credits.

"It's not a lot of money, but it's meaningful," he said.

Howard, who won an Academy Award for "A Beautiful Mind," said there is a lot of crossover in entertainment industry.

"The line between theatrical and digital is blurring," he said. "I think it's short-sighted to take that kind of position."

The pressures of churning out films on time and on budget, he said, sometimes make it difficult for producers to rely solely on Connecticut vendors and contractors when filming here.

"No one wants catering from New York, but they need the catering to be there on time, for example," he said.

Connecticut's proximity to New York and Boston is a major selling point, but not the only one in this era of competition among states, said Howard, who is now giving a different kind of direction.

"Connecticut has a unique advantage, an opportunity to build a lasting industry out of it," Howard said.

Energy Conservation Funds Raided In Budget
by Christine Stuart | Jun 10, 2013 5:30am

When the smoke from the 2013 legislative session cleared last week, environmental advocates were crying foul over the General Assembly’s decision to raid two energy conservation funds in order to balance the two-year state budget.

In an effort to plug a last-minute budget gap, lawmakers tapped the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Some of the money they swept from the programs was replaced during the final day of the legislative session.

But it’s an old budget trick environmentalists are sick of seeing played out. It was done as recently as former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration and there was hope, with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s attention to the creation of an energy strategy, that it wouldn’t happen this year. But it did.

“It’s extremely disappointing that this fight over funding had to happen at all,” Mark LeBel, energy fellow at the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said in a press release. “Dollars invested in these funds are returned to the economy many times over, so it is counterproductive to balance the budget in the short term by taking money from them.”

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said Thursday they were able at the last minute to eliminate the $5 million raid of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the fund in which electric generators buy allowances to emit carbon dioxide. And they were able to decrease the reduction of $24.2 million in funding in the second year of the budget to the Connecticut Energy Finance and Investment Authority, bringing the reduction down to about $19 million.

Barnes said they are anticipating that there will be a surplus on the greenhouse gas account that they will be able to transfer to the the Connecticut Energy Finance and Investment Authority.

“We gave the board flexibility to be able to assign that surplus to CEFIA,” Barnes said.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said in the House they were boosting funding to the conservation load management fund with one bill and in the next they’re sweeping those funds into the general budget.

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said there was an “intent to deceive” taxpayers and that he believes they will figure it out.

“We’re going to charge people on their electric bills a little bit more, but we’re going to do it because it’s going to go into an energy conservation fund which everybody thinks is important. Oh, by the way we just swept the money for the operating budget,” McKinney said.

Malloy admitted Thursday that sweeping the funds was not “optimal,” but lawmakers left them with fewer choices when they decided not to auction off customers’ electricity bills. The electricity auction was expected to bring in $80 million in one-time revenue. However, it did not gain enough support in the House where more than 50 Democratic lawmakers signed onto an amendment to kill it.

While environmental advocates appreciated the change of heart regarding the greenhouse gas funds, they said the raid on the funding in the first place sets a bad example.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a nine-state effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Northeast. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont all participate in the program. Through the end of 2012 the program had conducted 18 successful auctions, selling a total of 498 million CO2 allowances for $1.1 billion.

William Dornbos, Connecticut director of Environment Northeast, said he’s pleased the last-minute budget implementation language restored the RGGI funding.

“Programs like RGGI and the state’s energy efficiency fund are providing huge economic and environmental benefits to Connecticut,” Dornbos, said. “Connecticut’s support for RGGI is critical to the program’s success and to setting an example for other states that inappropriate diversions should not be tolerated.”


OP-ED | Connecticut’s Disgusting Gambling Orgy

by Terry D. Cowgill | Jun 7, 2013 12:30am

In a state that taxes everything that moves, you know things are bad when the governor touts the restoration of a sales tax exemption for clothing and footwear under $25 as “middle-class tax relief.”

But if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has his way, the tax cut for people who buy underwear at Walmart will be offset by the expansion of gambling in Connecticut. In order to take more money out of our pockets to fill the voracious maw of the spending class in Hartford, the General Assembly passed a budget this week that permits Keno, a highly addictive video numbers game that essentially offers a new lottery every five minutes.

Is this what our quest for revenue has come to? It’s sad enough that Connecticut is already the casino gambling mecca of New England. And now we want offer a game with high odds and quick turnover that entices the impulsive and vulnerable into giving up more of their money as quickly as possible?

Lest we forget, studies have consistenly shown that racial minorities and those in lower-income, lower-education demographics are disproportionately drawn to numbers games such as Keno, the slots, and the lottery. Those same folks are far more likely to smoke, too, yet health advocates continue to push for cigarette-tax increases.

Make no mistake about it. This type of state-sponsored gambling is really no more than a tax on the less fortunate among us. And it’s currently being proposed by people who often lecture us about the wealthy not paying their fair share in taxes. Evidently, they think the state tax code also lets the poor off too easy.

On my way into the studios of WTIC Newstalk 1080 for my appearance on former Gov. John Rowland’s show last Friday, I stopped on Migeon Avenue in Torrington to fill my gas tank. Inside, a working stiff covered in joint compound was buying almost $100 worth of lottery tickets. He spoke broken English and looked like he could barely afford the T-shirt on his back. Yet he was willing to fork over probably a third of his weekly paycheck to the state for the thinnest of odds.

Barely two years ago, we were hit with the second largest tax increase in state history. In return, Gov. Malloy got modest concessions from the state employee unions and agreed to lay off very few of them. So our options are limited. Another walloping tax hike will cause our few remaining businesses to flee the state. And we can’t really reduce the size of government because the governor gave away the store to the unions that elected him.

So we are left with prying money from the wallets of the poor? For estimated revenues of a little more than $30 million over two years?

The irony here is that the state will essentially need permission to offer Keno from the two Indian casinos in eastern Connecticut. Under a deal first negotiated in 1993 by former Gov. Lowell Weicker with the Mashantucket Pequots and the Mohegans, the state receives 25 percent of gross slot machine revenue from the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Last year the state received $344.6 million from the casinos — $30.9 million less than lawmakers had budgeted. Nevertheless, the fruit of the poison tree has been tasted.

Part of the Weicker deal was that the tribes had exclusive rights to casino-style gambling in the state. Not surprisingly, casino officials claim that Keno is casino gambling. While no formal deal has been reached, the adopted state budget authorizes the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, which will run the Keno operation, to give both tribes up to 12.5 percent of gross Keno revenues.

Malloy had been considering offering Keno as recently as December 2011 as part of a strategy of creating “a more aggressive lottery.” If we’re going to outlaw “aggressive panhandling” in many of America’s cities, then why don’t we do away with the idea of an “aggressive lottery” while we’re at it?

No, backing away from a dependence on gambling isn’t on the state’s agenda. Some lawmakers aren’t satisfied with two casinos, numerous lotteries, and Keno. To the horror of anti-gambling advocates, a few Democratic legislators are lining up to support allowing 7,500 slot machines in three Connecticut cities.

The most telling fact in this discussion is that there are very few state programs available for problem gambling in Connecticut, but plenty for drug and alcohol addiction. Why? As one social worker told The CT Mirror, “The state benefits greatly off of gambling, not off of drugs and alcohol.”

Of all the tricks and regrettable legislation enacted during the 2013 legislative session in Hartford, the expansion of government gambling is the most shameful. Why doesn’t the state drop all pretense of virtue and get into the prostitution business, too? Of course, some would say it already is.

“I don’t need to try to score political points. I just need to tell the people what the facts of this budget are..."

Lower Tax Collections Expected In Coming Two Years
The Hartford Courant
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, ckeating@courant.com
10:48 PM EDT, April 30, 2013

The state's latest budget figures show tough times ahead over the next two years, placing added pressure on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state legislators as they try to craft a budget compromise in the coming weeks.

The newest numbers, released Tuesday, contained some good news: a one-time spike in tax collections for the current fiscal year. However, they also project nearly $500 million in tax shortfalls over the next two years.   Although Republicans and Democrats have clashed sharply in recent debates on the spending and tax plans, they agree on one thing: The new numbers will require additional fiscal work that had not been anticipated.

"It clearly creates some new concerns for us,'' said Ben Barnes, Malloy's budget director. "It certainly puts some pressure on the legislature and the governor to find ways to control spending a little more.''

State officials are now projecting a surplus of $197 million in the general fund in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. A key reason for the increase in collections is that rich families, especially in Fairfield County, made major financial moves in late 2012 because of pending federal tax increases in three areas: income, gifts and capital gains.

When individuals made large taxable gifts late in 2012 because of concerns about federal tax increases beginning in 2013, the state collected increased revenue in gift taxes. In the same way, the state collected about $110 million more in personal income taxes because of late-year moves to sell stocks in 2012 before federal tax increases. In addition, some companies accelerated payments of dividends that had been expected in 2013 and instead distributed them to stockholders in late 2012.

"These increases are one-time in nature, based on individuals taking capital gains and dividend income, or transferring assets, in advance of tax law changes that took effect on January 1,'' according to a statement from Malloy's budget office. "The projections for [the next two fiscal years] reflect the consensus view that these revenues will not recur and that some of the revenue this year will in fact reduce revenue in the coming year."

With those reductions on the horizon, the expectations for the next two years are more grim as lawmakers try to balance the two-year, $43.8 billion budget.

"These are conservative projections," said Barnes. He noted that the legislature's nonpartisan fiscal office and the governor's budget office "are in agreement that we should not expect the revenues realized this past month to continue based on the underlying national economy.''

The statistics are changing now because of millions of dollars received from the April 15 tax collections. Some wealthy stock owners who sold stocks around Christmas or on New Year's Eve 2012 were calculating their maneuvers and making their final tax payments by the April 15 tax deadline.

House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk said in an interview that the latest numbers do not bode well for the coming budget negotiations in the next five weeks as the legislature rushes to finish its business before the scheduled adjournment on June 5. Cafero and other Republicans have blasted the Democratic plan that increases spending by nearly 10 percent over two years in tough economic times.

"What is frightening to me is the projections for revenue for the biennium are half a billion dollars shy of what both the governor and the Democrats' budgets were based upon," said Cafero, who has said he is "seriously considering'' running for governor in 2014. "That means it's back to the drawing board for both the Democrats and the governor with regard to this two-year budget. They're either going to have to borrow more, tax more or cut more.''

Cafero said he was especially concerned about weakness in the collection of the sales and corporate profits taxes.

"The sales and use tax is indicative of our economy — who is buying and selling," Cafero said. "Business is doing very, very poorly in Connecticut. It will turn around when we get our fiscal act together, when we stop with the borrowing.''

Cafero added, "Other states are growing jobs. … It's our fault. It is the governor's fault and the Democratic legislature's fault. It will end when we stop doing what we've been doing.''

But Barnes cautioned that the state, for example, would not need to make $500 million in cuts to cover a two-year shortfall. If the state made $250 million in cuts the first year, such as in not filling positions, those cuts would carry over into the second year and would cover the shortfall in that year, too, Barnes said.

"The Republican caucus has a way of adding two years together, and it creates misleading information,'' Barnes said.

But Barnes said he was confident that Malloy and the legislature can finish the budget by the June 5 adjournment.

"Yes, absolutely,'' Barnes said Tuesday night. "There is nothing to prevent us from doing that.''

Any future cuts will come on top of bipartisan cuts that were enacted by the legislature last December as part of a deficit mitigation plan.  Part of the surplus in the current fiscal year also comes from the largest tax increase in state history that was passed by the legislature and signed by Malloy in 2011. The total includes a projected $8.6 billion from the state income tax and $3.85 billion from the state sales tax, which are by far the two largest sources of tax revenue that the state receives. Taxes on corporate profits are projected at $716 million for the current fiscal year.  State officials, though, are seeing weakness in collecting the state sales tax because of the still-sluggish economy. The projection for the sales tax is down by $30 million from estimates made in January.

"This is due to nearly stagnant growth in cumulative collections over the prior year," the fiscal office said.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

Pressure Builds At State Capitol Over Budget, Spending Cap

The Hartford Courant
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, ckeating@courant.com
8:18 PM EDT, May 14, 2013

Tension is mounting at the state Capitol this week as legislators battle over Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal for a budget that would take effect as he is running in his 2014 re-election campaign.

The stakes are high for both Malloy and lawmakers because the issue could be resolved in an unpleasant way — with spending cuts that some Democrats oppose or fiscal gimmickry that Republicans oppose.

One scenario could mean that the legislature and Malloy would need to find about $500 million in cuts or other fiscal moves to balance the projected $21.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The annual battle fight is taking an extra twist this year because Malloy's proposal exceeds the state's mandated spending cap.

The legislature can change what is allowed under the cap, but that would require 22 votes in the state Senate - and senators interviewed by The Courant on Tuesday said flatly that Malloy doesn't yet have the votes. That increases the power of key Democratic swing voters like Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Sen. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield.

"I'm not there yet,'' Hartley said of adopting Malloy's position. "No.''

As vice chairwoman of the budget-writing appropriations committee, Hartley voted against changing the spending cap earlier this year in a committee vote.

A veteran Waterbury lawmaker who was first elected to the legislature in 1984, Hartley has gained a reputation as a fiscal conservative who looks for budget cuts in tough economic times. She is a veteran of the major fiscal battles of 1991 when the spending cap was created as part of a package deal that included the new state income tax under then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.

"The spending cap has some history,'' Hartley said Tuesday in an interview. "I happen to have been around for that history. I was part of a small group of people who did not vote for the income tax, but in the negotiations the supposed equilibrium was the spending cap.''

While some liberal Democrats have complained through the years that the spending cap has blocked the legislature from spending more money to solve social problems, Hartley said the cap has served as a proper check-and-balance to prevent spending from getting out of control.

"If you ask me my opinion of the spending cap, it's probably different than some other people,'' she said. "I think it has served us well for quite some time. Then we fast forward to the 2013-14 budget, which is predicated on a change in that definition [of the cap] which has never come to pass. So we've got a budget built on something that hasn't happened. … Whatever we do, we best better make sure that we know what we're doing and that we're comfortable about it.''

When asked what budget moves she wants made, Hartley responded, "I am in the weeds, working very hard. … I am spending a lot of time, looking at the budget.''

Senators and the Malloy administration agreed that the situation was still fluid Tuesday night as the budget deliberations continued behind closed doors. Democrats and Malloy say they intend to avoid more tax increases after they passed the largest tax increase in state history in 2011, including hikes in taxes on income, sales, alcohol, cigars, cigarettes, electric power plants, estates, and corporate profits. Since the negotiations are happening in private, multiple senators refused to reveal any details of the possible resolutions or potential cuts.

"Every budget negotiation presents its own set of unique challenges,'' said Mark Ojakian, Malloy's chief of staff. "But the ultimate goal for the governor remains unchanged: a balanced budget that continues investing in public education and job creation without raising taxes."

When asked for his position on the spending cap, Doyle said he was "still thinking'' about it.

"The level of spending is my general concern,'' said Doyle, who later went upstairs to Hartley's Capitol office to chat about the budget. "There's external pressures on me and others. … I'm not giving you a clear answer because it's fluid. I can't give you a time frame. Everything's fluid.''

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, the highest-ranking senator, said that lawmakers are working on multiple scenarios simultaneously but added that he hopes to finish the work by the end of the regular legislative session on June 5.

"I wouldn't want to speculate on all the different permutations of defining the spending cap or alternatives,'' Williams said in his Capitol office. "But I would predict that we'll have the votes to pass a budget and the implementers, ideally before the end of session. … We're looking at all sorts of different alternatives that would incorporate the work of the governor's budget, what the appropriations and finance committees have done, the values of the vast majority of Democratic legislators, and what we've been hearing from constituents.''

Williams declined to comment on the positions of Hartley, Doyle or any other senator, saying those are the subject of internal caucus deliberations.

He added: "This is not going to be fluid for the next two weeks. This will be resolved in the next couple of days. There are only so many scenarios. It would not be good for the state of Connecticut and its taxpayers to have this drag through the summer and into the fall.''

Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield said none of the 14 Senate Republicans would vote for changing the spending cap. As a result, that means that all 22 Democrats would need to work unanimously to make it happen. Republicans have complained repeatedly that Democrats are borrowing too much money to balance the budget, despite countercharges by the Democrats.

"One of the disappointments of the November election is that we were left with only 14,'' McKinney said in an interview. "Had we been at 15, we could have had the ability what we think are changes to the spending cap that we should not make. … We think state spending is the problem.'

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

Democrats, Malloy Look to Redefine Spending Cap
by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 19, 2013 5:30pm

The Appropriations Committee approved legislation Friday to alter the state’s spending cap and although the bill required only a simple majority to clear the committee, it would need support from every Democrat in the Senate to become law.

Like Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal, the draft budget approved by the legislature’s spending committee seeks to prevent certain types of state spending from being counted against the spending cap. Otherwise, the proposals would exceed the cap.

The changes, which the governor recommended with his budget package in February, stop counting against the cap any spending for which the state will be reimbursed by the federal government. Payments made on unfunded liabilities for both the state employee and teacher retirement systems also would be excluded.

House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said that the changes are necessary to give the state room to spend money on Medicaid, which will be reimbursed by the federal government after the program is expanded in January under the national healthcare reform law.

“I don’t think that the taxpayers of Connecticut want to see us leaving their dollars in Washington and if we do not make common sense changes to the definition of the spending cap, that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he said.

At a Friday afternoon press conference, Appropriations Committee Co-Chairwoman Sen. Toni Harp pointed out that the two-year budget proposal her committee approved Friday fell beneath the defined spending cap.

“The overall budget, while slightly higher than the governor proposed, is $193.4 million beneath the redefined spending cap in Fiscal Year 14 and about $100 million under the spending cap in 14,” she said.

But Republican leaders, who held a press conference immediately following Harp’s, said that without changing the cap, Democrats would be exceeding the existing spending cap by nearly $500 million in each year of next biennium.

“I heard my Democratic colleagues indicate that they are under the cap by this, that and the other thing. It is a cap that they want to recreate and redefine,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said.

Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said the proposed spending cap changes were an example of the majority making up its own rules rather than substantial spending cuts.

“That is the arrogance of power. That is the arrogance of one-party rule. If what you want to do doesn’t fit within the rules, change the rules,” Cafero said.

But changes to the state’s expenditure cap, which was initially passed by the legislature in 1991 and added to the constitution by voters a year later, will require a three-fifths majority in both the House and the Senate in order to approve.

To clear the House, the bill would need the support of 90 lawmakers. Democrats currently hold 99 of the chamber’s 151 seats. Sharkey said he has been in communication with members of his caucus and believes the bill will be approved by the chamber.

The bill would need 22 votes to be approved by the Senate, a chamber where Democrats control 22 seats. Adam Joseph, spokesman for Senate President Donald Williams, said there has not been an official headcount on the legislation yet but said it will be part of the discussion moving forward.

Democrat Senators on the wrong side of the argument, from the point of view of their Party:
Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska: Max Baucus, D-Mont.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., are under intense pressure from both sides of the debate...

Gun control bill stalls as supporters seek votes
Ana Radelat, CT MIRROR
April 16, 2013

Washington - Proposed gun legislation in the Senate stalled Tuesday as its supporters scrambled to reach a 60-vote majority needed for consideration of amendments to the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hoped to hold a vote Tuesday on a compromise measure that would expand FBI background checks on potential gun buyers, but exempt people-to-people sales.

But Reid needs 60 votes to overcome procedural hurdles erected by Republican opponents in the 100-seat Senate, where Democrats and two independents control 55 seats. Tuesday morning Reid could only count on the support of 52 senators...

Our comment:  Sounds like Obamacare all over again...

"...Despite the uncertainty, Reid said he would schedule votes on nine amendments, including the Toomey-Manchin compromise, on late Wednesday afternoon after a day-long debate.  Among the amendments considered will be a National Rifle Association substitute, an assault weapons ban and a high-capacity magazine ban sponsored by Blumenthal and Murphy.

"One proposal under consideration to win the votes of Begich, Heitkamp and maybe others would exempt rural areas of Alaska, North Dakota, and perhaps other states, from the background check requirement.

"Murphy said that idea is fine with him.

"'We're keeping the table open,'" he said. "'Nothing is set in stone'."

"Only three Republicans say they would vote for the Toomey-Manchin background check proposal: Toomey, of course, and Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

"But gun control advocates are targeting at least three other GOP senators, John McCain of Arizona, Dean Heller of Nevada and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire."


Legislature thinks interest rates going up soon?  Is this why they are moving to refinance  $295,937,522 worth of existing  committments?
Or maybe it is just that the "bill" comes due after the next election (remember the bill that moved the date for the Comptroller's report until AFTER election day, IIRC?)

Finance panel proposes borrowing to avoid tax on power plants

Keith M. Phaneuf and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

April 16, 2013

A key legislative panel adopted plans Tuesday to end a controversial tax on power plants this summer -- but the lawmakers would finance it with borrowing and by delaying other debt costs that would be paid off after the November 2014 elections.

Majority Democrats on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee defended the borrowing, arguing that it helps end a tax that threatens to raise electric rates. But Republicans countered that it's a gimmick to hide ongoing state fiscal problems from the voters -- for now.

"All in all, I believe it is a very responsible bill," said Sen. Andrea L. Stillman, D-Waterford, who co-chairs the general bonding subcommittee on the finance panel.

"It really is pushing it down the road again," said Rep. Vincent J. Candelora, R- North Branford. "And if our economy doesn't turn around, we're sort of prolonging the tough decisions."

Stillman, whose district includes the two nuclear power plants on Millstone Point in Waterford, was one of more than a dozen lawmakers who recently protested Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal to extend an electricity generation tax set to expire June 30.

Malloy, who is facing a projected $1.2 billion shortfall -- about 6 percent of annual operating expenses -- in the next fiscal year, is proposing continuing several tax increases otherwise set to end to help close that gap.

But Stillman and others argued that power plants, which set their energy sale costs through long-term contracts, likely would pass the added cost to ratepayers in a state that already has some of the highest rates in the nation.

Dominion Resources of Richmond, Va., which owns the Millstone plants and paid more than $40 million of the $70 million tax raised this fiscal year, has been scaling back its generation capabilities in the Northeast. And some lawmakers fear that extending the tax could lead Dominion to sell or even attempt to shut down the Waterford facilities.

The problem for Democrats on the Finance panel, though is that they didn't want to raise other taxes to replace the $70 million. And the legislature's Appropriations Committee is expected later this week to recommend at least as much spending for next year as Malloy proposed in a February plan that relied on the generation tax remaining in place.

The committee's solution was to piggyback the cost of dropping the generation tax onto another controversial Malloy initiative.

Because state government has struggled periodically over the last two years to find the cash to pay its bills, the governor proposed borrowing $750 million, and refinancing a $1 billion operating debt amassed in 2009 under Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Republicans criticized Malloy's plan because it defers repayment of much of the interest from these moves -- about $217 million -- until the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2015.

The finance committee plan increases post-election costs even more.

It delays another $152 million in total debt payments and related expenses due over the next two years until after mid-2015, and increases the interest owed after the next election by $14 million.

"It is astonishing to me that the finance committee could take a fiscally irresponsible budget proposal from Governor Malloy and make it even worse," Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, said afterward. "You would never teach your children to manage debt by paying credit cards off with credit cards, but that's exactly what the state of Connecticut is doing and, eventually, we're going to expect our children to pick up the tab. This is a poor start to the legislative budget process and I implore Democratic leaders to revisit this mistake. I will not support any budget that employs such irresponsible gimmicks."

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes said afterward that the finance committee had adopted a financing package that "largely supports the governor priorities."

But Barnes added he would wait to assess the panel's proposal regarding the generation tax until it finishes its work on other revenue bills for the next budget on Monday.

"We all understand it is a work in progress and are confident we can work towards a mutually acceptable bond package as part of an overall agreement on the budget and revenue in the coming weeks," he said.

Kevin Hennessy, director of government affairs for Dominion's New England region, said committee leaders Tuesday  "created a path forward toward keeping a promise" and ending the tax as planned. "They're showing they care that electric rates don't go up unnecessarily."


Bonding for UConn

In other business Tuesday, the finance panel also endorsed $1.7 billion in new bonding for the University of Connecticut to build new science and engineering facilities and dorms to accommodate a drastic increase in enrollment.

"By making the investments ... we will take steps to regain our standing as a leader in innovation and make our state an attractive place to invest, work and do business," Malloy wrote in a statement released after the meeting.

The plan, which House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, both support, also involves a second bill pending before the Appropriations Committee.

That measure involves spending $17.4 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year to begin a 10-year hiring program that eventually would add 259 new faculty and 158 guidance counselors for UConn.

Last week, business leaders from across the state came to the state Capitol to show their support for the initiative.

"The breadth of business support is amazing. We're all backing this initiative," said Joseph McGee, vice president for public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County.

But the House chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee has expressed doubts about the proposal, asking where the money for UConn would come from.

"We have things in this budget we have to cut to give you $17.4 million, really painful things," Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, told UConn's President Susan Herbst last month.


First they came for our guns...thanks to Sandy Hook, we gave that away.
Chief Public Defender Says Expanded Subpoena Power Would Violate Constitution

by Hugh McQuaid | Apr 16, 2013 5:30am

While prosecutors argued Monday for a broad expansion of the state’s ability to subpoena citizens in criminal investigations, the public defenders office claimed the change would effectively eliminate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Connecticut’s criminal justice system differs from that of many other states in that it is difficult for police or prosecutors to compel anyone to give testimony in criminal cases. Currently, in order to convene a grand jury capable of issuing subpoenas, the state must demonstrate before a panel of judges that it has exhausted all other means of investigating a crime.

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday on a bill, which would significantly ease the burden prosecutors must meet before seeking a grand jury. Rather than needing to exhaust all their options, prosecutors under the bill, would only need to demonstrate that a grand jury investigation would “serve the interests of justice.”

The bill would also leave discretion of whether to empanel the grand jury up to one judge, rather than a panel of three.

The legislation pit the state’s top prosecutor against its senior public defender who seemed to agree only on the idea that the bill represents “radical” changes to the state’s current system.

Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane has argued for years that prosecutors should have broader subpoena powers in criminal investigations. He said the current process in Connecticut is so stringent, that prosecutors rarely apply for a grand jury.

“It can take us six weeks to two months to do the investigation necessary just to apply for the grand jury. We know what a lengthy process that’s going to be, we know how difficult the standard is so we very rarely apply,” he said.

Kane said the belief that offenders will be caught should be the biggest deterrent to crime. But he said the state has neglected to ensure that law enforcement officers and prosecutors have the ability to solve crimes as they occur.

He recalled trying to investigate a homicide that occurred in a bar, where a body was found sitting on a stool. Although Kane said there were people in the bar, when asked by investigators, every potential witness reported being in the restroom when the crime occurred.

“We have no authority whatsoever other than asking a person ‘Would you like to come into the office so we can ask you questions? Can we talk to you?’ If they say ‘No,’ there’s absolutely nothing we can do,” he said. “We could have an eye witness to a crime on camera standing there watching it happen. We can go and ask that person what he or she saw but they don’t have to tell us a word.”

However, Chief Public Defender Susan Storey said the changes Kane was seeking would circumvent both the state and federal constitution. She said it would bypass the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.

While statute currently requires investigators to show probable cause to believe that a grand jury will find that a crime has been committed, Storey said that the bill deletes all references to probable cause in favor of requiring that the “interests of justice” be served by the empaneling of a grand jury.

“I think we all know what probable cause is. And judges know how to determine probable cause. For the life of me, I do not know what ‘the interests of justice’ means… If somebody can define it for me, I’d appreciate it,” she said.

Storey said the bill seemed to be intended to bypass current investigative procedures in the interest of convenience. She said the legislation would enable any prosecutor to call for a grand jury and compel witnesses to testify whenever they suspect a crime has been committed.

“This is obviously a tool to compel people to talk. And I think it has stripped away all the safeguards that our present grand jury system has,” she said.

Moira Buckley, president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said the legislation consolidates investigation powers within the state’s attorney’s office.

“The current proposal guts the entire investigatory grand jury process and procedure as it exists in Connecticut and replaces it with a process that is controlled by the state’s attorney’s office,” she said.

Kane and Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Leonard Boyle said they did not believe the bill violated the constitution given that other states and the federal government have more lenient grand jury requirements.

Boyle said the legislation would reduce opportunities for prosecutors to “go on a witch hunt” because a judge would need to authorize any subpoena before it is issued.

“Is it possible for a prosecutor to go on a witch hunt? Sure, there is. We have to admit that. But there are a thousand unsolved homicides in the state of Connecticut,” he said. “... That we would sacrifice the effective ability to solve violent crimes because of the risk that some prosecutor might go overboard, seems to me to stand public policy on its head.”

Then, after our guns, they came for our rights...with no-one paying attention except for newspapers...
Democrats Pulling Shades Down On Government Business

Hartford Courant Editorial
10:42 PM EDT, April 14, 2013

The Democratic-led General Assembly continued its unprecedented effort to draw the curtain between the public and official state business this past week when a committee advanced two bills restricting access to death certificates.

A third dangerous bill, one that would redefine public meetings of local and state officials in a way that could make many more of them secret meetings, also moved forward.

Death Certificates

One death certificate measure would establish a "short form" version having limited information that the public could see and a "long form," with more details, available only to the family of the deceased and state and federal agencies. The other bill would put death certificates of anyone under 18 off limits for six months after the person's death.

Both bills were motivated by the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook massacre and the desire to protect the families of victims. But neither is needed. Death certificates are not intrusive. Denying the public access to them will not assuage grief. And information gathered from these public records can serve an important public purpose such as helping to solve crimes or blunt epidemics.

As one of the few Democrats who got it right, Rep. Peter Tercyak told committee members who were about to vote on restricting access to death certificates, "This is dangerous stuff, folks — we shouldn't do it. This is not open government."

The third troubling bill that's just a step or two from being enacted would rip a huge hole in this state's landmark Freedom of Information Act.

Now, members of local or state boards must make decisions in public or formally vote to go into executive session and state the reasons why. The Democrats' proposal, however, would exclude from the open meetings requirements of the FOI Act "negotiations between members of different political parties who are in a leadership position, with respect to proposed legislation or a proposed action of the public agency to which such members belong, notwithstanding that such members also constitute a quorum."

This bill would let, for example, members of a town council or the state Board of Regents for Higher Education discuss public business and come to consensus behind closed doors.

Colleen Murphy, executive director of the FOI Commission, told members of the legislature's Government Administration and Elections Committee that under the bill, "an entire agency potentially could meet for any purpose without any notice or public viewing."

Nonetheless, every Democrat on the GAE committee voted to advance the bill. To their credit, the two ranking Republicans voted against it.

Democrats' War on Openness

The Democrats' war against open government began two years ago with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's reorganization campaign that led to enfeebling the watchdog agencies — such as the state Freedom of Information Commission, the Office of State Ethics and the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

The watchdogs stand guard over the public's interest in open, ethical government. But, shorn of staff and budget and placed under the control of a gubernatorial appointee in the Malloy reorganization, they are less able to perform as effective watchdogs now.

Two other examples just this year of the Democrats' tin ear on transparency issues:

In working with minority Republicans to pass anti-gun violence legislation, they established a deadly weapons offenders list. Good. But, unlike sex-offender registries, it is secret. Law enforcement can see it, but the public can't.

And there was no final public hearing on the state's gun control bill. There should have been.

How do such insults to good government happen?

It happens when a ruling party — in this case Connecticut's Democrats — gets too settled, too comfortable and finds it easy to stretch the boundaries too far.

Its priority becomes convenience for those who rule and to hell with the governed. It takes a "we know better than you" attitude.

It's bound to catch up with them.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant


NOTE:  Whenever any bill speaks of "concerning" we advise that you read that as "be concerned" and check the fine print!

At 87, Prague is named commissioner of aging
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
March 28, 2013

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Thursday named former state Sen. Edith Prague of Columbia as the commissioner of the new State Department on Aging, a rebuke to those who insist there are no second acts in American life -- never mind a third and a fourth. Prague is 87.  Prague returns to state government after stints as a state representative and state senator, divided by a tumultuous and ultimately unhappy tenure as the commissioner of aging under Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.  Weicker eventually eliminated the department, folding its functions into the Department of Social Services, earning him the everlasting enmity of Prague, who still grimaces at the mention of Weicker's name.

"We did not agree, and we fought bitterly," Prague said.

Malloy said the rationale for a stand-alone department was simple: Connecticut is aging. By 2030, more than 21 percent of the state's population is expected to be of retirement age.

"I believe Edith has the experience and expertise necessary to make an immediate impact and lead policy initiatives," Malloy said. "I have always admired Edith's tenacity and leadership."

She will be paid $120,000.  Prague, who did not seek re-election last fall for health reasons, said she called Malloy and sought the job, insisting that her health was better than when she departed the state Senate for the last time.

"That was then, this is now," she said. "I am healthier. I am drinking Boost every day, so I'll stay healthy."

Prague, was the oldest member of the General Assembly at her departure, leaving after a busy year in which she played a visible role in the abolition of the death penalty for future crimes and taking the lead on a bill that gives collective bargaining rights to certain home-care workers and daycare providers.

"I emotionally left here that night," Prague told The Mirror last year, referring to the collective bargaining bill. "All those workers were celebrating, cheering in the halls. It doesn't get better than that."

As the co-chairwoman of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, she led the six-hour debate. She stood exhausted that night, waiting for her ride by the main door to the Capitol, saying it was one of her proudest moments in the General Assembly.  Prague had a minor stroke on Christmas Day in 2011, but she bounced back. Her major concession was that she stopped driving to the Capitol from her home in eastern Connecticut, and she has missed some late night votes.  But her doctor bluntly warned her that the stress of working at the Capitol could be dangerous.

"My doctor looked me square in the face and said, 'The second time, you might not be so lucky,' " Prague said last year. "I don't want to go to my grandson's college graduation in a wheelchair."

So, what's changed?  Malloy interjected that his commissioners generally do not meet at 2:30 a.m., when the Senate routinely finishes its business late in the session.  Prague said running for re-election would have been stressful in a new district after redistricting.  She said she was up to the new job.

After the press conference, Prague smiled and offered another reason for her return: "I couldn't stay home."


Subpoenas Show Federal Probe At State Capitol Is Expanding 
Hartford Courant
12:04 a.m. EDT, March 16, 2013

A federal bribery and conspiracy investigation that grew out of efforts to kill a tobacco tax at the state legislature has widened in recent months to include how the state appropriated tens of millions of dollars through bonding.

The direction of the investigation is apparent in the language of subpoenas served by federal prosecutors in October and November of 2012 on employees of the state General Assembly. The subpoenas were obtained by The Courant Friday through a freedom of information request.

The subpoenas, issued by a federal grand jury, demanded documents and records, including email, in the possession of four current or former staff members at the House Democratic leadership office. The subpoenas also focused on two pieces of legislation introduced in the state Senate last year.

One of the bills imposed the tax on owners of retail tobacco businesses known as roll-your-own tobacco shops. The second authorized the appropriation of hundreds of millions of dollars through the issuance of state bonds for projects ranging from housing development to schools and community health centers.

The investigation became public last year when a half-dozen or so owners and employees of the tobacco businesses were charged with trying to kill the tax legislation by arranging to direct fraudulent campaign contributions to the congressional campaign for then-state House Speaker Christopher Donovan.

One of the health centers that received bonding money, Middletown-based Community Health Center Inc., issued the following statement late Friday night:

"It is a matter of public record that there is an [ongoing] inquiry by federal authorities into contributions to Chris Donovan's congressional campaign. Community Health Center, Inc. has, of course, cooperated and provided information as requested by the authorities. Due to the ongoing nature of this matter this is the only statement we will be giving."

Donovan lost a primary to Elizabeth Esty in the race for Congress after the investigation became public following the arrests of those associated with the tobacco businesses. Donovan, who is no longer in office, has denied any knowledge of the attempt to use his campaign staff to kill the legislation.

Both subpoenas were served on the joint committee for legislative management.

The October subpoena demands all email and attachments sent to or by Laura Jordan, who last year was a $150,000 a year attorney working for Donovan in his speaker's office. In addition, it demanded all documents and records in the custody of the speaker's office related to the tobacco tax or bonding legislation.

The second subpoena, served in November, demanded documents and records concerning the bills that were drafted by or in the custody of Cara Passaro, Gary Turco and Richard Baltimore. In 2012, the three worked for the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

The two bills are Substitute Senate Bill 25 and Substitute Senate Bill 357, both of which were introduced in the state legislature last year.

Substitute Bill 25 is bonding legislation that allocated tens of millions of dollars for projects running from municipal housing development to grants for museums.


Background report here:  http://www.courant.com/media/acrobat/2012-07/329807120-05083116.pdf

Lembo Will Call For More Transparency Over Tax Assistance Program
by Christine Stuart | Mar 11, 2013 5:30am

A bill that calls for greater transparency in how the state’s economic development dollars are spent will pit state Comptroller Kevin Lembo against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget office Monday at a public hearing on the bill.  The bill, according to Lembo, would establish at least three new mechanisms to improve transparency in state finances — starting with a publicly accessible online database for all state tax credit and economic assistance programs. It would also require regular “tax incidence analysis” reports to determine the distribution of the state’s tax burden, and it would improve public access to vital state financial documents.

Lembo doesn’t believe the disclosure of this information favors or disfavors any economic assistance program, “it would simply provide a vital mechanism to measure the success and value of these programs so that policymakers have the means to make informed investments.”

The idea was recommended back in September 2012 by a business tax policy task force created by Malloy at a time when the state’s deficit wasn’t in the billions.

According to written testimony submitted by Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes, the state doesn’t have the money to develop this type of reporting mechanism.

“Although many of the ideas expressed in this bill are laudable, there would be significant financial costs and staff time commitments in meeting several of the bill’s initiatives, specifically the searchable database for economic assistance programs and the tax incidence analysis report,” Barnes plans to tell the Finance Committee today. “Resources for these initiatives were not included in the governor’s proposed budget.”

Another portion of the bill would require the governor’s budget proposal to be available in an online searchable database.  Barnes said budget data is now available in a downloadable and searchable form by fund, agency, and appropriation. He said his office plans to continue to make budget information available in that format.  The Malloy administration also is pushing for less legislative oversight of its economic assistance program with another bill that would give the administration the freedom to offer incentive packages as large as $40 million.

The Hartford Business Journal reported last week that the Malloy administration wants to be able to dole out $40 million in urban and industrial site tax credits to a company without getting legislative approval. Meanwhile, the governor’s “Next Five” program, which gives out money to companies willing to create more than 200 jobs over a 10-year period, also has received a fair amount of criticism.

Lembo maintains it’s fair for taxpayers to know the following: Who is receiving the assistance? What type of assistance are they receiving? What is the value of the assistance provided? What is the purpose of the assistance? What are the anticipated results — jobs, investment and economic impact? What are the actual results?

“In this environment we must make every effort to ensure that the dollars we spend, or forego, in an effort to generate greater economic output are well spent,” Lembo says in his written testimony.

A 2011 report commissioned by the Working Families Party of Connecticut and compiled by a Washington nonprofit called Good Jobs First found that of the 70 companies that received assistance from Department of Economic and Community Development, 39 had fulfilled their job creation obligations. The other 31 had not.

Many of the tax breaks received by the companies could not even be reported since they are claimed on their income tax statements. The Department of Revenue Services claims it is unable to make available to the public any of the income tax statements in question.  Establishing a tax incident report to make sure taxes, which can sometimes be transferred from one entity to another, will help lawmakers understand who is bearing the burden of the tax.

“In many cases, the entity legally liable to pay the tax is not who actually bears the burden of the tax,” Lembo said. “For instance, a tax incidence analysis may show that a tax like the petroleum products gross receipts tax, which is paid by petroleum refiners and distributors . . . is actually transferred to consumers through increased prices on gas or other petroleum products.”

Or, he said, the state could find out the opposite is true and that it’s the big oil companies paying the tax.

“Such information would greatly impact policy decisions about whether to increase, decrease, retain, or eliminate the tax,” Lembo said.

In his testimony, Lembo said he wants Connecticut to become the fourth state to perform the analysis. Currently, Minnesota, Texas, and Maine issue these types of reports.

“Providing this information to the public will improve the state’s investment strategy,” Lembo said.“Programs that are working will have accessible data to reinforce their value and programs that don’t can be identified and the funds repurposed toward more productive uses.”

The Finance Committee hearing is at 10:30 a.m. today in room 2E of the Legislative Office Building.

Residents want local approval power over inmate nursing home
Grace Merritt, CT MIRROR
March 9, 2013

Feeling duped and fearful of the state's plan to move inmates and mentally ill patients into a former nursing home without zoning approval, Rocky Hill neighbors and town leaders testified Friday for a bill that would require local site approval. Lawmakers representing Rocky Hill proposed the bill to prevent the state from opening similar prison nursing homes in the future.

"I don't mean to make you scared, but beware: this is the first step of many more institutions like this," warned Sen. Paul R. Doyle, D-Rocky Hill, who proposed the bill with Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill.

The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Department of Corrections plan to place infirm inmates who are near parole and mentally ill patients from the Connecticut Valley Hospital in the 95-bed nursing home. The home is privately owned will be privately run by iCare Inc. of Manchester.  Neighbors are up in arms about the plan, saying it poses a safety threat, devalues property and circumvents the local zoning process. The town and neighbors have filed lawsuits to try to block the plan, but so far the judge has denied attempts to stop it.

Nicole Crawford, who lives with her husband and two children across the street from the nursing home on West Street, braved the snow storm to testify at the hearing, held at Wesleyan University. She said she is concerned that the nursing home will house criminals and mentally ill patients with a wide array of offences including violent felonies and sexual offenses. She is worried because there is no fence and security will be provided by unarmed, private guards.

"I would like to tell you what this proposed facility has done. This facility has brought fear anxiety and anger to my family and fellow residents," Crawford said, her voice shaking with emotion.

During the public health committee hearing, Patricia Rehmer, the Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner, said the facility is actually a nursing home and the patients all will have to meet strict standards for be eligible for admittance. She said there will be 10 mentally ill patients initially. None are considered dangerous.

"We will not take any individuals who exhibit any violent behaviors," Rehmer.

All have been diagnosed with dementia, she said, noting that the nursing home will have a locked unit for patients with dementia and behavioral health disorders.  These patients are currently housed at the Connecticut Valley Hospital because all of the other nursing homes in the state have refused to accept them because of their behavior historically, she said.  They do not need the acute care level provided by Connecticut Valley Hospital, which charges them $1,200 a day to stay there.

The state would save an estimated $5.5 million by moving the inmates from a state facility into private care because the federal government would then pay for half the cost through Medicaid.  Due to concerns raised by the neighbors, Rehmer said her department has worked with a forensic psychiatrist to develop an additional risk assessment tool to determine who can come to the nursing home. Not all the patients are at the end of their life and they need a range of nursing home care.

"People with psychiatric disabilities are really no more dangerous to the community than anybody else," she said.

She also explained that her department did not initially reveal to the town that the patients were mentally ill so as not to violate the HIPPA patient privacy law.  She also said the state has no plans to open similar nursing homes or assisted living facilities.  During the hearing Sen. Jason C. Welch, R-Bristol, expressed concerns about the plan and questioned Rehmer's insistence that the facility is only a nursing home.

"I gotta tell you it feels like it's not a nursing home," he said.

Committee Chairwoman Susan M. Johnson, D-Windham, raised concerns about whether the nursing home might not perhaps be able to fill all its beds in the future and regular patients might be placed there eventually, forced to take the first bed that opens up.  Michael Lawlor, the governor's criminal justice advisor, said prior to the hearing that the nursing home will have a security staff and a parole officer. He said the inmates there will be are eligible for release and will all be sick and debilitated.

"I'm sure once it's open and people see what's actually happening there, rather than what they envision will happen there, I'm sure there will be a lot less apprehension," Lawlor said.

Lembo Certifies $131.1M Budget Deficit
by Christine Stuart | Mar 1, 2013 11:30am

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo believes the state’s current budget deficit is bigger than both the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and the governor’s budget office.

On Friday, Lembo certified a $131.3 million deficit, which is about $9 million lower than the one he certified at the beginning of February.

Earlier this week the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis pegged this year’s deficit at $128 million and the governor’s Office of Policy and Management estimated that it was $55.7 million.

In Friday’s letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lembo said that he continues to agree with the revenue forecast, although the spending trend that he is using is about $75.6 million above estimates by the governor’s budget office. The primary difference falls within the Medicaid appropriations where caseloads continue to exceed expectations.

“The slow growth in the national economy has created increasing demand for state services while at the same time producing lower revenue collections,” Lembo wrote. “Traditionally, even after the national economy improves, there is a lag before the state budget realizes the full benefit of the general economic improvement.”

Lembo and Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes may not agree on the size of the deficit, but they agree on the importance of April.

“April is a significant month for income tax collections, and recent federal tax changes combined with favorable market performance could result in a shift of capital gains revenue from future years to the current budget year,” Lembo said. “This would improve the present budget forecast, so my office will continue to modify these projections based on actual experience.

Barnes noted that only about half of the income tax for the year has been collected to date, which makes April the most significant month for income tax collections. Barnes anticipated that Connecticut could do well in April.

“Changes in taxpayer behavior due to the federal fiscal cliff may result in potential one-time gains in those April collections,” he said in his Feb. 20 letter to Lembo.

But at the moment the economy continues to recover at a slower pace than originally forecast, Lembo said.

The state lost 1,800 jobs in December and the unemployment rate remains at 8.6 percent.

“Just under one quarter of the jobs lost to recession have been recovered to date,” Lembo said. “Connecticut’s unemployment rate remains historically high at 8.6 percent; the national rate was also disappointing at 7.9 percent in January.”

Malloy picks a peculiar enforcer for an imaginary 'right'
Publication: The Day
Chris Powell
Published 02/22/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 02/21/2013 05:25 PM

How typical that the opposition to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's nominee to become state government's victim advocate was based on what may have been his greatest qualification.  That is, the nominee, Garvin Ambrose, an assistant prosecutor and legislative liaison for the state's attorney's office in Cook County, Illinois, represented that office before the Illinois legislature in opposing a "victims' rights" amendment to the Illinois Constitution.

Ambrose was approved last week by the General Assembly's Legislative Nominations Committee, but four members of the Republican minority voted against him in part because of the amendment issue.

A "victims' rights"amendment was added to Connecticut' Constitution in 1996 but it was just phony posturing.  The amendment leaves "victim" to be defined by the legislature, perhaps because in the context of criminal justice the term is a misnomer to begin with. For in court nobody is a victim until a judgment is rendered; there are not victims but accusers. To designate a victim prior to a judgment is prejudicial and unconstitutional.

Then the amendment bestows certain rights on "victims" that everyone enjoys or are marginal or simply unenforceable:

• "The right to be treated with fairness and respect throughout the criminal justice process." Who doesn't have that right?
• "The right to timely disposition of the case following arrest of the accused, provided that no right of the accused is abridged." But "timely" isn't defined and there is no mechanism to hasten a case.
• "The right to be reasonably protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process." But judges already were ordering defendants to stay away from their accusers pending trial.
• "The right to notification of court proceedings."
• The right to object in court to a plea bargain and to make a statement at sentencing. This alone in the amendment means something but could have been established by ordinary statute.
• "The right to restitution which shall be enforceable in the same manner as any other cause of action or as otherwise provided by law" - that is, the right already enjoyed by all.
• "The right to information about the arrest, conviction, sentence, imprisonment, and release of the accused" - that is, the right already enjoyed by all under freedom-of-information law.

The amendment concludes with a clinker: Nothing in it "shall be construed as creating a basis for vacating a conviction or ground for appellate relief in any criminal case." That is, nothing in the amendment really counts.  If state government ever really wanted to help crime victims it could appropriate for more judges, prosecutors, and public defenders so courts would be prepared to bring defendants to trial with less discounting of sentences through plea bargaining.

State government could provide for more serious sentences by making more room in prisons, as by decriminalizing and medicalizing the drug problem so that prisons held only perpetrators of crime with victims. But that would cost money.

Pandering to crime victims with that trivial constitutional amendment cost nothing - except the constitution's humiliation.

Gov. Malloy nominated Ambrose to get rid of state Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz, an appointee of the previous administration who criticized the Malloy administration's program of early release for prisoners thought to have undergone extra rehabilitation. While it may be too early to evaluate the program against the prison system's longstanding recidivism rate of around 70 percent, whatever the program's results are, Ambrose may know better than to criticize it if he wants to qualify for a state pension.

Maybe the best that can be hoped about Ambrose is that he won't be quite the enemy of freedom of information that Cruz was when she advocated closing court records and proceedings to suit accusers. The serious part of Connecticut's Constitution requires open courts and so does justice.

Mayors Call Malloy Budget Dishonest, ‘Shell Game’
by Christine Stuart | Feb 15, 2013 1:27pm

“Shell game” and “dishonest” were the words a bipartisan group of mayors and first selectmen used Friday to described Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal, which they said shifts how the state funds municipalities.

Malloy’s budget shifts municipal funding to cover the state’s education obligation and changes another funding stream into a capital program. The move allows Malloy to boost education funding and allows him to argue he’s giving municipalities $45 million more than he did last year. But local leaders say the new spending comes with so many strings attached that it does the exact opposite of what the governor says it does.

Setting aside the elimination of the car tax, the changes will cause New Haven to lose $13.8 million,  New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, said at a Capitol press conference.

“Maybe it’s fair to ask cities and towns, and more importantly the families that live in them to do with less, but then let’s just be honest about it,” DeStefano said.

Malloy argues that he held cities and towns harmless in this budget and even gave them $45 million more than he did last year. He also brags that it’s more than any other governor has done during this economic recession.

But DeStefano said he rather Malloy say he was cutting cities and towns like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did.

“Let’s be honest about what’s happening here,” DeStefano said as Malloy’s Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian stood at the back of the room with his arms crossed and watched.

He said Malloy’s budget is a net revenue loss to his city. The result of which will inevitably be an increase in the property tax and municipal layoffs.

DeStefano said this past year he laid off custodians and the year before that he laid off police officers. Beyond that the city has made some hard choices in its bargaining unit agreements to the point where firefighters were lobbying the policemen not to accept their recent contract.

“We understand about tough budgets and so do our taxpayers,” DeStefano said.

Malloy’s budget, according to DeStefano, forces the city to spend money on equipment or infrastructure and not spend the money on keeping one of the most regressive taxes in the state down.

He said they all understand the state has a problem with the spending cap, which is why it made some of the municipal funding changes. But Malloy is already looking to redefine the spending cap. Asked if those revisions should be made to keep municipal funding level, DeStefano threw up his arms and shrugged.

Now that the budget is with the legislature that’s where municipal officials plan to go with their complaints about Malloy’s proposal.

Asked about their relationship with Malloy, the mayors said they had nothing personal against him and their complaints had nothing to do with personalities. Malloy used to be the president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities which sponsored the press conference when he was mayor of Stamford.

“I honestly believe that if Governor Malloy were still Mayor Malloy from Stamford he would be standing here with us today,” Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said.

So if a budget document is a statement about the state’s priorities then what does this budget document say about the direction of the state?

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said reading the budget would lead you to believe it’s about economic development and education, but in this case “ black is white, white is black. You’re looking through the looking glass.”

“Nothing is as it seems,” Boughton said.

“The better play the better agenda is to go out and to say ‘We have a problem here in the state of Connecticut. We haven’t made the necessary changes we thought we made, they just haven’t panned out,” Boughton said.

He said the governor should admit he didn’t get all the savings he needed from the contract he negotiated in 2011 with state employees.

But Malloy seems to believe towns need to be more efficient and tighten their own budgets.

“We are at the bone,” Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said.

He said police and fire positions were cut and the public works department was cut 40 percent since 2006, the year the state relinquished control of the Brass City.

“We have no where to cut except to layoff,” O’Leary, a Democrat, said. “This is what it’s going to boil down to: raise taxes and lay people off.”

At a press conference Thursday Malloy denied allegations that his budget broke campaign promises or engaged in the gimmicks municipal leaders and Republicans are accusing him of.

“I’ve had to make some really tough decisions as governor in the prior budget and in this biennium budget. They’re going to have to make some tough decisions. This process will work itself out,” Malloy said.

Malloy pushed back assertions his budget employed the same types of gimmicks he criticized as a candidate for governor.

“I think [the budget] is very much in keeping with those promises. I want to be very clear—a lot of hard choices had to be made in this budget and we made them,” he said. “... We set our priorities, we fund our priorities, and to compare this budget in any way to the budgets that came out of my predecessors is, quite frankly, to ignore reality.”

Asked if he thought the budget employed “gimmicks” or “shell games” as Republicans and municipal leaders have alleged, Malloy said they were wrong and it didn’t. He said that while the budget uses borrowing for investment purposes, the borrowing doesn’t extend into the second year of the budget.

Malloy will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. to address these issues in detail.

Mayors accuse Malloy of hiding cuts to cities
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
February 15, 2013
Connecticut's mayors launched a pointed attack today on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed budget, saying the former mayor of Stamford is hiding cuts to municipalities with elaborate shifts in state aid formulas.

With varying degrees of enthusiasm and a hint of trepidation, the bipartisan group accused Malloy of fiscal fraud, saying his budget's prose sets priorities of economic development and education, while his numbers undermine them.

"When you read the budget, it's completely different," Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said. "Black is white, white is black. You're looking through the looking glass. Nothing is as it seems."

It was a startling personal critique of Malloy's second proposed biennial budget and a rebuke by a constituency that Malloy protected at political risk in his first budget, when he raised taxes rather than cut municipal aid.

Malloy was to respond with a press conference later this afternoon.

The mayors' press conference was organized by the Connecticut Conference of Muncipalities, and it featured the mayors of Bridgeport, Danbury, New Haven, Norwalk and Waterbury and the first selectman of Somers.

"I honestly believe if Gov. Malloy was still Mayor Malloy, he'd be up there with us," Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said after the press conference.

Boughton and Moccia are Republicans, but Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Waterbury Mayor Neil O'Leary are Democrats. Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, a Democrat, was a no-show.

O'Leary supported Malloy, the first Democratic governor in 20 years, and still considers him an ally, but he complained the administration made no effort to consult with mayors before releasing the budget.

"We'd just like to have a voice at the table," O'Leary said.

O'Leary acknowledged a little nervousness after the press conference. The mayors are risking a deterioration in an important relationship, whose potential consequences were brought home by the glowering presence of Malloy's chief of staff, Mark Ojakian.

"That's why we've got to be together," Boughton said. "We have each other's back."

Finch and DeStefano were softer in their rhetoric, to a point. But they were unified in their basic complaint: Rather than admit his first budget didn't solve all the state's fiscal ills, he is obscuring cuts to cities and towns, while shifting other aid to education from operational budgets.

With his proposed formula changes, Malloy is attempting to force municipalities to spend more on education, since education aid comes with strings attached.

"You know us mayors, we can't stop being mayors," DeStefano said, shrugging. "We want to make decisions for everybody. That's actually a fault we have."

The political subtext was complicated. The mayors have all worked with Malloy, a past president of CCM, and more than one has clashed with him.

DeStefano and Malloy were rivals for the 2006 Democratic nomination for governor. Boughton was the GOP nominee for lieutentant governor in 2010, when Malloy was elected. DeStefano, Finch and Segarra all backed Ned Lamont, the loser in the 2010 Democratic primary.

But Malloy, who inherited a $3.6 billion deficit upon taking office in January 2011, was lavishly praised by Republican and Democratic mayors that year for taking the politically risky step of seeking a historic tax increase, allowing him to maintain state aid to municipalities.

This story will be updated...

Policies they didn't let previous administrations get away with...car above brings in local property tax on sale price of $40k - now the first $28k non-taxable?

GOP lawmakers: Budget plan breaks transportation promises
Neena Satija, CT MIRROR
February 6, 2013

Coming from a supposedly "pro-transportation" governor, the proposed budget of Dannel Malloy has a lot of transportation advocates confused.

"It's hard to follow the dollars here," Joe McGee, of the Business Council of Fairfield County, said Wednesday afternoon.

"I work with these numbers all the time. I know these budgets. And I'm confused. What am I missing?"

On the one hand, Malloy's budget calls for a $1.26 billion special transportation fund for the coming fiscal year. Transit advocates have also been heartened by the work on the Hartford-to-New-Britain busway and the New Haven-Springfield high-speed rail line.

On the other hand, transportation -- like all other state services -- faces steep cuts as the administration tries to claw its way out of a several-hundred-million-dollar budget hole. And though next year's proposed spending is about $42 million above current levels, it falls $90 million shy of the level needed to maintain current services, according to nonpartisan legislative analysts.

The special fund supporting Connecticut's highways, bridges and railways would be raided for non-transportation programs under Malloy's proposed budget, continuing a trend that began roughly a decade ago.

Two days earlier, Republican state Rep. Gail Lavielle of Wilton had suggested changing state law to convert the roughly $1.3 billion fund into a "lock box" that could not be used for other purposes.

"If you don't do something to make some structural changes to the budget to leave money to spend on transportation, I fear for the consequences," Lavielle said. "We have trains that are unsafe, we have bridges that are unsafe."

While campaigning for governor in 2009, Malloy promised to preserve the Special Transportation Fund. In 2011, he tried, shifting $30 million away from the general fund and into transportation.

But as state finances have fallen into deficit, things have swung the other way. About $70 million was taken from transportation and put into the general fund this year, and Malloy wants to take another $75 million next fiscal year.

"He has broken his promise regarding the transportation fund for the second budget in a row," one of Malloy's chief critics, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said Wednesday.

Car, bus commuters asked to give more

Malloy's budget also assumes a major increase in the wholesale tax on gasoline and other fuels signed into law in 2005 by Gov. M. Jodi Rell. As far as motorists are concerned, about 3.8 cents per gallon will be added to the price of gasoline starting July 1, and the state expects to collect an extra $32 million next fiscal year.

Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba responded to McKinney's charge Wednesday, saying, "Governor Malloy has proposed a robust investment agenda for our state's infrastructure projects, as inconvenient as that may be for the senator."

The transportation fund expects to close this year with a $159 million reserve that is projected to grow to $164 million next year.

"Most residents, at least those not running for governor, would think taking surplus funds and using them to address what would be painful cuts that would affect our most vulnerable, is just common sense," Doba said.

But those reserves apparently will not be used to offset other cuts that many say will hurt the state's poorest residents, as well as worsen its already crumbling infrastructure. Bus fares will jump under the proposal, and many commuters with disabilities will also be asked to pay more. The state's rail budget will be cut by $2 million, and expenditures on road maintenance for towns will be shifted to the state's credit card.

"Those have consequences," said Steve Higashide, of the advocacy group Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "It feels like few areas were spared in this budget, and transportation wasn't spared either."

Lavielle was also concerned that the rise in fares for bus riders and riders with disabilities were going toward filling in the state deficit, rather than improving the transportation system. She has proposed separate legislation that would prevent this.

"If you are collecting money off rail and bus fares, that money should be used for rail and for buses," she said. In recent years, the legislature has also raised fares for Metro-North riders, with the increase in revenue going toward the state's general fund rather than the rail system.

Ben Barnes, secretary of the state's Office of Policy and Management, said it was incorrect to assume that increases in bus fare would go toward services other than transportation. But nowhere in the proposed budget is that made clear.

"Is the money raised for transportation staying with transportation, or is it being used to cover part of the deficit? It's unclear to me," said McGee of the Business Council of Fairfield County.

A ride on the public bus costs $1.25 right now. Under Malloy's plan, it'll go up to $1.50 in 2014 and raise $4 million next year. For riders with disabilities that prevent them from riding regular public transit, they'll have to pay 4 percent more to ride what are known as paratransit vans provided for them under federal law.

Advocates say the fare increases will impact commuters who are already suffering.

McGee credited Malloy for continuing to focus some investment in transportation, but he questioned whether Connecticut has an overall comprehensive plan.

"We know he's committed to transportation. But it's confusing," McGee said. "[W]e are not clear exactly on what his intentions are."

Municipalities balk at revenue loss from proposed car tax relief
The Day
By Joe Wojtas and Claire Bessette
Published 02/07/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 02/06/2013 11:50 PM

When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday proposed the elimination of the car tax that towns collect each year on vehicles valued at less than $28,500, he said it would provide tax relief for the "middle class, working class and the working poor" in addition to businesses.

But that's not true, according to municipal officials in the region.

That's because while car owners likely will rejoice over the prospect of not having to shell out several hundred dollars a year in taxes, municipal leaders said their communities stand to lose a large amount of badly needed revenue. To make it up, they said, they would have to raise property taxes.

In Stonington, where someone with a car valued at $28,000 would save $318 a year in taxes, Director of Finance Maryanna Stevens said the town would lose $1,991,000 of the $2,065,000 it collects in car taxes. That would result in a tax increase of two-thirds of a mill.

"This is astonishing," Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek said. "This is really handcuffing our ability to raise revenue."

If the state does not make up the shortfall in some other way, Haberek said, the town would be forced to raise the property tax rate on homes and businesses as a way to make up the loss.

"I don't see how this can fly. From what I've seen, there's no money to make it up," he said.

In North Stonington, which would lose several hundred thousand dollars, First Selectman Nicholas Mullane agreed.

"It pretty much would be a disaster for the town," he said. "You can't just take something away from the towns and say, 'That's a good thing.' How do we recover that unless there's some other type of tax relief. If we want to continue to provide the same level of services, we have to make it up, and there goes property taxes."

Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger said he failed to see the logic in the governor's plan because the loss of revenue would force an increase in property taxes. Although he did not have an estimate of lost revenue, Oefinger said the town has $192 million in vehicle assessments.

In Preston, where motor vehicle values totaled $36 million in the 2011 grand list, First Selectman Robert Congdon also said eliminating most of the town's car tax revenue would cause a direct increase in real estate property taxes.

The situation could be even worse in Norwich, where the city would lose most of its motor vehicle tax revenue, finance department officials said.

Comptroller Joseph Ruffo estimated the city would lose about $5 million, dropping from the current $5.2 million to $274,000. To make that up would require a 2.2 mill tax increase, based on the current tax rate. Ruffo said that would mean an 8 percent tax increase on real estate and personal property, hitting the city's businesses and homeowners.

"We're trying to create some economic development, and we suddenly have an 8 percent increase in any person that's left with real estate and personal property taxes," Ruffo said.

City Manager Alan Bergren said there could be an additional unintended consequence for new car dealerships throughout the region, because Malloy's measure could discourage people from buying new cars that cost more than $28,500.

"It's kind of an incentive for you not to buy a new car," he said.

In his budget address Wednesday, Malloy said municipalities could implement the proposal on July 1, but would be required to do so on July 1, 2014.

During questioning by reporters Wednesday, Benjamin Barnes, the governor's budget chief, said the state did not plan to reimburse the towns and cities for the lost revenue but expected they could make it up through other types of tax revenue, such as real estate.

Malloy's plan, which is part of his budget bill that now must be reviewed and approved by the General Assembly, would cover both private and commercial vehicles.

It applies to the first $20,000 assessment of a vehicle, or 70 percent of the market value. Owners of more expensive vehicles would not pay taxes on the first $20,000 of the assessment.

Malloy said the proposal would lower costs to municipalities, which would no longer be responsible for collecting the tax.

"The families and the businesses of Connecticut have enough on their shoulders," Malloy said. "This budget asks no more of them. In fact, I'm proposing we give them some much-deserved help. … These changes won't solve all of a working family's problems. But, as we continue the hard work of reforming our state finances and of growing jobs, they can still mean something to families working hard to make ends meet. Let's make it happen."

State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said the legislature has tried to get rid of the car tax for years because vehicle owners do not like it and feel it is inequitable. Owners of the same car pay a different amount depending on where they live.

But Urban said she does not see where towns would be able to make up the lost revenue from Malloy's plan.

"I don't see where he's making this up. My suspicion is that he's not," said Urban who is a member of the legislature's Appropriations Committee, which will not review the budget bill.

Malloy pushes $41B budget
Ken Dixon, CT POST
Updated 1:05 pm, Wednesday, February 6, 2013

HARTFORD -- Gov. Dannel P. Malloy this afternoon asked the General Assembly to reconfigure the state's constitutional cap on spending, extend some taxes scheduled to end this summer and prolong borrowing to support a two-year $43.8-billion budget.

In a 38-minute noontime address to a joint session of the House and Senate, Malloy asked for further investments in education, workforce development and attracting new jobs to a state where the recession continues to linger.

It would keep the state "on the steady path to progress," he said.

He offered to end local property taxes for commercial and private vehicles, saving families a total of $560 million a year.

"Ten years ago, a state Blue Ribbon Commission found that Connecticut's motor vehicle property tax was `especially unfair,'" Malloy said.

"The reason was that residents in different communities pay very different amounts on the same property value," he said. "It encourages people to register their cars in lower-tax rate towns or even out-of-state, leaving the rest of us to foot the bill. Meanwhile, our towns and cities are spending too much time and too much money to collect a very small portion of their tax bill."

He said his proposal deals with a multi-billion deficit and is balanced without new taxes. Current spending would be reduced by $1.8 billion over the biennium.

"Connecticut families have had to buckle down, make tough decisions, pay their bills, make sacrifices and find compromise, and at the same time keep doing whatever they can to invest in their future," Malloy said. "And so must their government."

This is tax relief for families who are middle class, working class and working poor. It gives a break to businesses -- especially small businesses, and it takes an administrative burden off local governments."

He asked lawmakers to change the way revenue from the two Indian casinos are divided among towns and cities, proposing a 9.7-percent increase in spending over the two-year spending plan.

The next fiscal year starts July 1. The legislative session ends at midnight June 6.

Budget Deficit Grows To $140M
by Christine Stuart | Feb 1, 2013 10:48am

Five days before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will unveil a budget for the next two fiscal years to close a $2.2 billion deficit, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo warned that this year’s deficit is still $140 million in the red.

In his monthly report to Malloy, Lembo said revenues have eroded since December and state spending is about $75.6 million above what the Office of Policy and Management reported two weeks ago.

That’s in spite of the $365 million deficit mitigation plan lawmakers passed last month in an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging. The $140 million deficit doesn’t automatically trigger another deficit mitigation plan because it’s about $51 million shy of the $191 trigger, which is equal to one percent of the total state budget.

“The slow growth in the national economy has created increasing demand for state services while at the same time producing lower revenue collections,” Lembo said. “Traditionally, even after the national economy improves, there is a lag before the state budget realizes the full benefit of the general economic improvement.”

However, Lembo said there is still an opportunity for the current budget year to recover, and he agrees with the Office of Policy and Management’s note that less than half of projected general fund revenue for 2013 was collected as of December.

“April is a significant month for income tax collections,” Lembo said. “Recent federal tax changes combined with favorable market performance could result in a shift of capital gains revenue from future years to the current budget year. This would improve the budget forecast, so we will continue to modify our projections based on actual experience.”

The letter doesn’t mention the hiring freeze Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes instituted on Jan. 22. After predicting a decline in revenue, including a $116 million decline in sales tax revenue, Barnes told state agency commissioners to halt all hiring.

“Agencies should make every effort to organize work in a manner that obviates the need for hiring during the remainder of the fiscal year,” Barnes wrote. “Effective immediately, only requests to fill critical vacancies will be considered. In no case will hiring be approved which would result in an increase in the number of filled positions beyond the currently filled level; requests to fill positions will only be considered as new vacancies occur.”

Pointing to economic indicators, Lembo said the economy continues to recover at a slower pace than the original budget had forecast. The state lost 1,800 jobs in December. With the December data included, overall job growth turned negative with 100 payroll positions lost in 2012. Just under one quarter of the jobs lost to recession have been recovered to date.

Connecticut’s unemployment rate remains historically high at 8.6 percent; the national rate is also disappointing at 7.8 percent. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, personal income growth in Connecticut decelerated in the second half of 2012. Connecticut’s personal income in the third quarter of 2012 advanced at a rate of 0.3 percent ranking the state 44th nationally.

Regardless of the challenges, Malloy’s Undersecretary at the Office of Policy and Management Gian-Carl Casa said “We will not end the year with a deficit.”

On the bright side, housing sales in Connecticut have continued to post strong gains, but prices have been depressed.

Lembo Spies $40M In Red Ink
by Hugh McQuaid | Jan 2, 2013 1:21pm

Despite the legislature’s best bipartisan effort to reduce the state budget deficit, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo told Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday that the state still has a little further to go.

In his monthly letter to Malloy, Lembo projected the state will end the fiscal year in June with a $40 million deficit.

In December, Malloy’s budget office disagreed with Lembo on the size of the projected deficit. Malloy and the legislature worked to close a $365-million shortfall. Meanwhile, Lembo predicted the deficit would be closer to $415 million.

The difference in the deficit numbers was attributed entirely to higher spending projections...

How's that again?
Malloy picks Chicago prosecutor for victim advocate

Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
February 1, 2013

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today intends to nominate a Chicago prosecutor as the state victim's advocate, ending speculation over whether Michelle Cruz would win a new term after months of tension between her and the Malloy administration.  According to a source informed of the governor's choice, Malloy intends to name Garvin Ambrose, the executive assistant state's attorney and legislative liaison for the Cook County state's attorney.  Ambrose was the unanimous top choice of an advisory committee that interviewed candidates in December, the source said. Under state law, the committee had to give the governor a list of at least five finalists.

Cruz, an appointee of former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, had a rocky relationship with the Malloy administration and some victims' groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  Her term expired in April, but she remains in the post until a successor is nominated and confirmed by the General Assembly.  She was a critic of a risk reduction credit program endorsed by the Democratic administration and criticized by Republicans. The program can reduce prison sentences.

Cruz had conflicts with a previous advisory committee, which had oversight authority over her office. An Associated Press story last year reported that she was criticized by the committee as "antagonistic" and "combative."

"I've never been reprimanded for my performance by either administration," she told The Litchfield County Times last fall after a speech in Torrington, where she seemed to be campaigning for her job.

In 2011, a provision attached to a budget implementation bill reconstituted the committee and stripped the panel of that role, leaving it with the sole job of screening candidates for the advocate's job.

The change forced the departure of members of victims' groups, such as Janice Heggie Margolis, the executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  Margolis said today the oversight panel had conflicts with Cruz, but she declined further comment.  Cruz was not immediately available for comment.

Ambrose, who has been a prosecutor in Chicago since 2005, sought a job in Connecticut to join his wife, who works at the University of Connecticut.  According to a resume he posted on online as he sought a job in Connecticut, his assignments included everything from juvenile to organized crime cases.  For the past four years, he has worked on public policy, acting as liaison to the state legislature, frequently testifying before lawmakers.

According to the minutes of the advisory committee, the panel interviewed 10 applicants on Dec. 12. The only one of the five members absent was Cathy Malloy, the governor's wife. The former director of a rape crisis center, she had been appointed by then-House Speaker Christopher Donovan.

The panel was composed of appointees by the governor and legislative leaders from both parties.

Report that new Speaker, the champion of regionalism, plans to get back into it...

Speaker Focuses On Property Taxes, Malloy Looks For Efficiencies
by Christine Stuart | Jan 24, 2013 1:00pm

Before the recession began back in 2008, a movement to reform the state’s dependence on the property tax to fund education and other local services was beginning to pick up steam, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey reminded a group of advocates.

He said when former Gov. M. Jodi Rell was still in office there was “outright rebellion” brewing over the property tax before the markets crashed. He predicted that “once that world crisis and national crisis abets, the property tax will be the crisis once again.”

“I believe there’s a drag on the economy based on the fact that we rely so heavily on the property tax,” Sharkey said Thursday at a Capitol budget forum sponsored by CT Voices for Children.

In order to relieve some of that burden, Sharkey has been a long time proponent of regional cooperation. He even chaired a committee which help create and fund through the state budget a program to incentivize cities and towns to work collectively to create efficiencies and lower the cost of delivering services.

But with the state facing a $2.2 billion budget deficit over the next two years, Sharkey admitted there may not be many incentives for that type of cooperation in the future.

“We’re going to need cities and towns to step up and start doing the things we’ve been talking about,” Sharkey said.

He said cities and towns could save millions of dollars if they could regionalize contracts for school buses. The problem is not every city or town uses the same school calendar.

“Why can’t we create regional school calendars?” Sharkey said. The move toward a regional calendar wouldn’t cost any money, but could potentially save the school district millions because it could potentially reduce the size of its transportation budget.

Fred Carstensen, an economist at the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, told Sharkey everything he said sounds great, but at the end of the day the state still has a revenue problem.

He said if the state decides to cuts $2.5 to $3 billion to balance the state budget with no new revenue increases then “you’re talking about losing 30,000 to 35,000 jobs.”

Even worse, “you’re talking probably the state of Connecticut going into an official recession,” Carstensen told Sharkey. “How are you going to accomplish any of this?”

Carstensen said the state has a poor revenue structure from the property tax to the “insanely complex and inefficient sales tax system.” He said he sees no initiative to do a systematic look at how the state generates revenues and the problems that revenue system currently creates for the state.

“I think we have to have a better than a ‘let’s stab at this’ and ‘let’s try that’ approach to how we do taxes in this state,” Sharkey said.

He agreed the state needs to take a look at its tax structure in order to sustain the services it wants to maintain. At least one member of the audience suggested raising corporation taxes.  CT Voices for Children has published policy papers that argue Connecticut has a revenue problem, not a spending problem like the state’s largest business lobby opined in its recent report.

“Before the recession, state taxes held steady for almost two decades as a share of personal income, and spending had held steady as well,” the report says. “What changed in 2008 and 2009 were revenues: they fell through the floor, by billions of dollars per year.”

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said the state is receiving a couple billion dollars in new revenues from the tax increase Gov. Dannel P. Malloy implemented two years ago. The problem is they’re just not meeting the estimated targets set in the budget based on historical economic recovery.

“The economy is growing again, but not nearly as much as we expected,” Barnes said.

That means that revenues remain static at a time when an increased number of people in the state need or are eligible for state services.  Barnes is close to sending Malloy’s next budget to the printer, and was purposefully evasive about what exactly it entails.  Malloy too was coy about the state budget, but he reiterated that “it’s not our intention to raise taxes in this budget.”

He said they already raised taxes once when faced with a budget hole that represented about 17 percent of the state’s revenue. But he said they certainly put in place revenue tools that will produce additional dollars when the economy turns around.  While it seems Malloy is leaning toward cutting his way out of the 2013 deficit, he did promise to preserve the sweeping education reforms implemented last year.

“Education is one of those things that is extremely important to me. I’m going to stand by our commitments on the education front,” Malloy told the group.

He said he will strive to find efficiencies in state government to preserve the initiatives he implemented from education to economic development. Many of which have to be looked at on a long term basis as investments.

“Tough economic times, slow growth economic times, a need to provide an appropriate and respectful level of services, and continue the process of doing that less expensively,” Malloy said summing up the budget he will unveil Feb. 6.

How about equality for feliness - cat tax next?

CT Dog Ownership Ranks 49th in the USA; More Cats than Dogs in State

By CT ByTheNumbers.info
On 01/17/2013 · In Demographics

Cats – not dogs – are reigning in Connecticut.  The state ranks a lowly 49th in dog ownership and 23rd in cat ownership, according to a new survey. The data revealed that 28.3 percent of households in the state own a dog, 31.9 percent own a cat, and 54.4 percent own a pet, slightly below the national average.

The state is middle-of-the-pack for overall pet ownership – ranking 34th in the country, as reflected in newly released statistics from The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in its U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook.  The survey indicated that 379,000 Connecticut households own at least one dog, while 427,000 own at least one cat.   The number of cats in Connecticut exceed the number of dogs by 289,000 (796,000 to 507,000).

The survey is conducted by the AVMA every five years and includes a breakdown of pet ownership by state. The most recent survey, conducted in 2012 based on December 31, 2011 numbers, indicates that nationally between 2006 and 2011:

    the percentage of households that made no trips at all to the veterinarian increased by 8 percent for dog owners and a staggering 24 percent for cat owners. pet book
    about 81 percent of dog owning households made at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2011, down 1.7 percent from 2006.
    the decrease for cat owners was, once again, much higher, as only 55.1 percent of cat owners made at least one visit to the veterinarian in 2011, down 13.5 percent from 2006.

Connecticut’s dog ownership levels lagged in the 2006 survey was well, when the state ranked 47th.  The only state to rank in the top ten for cats and dogs in the latest survey was West Virginia, which ranked #5 in dogs and #6 in cat ownership.  The number one state for pet ownership, Vermont, also led the way in cat ownership.  Nearly half the households in the state – 49.5 percent – own a cat, according to the survey.  Vermont is the only state to exceed 70 percent in overall pet ownership, with 70.8 percent.

National statistics reflect the affection for, and costs of, having a pet:

    Six out-of-ten pet owners, or 63.2 percent, considered their pets to be family members.
    There are approximately 70 million pet dogs in the U.S. and 74.1 million pet cats.
    The average veterinary expenditure per household for all pets was $375 (for 2011).

When it comes to veterinary visits, cats are feeling the pinch of the nation’s economic downturn. Although 75 percent of cat owners believe check-ups are important, the number of households taking their cat to the veterinarian just once a year has dropped 13.5% in the past five years.  Of those surveyed, 22 percent said they didn’t take their cat to the vet because they couldn’t afford to do so.  Close to 30 percent of dog owners who didn’t take their dog to the vet in 2011 cited the same reason.

For more information about the AVMA or to obtain a copy of the U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, visit www.avma.org.

Felled by Sandy; and frozen, heavy limbs from 2011 October storm...Cartbridge done (r.) -  any other Weston bridges due?

CL&P to be strengthening electrical system in state
Associated Press
Jan. 16, 2013

NEW BRITAIN -- Connecticut regulators on Wednesday approved a $300 million plan by the state's biggest utility to strengthen its electrical system to help avoid extended storm-related power outages.

The five-year "System Resiliency Plan" proposed by Connecticut Light & Power focuses on three initiatives: tree trimming, use of coated, thicker-gauge wire, and strengthening utility poles, cross-arms and other equipment.

Bill Quinlan, a senior vice president at the subsidiary of Northeast Utilities, said the work will improve the system's day-to-day reliability and make it less vulnerable to outages in extreme weather.  More than half of the $300 million will be used for trimming trees, which are the cause of most outages with falling branches pulling down wires and poles.  Beginning next year, CL&P will install thicker wire that has a protective coating, known as "tree wire," that can better resist damage from falling branches or trees.  The work will involve replacing and refurbishing utility poles and cross-arms to tolerate storm damage and reduce power outages.

Critics faulted CL&P for slow response after two major storms in 2011 -- Hurricane Irene, which arrived as a tropical storm, and a destructive early-season snowstorm in October.

Superstorm Sandy pounded the Northeast last October. Power was out for days after the freak autumn snowstorm.  Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, said state officials established conditions as part of Connecticut's approval of Northeast Utilities' $5 billion purchase last year of Boston-based NStar.

One condition required CL&P to submit for state approval a plan to improve the resilience of the grid, he said.

Regulatory approval and the utility's plan move Connecticut "a step closer to a strong and sustained effort to help make it more certain that the lights stay on when bad storms hit," Schain said.

Malloy Floats Funding Idea For Local Road & Bridge Repair

by Christine Stuart | Jan 17, 2013 5:30am

He might not have been able to tell cities and towns they will receive the same amount of money they received last year from the state, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy did offer them some relief from the “red tape” of federal transportation funds.

Part of the budget Malloy will release on Feb. 6 will include $15 million to establish a local transportation program to facilitate the design and construction of municipal roads and bridges.

“I’m going to embarrass myself by saying I don’t know why I didn’t do this two years ago,” Malloy told local elected officials at the Council of Small Towns meeting Wednesday.

Under Malloy’s first proposal, the state would provide the money to the cities and towns and then seek reimbursement from the federal Department of Transportation. He said the state is better structured to carry out the federal programs, while many local governments are not.

The second part of the proposal is aimed at improving the local bridge program to encourage participation and reduce the number of deficient municipal bridges.

According to the Department of Transportation, there are more than 3,400 bridges and culverts on municipally maintained roads. The program was first offered in 1985, but by 2009 the legislature swept the remaining funds to help balance the state budget deficit.

Malloy wants to borrow $15 million toward the bridge program and extend the deadline for submitting applications. There is no federal funding available for the bridge program, but under the current guidelines municipalities may receive up to 33 percent of the eligible project cost. The state also provides local governments the option to borrow up to 50 percent of the project cost at 6 percent interest.

“Not exactly Santa Claus, but it’s a start,” Malloy told local leaders.

The legislature will need to approve the measure, which was received warmly by the local elected officials in attendance.

Read his lips department...  
Will “Sunset” Taxes Remain In Gov. Dannel Malloy’s Budget Next Month?
Hartford Courant
By Christopher Keating On January 25, 2013 ·

For months, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he has no intention of raising taxes.

The definition of tax increases came up Friday during a press conference following the State Bond Commission meeting. When is a tax increase not a tax increase?

One of the questions heading into the unveiling of the new state budget next month is whether tax increases that are scheduled to “sunset’’ will actually remain in effect. Malloy said Friday that he does not consider it a tax increase if those scheduled-to-expire tax increases actually remain in effect in 2013 and beyond.

“What I’ve said is I don’t plan on raising taxes,’’ Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol complex. “It doesn’t mean that every tax that would otherwise expire will expire.’’

Malloy gave few details about what actually will be contained in the annual budget, which will be more than $20 billion.

“I don’t have the budget for you today and won’t have the budget for you for a number of days,’’ Malloy said. “The reality is is I was asked a question whether I considered keeping current taxes raising taxes, and the mere fact that current taxes was included in the question means that no, I don’t.’’

“I’m sorry. I’m a little confused now,’’ said veteran Waterbury newspaper reporter Paul Hughes. “What is your position? That if there’s a tax that is scheduled to sunset could very well be extended, and you would not consider that a tax increase?’’

“I would not consider continuing existing taxes as raising taxes,’’ Malloy responded.

“So, you’re considering that possibility?’’ Hughes asked.

“I’m not eliminating that possibility,’’ Malloy responded.

Malloy added, “Listen, we’re not done with the budget. When we’re done with the budget, we’ll let you know. … We don’t have a budget yet. … I’m not really being rude or mean. There are still decisions to be made, and so let’s put it this way. We have a spending cap issue, and we effectively have a revenue issue. Those two things will drive the creation of the budget. OK?’’

CT Overbilled The Feds
by Christine Stuart | Jan 15, 2013 5:30am

State auditors wrote Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Monday to tell him they discovered that the state overbilled $3.4 million in Medicaid claims to the federal government.

The auditors initially reviewed 25 claims totaling $257,280 and found one for $1,920 for a patient who had already been discharged from the Department of Children and Families’ Albert J. Solnit Psychiatric Center in East Windsor. An additional 17 monthly claims totaling $145,920 were filed on behalf of another patient, also already discharged.

So the state auditors decided to dig a little deeper and tested 20 more claims involving eight patients totaling $1,086,980. The auditors found dates of service that fell outside the patient’s admission and discharge dates in that group of claims.

The Department of Administrative Services, which acts as the billing agent for the state, got involved as well and concurred with the findings of the auditors.

DAS identified an additional 55 monthly claims totaling $2.19 million that required adjustments. Some of those claims were outside the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012. During the investigation, DAS discovered the state continued to bill the federal government for at least one patient who was discharged from the facility in 2005. The billing for the services continued from January 2006 through January 2009 for that patient.

Since the state receives at least 50 percent reimbursement for the Medicaid claims, the federal government now has a credit of about $1.7 million against future Medicaid claims, DAS spokesman Jeffrey Beckham said Monday.

The computer system continued to bill the federal government until a discharge date was manually entered into the system.

“We have put in place a new review system to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future,” Beckham said.

State Auditors John Geragosian and Robert Ward discovered the problem during the course of their regular audit schedule.

DCF’s Albert J. Solnit Psychiatric Center, which was previously known as the Children’s Center, provides services to Medicaid-eligible children and adolescents consisting of comprehensive care to youth with severe mental illness and related behavioral and emotional problems.

It’s the second time in recent weeks that the Department of Children and Families has been cited for overbilling the federal government.

On Dec. 17, the Office of Inspector General found that the agency billed about $1.3 million more than it should have for training its employees. Of the $6.38 million that the state claimed for Title IV-E training costs, only $5.1 million complied with federal requirements.

One year later, towns not shielded from budget cuts
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and Keith M. Phaneuf
January 16, 2013

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey gave town leaders reason to believe Thursday that cuts in state funding are headed their way.

"There will be some pain going around," the Democratic governor told small town leaders at a conference in Cromwell Wednesday.

"It is probably unlikely that we are going to be able to hold cities and towns harmless," Sharkey, D-Hamden, also told the crowd.

Municipal leaders are facing a different reality this year. Their funding was shielded from cuts for the last two years as the state closed a large budget deficit. In fact, the current biennial budget modestly increased town aid by giving town leaders a share of sales and real estate conveyance tax revenue worth about $50 million annually starting in 2011-12. It also increased education funding for towns in 2012-13 by $50 million.

Not likely this time around.

As Sharkey pointed out, there are few options left to close the $1 billion projected deficit for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.

"Cutting municipal aid and driving the property taxes up is not necessarily the solution, but I also think that we are running out of bullets" to close budget gaps, Sharkey said.

Twenty-two percent of the current $20.5 billion state budget is spent on cities and towns. That includes about $3.5 billion in grants, and just over $930 million in payments into the teachers' pension program.

The Republican minority leaders agreed there are few options left but to reduce the state budget, pointing out that tax increases have to be off the table in light of the historic tax increases implemented two years ago. And on top of that, the state employee union contract guarantees wage increases and no layoffs for the state unionized workforce.

"Many of the tools that we had in our toolbox two years ago have been removed," said House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk.

Malloy, the mayor of Stamford for 14 years before becoming the governor, promised during his campaign and during his first year in office not to balance the state's gapping budget deficit on the back of municipalities.

But that tone changed slightly on Wednesday, as he mentioned a possible reduction to state aid.

"I am going to do everything in my power to spare or hold as small as possible any reductions" to municipal aid, he told reporters after speaking to a roomful of leaders. He said his budget will be finished in 10 days. He is scheduled to propose it to the legislature the first week of February.

Sharkey also pitched to the audience a possible change in state law that could help. The change would allow school boards to levy taxes separately from municipal town boards. Currently, a town's education budget is a line item in a much larger municipal budget.

Sharkey said this system lacks the proper accountability and sometimes necessary dedication to school spending.

"The people spending that money are not directly held accountable to the taxpayer," he said. "Education systems in the state are probably really where the greatest level of savings can be achieved."

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo also told the audience that this might be the year that lawmakers make changes to an existing state law that limits municipal leaders from asking employees to contribute more to cover retirement and healthcare costs.

"There seems to be a willingness on behalf of both labor and legislators to talk about change there," he said.

Last year, a bill that would have increased an employee's share of pension contributions failed to gain traction. Under the proposal, municipal employees covered by Social Security would have to contribute 5 percent of their salary to cover their future pension costs instead of the current 2.25 percent. For workers not covered by Social Security, they would have to increase their contribution from 5 percent to 7.75 percent over three years. These changes would have saved towns $5.3 million a year when fully implemented.

Malloy said he has not yet made a decision on whether he supports allowing towns to tinker with what they require their employees to contribute to cover their health and pension liabilities.

House Democrats name nine new co-chairs
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
December 28, 2012

The House Democratic majority announced nine new committee co-chairs Friday night as J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden prepares to succeed Chris Donovan as speaker of the House next month.

Four of the joint House-Senate committees - Energy and Technology, Government Administration and Elections, Human Services and Labor - will have two new House and Senate co-chairs. The Senate leaders were announced Monday.

The authority to name new co-chairs belongs to Sharkey, who is now holds the number two post of House majority leader. With the backing of the majority, he will be elected speaker on Jan. 9, the first day of the 2013 session.

Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin already has been chosen by the Democratic majority to succeed Sharkey as majority leader.

The new assignments were released without comment by the leadership, as was the case with the Senate.

Chris Perone of Norwalk succeeds Jeff Berger as co-chair of the Commerce Committee. Berger, a runner-up in the race for majority leader, becomes one of seven deputy speakers.

Lonnie Reed of Branford is the new co-chair of Energy and Technology, succeeding Vickie Nardello, who lost her re-election campaign.

Linda Gentile of Ansonia is the new co-chair of the Environment, succeeding Richard Roy, who did not seek re-election.

David Baram of Bloomfield is the new co-chair of General Law, succeeding Joseph Taborsak, who did not seek re-election.

Ed Jutila of East Lyme is the new co-chair of Government Administration and Elections, succeeding Russell Morin, who is becoming a deputy majority leader.

Peter Tercyak of New Britain is the new co-chair of Labor and Public Employees, succeeding Zeke Zalaski, who did not seek re-election.

Cathy Abercrombie of Meriden is the new co-chair of Human Services, succeeding Tercyak.

Jason Rojas of East Hartford is the new co-chair of Planning and Development, succeeding Gentile.

Susan Johnson of Willimantic is the new co-chair of Public Health, succeeding Betsy Ritter, who becomes a deputy speaker.

Elissa Wright of Groton is the new ranking member of Regulations Review.

Senate Democrats name 10 new committee chairs
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
December 24, 2012

Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, will take over the co-chairmanship of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee in January, one of 10 committee leadership changes announced Monday by the state Senate Democratic majority.

The joint House-Senate committees on Aging, Banks, Children, Energy, Finance, Government Administration and Elections, Housing, Human Services, Labor, and Regulations Review all will have new co-chairs.

Fonfara succeeds Eileen Daily, who did not seek re-election. He is now the vice chairman of the committee, which oversees tax laws. Andrea Stillman of New London will oversee the bonding subcommittee, while Gary LeBeau of East Hartford will handle the transportation bonding subcommittee.

Andres Ayala of Bridgeport, one of three incoming freshmen Democrats, will oversee two committees, Aging and Regulations Review. He is now a House member serving on Regulations Review.

Dante Bartolomeo of Meriden, another newcomer, will co-chair the committees on Housing and Children. At Housing, she will succeed Edwin Gomes of Bridgeport, who did not re-election.

The other freshman, Cathy Osten of Sprague, a former union leader, will take over the Labor and Public Employees Committee, succeeding Edith Prague of Columbia, who did not seek re-election.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg of Milford will leave the Government Administration and Elections Committee, which handles the politically sensitive issues of campaign finance and elections law, for Human Services.

Slossberg, who could not be reached for comment Monday, had clashed with the Malloy Administration over what she saw as efforts to weaken campaign finance reforms.

The other new co-chairmanship assignments:

* Bob Duff of Norwalk, the Energy and Public Technology committee, succeeding Fonfara.

* Carlo Leone of Stamford, the committees on Banks, succeeding Duff. He also will remain co-chairman of Veterans Affairs.

* Anthony Musto of Trumbull, Government Administration and Elections. Now the co-chairman of Human Services, he is swapping jobs with Slossberg.

So if it isn't an "assault weapon" what is it?

Malloy Loses Patience On Gun Control, Will Introduce His Own Bill
by Christine Stuart | Feb 20, 2013 4:58pm
(Updated 7:55 p.m.)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is not known for his patience. So it’s not surprising that he told the Journal Inquirer’s editorial board Tuesday that he will introduce his own gun control legislation in the next few days because the legislature’s bipartisan Super Committee isn’t acting fast enough.

The comments were called “disappointing by Democratic House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and two Republican legislative leaders, but at least one Democrat agreed with Malloy that the process seemed to be “dragging on.”

“It’s apparent to me that the legislature will not reach bipartisan consensus on this issue,” Malloy told the Journal Inquirer. “I’m always being accused of trying to play this outsized role. I’ve held back. It’s not working, and I will very shortly be speaking on this issue on a fairly comprehensive basis.”

Malloy will unveil his gun control legislation tomorrow at a forum with U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden in Danbury. The forum will be held at Western Connecticut State University and was organized by U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal.

“At this critical juncture, in the wake of unspeakable tragedy in our own state, the governor believes that we cannot let the chance to affect real, positive change pass us by. He thinks we should act quickly and decisively to make Connecticut safer,” Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said Wednesday.

“I’m not going to shy away from this issue,” Malloy told the Journal Inquirer. “They wanted to do this — have a big panel with 50 or 60 people on the panel — and wanted to do this on a bipartisan basis and get to the same point. I’m now looking at leaders bailing out on hearings or rallies and people coming to talk about their own personal pain instead of gun control at a gun control rally.”

But two Republicans and one Democrat aren’t willing to let debate over gun control, school safety, and mental health get political.

“I’m disappointed with the governor’s comments,” Sharkey said. “As I said before, the country is watching Connecticut to see how we react to this tragedy, and taking quick action is important, but taking smart action is more important.”

The legislative process is sometimes slow, but “we are working deliberately to be an example of how to come together on a bipartisan basis to address a very serious and complex issue,” Sharkey said. “Our expectation was to act by the end of February or early March and we are still on that timeline.”

Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, who represents Newtown, said it’s unfortunate the governor would turn the tragedy into a political issue.

“Republicans and Democrats together have responded to the tragedy in the best way we can — in a way that’s above partisanship and politics,” McKinney said.

This was a moment that went beyond politics for many lawmakers.

“Both parties have been working very hard and in a cooperative manner. It appears the governor has unilaterally decided that there can be no bipartisan proposal,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said.

But Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said he shares the governor’s concern that “this process is dragging on.”

“While this bipartisan task force has allowed us to gather input from concerned citizens from across Connecticut, it is time to pass a strong bill,” Williams said. “It remains my hope, that in the next few weeks, the legislature will take action on a substantive bill.”

The governor’s move to introduce legislation regarding gun control means the Sandy Hook Advisory Committee that Malloy formed back in January, won’t be taking up the issue.

With sharp elbows, Malloy jumps into gun debate

Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
February 20, 2013

With a veiled swipe at Republican leaders, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is ready to pronounce the legislature's bipartisan task force on gun violence a failure and propose his own comprehensive package of gun-control measures.

Malloy's proposal is expected to be released Thursday at 10 a.m., before he shares a national stage with Vice President Joe Biden at a symposium on gun violence at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.

The governor's entrance into the legislative gun debate came without the careful stagecraft of previous proposals. Instead, the Democratic governor first mentioned his intention Tuesday in a meeting with reporters and editors at the Journal Inquirer, which published his remarks Wednesday.

His comments, especially a personal swipe at the legislature's Republican minority leaders, generated immediate criticism from House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and the GOP leaders, Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk and Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield.

Andrew Doba, the communication director for Malloy, said the governor felt an opportunity for significant gun control was slipping away.

"At this critical juncture, in the wake of unspeakable tragedy in our own state, the governor believes that we cannot let the chance to affect real, positive change pass us by," Doba said. "He thinks we should act quickly and decisively to make Connecticut safer."

Based on past comments, Malloy is expected to propose a ban on high-capacity magazines, universal background checks for all firearm purchases and, most likely, a stronger ban on firearms defined as assault weapons.

A state assault-weapons ban passed in 1993 has proved porous, as evidenced by the legal purchase of the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle used by Adam Lanza in his attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 students and staff.

With legislative leaders saying they are days or even weeks away from knowing if the bipartisan process will succeed or fail, it was unclear what prompted Malloy to act now, other than he was asked at the Journal Inquirer. While the governor's staff has been working on a package of legislation, his comments were said to have caught his own staff by surprise.

"It's apparent to me that the legislature will not reach bipartisan consensus on this issue," Malloy told the newspaper.

The comments, which Malloy's staff confirmed, reflect a reversal for the governor, whose own reaction to Sandy Hook has been measured on the question of a legislative response.

Malloy quickly endorsed several gun-control measures, including expanded permitting and background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines. But he created a study commission with the charge of making interim recommendations in mid-March.

Doba said that commission will be given a new charge: It will be asked to continue developing policies and proposals on school safety and mental health, but the governor intends to narrow its focus regarding gun control.

"He just disregarded the work of his own task force and ours," Cafero said. "He just dissed all of us."

The legislature has assembled a bipartisan legislative task force to recommend legislation, with the original goal of voting on the first bill by the end of February.

Gun-control lobbyists had viewed the bipartisan process with reservations, fearing that it might produce legislation aimed at giving the greatest number of lawmakers something they could support, as opposed to the strongest possible restrictions.

"We would welcome the governor's voice in this debate and his willingess to outline a very aggressive agenda," said Betty Gallo, a lobbyist for Connecticut Against Gun Violence.

But Malloy did more than involve himself in a legislative process: Without naming them, he criticized Cafero and McKinney.

"I'm now looking at leaders bailing out on hearings or rallies and people coming to talk about their own personal pain instead of gun control at a gun control rally," Malloy told the Journal Inquirer.

Cafero declined to appear at a gun-control rally at the Capitol last week, and McKinney talked about the impact of the shooting, rather than endorse gun-control measures.

"I am not at all ashamed to say what happened that day has affected me personally and changed me," said McKinney, who represents Newtown and is friends with one of the surviving teachers.

On the day of the shooting, he was with Malloy at the firehouse in Newtown, where parents gathered to learn if their children had survived.

"I would never think of stooping as low as that comment," McKinney said.

"It's so petty. It's not befitting a governor," Cafero said.

Malloy's comments generated a mixed reaction from Democrats.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, welcomed the governor's plans to propose strong gun controls, while declining comment on Malloy's gibes at Cafero and McKinney.

"If you are looking for insight on that, you'll have to ask the governor about that," Williams said.

Williams said he agreed with the governor's statement that the legislative process must be accelerated.

"I read the governor's comments. I agree. I think the process should not be dragged out. We've had a productive bipartisan fact-gathering process, but now it's time to pass a strong bill. It's time to take action."

But Sharkey, the new House speaker, disagreed.

"I'm disappointed with the governor's comments," Sharkey said. "As I said before, the country is watching Connecticut to see how we react to this tragedy, and taking quick action is important, but taking smart action is more important. We are working deliberatively to be an example of how to come together on a bipartisan basis to address a very serious and complex issue.

"Our expectation was to act by the end of February or early March and we are still on that timeline."

In parallel with Legislative body sub-committees...
Criminal charges weighed in Newtown deaths

Ken Dixon, CT POST
Updated 11:26 pm, Thursday, January 24, 2013

HARTFORD -- The prosecutor investigating the Newtown school massacre told a new panel Thursday not to expect a final report on the Dec.14 slaughter anytime soon.  Danbury State's Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III announced that while no criminal prosecution seems likely to emerge from the mass murder and suicide, he wants to suppress much of the evidence from the public, anyway.

"This is an ongoing criminal investigation, for which I have obtained extensions of time from the Superior Court to keep documents sealed, so that the investigation may continue unencumbered by distractions," Sedensky said.

"The rules of professional responsibility for prosecutors require that I take steps to prevent publicity that would have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing a potential prosecution," he said...

"I think there's always this situation where a prosecutor is trying to make the right balance," Malloy said.

"This was an attack so outrageous, in the killing of 20 six-year-olds that in many ways it's going to have an imprint, the likes of which¦(CQ)I can remember remember where I was, in the classroom, when someone came in to say President Kennedy was shot," Malloy said. "I think this is that kind of event. So I think he needs to take the time necessary to conclude the investigation. Having said that, I would hope that as little time is necessary. It's more important to get it right than to rush out a report."

On Friday morning, a legislative subcommittee looking into issues of school security after the Sandy Hook shootings, will hold a public hearing starting at 9:30 in Room 2-C of the Legislative Office Building.

Lawmakers take first shot at gun-control
Bill would require liability insurance for gun owners

Ken Dixon, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published 10:44 pm, Tuesday, January 22, 2013

HARTFORD -- The first piece of state gun-control legislation started making its way through the legislative pipeline Tuesday, around the time that a statewide anti-violence group announced its agenda.

Republican opposition to the bill boiled up in the Insurance and Real Estate Committee before the Democratic majority approved sending the legislation to the tax-setting Finance Committee.

It would require gun owners to have liability insurance and impose a 50 percent tax on ammunition sales. Rep. Robert C. Sampson, R-Southington, led the failed attempt to kill the bill.

"I'd like to go on record saying this is a horribly bad idea," Sampson said.

Sen. Joseph J. Crisco Jr., D-Woodbridge, co-chairman of the committee, said after the brief committee meeting that he did not have an opinion on the bill, pending public hearings by legislators on the type of legislation that may emerge in attempt to stop future mass shootings.

Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, co-sponsor of the legislation, said he would favor writing the bill to exempt ammunition bought at shooting ranges for use there. "The object is not to stop legitimate target practice, but to stop people from using them as weapons of mass destruction," Godfrey said in a phone interview.

Godfrey said he and Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, have submitted a variety of gun-related bills to promote discussion. The idea of requiring liability insurance came from considering gun ownership in terms similar to owning a motor vehicle.

"We were interested in getting a bill out there for that discussion, so victims could have civil, not just criminal, recourse," Godfrey said.

"These are new issues, these are new ideas and new wrinkles in the discussion. I'm asking the questions and I'm asking other people to ask the questions, too."

Meanwhile, the nonprofit group Connecticut Against Gun Violence on Tuesday issued an eight-point list of proposals including the expansion of the state's definition of assault weapons to include the Bushmaster rifle that Adam Lanza, 20, of Newtown used to kill 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.

The group wants:

  • All rifles that fit the definition of assault weapons to be surrendered to police, removed from the state or destroyed.
  • A ban on ammunition magazines that hold more than seven bullets.
  • Permits and background checks prior to all gun sales in the state, not just pistol sales.
  • A limit on handgun sales of one per month.

"This comprehensive package of common-sense measures is the most ambitious proposal in our state's history," said Ron Pinciaro, executive director of the CAGV. "While we respect the rights of gun owners and we accept the Second Amendment as the law of the land, we are also mindful of what Supreme Court Justice Scalia stated in the syllabus of the Supreme Court's brief on the issue: `it is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever, in any manner whatsoever, and for whatever purpose.' The eyes of the nation are on Connecticut."

A bipartisan legislative task force on Tuesday launched a new website: cga.ct.gov/asaferconnecticut. It will be a clearing house of testimony and announcements. In addition, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's advisory council on gun violence will meet for the first time Thursday.

On the agenda is a review of the pending investigation into the Sandy Hook shootings by Danbury State's Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III and presentations from experts who were involved in the investigations after the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 and the Virginia Tech shootings of 2007.

Advisory Committee To Hear From Colorado, Virginia Experts
by CTNewsjunkie Staff | Jan 22, 2013 11:41am

When the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission meets for the first time Thursday it will hear from former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and University of Virginia School of Law Professor Richard Bonnie.

Ritter and Bonnie will speak separately to the group about the mass shootings in their respective states.

At the time of the Columbine massacre in 1999, Ritter was district attorney for Denver and became a member of the Columbine Review Commission, which conducted a review of the tragedy for then-Colorado Gov. Bill Owens.  Ritter was elected governor of Colorado in 2007 and served until 2011.

Bonnie is director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy at the University of Virginia, and serves as chair of the Virginia Commission on Mental Health Law Reform.  Following the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2007, he served as a consultant to then-Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine’s Virginia Tech Review Panel.

Each report offers a timeline of the events and how each occurred and was carried out by the gunmen, who took their own lives at the end of the shooting spree. Both reports also outline the police response and makes recommendations for how to improve on that response.

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission created by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has until March 15 to draft a preliminary report about the shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators at a Newtown elementary school on Dec. 14.

Malloy and Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III will review the status of the Sandy Hook investigation at the start of the meeting.

Ken Dixon: No rush to match New York on gun legislation
Published 5:25 pm, Friday, January 18, 2013

Who would have thought that the dysfunctional, lobbyist-owned New York Legislature could look nimble compared to Connecticut's General Assembly?

Preparations for Sandy Hook-related bills have taken on a glacial pace in the five weeks since the massacre.  Friday afternoon's organizational meeting of the vast, 47-member legislative Gun Violence Task Force was like watching Napoleon's army readying itself for an eastward migration.  This group is in addition to Gov. Dannel Malloy's more-streamlined, 16-member advisory panel with expertise outside the legislative realm, in what is called the real world.

When push comes to shove this year, the nuts-and-bolts aspects of gun control will probably not look too different from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's agenda, which he somehow pushed through during the opening 24 hours of the legislature.  State Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, a former New York lawmaker before he moved to Connecticut, said his old home state was able to fast-track a huge bill.

"I just was amazed to see how quickly the New York Senate moved, particularly because of the makeup of the Senate in New York," he said. "I am jealous, frankly, as a Connecticut senator, watching my former colleagues able to act so quickly stemming from something that happened in Connecticut and not New York."

Meyer, a legislative maverick, has proposed a bill that would limit the capacity of rifles to one bullet at a time. "I am concerned that my colleagues have not studied guns," Meyer said. That proposal has zero chance of passage, even in this atmosphere.  The General Assembly will most likely ban a wider array of rifles, including the now-legal Bushmaster assault-style weapon that Adam Lanza used to pump multiple bullets into 20 kids and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The General Assembly may require that all new purchases of all firearms, not just handguns, be registered.

They will most likely not make the list of gun owners public information, although it had been, prior to 1994.

The "informal" legislative group is made up of co-chairmen and ranking members of a variety of standing committees, including Judiciary, Public Safety, Education, Public Health, Finance and Appropriations.  Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, told reporters that even though New York's legislature was already enacting a series of proposals from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut should feel no time pressure.

"Sometimes when you act too quickly, you make mistakes," Sharkey said. "Unintended consequences can result. I think by doing what we're doing now, over the next six weeks, taking on the things we know we can take on in the short term and also reserving for later in the session those things that may be more complicated -- so that we have a little more time to flush those ideas out -- I think that is a responsible way to approach this."

"We are the state of Connecticut," said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. "We are the ones that have suffered this tragic loss and we are the ones that have to deal with it. I don't think any state, regardless of how quickly they act or what they do, should put any pressure on us to do anything other than, as Speaker Sharkey indicated, thoughtful, meaningful and effective legislation as quickly as possible."

Malloy reviewed a summary of the New York legislation. "There are things we are very much in agreement on," Malloy told reporters. He said restricting bullet clips to no more than seven "sounds good to me," as does background checks prior to all gun sales.

"Given what our state has gone through and given the express desire of parents at Sandy Hook specifically to be involved in the process, I'm not envious of how rapidly they're moving (in New York)," Malloy said. "We're in a different situation, where it's important that we give an opportunity for multiple voices to be heard and then act. And I'm not looking to forestall that discussion, nor am I looking to elongate it any longer than is simply required."

Malloy said he expects his committee's concluding report on the massacre by mid-March "at the latest" and that it may become as important a historical document as the report following the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. in 1932.  With the legislative deadline on June 5, Malloy said there is a lot of time to draft, debate and vote on Newtown-related legislation.

"My analysis of the New York legislation leads me to believe that some things will be done very rapidly," Malloy said of the pace that Connecticut lawmakers are taking. "Other things may take additional time."

"I think some ideas and solutions are going to have to wait until we have the full results of the investigation from the investigators who are looking into it," Sharkey said. "However, that's not to say there are not basic, simple, understandable things we should be doing as a state right now."

Rep. Stephen Dargan, co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, said that judging by the statewide controversy on the school massacre and the reaction from gun owners, a cooling off period might be needed.

"As I told Speaker Sharkey, if we do have an issue dealing with gun control, we might have to have that public hearing in the Yale Bowl because it's the biggest place in the state to hold an issue, where people have a number of concerns on both sides of the issue," Dargan said. Yale Bowl, in New Haven, seats about 62,000.

Cities and towns to seek sweeping gun reforms
Dirk Perrefort and Ken Dixon, CT POST
Updated 9:08 pm, Tuesday, January 15, 2013

HARTFORD -- Connecticut will have the toughest gun laws in the country if the Legislature adopts a proposal to be unveiled Wednesday by an organization representing the overwhelming majority of the state's towns and cities.

The proposal from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities would set up a Gun Offender Registry for any individuals convicted of a gun crime, require a permit to buy either ammunition or a rifle, mandate the registration of all firearms and impose rules that would bar residents with a history of mental illness from getting a gun permit.

The plan also would limit firearm magazine capacity, prohibit the purchase of more than one firearm in a 30-day period and outlaw the possession of body armor by all but law enforcement and military personnel.

"We will be releasing tomorrow one of the most comprehensive list of initiatives seen so far in Connecticut," CCM President James Finley Jr. said Tuesday.

Separately, legislative leaders Tuesday gave a new task force a late-February deadline for recommendations strengthening gun control, improving school safety and addressing mental health issues exposed by the Newtown school massacre.  During a news conference Tuesday in the Capitol complex, Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate announced the task force and said that the eventual legislation will also consider the findings of a similar panel named by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that has a mid-March deadline.

The 13-point CCM proposal, obtained by The News-Times on Tuesday, is to be unveiled at a news conference Wednesday. The group represents 151 out of 169 municipalities in Connecticut and advocates on their behalf with state and federal officials.  The organization's legislative committee overwhelming endorsed the proposal during a meeting Tuesday that was attended by more than 40 mayors and first selectmen from Connecticut.

Among the recommendations are an outright ban on assault rifles -- using California's strict definition of the weapons -- and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

"These weapons serve no purpose except to take human lives," said Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who attended the meeting Tuesday and voted on the proposal. "We've seen the carnage they create in Aurora and in Newtown. We need to take action now. We can't wait for the next time."

Adam Lanza, a mentally troubled 20-year-old, shot his mother to death on the morning of Dec. 14, took her legally acquired weapons to Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School, blasted his way through the front door and murdered 20 first graders and six adults with an assault-style weapon.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said the gun-reform package was "one of the most hotly debated" issues before CCM's legislative committee in a long time. While some members felt the proposals may be "overreaching," most believed something needed to be done, he said.

"Some of these concepts may prove unworkable as it goes through the legislative process, but we certainly need to update our gun laws," Boughton said.

Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker, who is also a member of the committee, said only about four or five members voted against the proposed set of recommendations.  One of the more controversial proposals, he said, is an attempt to circumvent federal commerce law, which restricts prohibitions on Internet sales, by making it illegal in Connecticut to "use the rights-of-way (public roads) for the transportation of ammunition."

Knickerbocker said that while some committee members admitted the proposal could potentially be thrown out by a court if adopted into law, other members noted that "there has to be a way to stop people from buying 10,000 rounds of ammunition on the Internet."

Malloy said he expects a concluding report on the massacre by mid-March "at the latest" and that it may become as important a historical document as the report following the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh Jr. in 1932.  He says he has broken off regular briefings from State Police because he's worried about possibly tainting the investigation.

Bills on guns, mental health and school security to be considered here first.  Good idea. 

Top Lawmakers Set Ambitious Deadline For Bipartisan Super Committee
by Hugh McQuaid & Christine Stuart | Jan 15, 2013 1:04pm

Legislative leaders announced the creation of a bipartisan committee Tuesday tasked with drafting legislation to prevent gun violence and keep children safe in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.  Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle held a press conference Tuesday morning in the Legislative Office Building to announce the new committee.  The committee, which is scheduled to conduct an organizational meeting Friday, will consist of top Democrats and Republicans from a handful of standing committees and is expected act on proposals by the end of February.

Senate President Don Williams said the task force will move quickly to act on issues related to guns, mental health resources, and school security where there is consensus among members of both parties.

“We stand here before you today in a bipartisan effort to combat the culture of violence,” Williams said.

While gun control tends to be the most contentious and attention grabbing issue on the table, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said it will be important for the task force to take a holistic approach in responding to the shootings.

“We would be remiss if we as a legislature do not adopt and consider serious and significant mental health reforms in this state as well as reforms that can help maintain the safety of our schools,” he said.

The task force will have three sub committees to develop proposals relating to those issues.

Senate Republican leader John McKinney, who represents Newtown, said the families of the victims want to see the legislature address the shooting in a bipartisan manner.

“What they asked yesterday is that we do two things — we have those conversations above the level of partisanship and acrimony and politics because this is a conversation that goes beyond all of that,” he said, adding that the families also want to see the legislature take action.

House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero agreed, saying constituents expect their elected leaders to represent them, not their political party.

“Today is the beginning of that process, a process where we are determined together, Republicans and Democrats, to address the issues of gun safety, of school safety, and mental health,” he said.

Williams said the new task force will work in concert with a similar group convened by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The governor’s task force is not expected to make recommendations until March 15.

Betty Gallo, a lobbyist for Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said Connecticut has to act and it has to act quickly. She acknowledged that there is a large amount of pressure on state lawmakers, but she expressed confidence that Connecticut would pass the most comprehensive laws in the nation.

“Whatever Connecticut passes will get exported to other states to use as an example,” she said.

A group calling itself March for Change will gather at the state Capitol on February 14 to demand changes to the state’s gun laws and to advocate a bipartisan “common sense” approach.

But anti-gun advocates aren’t the only ones who will march on the state Capitol.

A Texas-based gun rights organization will organize marches to Connecticut’s state Capitol this Saturday in an effort to protect law abiding gun owners from some of the proposals being made by lawmakers.

The New York state senate already reached a deal Monday on tougher gun control measures, making it the first legislative body to take action after the Newtown shooting. Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford, previously served as an assemblyman in New York. He said it was embarrassing for him as a Connecticut lawmaker to watch his former colleagues act so quickly in response to something that happened in Connecticut.

But legislative leadership doesn’t necessarily agree with Meyer.

“I think taking quick action is important, but taking smart action is more important,” Sharkey said. “We haven’t even had a chance to digest what is being proposed and passed in New York state, but I think we owe it to the public to be careful in what we do.”

He warned that “sometimes when you act too quickly you make mistakes.”

In addition to gun control and the dozens of proposals being submitted by individual lawmakers, there will be an effort by lawmakers to address the mental health care system in the state even though there’s no hard evidence to say the Newtown gunman suffered from mental illness. The state police investigation of the mass shooting is still ongoing, but lawmakers seemed confident Tuesday that mental health needed to be addressed either way.

“Often mental health issues do become a component of violent acts,” Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney said.

He said the state does know that more than 20 percent of the people in its prisons have moderate to severe mental health problems. “That’s an ongoing problem and I think that’s part of our charge,” Looney said.

Sharkey said he thinks Gov. Dannel P. Malloy put his finger on it when he spoke last week about how mental health in our society is often stigmatized.

Those who need help are “often times unable or unwilling in some cases to access the care that’s necessary,” Sharkey said. “We have yet to know what the circumstances were behind the person who perpetrated the crime in Newtown, but I would hate to think that a family of means would have not accessed mental health services if that person was concerned with the stigma attached to it.”

Details about the gunman are still unknown, but some news reports suggested the gunman’s mother had been struggling with his behavior.  Gallo, who also lobbies for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, warned lawmakers from jumping to the conclusion that everyone with a mental illness is prone to violence. She said 1 in every 10 Americans will experience some type of mental health issue at some point in their life.

The task force will include the Democratic chairs and Republican ranking members of the Judiciary, Public Safety, Education, Higher Education, Public Health, Human Services, Appropriations, and Finance Committees. 

Gun control put on fast track in D.C., Connecticut
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
January 10, 2013

As the Obama administration hurries to develop new federal gun restrictions, the Connecticut General Assembly is placing gun legislation on a fast track in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, creating a special committee with an eye toward passage of some legislation in February.

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said the committee, whose creation has not been finalized or formally announced, will work toward "a relatively rapid bipartisan consensus, and then look to have a special day in our session, probably toward the end of February."

The committee likely will consist of the Democratic co-chairs and the ranking Republican members of a half-dozen relevant standing committees, such as Judiciary, Public Safety, Public Health, Children, Education and Human Services.

Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, the co-chair of the Public Safety Committee, confirmed the plan for the special committee at a meeting of the Public Safety Committee.

The breadth of the committees involved indicates that the legislature intends to follow the example of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who created a special commission to examine issues of gun control, mental health and school safety. Malloy says his commission should not cause legislators to delay their own response.

Vice President Biden, who is leading a similar federal effort in Washington, said Thursday that he promised President Obama that his Newtown task force will recommend action next week.

"I have committed to him that I will have the recommendations to him by Tuesday," Biden said.

Biden spoke Wednesday by phone with Malloy.

"I had a great conversation yesterday with Vice President Biden," Malloy said Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." He praised the federal approach, while declining to share specifics. "I think he's got it down pretty well."

Malloy, who opened the 2012 session of the General Assembly with a State of the State address largely focused on Newtown, said the political landscape on guns has been permanently altered by the Dec. 14 murders of 26 children and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

"It's a world of difference since Dec. 14," Malloy said on MSNBC.

Biden offered the same sentiment in Washington.

"Every once in a while something raises the consciousness of the nation," Biden said Wednesday as he opened a meeting with advocates of gun control and survivors of shootings at Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo.

According to the White House, Biden is to hold a series of meetings Thursday with sportsmen, gun owners and the entertainment industry. Attorney General Eric Holder will hold his own meeting with gun retailers, including Bass Pro Shops, Cabela's and Wal-Mart.

Gun owners, the gun industry and retailers are absent from Malloy's advisory commission on Sandy Hook, whose members come from the worlds of education, mental health, school security and public safety.

"It was a clear oversight, as far as we're concerned. Nobody from a gun organization was included. If they are talking about guns, they ought to have someone there who knows what they are talking about," said Robert Crook, director of the Connecticut Sportsmen's Alliance. "We've been told at some point or another the industry and gun owners will be invited in to make a pitch."

Malloy and Sharkey warned that federal action will be needed for effective measures after Newtown.

At the top of Malloy's list is a ban on high-capacity magazines, such as 30-round magazines used by Adam Lanza in Newtown. Lanza killed 20 first-graders and six educators, including the principal, with a .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle. He killed himself as police arrived.

"The high capacity magazines are something I think we can and we should do," Sharkey said. "That's not by panacea by any stretch."

Sharkey said he and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, were part of a legislative delegation briefed Tuesday by the State Police on guns, ammunition and permitting.

Sharkey said State Police warned the legislators that a state ban will would have limited effectiveness without a corresponding federal law.

"It doesn't do anything," Crook said of a state ban. "You can always travel to another state."

Malloy announces panel to review school safety, gun violence prevention
Johanna Somers, DAY
Article published Jan 3, 2013

Hartford -- Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday he is forming the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, an expert panel that will review current policy and make specific recommendations in the areas of public safety, with particular attention paid to school safety, mental health, and gun violence prevention.

"The commission will look for ways to make sure our gun laws are as tight as they need to be, that our mental health system can reach those who are in need of our help and that our law enforcement agency has the tools that they need to protect public safety in particular in our schools," Malloy said.

Second term, Mayor Scott Jackson of Hamden will chair the commission. He has intellectual ability, ethics and experience serving on the Two Storm Panel, which evaluated Connecticut's approach to natural disaster prevention and impact mitigation, Malloy said.

"This is a massive project with short timelines," Jackson said.

The security of the school buildings, as far as capital expenditure and human resources have to be looked at, along with mental health issues and social isolation, Jackson said. On top of that, they have to address guns and ammunition, he said.  The commission's initial report will be due March 15, in time for consideration during the regular session of the General Assembly, Malloy said.  This is not meant to deter legislators from putting together their own proposals, but to help Malloy come up with a response to the Newtown tragedy, he said.

"I look forward to working with the legislature on this issue I have had many conversation with members of both parties I know there is much we already agree on we will work together to make our state a model for the rest of the nation," he said.

Experts in law enforcement, mental health, school safety, public safety and education have been asked to join and are expected to answer in the coming days.  Malloy also said Connecticut could not address these issues alone.

"We need Washington to get its act together so that they can put together a reasonable national gun policy that protects the citizens of our state and of our nation," Malloy said. "I am thankful; therefore, that President Obama has gotten this conversation started, and I am committed to doing all that I can to allow this conversation to proceed."

Malloy said he was opposed to letting the federal Brady bill or assault weapons ban expire in 2004 and that he would support a state ban on magazine clips with more than 10 rounds.

"You don't need a 30 round clip to go hunting, you don't need a 30 round clip to honor the constitution of the United States," Malloy said. "And I think it is time that we have a realistic discussion about the weapons that are used time and time again in these mass casualty situations. I mean it would be stupid not to have that conversation."

He did not pinpoint other gun control measures that he would support. But he said he would like to examine guns that are easily taken from "one-shot capacity to "30-shot capacity," how guns are defined and which guns are registered.  He said, however, that he would be respectful of people using weapons for hunting or legal use.

"I think it is clear that we have to be respectful of our constitution in Connecticut and nationally," Malloy said.

From a school security standpoint, Malloy said that he hoped there would not be a need for a "guard" outside of every school, but that he would have to see what the commission recommended.
However, there might be a need to "harden" school infrastructure, he said.

Access to mental health and the stigma attached to seeking mental health services also has to be examined, Malloy said.

"All too often we think of treatment for mental issues very differently than we think of a broken arm or a broken leg," he said.  Connecticut has made huge gains since opening the first mental institution in Hartford, but there is still more to be done, he said.

"I think it is an opportunity for Connecticut to lead the way as it has since the very first founding of the mental institution in the entire continental United States," Malloy said. "That could be some good that comes out of this horrific incident."

Malloy said he wasn't prejudicing the current investigation into Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, but said that he knows many people who have the financial resources but cannot move beyond the mental health stigma to get help.

"We have to address it," he said.

At the press conference, Malloy also said that Connecticut might be receiving federal reimbursements to support the state and Newtown, which have had additional costs since the massacre.

In State With 'Assault Weapons' Ban, Lanza's Rifle Still Legal
Hartford Courant
By MATTHEW KAUFFMAN, mkauffman@courant.com
10:03 AM EST, December 18, 2012

Adam Lanza blasted through the glass doors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School clutching a military-style Bushmaster rifle with 30 rounds in the clip and hundreds more at the ready.

When his chilling rampage was over minutes later, Lanza had used the weapon to kill 20 students and six adults and, in doing so, rekindled the often intractable debate over limiting access to what many see as the deadliest of weapons.

Bushmaster's version of the AR-15, a civilian firearm modeled after the military M-16 rifle, has a grim history, with links to the D.C.-area sniper shootings. But under Connecticut's firearms laws, considered strong by national standards, the lethal weapon that Lanza employed was perfectly legal to own.

Bylaw, it's not even an assault weapon.

"The term 'assault weapon,' as used by the media, is a media invention," said Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen. "These are semi-automatic firearms that have military cosmetic characteristics. They look like our military firearms, but they're not."

Connecticut has an assault-weapons ban, modeled after a federal law that was enacted in 1994 before expiring a decade later. But it takes more than a dark fiberglass body and a menacing shape to fall under the ban.

The Connecticut law restricts semi-automatic rifles — those capable of firing a bullet with each pull of the trigger — only if they include a detachable magazine as well as at least two of five specific features. One of those features — a pistol grip — is ubiquitous on military-style weapons. But to be banned, an AR-15-style rifle would also need to include a folding or telescoping stock, a bayonet mount, a grenade launcher or a flash suppressor, a device typically screwed on to the end of the muzzle to limit the bright flash caused by gunpowder that ignites outside of the muzzle.

Aware of the restrictions in some states, weapons manufacturers have modified some models to stay within the laws. Bushmaster, for example, offers a "state-compliant" model with a telescoping stock that simply has been pinned in the fully open position, making it legal for sale.

Beyond the military look of the weapon, Lanza's rifle was equipped with a magazine capable of firing 30 rounds. In 2011, the Connecticut legislature considered a bill that would have banned high-capacity magazines with 10 or more rounds. But hundreds of gun enthusiasts showed up for a hearing on the bill, and thousands more wrote and called legislators. After the hearing, the bill died.

The .223-caliber ammunition used in Lanza's Bushmaster rifle is too small to legally be used for deer hunting in Connecticut, and Crook said that weapons like Lanza's are primarily used for target practice and competitions. He said that Bushmaster rifles can be found for less than $500 — at the low end of AR-15-style weapons.

Gun-rights advocates note that military-style weapons, and long guns in general, account for a small fraction of firearm homicides in the United States, the vast majority of which are committed with handguns. But they have also been the weapon of choice for a number of high-profile mass shootings, making them the focus of gun-control efforts.

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, those efforts have increased, both nationally and in Connecticut. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a leading gun-control advocate, said she would introduce legislation reviving the federal ban on assault weapons, including high-capacity clips.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said Monday that he would reintroduce legislation to ban magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. "These high-capacity magazines, which were used in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and so many other tragedies, were designed for one purpose only — to shoot and kill quickly," Lautenberg said in a statement.

And Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a Second Amendment advocate who earned an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association, said that the carnage in Newtown "has changed where we go from here."

"Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered. It's never happened in America that I can recall," Manchin told MSNBC. "I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle, I don't know anybody who needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting."

Activists are looking for action closer to home as well.

"As we mourn those lost we must also raise our voices and call on our political leaders to finally begin a serious, in-depth discussion on how to prevent the nonstop flow of gun violence that plagues our nation," the group Connecticut Against Gun Violence said in a statement. "Like so many other problems in our country, guns have become a polarizing topic. But if now is not the time to talk about our gun policies, when is?"

Crook said that he doesn't have the answer to avoiding another tragedy like the Newtown killings. But he said that the focus on high-capacity magazines is misplaced.

"People are concerned that a 30-round magazine versus a 10-round magazine is somehow significant," Crook said. "In order to change a magazine, you push a button, the magazine drops out of the bottom, you immediately slide a new one in. It takes about a second, second and a half, to do it. So there's no real benefit to banning these things."

Nevertheless, Crook is bracing for new efforts to put high-capacity magazines off-limits in Connecticut.

"The magazine ban might come back" when the legislature is in session next year, Crook said. But he's not overly concerned.

"We killed it once," he said. "And I would suspect once things quiet down a little bit, we'll probably do it again."

Copyright © 2012, The Hartford Courant

Red ink and coal in our stockings...and here is a link to a new page we just built re:  CT Special Sessions of the C.G.A. Wednesday, December 19, 2012.

Malloy Orders $170 Million In Immediate Budget Cuts
The Hartford Courant
By DANIELA ALTIMARI, dnaltimari@courant.com
1:57 PM EST, November 28, 2012

HARTFORD — Facing a bleak financial picture this year and for years to come, the Malloy administration announced $170 million in immediate budget cuts Wednesday afternoon, slashing spending across state government.

The rescissions affect everything from mental health services to food stamps for the poor to funding for magnet schools. The cuts also reduce funding for the arts, the University of Connecticut, the Department of Children and Families and residential services for the disabled.

On Tuesday, state budget czar Ben Barnes provided a grim overview of Connecticut's long-term finances, telling a room packed with lawmakers that Connecticut faces a series of "extraordinarily difficult decisions to reduce spending."

The state must overcome a $363 million projected deficit for this year and an estimated shortfall of $1.1 billion in 2013-14. Depending on the cuts that the governor and the General Assembly make in the coming legislative session, the state could also be grappling with deficits close to $1 billion in 2015 and 2016.

The $170 million from the current state budget of about $20 billion are the most allowed under state law. State legislators must agree on another $200 million in reductions to balance spending for this year.

"He is trying to dig us out from the hole we are in,'' said Roy Occhiogrosso, a top adviser to the governor, who noted that Malloy faced a deficit of more than $3 billion when he took office two years ago. "It's going to be tough stuff. People are going to scream.''

The long-term picture is a challenge because of rising Medicaid and pension costs, declining revenue from gas taxes, stagnant income growth and the lagging pace of the economic recovery. The looming threat of sequestration — automatic federal spending cuts set to start in January — and the wobbly economies of Europe, a major trading partner for Connecticut businesses, also contribute to the uncertainty.

Barnes, who addressed the legislature's taxing and spending committees Tuesday morning, suggested that significant cuts will be needed, although he provided few specifics. He focused largely on the numbers during his hourlong PowerPoint presentation, sidestepping the political realities of moving a budget through the legislature.

This time around, the governor insists that tax increases won't be part of the budget-balancing equation. Malloy, a Democrat midway through his first term, has already raised taxes by $1.5 billion and he is not inclined to boost them again, said Barnes, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management.

Pressed on that point by Sen. Rob Kane, the ranking Republican on the appropriations committee, Barnes invoked Dr. Seuss.

"I have no intention, I will not, I shall not, I do not wish to. I feel like I'm in 'Green Eggs and Ham.' We do not like new taxes, Sam I am,'' Barnes said.

But, Barnes added, he wasn't ready to make a "Grover Norquist-style pledge" never to raise taxes because unknown factors, such as Congress changing the way Medicaid is funded, for instance, could sharply change the state's budget calculations.

"We do not intend to raise taxes to close the budget deficit that we foresee ... this year or next year or the year after that or the year after that,'' Barnes told lawmakers. "That said, circumstances can and often do change and ... if those circumstances were to change in a way that the General Assembly and the governor agreed that tax [changes] were appropriate, I would do that. I'm not going to make an absolute promise, [but] right now, I think our intention not to raise taxes is abundantly clear."

Although Republicans might have been heartened by the administration's coolness toward new taxes, they said they were seeking reassurances that Malloy was committed to ensuring that the state lives within its means.

"We all know how we got here. ... What I think was missing is how we fix it,'' Kane, of Watertown, said after Barnes' presentation. "We can't continue to go down this path of spending and hoping our revenues meet those goals. ... We have incredible liabilities, both present and future, and we have a great opportunity here to really turn the corner on this budgetary process and the way to do that is to reduce the size of government."

Some Republicans questioned Barnes' economic projections, but he noted that the unexpectedly slow pace of the recovery has led to the revision of some of those figures. Two years ago, for instance, the unemployment rate was forecast to be at 5.8 percent by 2014; current projections suggest that the rate will be closer to 7.4 percent. Housing starts have also fallen far short of projections, Barnes said.

Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said he was encouraged by the underlying message of Barnes' PowerPoint briefing, conveyed in the title of slide No. 9: "Policy changes are required."

"That's profoundly important and profoundly different from what we've heard out of this office for a long time,'' Frantz said. He then asked Barnes whether it signified "a true effort to cut expenses for the benefit of citizens of Connecticut longer-term.''

Barnes noted that the stark choices the state is facing will take their toll, both on the still-fragile state economy and on the human beings who rely on the state.

"I am extremely saddened by the fact that at a time when Connecticut's economy is struggling, that we are in a position where we must potentially remove a billion a year from it," Barnes said.

"I recognize and am committed to undertaking those spending cuts, but we do so at great cost and I certainly am not shy about acknowledging that there are those costs, that [there are] services that will not be provided, service providers that will not have income and the economic impacts of that will be negative on the overall economy of the state of Connecticut in the short run,'' Barnes said.

But, the budget chief added, doing nothing would present a graver peril.

"In the long run, we have an obligation to balance our budget," he said. "The alternative is to raise revenues in the future to support spending that we do now. That, I believe, is a greater danger."

State officials enjoy a little holiday unity on the budget deficit
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
November 21, 2012

The state Capitol found a little bit of holiday bipartisanship this week as legislative leaders from both sides called for quick action to reduce the $365 million deficit in the current budget.  Leaders of the Senate's Democratic majority also endorsed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's pledge to close the gap without raising taxes -- a position Republican legislative leaders insisted upon even before the latest shortfall was reported.

"We are committed to making the tough choices and cutting spending in order to balance the state's budget," Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, and Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, wrote in a statement Wednesday. "We agree with Governor Malloy, it is imperative that we act quickly to address the situation.  Earlier this month we discussed with our caucus the need to take action before the end of this calendar year."

"We obviously have some very difficult decisions ahead of us, but we are confident that by working together, we can pass the deficit mitigation and keep Connecticut on the path to economic growth," wrote House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, and House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.

Since his budget office projected a roughly 2 percent gap in current finances last week, Malloy has insisted that this shortfall would be covered without boosting revenues.

"We are going to settle this problem without raising taxes," he told Capitol reporters again this week.

The top Republican in the Senate, Minority Leader John P. McKinney of Fairfield, said he was encouraged by discussions over the past week with Williams and with Malloy's budget chief, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes.  If the goal is to close the deficit with spending cuts, then action can't wait until after the next regular legislative session begins on Jan. 9, McKinney said. Given the technicalities of the state budget, he added, it needs to happen before the calendar year ends.

Most departments receive their funding in quarterly allotments issued in early July, October, January and April.  But those funds aren't dispersed evenly, and most agencies spend the bulk of their funds in the middle two quarters.  So if tough decisions aren't made before funds are released in early January, much of the state budget already will have been spent, McKinney noted. "Allotments will go out the door and we will lose the ability to make much of the savings we need," he said. "It is absolutely critical that we address the budget deficit and try to pass something before the first of the year."

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

But Cafero had been calling for action to reduce the deficit even before the latest deficit forecast was announced on Nov. 14.  Cafero released a report from nonpartisan fiscal analysts back on Oct. 18 that showed sales and other tax revenues had eroded well in excess of any level the administration had reported to date. The deficit reported at that time was $27 million.

Remember this?

No Easy Answer To Medicaid Overspending
by Christine Stuart | Nov 19, 2012 5:30am

Lawmakers learned last week that the state is currently spending $223 million more than it budgeted this year on its Medicaid program for low-income adults, and overall the $5.8 billion social services budget will end the year with an estimated $260 million deficit.

Republican lawmakers tried to pin down Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby on exactly where the new Medicaid enrollees are coming from.  Is it the economy, or are new individuals moving to the state because it’s one of a handful that agreed to start enrollment in the program before the Affordable Care Act goes into effect in 2014?  Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, wanted to know why the increase in the population wasn’t forecast when the budget was created this past summer.

“Are people moving to Connecticut to take advantage of our programs?” Miner asked last week at an Appropriations Committee hearing on state budget deficiencies.

Unlike the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps, which is operated in all 50 states, the Medicaid program for low-income adults is a new program.  Connecticut was the first state to expand Medicaid under the federal health care reform act and as of August it had more than 671,550 recipients under that program. That number includes the HUSKY program, as well as the expansion under Medicaid for low-income adults.  In two years, enrollment by low-income adults has grown from 45,000 to more than 83,000, according to department officials.

Over the past five years, demand for food stamps has increased 80 percent and demand for Medicaid services has increased 30 percent, Bremby told the committee. But he said that it’s hard to say with any great specificity, aside from the downturn in the economy, as to why there’s been an increase in the Medicaid program for low-income adults.

“I’m not sure you have a handle on where they’re coming from,” Miner told Bremby.

Bremby reminded Miner that his department operates more than 90 different programs and services. The department’s $5.8 billion budget accounts for about 30 percent of the entire state budget.

Miner said he wants to know if it‘s the same population the department was dealing with two years ago, and if that population has just grown irrespective of the economy, or if it‘s new people moving to the state to take advantage of the program.

Last year, Republican lawmakers wanted the state to hire more Medicaid fraud investigators, but Democratic lawmakers declined to include that suggestion in the budget adjustments.  Republicans argued that the positions would be reimbursed 75 percent by the federal government, but Democrats panned the idea saying the state wouldn’t see the savings necessary to offset the additional hiring of more employees.

“Nobody wants to see it [Medicaid] go up like a quarter of a billion dollars. Nobody does, but the reality is there are people out here that need services that are now getting them,” Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, told the committee. “I’m not one to say this is a bad thing to occur.”

She said when they were putting together the budget they were led to believe the low-income adult population had stabilized.  She asked Bremby how lawmakers figure out what it should budget for next year, since they were obviously wrong about this year.  Bremby said they look at the trends and try to base future growth on past experience.

“I think we have seen an acceleration in that growth by processing improvements,” Bremby said. “The best handle on the growth in this population can be derived from the forecasts for the number of people who will be presented through the Health Insurance Exchange.”

The Medicaid program also has seen an increase in hospital services, but it’s unclear how much is attributable to increased costs for services and how much is attributable to increased utilization.

That said, “We don’t believe it’s a cost-driven phenomenon,” Bremby opined. “We believe principally it’s utilization driven,” but it’s something the department is investigating further, he added.

Further complicating the budget scenario for lawmakers is the waiver the department is seeking from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  The Appropriations Committee green-lighted the waiver proposal by the DSS this summer. Essentially, it would impose a $10,000 asset test to be eligible for the Medicaid program for low-income adults. This asset test likely would remove as many as 13,000 recipients from the program.

Currently, the state is receiving more than 50 percent reimbursement for this low-income population from the federal government, but starting in Jan. 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, it will receive 100 percent reimbursement. However, it needs to find $50 million in savings in each of the next budget years, which is why it is seeking the waiver.  The administration argues the waiver will help prevent college students living at home with their parents from taking advantage of the program, but New Haven Legal Assistance attorney Sheldon Toubman argues the state has no idea who will impacted by the asset test.

Toubman has filed an injunction against the state to prevent it from further pursuing it. The two sides will be in federal court this Wednesday to discuss the underlying class action, but it’s unclear if the judge will ask for argument on the injunction.

Bremby told the Appropriations Committee last week that his department’s budget estimates are based on receiving the waiver. If the state doesn’t receive the waiver, lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will have to find $100 million more in savings over the next two years. That’s on top of the $2.13 billion two-year deficit reported last week by Malloy’s budget office.

Special Session To Deal With Budget Woes Before Christmas
by Christine Stuart | Nov 16, 2012 3:06pm

House Speaker Chris Donovan and incoming Speaker Brendan Sharkey emailed their members Thursday to let them know they will probably have to return to the Capitol the week before Christmas to erase an estimated $365 million budget deficit.

“Assuming the deficit certified by the Comptroller in early December is 1 percent or greater of the total general fund appropriations, the governor will have 30 days to submit a Deficit Mitigation Plan,” Donovan and Sharkey wrote in an email to their members.

Prior to the election, the General Assembly had been expected to remain in recess until the full session starts Jan. 9, but recent reports from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Office of Policy and Management and the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis show the deficit increasing at a rate that requires them to act.

Budget Director Ben Barnes told agency commissioners Thursday that the state faced a $365 million deficit this fiscal year and upward of a $2.13 billion deficit over the next two fiscal years. But the only issue that will have to be resolved in December with the current legislature is the $365 million deficit.

“We currently have little information about the governor’s Deficit Mitigation proposals, but as more information is provided to us by the governor’s office, we will review it and pass it along to all of you,” Donovan and Sharkey wrote.

Malloy has the authority to cut 5 percent of any appropriation and 3 percent of any fund in a financial crisis without legislative approval, but to make the $365 million in cuts it’s likely he will need legislative approval. Asked whether the $365 million target is within reach under his authority to cut specific appropriations, Malloy administration officials opted not to commit to an answer.

Republican lawmakers called upon Malloy to issue a deficit mitigation plan last week when they saw the revenue data. They also accused the Malloy administration of being less than transparent about the current fiscal situation.

On Thursday, the governor said information was released as it became available and pointed out that the fiscal year doesn’t end until July, making the current budgetary gap a shortfall rather than a deficit.

“It’s not going to be a deficit. It’s going to be addressed,” he said.

On Wednesday, Barnes said it was too soon to say what would be on the table for potential cuts.

“Government spending. State government spending. That’s about as specific as I’m going to get,” he said. “... You act as if I have in my mind a full list of what we’re going to do and I don’t yet. We’re working hard to do that. Until we get through that process and work with the governor and make sure we’re right on what the deficit is going to be, it’s way premature for me to discuss what any kind of plan in the future’s going to be.”

Meanwhile, the three other caucuses have already notified their members about a potential session.

“Senate leadership has spoken with our caucus members, and they understand there is a possibility that they will be coming in to special session before the end of the year,” Democratic State Senate Deputy Communications Director Lawrence Cook said.

No specific date for the special session has been set, but it’s expected to be held the week of Dec. 17.

Malloy to travel to National Governors meeting
Nov 16, 2012 6:33 PM EST

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is traveling to San Diego, Calif., for a meeting of the National Governors Association.

The Democrat is scheduled to participate in a news conference on Saturday to discuss the meeting, which will be attended by governors and governors-elect from across the country.

Malloy has traveled more during his tenure as governor than his predecessor, former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

He said the NGA conferences "provide an important opportunity" to meet with a bipartisan group of governors and discuss policy issues, as well as collaborate on issues."

He said it's also a chance to improve how he manages the state.

The name of the game, at least for those who have something to give.  More coming.

Malloy's budget chief confirms $365M deficit in testimony to legislature

Keith M. Phaneuf and Arielle Levin Becker
November 14, 2012

The state budget is $365 million in the red, nearly double the level needed to compel Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to prepare a plan to lower the deficit, the governor's budget chief told legislators Wednesday...read full story here:  http://www.ctmirror.org/print/18201

Fiscal Accountability? Oh you meant Fiscal Accountability…
What? Wait! Blog
Jon Pelto
Nov 10, 2012

Keith Phaneuf’s CTMirror article yesterday, entitled “Revenues plunge, state deficit widens, forcing Malloy to close big gap,” touched on one of the more recent and “unique” attempts at bringing fiscal accountability to Connecticut State Government.

Back around 2009, Governor Jodi Rell and her Office of Policy and Management had a tendency to misrepresent the state’s revenue and expenditure data in order to make it appear that the state budget was more balanced than it actually was.  Some recall this was the time period when Rell allowed the Democratic Legislature’s budget to become state law without her signature, while claiming that she opposed the budget.  Rell even went so far as to attempt to illegally use her line item veto authority to remove certain expenditures, but alas, the court ruled that she could have only used that authority if she had actually signed the budget, not simply allowed it to go into law without her signature.

In any case, in revenge for refusing to be honest about revenue estimates, and in a fit of dedication to fiscal accountability, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1162, AN ACT REQUIRING CONSENSUS REVENUE ESTIMATES. Public Act 214 required the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM) and the Legislature’s independent Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) to meet and provide state policymakers with “consensus revenue estimates” by October 15 each year, and revisions to those estimates, if needed, in January and April of each year.

If the two entities can’t agree, the responsibility for issuing the consensus would fall to the State Comptroller.

This fail safe solution would force Governor Rell, or any Governor, to be more honest with the General Assembly, the public and the media.

It certainly seemed like a good system, but as the more politically astute among you may note, there was only one problem – and it was a problem of potentially catastrophic proportions

Knowing that the budget is out of balance is arguably a good thing, no matter which political party controls the Executive or Legislative Branches, but if you are the incumbent party, the very last thing you want is for that information to come out on October 15th of an election year.

Imagine all the media reports and potential public outcry that would occur, just two weeks before the election, if voters were to learn that the budget that had adopted was out of balance and that budget cuts and/or tax increases would soon be needed.

So, to rectify the problem, on June 22 of this year, during the Legislature’s short special session, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 501.

The bill, which became Public Act 12-2, made a minor change in the consensus revenue estimate law.

Whereas section 2-36c of the Connecticut State Statutes required that consensus revenue estimates be released not later than October fifteenth of each year, the new law deleted the words October fifteen and replaced them with the words November tenth.

Ta-dah!  Problem solved.

The day before the election, the projected state deficit was $60 million.

Three days after the election, it turns out that the state deficit is more like $300 to $350 million.

Say what you want about elected officials, but it was a pretty brilliant maneuver.

For a rather “humorous” look at the issue, read Keith Phaneuf’s story from October 18th where he writes about the Republican’s concern that the Office of Fiscal Analysis is projecting a state deficit that is significantly higher than the Malloy Administration is claiming.

Malloy’s chief spokesman responded, “The closer we get to Election Day, the more desperate the Republicans become.  The more desperate they become, the more heated their rhetoric becomes.  The more heated the rhetoric, the more they play fast and loose with the facts.  They should probably just take a deep breath and begin coming up with the excuses they’ll need to explain away another failed campaign season.”  – Roy Occhiogrosso 10/18/12

And Malloy’s budget office added, “While we always monitor revenue and spending, we’re in the process of doing our own analyses and it would be premature to comment either way” – OPM’s Gian-Carl Casa 10/18/12

You can read Phaneuf’s October story here: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/17789/gop-says-slowing-revenue-growth-must-be-recognized-now-not-after-election and his story from yesterday here:http://www.ctmirror.org/story/18167/state-budget-deficit-explodes-governor-expected-prepare-deficit-mitigation-plan

Revenues plunge, state deficit widens, forcing Malloy to close big gap
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
November 9, 2012

A dramatic plunge Friday in the state's anticipated revenue this year will force Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to craft an emergency plan to cover a deficit potentially approaching $300 million. It is a financial chasm that threatens his pledge to avoid a tax increase in the next state budget.

The latest consensus revenue report from fiscal analysts for the executive and legislative branches reset revenue expectations $128 million lower than the level built into the current budget -- and $145 million below the level assumed when Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo reported a $60 million deficit on Nov. 1.

Those revenue changes alone would push the budget shortfall to $205 million.

But the actual deficit likely has grown well beyond that figure.

That's because revenues from most sources -- taxes, fees, the state's share of Indian casino receipts -- are down $258 million this year. The reason the net change is somewhere between $128 million and $145 million is because those revenue losses are offset by $130 million to $150 million in extra federal aid.

But Connecticut is getting most of that extra aid money only because it will have to spend an even larger amount of its own funds to meet the surging demand from its poor for medical services.

Put it all together, and the budget deficit likely approaches or exceeds $300 million.

The shrinking revenue estimates are "not surprising given the continued sluggishness of the national economic recovery," Malloy's budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, said Friday. "OPM has stated repeatedly that revenues would be monitored carefully because of the slow economy."

But the top Republicans in the state House and Senate said Malloy must realize that the $1.5 billion in new taxes he and his fellow Democrats in the legislative majority enacted in 2011 have weakened Connecticut's economy.

"I think this latest report is proof you cannot tax your way out of a recession," Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, said, adding that Malloy shouldn't wait until he is legally compelled to unveil his budget mitigation efforts.

The next official budget assessment, which is prepared by the comptroller's office, is due Dec. 1.

And if Lembo certifies a deficit greater than 1 percent of the general fund, then Malloy is compelled by state law to submit a deficit-mitigation plan to lawmakers. In the context of this year's $20.54 billion total budget, the general fund -- which covers most operating expenses -- totals $19.14 billion, leaving the 1 percent threshold at $191.4 million.

"This is not a surprise to me or to any observers of our spending and revenue trends," House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, said. He added that when the only revenue growth involves federal aid to help meet the needs of Connecticut's poor, "that's a sad commentary on our economy."

Friday's report includes equally bad news for the next state budget -- just one day after Malloy repeated his intention not to raise taxes again.

The report says state government can expect $231 million less next fiscal year than originally anticipated.

And that's on top of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of additional potential holes facing the next state spending plan -- a total gap many lawmakers say privately they fear exceeds $500 million.

There were signs as early as February that state finances were headed for trouble in the fiscal year that begins July 2013.

When Malloy proposed the 2012-13 budget nine months ago, his administration's numbers showed it was on pace to run $424 million in the red one year later.

Legislators and the governor cut $186 million from that plan before they adopted it in May. But even as they also reduced the potential shortfall in 2013-14, new forces widened it even more.

Specifically, fiscal analysts downgraded revenue expectations last spring, dropping expected resources for 2013-14 by another $311 million. In fact, Friday's downgrade was the fourth such report since October 2011.

The potential for a deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars in the next state budget grew even larger this fall as surging demand for Medicaid services helped open an early deficit this year -- and represents a growing expense that could continue into 2013-14.

No agency has put a precise number yet on the potential hole facing the next state budget -- but that will change next Thursday.

That's when the Fiscal Accountability Act directs analysts for both branches to submit detailed analyses of finances -- both for the current year and the year-to-come -- to the legislature's Appropriations and Finance, Revenue & Bonding committees.

Those panels are expected to conduct an informational meeting on those reports later this month.

On Thursday, Malloy reiterated his vow to balance the next budget without new taxes. He said he is open to working with Republicans, but the GOP leaders say his analysis of the Democrats' 2012 legislative victories indicate otherwise.

"I have no intention of raising taxes," the governor said Thursday, adding that the re-election of President Obama leaves him hopeful that federal aid to states will not be slashed in the next term. "I have been saying that for weeks that I have no intention of raising taxes, and I think the election of the president takes off some of the pressure, some of the provisions I had supplied you with previously. I have no intention of raising taxes."

Barnes added Friday, "It is far too early to know what revenues will look like as we get closer to the fiscal year that starts next July -- but Connecticut residents and businesses should know that the Governor intends to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the budget is balanced and that we are living within our means. We will continue our progress in making government run more efficiently."

But Cafero accused the Malloy administration of issuing a misleading press statement to try to hide the scope of the state's problems.

The administration and the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis released "estimates that show state tax revenue is running approximately $52.7 million behind what was anticipated when the budget was passed ... last Spring," Malloy's budget office wrote.

Technically, revenues for this year are $52.7 million below a consensus estimate prepared on April 30, 2012 -- an estimate that was not included in the budget by the legislature's Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee.

That panel adopted a revenue plan on June 22 that counted on an extra $75 million.

"Deficits are built off the budget that was passed," Cafero said. "To have a governor who is denying that, who is trying to camouflage that by playing a shell game, is irresponsible."

McKinney added that the numbers were hidden for the same reason that Malloy and his fellow Democrats in the legislature moved the deadline for the fall revenue report from Oct. 15 until after the November elections: to minimize the political impact.

"They clearly didn't want these numbers to come out," McKinney said.

Deficit Up To $60.1M
by Christine Stuart | Oct 22, 2012 8:17am

The state is just four months into the fiscal year and it’s $60.1 million in the red, according to Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes.  In his monthly letter to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Barnes predicted that the deficit increased $33.2 million from last months estimated $26.9 million deficit.

“This change is due to weaker revenue collections,“ Barnes wrote. “As noted last month, significant uncertainty exists with regard to the national and global economic picture and, by extension, to the assumptions used in our estimates.”

Indian gaming revenue estimates have been revised downward by $25 million and the corporation tax was revised downward by $15 million, reflecting weaker collections, Barnes wrote.

Barnes said when the budget was passed it assumed a modest national economic expansion, which has yet to materialize.  Sales tax collections appear to be weaker than expected too, but all other revenues are up $6.8 million.

Last week, the Office of Fiscal Analysis predicted state revenues were down $71.6 million. But consensus revenue estimates, which are released three times a year, won’t be out until mid-November.

On the spending side, the Medicaid account is expected to run a $100 million deficiency due to the increasing case load of those seeking coverage through the Low Income Adults program, as well as increased utilization of medical services, Barnes said.

The state is seeking a federal waiver to impose a first of its kind asset test and kick up to 13,000 individuals off the Low Income Adults program. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services could rule on the waiver as soon as Nov. 3, but a New Haven Legal Aide attorney has gone to court to ask the state to withdraw the waiver.

If the state fails to get the waiver from the feds it could blow an additional $50 million hole into the 2013 state budget.

Aside from Medicaid, the state is keeping a close eye on other state agencies, which have tendencies to overspend their appropriations, including the Corrections Department and Emergency Services and Public Protection.

“Recent expenditure and caseload trends, however, suggest the potential for an increase in this deficiency as the year progresses,“ Barnes wrote.

While it doesn’t completely off-set the deficit spending the Treasurer’s debt service account will bring in $20 million more than anticipated.

Lembo will certify his budget numbers on Nov. 1.

"Corrupticut" is home to financial professionals.  Remember Sheilla Bair?  She tells her story of the F.D.I.C.

Malloy CHFA Appointment Questioned; Listed On Time Magazine’s “25 People to Blame For the Financial Crisis”
Hartford Courant
By Christopher Keating On October 19, 2012 · Leave a Comment

When Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appointed a New Canaan Democrat last month to an out-of-the-limelight board, there was little fanfare and little notice.

The governor’s press office included a brief biography about Kathleen Corbet, saying she spent nearly 25 years in the financial services industry before founding her own firm specializing in private equity investing.

But the press release never mentioned that Corbet had also been named by Time Magazine in February 2009 as one of the top “25 people to blame for the financial crisis’’ that plunged the United States into the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Now, a leading Republican is questioning the appointment.

Time featured Corbet, with her picture, on a story about “the good intentions, bad managers and greed behind the meltdown’’ of 2008 that caused the national unemployment rate to shoot up as the recession deepened. She was listed along with convicted financier Bernard Madoff and Angelo Mozilo, who founded mortgage lender Countrywide Financial and was ranked second by Conde Nast Portfolio on its list of the “worst American CEOs of all time.’’

Corbet, now 52, served from 2004 to 2007 as the president of the Standard & Poor’s ratings agency, which gave its blessing to various financial investments.

“By slapping AAA seals of approval on large portions of even the riskiest pools of loans, rating agencies helped lure investors into loading on collateralized debt obligations that are now unsellable,’’ Time said regarding Corbet. “Corbet ran the largest agency, Standard & Poor’s, during much of this decade, though the other two major players, Moody’s and Fitch, played by similar rules. How could a ratings agency put its top-grade stamp on such flimsy securities? A glaring conflict of interest is one possibility: these outfits are paid for their ratings by the bond issuer. As one S&P analyst wrote in an email, “[A bond] could be structured by cows and we would rate it.’’

Reached Friday on her cellphone, Corbet declined to speak publicly about Time Magazine.

“I’m delighted to be on the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority,’’ she told Capitol Watch. “It’s a very worthy organization – helping first-time buyers with mortgage loans. That’s very worthy for our state.’’

“At my very first meeting, the very first loan that was presented to members of the board was a property that was requesting a rehabilitation loan in Waterbury, a 230-unit complex called Country Village Apartments,” Corbet said. ”I looked at the picture of the complex and that was where my parents first moved in 1958 and where I was born two years later. It was a surprise to me to see that as the very first loan that was under consideration. It was where I was born in public housing. It brought home to me that I’ve come full circle. It’s what the CHFA does. They provide mortgage loans to first-time homebuyers. That’s obviously a worthy purpose. I have a tremendous interest in it.’’

A story by Bloomberg News, reprinted in The New York Times, in August 2007 said that Corbet resigned from Standard & Poor’s “after lawmakers and investors criticized the company for failing to judge the risks of securities backed by subprime mortgages.”

The Bloomberg story quoted then-Senate banking chairman Chris Dodd as saying that the credit-rating agencies needed to provide an explanation for why they issued “AAA ratings to securities that never deserved them.” The story also said a company spokesman explained that Corbet had resigned as president to spend additional time with her family “and her exit is not related to the current credit-market turmoil...”

Cafero Sounds The Alarm Bells Over Lagging Revenues
by Christine Stuart | Oct 19, 2012 10:24am

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero believed the decision to delay the October revenue estimates until after the November election was a purely political move, so he asked the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis to give him its estimates early.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis and the Office of Policy and Management sit down three times a year and come to a consensus on the state’s revenue estimates. The estimates are released in January, April and October, but this summer the legislature voted to change the mid-October reporting period to Nov. 10.

For the past two years the numbers have been reported in October, but Democratic lawmakers said it made more sense to wait until November when they had more financial information to include in the report.

Finance Committee Co-Chairwoman Rep. Patricia Widlitz said during debate in June that the move had nothing to do with the election. Widlitz said the consensus revenue estimates were pushed back so the state would have a more up-to-date financial picture at its annual fiscal accountability meeting, which takes place between Nov. 15 and Nov. 30.

“The intent was to give us a more accurate picture with more accurate information than we had on October 15,” Widlitz said at the time.

But Cafero believes the numbers already prove his point that despite the second largest tax hike in the state’s history—the state could end the year in a deficit.

According to the OFA report prepared for Cafero this week, revenues are down about $71.6 million from projections. From Indian gaming revenue to sales tax revenues are lagging behind projections.

“Unless otherwise noted, these FY 13 revenue adjustments would continue into the out years, resulting in a net reduction to the General Fund revenue base of approximately $20.8 million annually for each of FY 14 - FY 16,” the OFA report states.

“We cannot ignore what is going on,“ Cafero said. “That is how we got into trouble in the first place. If we are facing another huge deficit we are going to have to act as soon as possible to fix this.”

Roy Occhiogrosso, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s senior communications adviser, said it’s the Republicans not the Democrats playing politics with the numbers.

“The closer we get to Election Day, the more desperate the Republicans become,” Occhiogrosso said Thursday. “The more desperate they become, the more heated their rhetoric becomes. The more heated the rhetoric the more they play fast and loose with the facts.“

“They should probably just take a deep breath and begin coming up with the excuses they’ll need to explain away another failed campaign season,” he added.

Cafero maintains he’s simply dealing with the reality of the numbers and this has nothing to do with election year politics. After all the legislation requiring the estimates to be prepared was implemented three years ago by a Democrat-controlled legislature as a check on the executive branch, which at the time was controlled by a Republican.

“Despite all assurances from the Democrats and Gov. Malloy that we could tax our way out of the previous deficit, Connecticut’s budget remains structurally broken because we continue to spend more money than we take in,“ Cafero said. “Until we address that basic fact we will run deficits.”

Higher-Ed Chief Reaped $100,000+ In Compensation Above $340,000 Salary
An Additional $20,000 In 'Deferred Compensation' Is Still Coming

Hartford Courant
Jon Lender, Government Watch
4:22 PM EDT, October 19, 2012

Robert Kennedy, the higher education chief who resigned Oct. 12 amid an uproar over $250,000 in unauthorized raises given to his subordinates, received at least $100,000 more than his widely reported $340,000 annual salary in 13 months on the job — including $75,000 from a contractual bonus and unvouchered expense account.

What's more, the now-departed appointee of Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is still eligible for an additional $20,000 in "deferred compensation" — even after he's gone.

And although there was criticism over Kennedy's 8½-week absence from Connecticut during the summer, he's still expected to be paid more than $4,000 for 26.67 hours of "accrued vacation."

Here — after an examination of the lucrative employment contract he negotiated with Malloy's office, and responses by Board of Regents spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan Johnson to a Courant Freedom of Information Act request — is the final tally on Kennedy's compensation:

-- $377,778 in base salary, coming in 29 two-week paychecks of $13,027 at the rate of $340,000 a year, since he started in September 2011 as president for the newly formed Board of Regents for Higher Education.

-- Two payments of $25,000 each, last spring and in July, under a provision in his contract for unvouchered expenses. Of that $50,000 total, the only documented expenses were $218.64 for December 2011 and January 2012. He was paid the other $49,781 under a contract provision giving him "an annual unvouchered accommodation account" of $25,000 to be used at his "sole discretion." Kennedy served during two of the state's fiscal years, which begin every July 1, and got a $25,000 payment for each, Flanagan Johnson said. No justification was required under the contract for expenses intended for "fundraising, community outreach, memberships and enhancing to the position of the Board of Regents."

-- A $25,000 "performance based incentive" — that is, a bonus — paid for meeting his "Year 1" goal, which was to "establish the central system office of the Board of Regents to provide the necessary business, policy, human resources and academic leadership for the System which includes the Community and Technical colleges, the Connecticut State University System and Charter Oak State College." The state's flagship University of Connecticut operates separately, with its own board of trustees, president and administration for its campuses — the main one in Storrs.

-- $19,274 in moving reimbursements for his relocation from both his main residence in Maine and his summer home in Minnesota upon his arrival in Connecticut in 2011. He and his wife found an apartment in Bloomfield when he took the job.

-- $4,343 for the 26.67 unused hours of vacation, based on his hourly pay rate of $162.83.

-- $15,183 in health care expenses under the state's plan.

-- Use of a $36,863 SUV, a 2012 Toyota Highlander SE, which he received on Sept. 13, 2011. It has been retrieved and is sitting in the Board of Regents' parking lot in Hartford.

-- A few expense reimbursements totaling $1,081 which, for reasons not yet explained, did not come out of the unvouchered expense account. They included $224 for repairs to the state-owned vehicle, $48 for parking on three days this year, and $809 for travel to a conference in Washington, D.C.

-- The $20,000 in deferred compensation, to which the contract said Kennedy is entitled for "each full year of service.

Flanagan Johnson said that the deferred compensation is the only amount listed above that has not yet been paid to Kennedy — with the possible exception of the $4,343 for the unused vacation time. That's supposed to be in his final paycheck, and Flanagan Johnson said Friday that she was not sure it had been issued yet.

In addition to drawing anger over the more than $250,000 in raises that he gave his staff without the legally required authorization, Kennedy also drew criticism in the days leading to his resignation after the disclosure that he worked "remotely" from his Minnesota home last summer. He said he did that under a contractual provision allowing him 6 weeks of "annual paid professional leave." Subsequently, an examination of his time sheets showed that he was actually gone for nearly nine weeks.

The chairman of the Board of Regents, Lewis Robinson Jr., has said he thought the contract provision was intended for "professional development" activities such as seminars, but Kennedy said he had been told that his remote working arrangement was OK.

The contract was negotiated with Kennedy in 2011 by Malloy's chief of staff at the time, Timothy Bannon, who since has left the office, Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy's senior adviser, said Friday. It was Bannon who told Kennedy he could use the professional leave provision to work from Minnesota, Occhiogrosso said.

At the time of the negotiation, Kennedy said he already had a commitment to spend the six weeks in Minnesota, and so it was agreed he could use the provision for that, Occhiogrosso said. Malloy "was under the impression" that the working-from-Minnesota arrangement "was for the first year only," Occhiogrosso added.

Flanagan Johnson said that none of the $19,274 in moving expense reimbursements were connected with the weeks he spent during the summer at his Minnesota home.

Kennedy was not the only casualty of the controversy that has brought political embarrassment and heavy criticism concerning Malloy's much-ballyhooed reorganization of the system governing the four state universities and 12 regional community-technical colleges.

Kennedy's departure was quickly followed by the resignation of his second-in-command, Michael P. Meotti, the former executive vice president for the regents. Meotti was one of 21 employees who got a raise — $48,000, effective June 29, to a new level of $232,244. That raise, as well as the other 20, have been suspended while the Board of Regents tries to decide what to do.

Meotti has agreed to return about $12,000 in increased salary already paid to him. He is still working in a transitional role, with no date yet announced for his actual departure

Meanwhile, the Board of Regents has named former UConn President Philip Austin as interim replacement for Kennedy.

Also involved in the controversy at the Board of Regents were communications from the central office that raised fears that community college presidents would be pushed out of their jobs through forced buyouts if they didn't go along with proposed changes.

OP-ED | Regent-gate Taints Malloy: Will Voters Remember?
by Terry D. Cowgill | Oct 19, 2012 5:30am

Unless his second two years are as daunting as the first two, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is one lucky man. Then again, maybe not.

Since his swearing in, Malloy has accomplished a lot of unpleasant tasks (e.g. defusing a budget crisis, a record tax increase, intemperate remarks about teachers and givebacks from state labor unions) that ticked off a lot of his natural allies.

And as I wrote in this space late last year, if the governor wants to run for re-election in 2014, Connecticut’s wretched economy will likely have improved by then and Malloy will have gotten most of the ugly obstacles out of the way early in his first term, leaving those he offended with ample time to forget.

But I might have spoken too soon. Now add this one to the list of Malloy challenges: two senior executives of the newly created Board of Regents of Higher Education resigned last week over a scandal in which 21 education officials were improperly given hundreds of thousands of dollars in raises.

Robert Kennedy, the former president of the University of Maine who had been appointed by Malloy last August as Regents president, apologized last week for authorizing the extravagant raises without board approval at a time when higher education was being told to tighten its belt, most state employees were under wage freezes, and Connecticut was expected to finish the year with a $143 million general-fund deficit.

But it was too little too late, as the resulting public outcry caused Kennedy to step down a few days later, followed by regents’ Vice President Michael Meotti, a former state legislator whose 26-percent raise would have boosted his salary to more than $230,000. For reasons yet unknown, Meotti also had tried to launch a pricey purge of the state’s community college presidents.

Meanwhile, Kennedy, who already had a base salary of $340,000, along with a state vehicle, a unvouchered $25,000 annual expense account, and generous performance incentives, also had a clause in his contract allowing for six weeks of paid vacation and six weeks of paid “professional development” per year. But for almost nine weeks, Kennedy admitted he hung out at his family’s second home in Minnesota and “worked remotely” — which, given his mostly empty calendar, sounds like a euphemism for an extended vacation.

The reaction was swift and relatively furious, as Sen. Beth Bye and Rep. Roberta Willis, both loyal Democrats who co-chair the General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, were willing to call a duck a duck. Indeed, Willis said she thinks Kennedy “violated the law.”

A picture emerges of a new government bureaucracy that was designed to be more efficient, but has turned out to be a wasteful monster with feckless leadership. The tone is set from the top. Effective leaders lead by example. They do not enrich themselves out of public view and expect the little people at the state’s community colleges to be happy with 9-percent unemployment, declining financial aid, larger classes, and 3.1-percent tuition increases.

Until now, Malloy has steered cleared of serious scandal. But the current specter of Regent-gate, as blogger and former state legislator Jonathan Pelto has dubbed it, threatens to drag the governor into the ash heap of disgrace.

For it was the governor who prevailed on the General Assembly to create the Board of Regents. And, bypassing the protocol of establishing a search committee, Malloy himself selected Kennedy, whom he had met when Kennedy applied unsuccessfully to be president of UConn. And it was Malloy who handpicked the overwhelming majority of the board and set Kennedy’s outrageous contract.

Clearly, Kennedy and Meotti assumed Malloy would either not notice, or look the other way, when they behaved like pigs feeding at the public trough. Either way, the whole fiasco reflects poorly on the governor’s leadership. Will the voters remember it in 2014? Maybe not. But you can bet Tom Foley will.

Medicaid Spending Could Bust 2013 Budget
by Christine Stuart | Oct 2, 2012 5:30am

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo certified a nearly $27 million deficit Monday and warned that a slow national and state economic recovery could continue to impact the 2013 budget.

In this letter  to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lembo reported that his office generally agrees with the Office of Policy and Management’s current budgetary deficit projection, which reflects a deterioration of $30 million from last month.

The biggest budget-busting number could be the increasing enrollment in Medicaid.

“Despite weak sales tax revenues, the state could still reach its revenue targets due to a positive income tax trend and other factors. Our deficit projection is driven by the spending side, where the rising Medicaid caseload continues to grow and will likely run $100 million over budget,” Lembo said.

Medicaid added more than 1,700 additional clients in the month of August alone—a one month increase of 0.7 percent, and well above budget expectations, Lembo said.

Lembo estimated that Medicaid will run $100 million over budget, but about half of that will be offset by a federal matching grant. The other offset to the $50 million in net higher Medicaid spending is a $20 million reduction in debt service cost due to lower than anticipated rates of borrowing.

“I am especially concerned with the sales tax trend in light of slower personal income growth in the state,” Lembo wrote. “Based on second quarter 2012 results released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Connecticut’s personal income growth slowed from 1.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012 to 0.9 percent in the second quarter. The state’s income growth ranking fell from thirteenth highest in the nation to thirty-fourth.”

It’s troublesome because sales tax receipts have historically tracked closely to personal income.

Data from the state and federal Departments of Labor and other sources show continued slow growth this year, while employment numbers were particularly troubling, Lembo said.

According to the state Department of Labor, Connecticut lost 6,800 payroll jobs and the unemployment rate rose to 9 percent. This is the second largest monthly job loss since the jobs recovery began in 2010, and it has pushed the state’s unemployment rate above the national level of 8.1 percent.

Over the 12-month period ending in August, the state has added a net 1,100 jobs to payrolls. Based on this data, Connecticut has recovered just one quarter of the jobs lost during the recession.

Despite the poor employment statistics for the state, initial claims for unemployment insurance continued a downward trend in Connecticut, falling 2.9 percent over the 12-month period ending in August.

The data is confusing.

The state has not seen a rise in the number of people seeking unemployment benefits for the first time, Labor Department Research Director Andy Condon said last month. The number actually dropped slightly from July to August. At the same time, Malloy said tax withholdings rose 3.6 percent after adjustment.

“Those two trends are the opposite of what you would expect to see if the state was losing jobs at the rate suggested in this report,” Malloy has said.

Still, the governor said he was well aware the state faces strong headwinds both nationally and internationally.

Connecticut’s average hourly earnings were down 1.1 percent from August of last year, and weekly private sector pay fell 1.4 percent from August of the previous year.

Gosh, did you think it was an issue when this happened?

Connecticut's first lady lashes media at Emily's List panel
By Robin Abcarian
September 5, 2012, 4:46 p.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The topic at the panel organized by Emily’s List was upbeat — how to get more women to run for public office — but the message to would-be candidates was sobering, even daunting: If you do run for office, understand that everyone you love is running with you. Your family and friends will be under the media microscope too.

That aspect of public life came to life Wednesday afternoon when Cathy Malloy, first lady of Connecticut, shared a personal story during the Q & A portion of the discussion, which was organized as a fundraiser by Emily’s List, the group that nurtures and supports female officer-seekers who support abortion rights.

Panelists at the event held at a downtown theater here included Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, actress and Tennessee alternate delegate Ashley Judd, Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock and Orlando’s first female police chief, Val Demings, who is running for Congress. Media scrutiny is not always pleasant, they agreed, but it comes with the territory.

“Whether you are Republican or Democrat,” said Malloy, whose husband, Dannel Malloy, became governor of Connecticut in 2011 after 14 years as the mayor of Stamford, “people do not appreciate people in public life like they should. Americans eat their politicians up every day. And this is a huge problem. Not only do we get beat up, our children get beat up. And it’s tough business, a really tough business, for people that want to get in public life.”

Last March, Malloy, the former CEO of a rape crisis center, received an award for that work. The next day, she said, she was ticketed for failing to wear her seat belt. In news stories, reporters noted that the state had launched a “click it or ticket” seat belt campaign. The fine, which she did not contest, was $92.

“I forgot to put my seat belt on, and I was pulled over by the police,” Malloy said. The police didn’t recognize her because she was driving a crummy car, she told the crowd, using a far earthier adjective than crummy to describe the car.

Malloy said she wasn’t asking for sympathy. “We choose to be in public life, we choose to run for office so nobody should feel sorry for us, this is what we want to do…. It’s just so bizarre.”

Moderator Joanna Coles, the former editor of Marie Claire magazine, which sponsored the event, tried to interrupt. “You raise a very good point,” she began.

But Malloy was not finished.

“Right,” she said. “Someone was saying earlier you can’t get people to run. And I think the reason people don’t want to run is … they say, ‘Wow, do we really want to subject our children to this, do we really want to subject our wives to this, or our husbands?’ And I’ll tell you it’s a big decision because … the media just won’t let up. Every single thing, you know, what are you doing. I have a son who was in significant trouble and just because …”

Coles stepped in again. “You raise an interesting point,” she said.

Before Malloy could discuss her son’s troubles, Demings jumped in and said she sympathized with Malloy because when she became Orlando’s first female police chief, “the media did everything but move in my house with me.”

As Malloy took her seat, she said, “I don’t think she got what I was telling her.”

Comptroller To Malloy: 'Closely Monitor' Spending After $144-Million Deficit
The Hartford Courant
BY JON LENDER, jlender@courant.com
4:52 PM EDT, September 4, 2012

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said Tuesday that the state had a $143.6-million deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, and warned Gov. Dannel Malloy that "careful monitoring" is needed to avoid another one next year.

"It will be necessary to closely monitor General Fund spending during this fiscal year," which runs from his past July 1 through June 30, 2013, Lembo said in a letter to Malloy after closing the books on the old fiscal year.

Spending is budgeted to increase by 2.6 percent in the fiscal year ending next June 30, and, with revenues projected to increase by just 3.1 percent, that leaves little margin for error, Lembo said. "This rate of [spending] increase is historically low and will require careful monitoring and swift remedial action if outlays trend higher," he said.

Last fiscal year's revenue grew 4.8 percent or $854 million, but still fell $227 million short of the original budget projection, Lembo said. The deficit of $143.6 million has been covered by money saved from various state general fund reserves from the past.

Despite Republican protests, state lawmakers this year decided to transfer $222 million from the 2011 surplus to cover a shortfall. The surplus finds had been intended to pay off bonds that financed the previous deficit from fiscal 2009 under Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Lawmakers said those bond payments would still be made, but not as soon as planned.

State general fund spending during the past fiscal year was up 5.2 percent or $936.9 million. The biggest part of that came from a $409.4-million increase in Department of Social Services - a 7.6 percent jump - as Medicaid caseloads grew by 52 percent, Lembo said.

Lembo said other spending increases stemmed from: contributions to teachers' retirement, up $210.2 million ("reflecting full funding," he said); debt service payments; and state employees' retirement funding. Salary and wage costs declined by more than 8 percent after adjusting for the state's payment of a 27th payroll period, which occurs once every 10 years, Lembo said.

Study questions if Connecticut emerged from recession
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
August 29, 2012

New data show Connecticut's economy was damaged more severely than most economists originally thought in the last recession, according to a provocative new report released Wednesday by the University of Connecticut's economic think-tank.  The latest analysis from the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis warned the state "has an even steeper hill to climb" and could see little or no net job growth over the next 18 months, a grim prospect as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy looks ahead to a re-election campaign in 2014.

And the study suggested that the state technically might still be in a recession.  The center also hit again on one of its favorite themes, urging the Malloy administration to mobilize unused research and development and other related business tax credits to underwrite major capital projects to grow jobs.

"The new understanding of the depths from which we are recovering re-enforces ... the absolute necessity for Connecticut to pursue aggressive policies and sustained investments to accelerate recovery and job creation," the report states.

It added that there are fewer jobs in Connecticut now than in 1988, calling it "a generation without job creation."

The report hinges on new data from the National Bureau of Economic Analysis, which provides information on Connecticut's real gross domestic product, or the value of goods and services produced by its businesses, adjusted for inflation. A recession generally is described as two consecutive quarters of declining GDP.  Many economists say the last economic downturn, which became known as the Great Recession, began nationally in December 2007 and ended by July 2009. In Connecticut, which tends to both enter and leave economic downswings later than the national average, the recession generally is charted between March 2008 and the first few months of 2010.

But the UConn center noted that the National Bureau of Economic Analysis recently "sharply lowered" its seasonally adjusted numbers for Connecticut for 2006 through 2010.

The low point, which came in the fourth quarter of 2009, was supposed to be a GDP of $204.5 billion. But new data show the state's rock bottom of economic output was actually about 7 percent lower, coming in just above $190 billion.  Based on the national bureau's numbers, Connecticut fell into the Great Recession as early as the third quarter of 2007.

And if the measure of a recession's end is regaining the GDP level held prior to the decline, then it could be argued the Nutmeg State is still in a recession, said Fred V. Carstensen, an economist and the UConn center's director.

"We thought we'd recovered," Carstensen said, "but we never really got out."

A downturn in the state's finance, insurance and real estate sectors was a precursor to the recession, which also strongly hit certain other services, manufacturing, transportation and utilities.  And while services and manufacturing have enjoyed a "relatively strong" recovery, improvement in finance, insurance and real estate "appears to be fizzling out," the report states.

Not all is gloom and doom, though, with permits for new housing construction recovering strongly during the first half of 2012, the report states. And that comes despite new federal data showing the median price for single-family house sales fell more sharply in Connecticut during the second quarter of this year than in any other state.  The center projects economic growth rates of 0.6 percent from now through the first half of 2013, after which it should climb to 1.3 percent by 2014.

Carstensen described this as "very weak growth" that could lead to a meager 5,000 new jobs being added over the next 18 months, and possibly less if the Federal Reserve doesn't take steps to control escalating interest rates. If true, the state's economic troubles could linger until the early months of the 2014 campaign.

"The administration has a much larger problem to address than they'd realized, than we had realized," he said.

The center has praised Malloy for several of its biggest economic development efforts, including developing a bioscience research initiative with the Jackson Laboratory and the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. But it also repeatedly has urged the administration to mobilize a portion of the nearly $2.5 billion in so-called "stranded" business tax credits that have built up on the state's ledger over several decades.

These are credits that companies are entitled to, but can't claim because they don't earn enough or they don't owe enough taxes to use the benefit.  Carstensen insists that by tying credits to job growth targets, state officials could ensure that new income, sales and other taxes generated by new workers would offset the cost of any corporate tax relief provided to businesses.

But when the center made that argument in its May report, state Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith was openly skeptical.

"Mr. Carstensen's assertion that unleashing stranded tax credits is the cure-all for our economy is off the mark," Smith said at the time. "These credits are not 'entirely self-funding' because they reduce state revenue when redeemed and there is no evidence that the holders of unredeemed credits would take advantage of Professor Carstensen's scheme at all, much less at a level that would create tens of thousands of new jobs."

The commissioner added that Connecticut's economic turnaround would depend on "a comprehensive, strategic approach that addresses all the issues that make us more attractive to workers and companies alike, including education, economic development, housing, innovation, and  worker training -- something the governor has long been committed to."

August 6th fund raiser
Governor Malloy and wife attend $35k (each) dinner in Westport...who picked up this check?

Remember the last trip to group's similar event?  Well, not exactly similar...

Taxpayers Will Pay 20K for Malloy’s Trip To China
by Christine Stuart | Aug 2, 2012 4:46pm

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday that he will be traveling to China in September to participate in the World Economic Summit in Tianjin.

It’s the summer version of the summit he attended in Davos, Switzerland in January. But unlike last time when the Uconn Foundation picked up his travel costs, taxpayers will be footing the $20,000 travel bill for both Malloy and Economic and Community Development Director Catherine Smith to attend.

Like last time though, Malloy did receive an invitation, so he won’t have to pay the hefty $10,000 admission price to rub elbows with global entrepreneurs and officials from 90 countries.

Malloy made the announcement Thursday afternoon while meeting with a delegation from Guangdong Province. The group of more than 50 officials were completing a leadership conference run by the Yale School of Management at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offices in Hartford.

In a meeting with a small group of dignitaries Malloy talked about the size of their Province and how with 104 million people it’s about 29 times the size of Connecticut.

“I’m convinced China is only beginning to recognize its economic power in the world,” Malloy told them. “No doubt your province will be at the forefront.”

Speaking through a translator, Li Yiwei, secretary for the CPC Foshan municipal committee, said there are many entrepreneurs in his city who would love to come to the United States and share their innovations, but are shy.

He asked Malloy if he would come talk to them while he’s in China and convince them not to be so afraid.

Malloy is trying to schedule a trip to the Guangdong Province during his trip to the World Economic Summit which will be held in Tianjin. Tianjin borders Hebei Province. Malloy also plans to make a visit to Jinan in the Shandong Province and Beijing. He will be traveling with Smith, who was his companion in Davos in January.

“I want to use this opportunity to do two things: convince Chinese companies that Connecticut is a great place to establish a presence in the United States, and let the Chinese know that Connecticut-based companies are ready and willing to do business with them too,” Malloy said.

The governor will travel to China Sept. 8-16.

The summit according to its website will “highlight the role that new and fast-emerging multinational companies play in enabling and driving sustainability in a global business landscape that has been fundamentally changed by the economic crisis.”

This will be Malloy’s second trip to China. As mayor of Stamford, Malloy traveled there in 2002.

It will be the first time a Connecticut governor has traveled to China since former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker.


Malloy going to China

Mark Pazniokas
2 August 2012

Connecticut's well-traveled Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is going to China. The governor's office announced today that Malloy has accepted an invitation to attend the World Economic Forum Summit in Tianjin, China, next month. The state will pick up the estimated cost of less than $20,000.

"Every day I wake up, I'm focused on figuring out different ways to create good-paying jobs with good benefits for Connecticut residents," Malloy said in a statement. "To that end, while it sounds like a worn- out cliché, we truly do live in a global economy. When we recently announced the creation of a new multinational corporation that will be based in North Haven, I hope it sent a message to companies around the world that Connecticut is not only an alternative, but a prime place to grow and expand, and to create the kinds of good jobs we need here."

Malloy will be the first Connecticut governor to visit China since William A. O'Neill in 1987. It will be his second major international trip as governor: In January, Malloy attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The governor will be in China from Sept. 8 to 16. He will be accompanied by Catherine Smith, the commissioner of econonomic development.

"If there's one thing that's a given in the 21st century economy, it's that China will be a leading player on the world stage," Malloy said. "I want to use this opportunity to do two things: convince Chinese companies that Connecticut is a great place to establish a presence in the United States, and let the Chinese know that Connecticut-based companies are ready and willing to do business with them too."

Since taking office in January 2011, Malloy has been a frequent visitor to Washington and an active participant in meetings of the National Governors Association and Democratic Governors Association.

In an attempt to figure out the best design for his wall, Governor Malloy to check out others in September (above)

No Taj Mahal for Malloy - but Kipling poem does bring to mind the struggles with reorganization and deficits and pension liabilities...moats work if you don't underestimate how provoked the tiger might get!...

State Spends $250,000 On Governor's Mansion Security Upgrades

The Hartford Courant
BY DAVE ALTIMARI, daltimar@courant.com
8:08 PM EDT, July 15, 2012

HARTFORD Fueled by increasing safety concerns, Gov.Dannel P. Malloy's administration has spent more than $250,000 upgrading the security system at the governor's Hartford mansion, state records indicate.

Administration officials said the security changes were recommended by the state police, in charge of providing security for the governor, following the shooting of then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. Officials said there also had been some intrusions with people accessing the back of the property since Malloy became governor.

The biggest expenditure is $130,000 to fence in the entire 4.5-acre property for the first time since the state bought it 69 years ago.

The updated security also includes $65,836 for video surveillance cameras installed around the property, which borders Prospect Avenue, Asylum Avenue and Terry Road. The administration, in office for 18 months, has spent $30,000 for a new security gate at the back entrance on Terry Road and nearly $12,000 to put in security at a guesthouse on the property.

"We hadn't done any major security updates since 2006, so it was time to review the whole system,'' said state Department of Administrative Services Commissioner Donald DeFronzo. "The state police did a threat assessment and made recommendations on what needed to be improved."

Carol O'Shea, the executive director of the residence, said there were several instances of people walking onto the property, particularly from Asylum Avenue.

"There is an embankment there, but people were still walking up it onto the property and while no one ever approached the house, it was certainly a concern to have people wandering around,'' O'Shea said.

DAS is in charge of maintenance of the governor's mansion. It is one of 35 buildings the agency is responsible for maintaining. For DAS, the concern is not only the safety of the governor and his family but also items in the mansion ranging from antiques to paintings to historical artifacts.

Neighbors have noticed the changes, particularly the fence that now blocks off the property.

John L. Bonee, who lives on Terry Road adjacent to the mansion, said over the years his family has walked its dog on the back of the mansion property, particularly when Lowell Weicker was governor in the early 1990s.

"There's never been a fence between our houses in the 31 years that we have lived here. I wonder if it is because I am a Republican,'' Bonee said.

Overall operating expenses at the mansion, which include everything from paying the cable bill to pest control services to caterers, have increased since Malloy became governor, state records show.

In 2011, the operating expenses were slightly more than $237,000. In the seven previous years, the average amount of operating expenses for the mansion was $202,000, records show.

Besides the normal cost increases for utilities and services, the main reason for the increase in operating expenses is that Malloy and his family live there full-time. Former Gov.M. Jodi Rellwent back to her home in Brookfield so often that state police had to establish a second command center there.

In addition, the Malloys have opened up the mansion for use by non-profit organizations far more than any recent governor. This year, more than 30 non-profits have used the mansion for receptions, and at least another dozen are scheduled through the end of the year, according to records provided by Malloy's staff.

"This governor seems to be using the residency for state business purposes far more than any recent governor,'' DeFronzo said. "We have probably tripled or quadrupled the use of the residency for business."

O'Shea said the mansion also wasn't immune from the October storm that hit Connecticut last year. More than 40 trees had to be removed from the property, most of them in the back, except for a large white birch out front.

O'Shea said a branch from the white birch nearly fell on the governor's car as he was returning to the mansion one night. Overall, the state spent more than $55,000 in tree removal and landscaping fees, records show.

The security enhancements and other capitol improvements aren't included in the regular operating budget. They are taken out of a $12.5 million budget that DAS uses to pay for maintenance on all 35 buildings it oversees, according to Douglas Moore, Director of Management Services, Bureau of Properties and Facilities Management for DAS.

Moore said DAS keeps a list of pre-approved contractors and asks them to submit bids when they need a job done. The mansion was built in 1909. The state purchased it in 1943, and it has been the governor's residence since 1945. Malloy is the 15th governor to live in it.

Since Malloy took office, DAS has spent more than $426,000 on maintenance of the mansion, including the security upgrades. Among the other costs: $74,000 to replace air conditioning units on the first two floors, $52,000 to upgrade the HVAC system and $21,000 for energy upgrades.

Moore said the air conditioning units were 25 years old and needed to be replaced, as did the HVAC system. Moore said the funds to pay for all the capital improvements came from four different accounts.

"It is somewhat a unique building because it is not only the residence, but it is also an historic site and a public venue,'' DeFronzo said.

State Faces 5-Year Backlog Of 12,800 Pension Audits
Hartford Courant
Jon Lender, Government Watch
6:11 PM EDT, July 7, 2012

The state has a five-year backlog in the audits it must perform on benefits paid to new government retirees – a buildup of more than 12,800 unaudited retirement accounts, dating to 2007, that is not only leaving pensioners underpaid, but also adding to state interest costs.

More than $1.9 million in interest has been paid in the past three years alone to retirees who were found by auditors to have been underpaid in the first years they started receiving their lifetime pensions.

Each time someone retires from state employment, auditors must calculate to the penny what benefits her or she will receive. But, because people retire faster than auditors can verify the benefits they're entitled to, the pensions start being paid based on preliminary estimates – which generally end up on the low side.

The state's new comptroller, Kevin Lembo, took office in January 2011 from 16-year predecessor Nancy Wyman — now lieutenant governor — and inherited most of the audit backlog that grew during recent years of mass retirements from the state work force. He said he's making it "priority one" to reduce the backlog.

In the past year he has cut the backlog by a couple hundred or so. At that rate, it would take more than 50 years to catch up. The comptroller's office will need to do better, and Lembo insists it will.

"I consider this backlog a significant priority," Lembo said last week. "While it took more than a decade to accumulate, I am determined to see it eliminated entirely — and as soon as possible — to save both dollars spent on interest, as well as personnel resources."

At least some of the interest paid to the pensioners — at the rate of 5 percent — probably could have been generated by investing money that the state failed to pay the new retirees before the audits corrected their benefit amounts. But the government hasn't had all that extra money to invest, as it has strained to meet existing budgets in tough financial times.

Also, it isn't just a question of interest dollars but of how to run the government efficiently – how to avoid falling hopelessly behind on the essential task of paying retirees the money to which they are entitled, in the years when they can still use it.

Upon leaving state service, state retirees receive an "estimated monthly benefit" – a calculation based on several factors, including years of service. The comptroller's office then conducts an audit on each retiree's benefits to "confirm that all factors have been accurately calculated," Lembo said.

"If any benefit change is necessary, the state will either reduce any payment that was over-estimated, and deduct any money owed back to the state, or increase any benefit that was underestimated, including back pay and interest," Lembo said. "The error rate – the difference between estimated and post-audited – for state pensions is about 1 percent, with most of those cases having been initially underestimated."

When those underpayments are finally corrected, interest is paid on the money the retirees should have been receiving from the beginning. That interest totaled $449,139, $860,204, and $602,083 for the past three fiscal years – a total of $1,911,426, according to the comptroller's office.

The backlog was "particularly exacerbated," Lembo said, by the 2009 early retirement incentive and a "retirement surge" that followed the 2011 concessions agreement between state employee unions and the newly arrived administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. From July to October of 2011, the retirement division of Lembo's office handled 1,680 retirements.

"When the state offers early-retirement incentives, or otherwise experiences a surge in retirements … the result is a simultaneous influx of applications and decrease in resources to process those retirements," Lembo said.

To address the backlog of retirements, which stood at 12,882 last week, Lembo said he worked with his office's retirement services division "to re-evaluate and reorganize the procedures to more efficiently process retirement finalizations."

"While we have significantly increased the efficiency and rate of finalizations, I am determined to find additional ways to build on our momentum," Lembo said. "As part of our ongoing efforts, I have an in-house work group that is investigating additional ways to reduce the backlog as efficiently as possible."

"Based on these changes, the audit unit ... has so far finalized more retirements this year than it had in the previous two years for the same period," he said. As of June, he said, "the unit finalized 906 retirements" — compared with 683 for the same period last year.

Many times one wonders where the rainbow ends up - and now we know...

State running out of cash, officials say

Ken Dixon, CT POST
Updated 12:54 a.m., Saturday, June 23, 2012

HARTFORD -- The state is only weeks away from borrowing money to pay for monthly operating expenses because its cash accounts are depleted to near-record lows.

Minority Republicans charged that bloated state spending is the culprit, along with savings predicted in last year's concession package with public employee unions that have not been realized. They warned that the cash pool for monthly payments that state Treasurer Denise Nappier promised to keep at about $700 million has averaged only $122 million over the last six months. She recently acknowledged to minority Republicans that her department plans to borrow money to pay monthly operating costs.

Democrats downplayed the problem, but admitted there will be challenges when the General Assembly meets in January for its budget-making session.

Rep. Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, a member of the Finance Committee, said Friday that Nappier has not been forthcoming about borrowing plans but, judging by the state's finances, it should occur this summer.

"In my estimation, from the burn rate that we're going at, it's conceivable by August we would be looking at borrowing money," he said. Part of the problem is the projected $220 million surplus of 2011 that was applied to the current budget that expires on June 30 but which hasn't materialized.

"By taking $220 million from a checkbook that had zero dollars in it, we've exacerbated the problem," he said in an interview.

"In the coming legislative session, those of us who are fortunate enough to be back are going to be faced with a challenge," said Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, ranking member of the Finance Committee, during a half-hour committee meeting Friday to adopt revenue estimates. "The challenge is going to be how to close what may very well be a budget deficit. We are not in a better position than we were several months ago."

The revenue estimates include a $350 million shortfall in personal income taxes. But gasoline sales tax revenue went up a projected $62 million.

Sen. Antonietta Boucher, R-Wilton, a committee member, said many are "still reeling from" last year's record tax hike. "It makes me wonder if people have gotten into their cars and headed south or west, to states or places where the cost of their taxes is substantially less," she said.

Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, D-East Hartford, said that most of the higher income taxes are being paid by the state's wealthiest residents. "A couple, each making $100,000 apiece, will only have their taxes increased by $17 under the tax plan that we passed," he said.

Sen. Eileen M. Daily, D-Westbrook, co-chairwoman of the committee, conceded that lawmakers would rather not borrow money. "Could it be possible that we have to? It could be," she said in an interview. "For now, we're all right with the internal borrowing we've done in the past."

The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis on Friday released a report requested by Republicans, noting that about $50 million in pension contributions -- half from employees and half from the state -- have been withheld over the last year and retained in the state's cash pool for the $20.5 billion budget.

In a statement on Friday, Nappier said that pension balances are "relatively small," making long-term investments impractical. But they are not used to pay other obligations, she said, adding that until contributions to the retirement funds "materially" outpace the payment of benefits, funds will be kept in the cash pool.

"The value of the trust fund assets reported by OFA on June 21, $49.6 million, does not take into consideration the expenditures to date," she said. "Indeed, the fund currently has a negative cash balance of $13.6 million, which means that retiree health expenses have exceeded appropriations and employee contributions as of this particular point in time."

Nappier recently reported that the state's cash pool "has fallen substantially" to $121 million on May 26. Last year at that time, it was $895 million. The state spends about $2 billion a month to keep government working.

Ken Dixon: Legislators have left building; Elvis stays
Updated 10:52 a.m., Monday, June 18, 2012

All you might need to know about Connecticut state government was compressed into a wet nutshell at about 12:30 a.m. the other night.

It was foggy, cool and raining as I traipsed out of the Capitol and into a perfect metaphor: lawn sprinklers going full bore, dear taxpayers, hissing "governmental efficiency."

Around me, lawmakers were exiting the Capitol like circus clowns filing out of those tiny cars.

The 2012 election season was off and running, as Democratic majorities in the House and Senate steamrolled their way up and over Republicans during the General Assembly's one-day extra-special session to authorize provisions of the upcoming state budget.

The events of the day-into-night unfolded innocently enough, starting shortly after 8:30 in the morning, around the time Gov. Dannel Malloy was visiting with members of the Working Lands Alliance and offering words of agricultural encouragement.

The farmers, nursery operators, educators, students and others in the alliance had gathered in an ornate third-floor Capitol meeting room, enjoying a decadent but seasonal and thoroughly local breakfast of Farmer's Cow ice cream and strawberries.

That's literally as sweet as the day ever got.

What followed was a sour speaker of the House in a day-long time out, creating an unspoken zone of discomfort in the seclusion of his big Capitol office; the rattle of the forthcoming General Assembly elections; Malloy's failed effort to make the mostly secretive state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) even more opaque; and one of the most hilarious existential comments you could hear from a lawmaker.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney and House Minority Leader Larry Cafero hammered hard on how Democrats were using the one-day session to revive more than 100 bills with little scrutiny from lawmakers, let alone the taxpayers who would benefit from public hearings on the pros and cons of proposals.

Much of the day I was covering the House and Senate at the same time, in the fifth-floor Capitol press room. It's a maze of messy desks centered around an iconic vintage photo of Elvis Presley, blasted on pills, accepting an honorary DEA title from Richard Nixon in the White House oval office in 1970.

One can sit in the press room with the TV on to cover the House and the overhead audio tuned in to the Senate. It was during this multi-tasking that I lost track of who channeled Jean Paul Sartre. It was either Rep. Toni Walker or Sen. Toni Harp, the Democrats from New Haven who head the powerful Appropriations Committee.

In response to yet another fusillade by McKinney or Cafero, one of "the two Tonis," as they are called, responded, shockingly, that indeed that moment's debate on the legislation was as good as any public hearing.

But I guess the point is that the Legislature is a representative Democracy. Indeed, the Democrats could jam through any legislation they wanted, McKinney and Cafero conceded, because they can, as long as they have a solid majority and a governor from their party.

If there's ever a crew that needed more members, it's the House and Senate minorities, outnumbered 99-52 and 22-14, respectively. Cafero, of Norwalk, and McKinney, of Fairfield, threw every rhetorical fast ball they could during the 10 solid hours of debate that started in the House at about 2:35 in the afternoon and ended about 10 hours later in the Senate.

They railed about the hundreds of pages pushed on them, with dozens of new items that sprung up after the regular session that ended May 9. They outed Malloy's attempt to provide even more secret cover to the DECD than it already enjoys and shamed Democrats into dropping it from the legislation.

They spoke of the "dark cloud" over the proceedings, without having to mention that Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, was in self-imposed exile in his Capitol office, emerging every few hours to mount the House podium and press his green "yes" button.

A federal investigation had busted the finance director of his 5th Congressional District campaign and Donovan wanted to distance himself from the obscure bill on creating fees for machines that roll cigarettes that was the supposed genesis of the alleged influence peddling that threatens Donovan's future.

In addition to assembling legal language to authorize the $20.5 billion budget that takes effect July 1, piles of pet bills, which had expired from legislative neglect on May 9, rose from the dead like zombies.

The stars of the show were a job-training bill that had been the top Senate priority but died May 9; and $3.5 million for Bridgeport's destitute, underperforming schools that also was excluded from the budget last month.

My favorite, though, was a piece for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that changes the way horses are treated.

It eliminates a requirement that the DEEP designate and dedicate trails in state parks and forests for horseback riders. Instead, they'll be ridden on so-called multi-use trails.

Connecticut has more horses per capita than any other state, so look forward to seeing those reports about Darwinian collisions between equines and mountain bikers. Like the General Assembly, it's the survival of the fittest.

Special session on budget explodes into dozens of topics

Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
June 12, 2012

The General Assembly adopted dozens of initiatives in special session Tuesday evening and early Wednesday including another job growth plan, controversial measures aimed at minimum state police staffing and licensing for tobacco shops, and a new phase-in option for municipal property revaluation.

As majority Democrats in both chambers adopted scores of measures, Republicans cried foul, arguing a session that was supposed to be limited to policies needed to implement the new budget had expanded dramatically.

"Is that democracy?" House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, asked after counting more than 146 different concepts covered a two omnibus policy bills.

One-third of those concepts never had been discussed in public hearings during the regular legislative session, Cafero said.

The largest omnibus bill, which covered the bulk of the proposals, passed 88-53 in the House with every Republican and just four Democrats opposed. A second measure, focused primarily on education initiatives and the revaluation option, passed 84-46 in a vote strictly along party lines.

Both measures passed 22-14 strictly along party lines in the Senate  with the final tally wrapping shortly after 12:15 a.m. Wednesday.

"If there was a laundry hamper of a bill, this is the one," said Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, referring to an omnibus, 468-page bill with dozens of provisions. The second bill considered Tuesday contained another 190 pages.

One of the four House Democrats who cast opposing votes, Rep. Daniel Rovero of Putnam, said that while there were "a lot of good parts" to the omnibus policy bill, "it's ridiculous to come back here, give us more than 600 pages to read in one day and expect us to give an intelligent vote."

Democratic leaders said that the majority of measures submitted for debate had some link to the budget. House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, added that most of the exceptions are "items for all of our towns and cities" that he predicted would enjoy bipartisan support.

"We truly worked on keeping our colleagues on the other side of the aisle as informed as our Democratic members were," said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, who added that most GOP objections were aimed at the timing of the bills, and not the content.

"The substance of the bills is good," he said. "We are accomplishing things the people of Connecticut want us to accomplish."

Job growth and trooper staffing taken up -- not minimum wage

Several of the key items adopted Tuesday were anticipated to be carried over from the regular session that wrapped on May 9, including a request from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to repeal the 1,248-trooper minimum staffing level for state police.

The statute setting that threshold has been both a fiscal and a legal thorn in Malloy's side as he has struggled to keep the current state budget in balance.

Connecticut hasn't met that 1,248-trooper mark in several years and had just 1,120 troopers last August when Malloy laid off 56 troopers.

Malloy, who inherited a $3.7 billion deficit when he took office in January 2011, asked the troopers and 14 other state employee unions to help close that gap with wage, benefit and other concessions worth a projected $700 million this fiscal year and $900 million in 2012-13.

The troopers rejected one portion of the concession deal -- a two-year wage freeze.

A Superior Court judge sided late last year with the state police troopers' union, who sued and argued that the statutory threshold could not be set aside. The Malloy administration appealed, but also asked the legislature to repeal the standard.

A second measure long anticipated to be placed on the special session agenda involved the latest jobs promotion initiative developed by majority Democrats in the Senate.

The measure enjoyed strong support in the House and Senate, as well as the governor's backing. But it stalled in the House during the regular 2012 legislative session after the Senate balked at passing a minimum-wage hike sought by House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden.

Highlights of the jobs plan, which was resurrected Tuesday in the larger policy bill include:

    Expanding the existing state Small Business Express Program to provide loans and grants to an estimated 3,600 additional businesses. Currently limited to firms with 50 or fewer workers, the program would be expanded to assist businesses with as many as 100 employees.
    Launching a new program to subsidize a business' cost of hiring unemployed veterans for the first 180 days of the job.
    Creating new "Connecticut Made" and "Connecticut Treasures" programs to promote products made here as well as the state's cultural, education and historic attractions.
    And allowing the state Department of Economic and Community Development to give preference for loans, tax incentives and other assistance to companies that relocate jobs from overseas to Connecticut.

The proposed minimum wage hike, from $8.25 to $8.50 in January and then to $8.75 in January 2014, was left out of the bills debated Tuesday.

Roll-your-own shops face big fee hike

Donovan was tied to another controversial proposal taken up Tuesday.

The large policy bill also established a new fee on Connecticut's so-called "roll-your-own" cigarette industry, which became embroiled two weeks ago in a scandal involving Donovan's campaign for Congress in the 5th District.

The measure would define businesses that own or make available cigarette-rolling machines as tobacco manufacturers. More than a dozen smoke shops that make rolling machines available for patrons' use would have to pay the same annual licensing fee, $5,250, charged to cigarette manufacturers.

The FBI arrested the finance director of Donovan's congressional campaign two weeks ago, accusing him of accepting illegal contributions meant to push the speaker to kill the tobacco legislation.

No evidence has surfaced that Donovan was aware of the effort or did anything to stop the bill. In fact, the measure was a Senate bill that never reached the House when the regular 2012 legislative session ended in early May.

Donovan recused himself from negotiations over the scope of the special session and also was expected not to oversee the House debate from the chamber dais. But Donovan was expected to vote on the bills.

Both the Malloy administration and some legislators have said they fear that not classifying roll-your-own shops as manufacturers could threaten a crucial source of state revenue.

Connecticut has received more than $100 million annually from major tobacco manufacturers for nearly a decade and a half since it settled a lawsuit against five major firms in 1998. And some officials argue that not closing the loophole could prompt cigarette manufacturers to sue Connecticut in hopes of ending their financial obligations to the state.

Smoke shops, who argued they don't fit the description of a cigarette manufacturer, have said the fee would be a serious blow to small businesses.

But Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, co-chairwoman of the legislature's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said smoke shops that have known about the state's concerns about this tax loophole for months.

Those who operate these roll-your-owb machines "choose to do so at your own risk," she said.

"That's a bad statement, I think, for connecticut businesses," responded Rep. John Piscopo, R-Thomaston, who argued the issue shouldn't be resolved until the 2013 legislative session, when it can be studied more closely."

A similar exchange occurred in the Senate, where Westbrook Democrat Eileen Daily, the finance panel's other co-chairwoman, said the revised definition of cigarette manufacturers was necessary "so that the playing field would be level and fair."

But Meriden Republican Len Suzio countered that "this is probably the most thoughtless, antagonistic, heartless piece of legislation."

Lawmakers did agree, though, to delay the imposition of the new fee until Oct. 1. The administration and the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee had proposed changing the system July 1.

New property revaluation option for cities and towns

Majority Democrats in the legislature also used the special session to consider a new initiative from Malloy to expand when communities can phase in revalutions of property for tax purposes.

Communities already can phase in changes in assessments over as many as five years -- rather than making the entire shift in one tax year -- if it involves increases in property value. The objective behind that is to ease the burden on municipal property taxpayers, particularly residential owners.

But the governor's initiative also would give communities of phasing in decreases in property value, starting with this October's grand list, which would be used to prepare tax bills to be issued in July 2013. This could assist communities whose commercial and industrial property tax bases are shrinking in value -- which also could shift property tax burdens more heavily onto residential taxpayers.

"This initiative does two things: it helps local taxpayers and allows municipalities the flexibility they need to blunt the negative impact revaluation sometimes carries," the governor said.  "While we have seen improvement in our overall economy, we must continually look for ways to mitigate the impact of the recession on Connecticut residents."

Malloy's new proposal came a few weeks after he vetoed a bill that would have allowed Farmington, New Britain, Norwich, Stamford and Windham to delay updating property values for one year. The governor had said a measure aimed only at five communities was not fair.

The legislation enacted Tuesday also contains several remnants of the omnibus energy bill that died during the regular session.

One revived provision extends funding for energy efficiency audits for oil-heated homes, covering about half the homes in the state. Funding was due to run out this summer.

Other components of the bills adopted Tuesday would:

    Merge two quasi-public economic development agencies: Connecticut Innovations Inc. and the Connecticut Development Authority.
    Re-designate the Capital City Economic Development Authority as the Capitol Region Development Authority, expanding the types of projects it can launch, specifically charging it with promoting and attracting in-state professional and amateur sports activities.
    Re-establish the state Department of Housing with a commissioner as its head, making it the lead agencies for all housing matters. It also establishes an Interagency Council on Affordable Housing to advise and assist the commissioner.
    Change how retirement benefits are calculated for family support magistrates and compensation commissioners who began serving after July 1, 2011. It also changes how cost-of-living adjustments are calculated for these officials as well as for retired judges.
    Pushes back one of three annual report on state budget revenues from Oct. 15 to Nov. 20, effectively moving the report after the November elections.
    And require the Department of Economic and Community Development to establish a pilot program in poor communities to acquire and renovate residential neighborhoods of single- and multi-family homes.

Watchdog Group Works Federal Investigation Into Campaign Finance Pitch

by Hugh McQuaid | Jun 5, 2012 1:10pm

Nearly a month after the end of the legislative session, it’s still not clear whether the governor will sign a bill increasing transparency in the election process. However, proponents say the federal investigation that led to the arrest of Chris Donovan’s campaign finance director underscores the bill’s importance.

The legislation aims to shed light on the election process by requiring corporations to disclose their campaign activity. It’s a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations, unions, and special interest groups to funnel unlimited funds into political campaigns.  The bill passed on the last day of session despite concerns voiced by Andrew McDonald, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief legal counsel.

“[Malloy] has significant concerns with it and he has not made any commitment about what he would do if it reached his desk in its current form,” McDonald said last month.

The legislation arrived on the governor’s desk late last week and Malloy’s office said he’s yet to come to a determination about the bill.  But the bill is more important than ever following news last week that a federal undercover sting lead the the arrest of Donovan’s Finance Director Robert Braddock Jr., who was charged with conspiring to conceal the identity of donors, Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president of the Washington-based watchdog group Common Cause, said.

According to the arrest affidavit, Braddock helped arrange for $17,500 to be donated to the campaign from sources he believed were actually funded by investors in roll-your-own cigarette shops, who wanted to prevent the passage of a bill imposing new fees on the shops.  While the incident points to corruption in the state’s election system, Hobert Flynn said the bill on Malloy’s desk could help restore the public’s confidence in the system.

“We have a crisis of confidence here. It’s the perfect time to sign a disclosure bill, not veto one,” she said Monday.

“This bill will shine a light on shadowy front groups who try to hide the true source of who pays for negative attack ads. The bill will also provide accountability and empower voters, shareholders and the boards of entities who make political expenditures by requiring disclosure of attack ads,” she said in a statement.

But Common Cause isn’t the only group to make the bill the focus of some post-session lobbying. The Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association sent a letter to Malloy last week urging him to veto the bill, on the grounds that it would create an “onerous burden” for media outlets looking to host debates.

The newspaper association’s executive director Chris VanDeHoef argued the bill would place a monetary value on debates, defining them as independent expenditures and forcing the association to seek board approval to host a debate.  One of the contentious aspects of the bill is a requirement that companies spending money in elections disclose the vote of board members who approved the expenditures.

“In addition to the board’s approval, CDNA would then be required to disclose the votes of individual board members and ‘pertinent information’ that took place during the discussion of this expenditure; an onerous task for a small board like CDNA, a nearly impossible feat for a large corporation or media conglomerate,” VanDeHoef wrote.

However, Hobert Flynn said it’s unlikely election authorities would define a debate as an independent expenditure. But if there are concerns with the language of the bill, she said there’s time to address them.

Because the legislation took over three weeks to get to the governor’s desk, his deadline to sign or veto the bill has been extended beyond the June 12 special legislative session. Hobert Flynn said the campaign disclosure bill shouldn’t be looked at as all or nothing since lawmakers may get the opportunity to tailor the language during special session.

“If [Malloy] has concerns about the language or the intent of specific parts of the bill, he could easily work with House and Senate leaders to make some adjustment to the bill,” Hobert Flynn said.

But that may depend on whether legislative leaders decide to modify the resolution calling lawmakers into special session. The original resolution is narrowly defined to include only bills that are needed to implement the state budget. Malloy has said if the legislature intends to tackle any other issues next week, they would legally need to broaden their call to session.  It’s not clear whether they intend to do that. Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Sen. President Donald Williams, said Tuesday that House and Senate staff have been talking about what might be raised during special session but have not decided whether an amended resolution will be required.

Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy, said it’s too soon to speculate what issues will be addressed during the special session. He reiterated the governor’s concerns regarding the narrow focus of the resolution.

“If the call is changed or they decide to add another special session, we are open to discussing other issues. But that hasn’t happened yet,” he said in a statement. “We are still reviewing the current version of the Campaign Finance bill.”

House GOP returns suspected FBI sting money
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
June 1, 2012

The federal investigation that targeted the congressional campaign of House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, also may have funneled sting money into three political action committees controlled by state House Republicans, according to a GOP leader.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said Friday night that three House GOP political action committees are returning five $1,000 checks that were donated by two donors suspected of donating FBI money for reasons unknown.

Cafero said that FBI agents informed him of the donations Thursday, but they refused to tell him why federal sting money apparently was contributed to three GOP political action committees.

"A lot of the questions you're asking me, we asked them," Cafero said during an interview Friday night. "They said, 'Sorry, we can't answer that.' "

The Republican donations are the first indication that the cased involving Donovan's campaign was part of some kind of wider investigation into political donations at the State Capitol.

Cafero said he was approached about how to send donations to the GOP around April 4, which is the day after the legislature's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee approved legislation at the center of the Donovan case: a bill to tax roll-your-own cigarettes.

The FBI arrested Donovan's finance director, Robert Braddock Jr., on Wednesday and charged him with concealing the source of $20,000 made out in eight checks for $2,500.

The government claims that Braddock accepted the money knowing the donor wanted to kill the tobacco legislation. A bundle of checks for $10,000 was donated after the finance vote, and another $10,000 was given after the bill died from inaction as the annual session ended May 9.

An undercover FBI agent posing as a tobacco investor supplied the money.

The affidavit supporting Braddock's arrest detailed meetings and conversations arranging the donations from the undercover agent. But Cafero said the FBI gave him no back-story about how or why the sting money made its way to the GOP.

"There were no such conversations, no such meetings" with Republicans, Cafero said. But the FBI agents told him they had reason to believe its money also was funneled to the GOP political action committees.

The FBI told Cafero that neither him nor anyone in his office were targets of the investigation, Cafero said.

Cafero said the FBI initially tried to dissuade him from returning the checks, but he wanted the checks returned immediately.

"I felt it was best for me to say thanks, but no thanks," he said.

Two of the five checks never were deposited, because a staffer went on vacation and left then uncashed for seven days, rendering them void, he said.

Tom Carson, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined comment.

So how did two donors come to mail checks to the three committees? And was there a common link to the Donovan campaign?

Cafero said a politically active person asked how to donate money to the political action committees. Based on the timing of the inquiry, he suspects the person had directed the donations made with FBI money.

Political operatives in both parties say that Ray Soucy, a correction officer active in AFSCME, had involved himself in the tobacco issue, offering to arrange campaign contributions.

Cafero declined to say if Soucy was the man who asked how to send the checks, saying the FBI asked him to withhold details about the donations, including the names of the potential straw donors.

Soucy, who also is the president of the Western Connecticut Central Labor Council, did not return calls and an email seeking comment.

The Braddock arrest affidavit describes someone identified only as "CC-1," short for co-conspirator, accepting the money from the undercover agent, then arranging for persons willing to allow the money to be donated in their names.

It mentions CC-1 as leaving a voicemail for Braddock with a phone number. The area code and prefix were redacted, but the last four digits were included: 6519.

Those are the last four digits of the phone number of the labor council.

Is Connecticut getting the federal dollars it deserves?
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
May 29, 2012

An openly skeptical legislative panel, the Program Review and Investigations Committee, launched an inquiry Tuesday into whether Connecticut gets its fair share of federal funding.

The committee also approved new studies into the state's Medicaid program, as well as the availability of substance abuse treatment for youth covered by private insurance.

The studies, which will be conducted by Program Review staff during the summer and fall, with findings presented in December, could lead to new legislative proposals in the 2013 General Assembly session that starts in January.

Program Review is one of only two legislative panels that have bipartisan leadership, and members said Tuesday that the challenges state government faces accessing federal funding transcend partisan politics or any single administration.

"There's billions of dollars out there" that states compete for -- some well and some poorly, said Sen. Stephen T. Cassano, D-Manchester. "Let's do it right. We're not doing it right."

Connecticut's larger agencies, particularly the Department of Transportation, long have been plagued by a suspicion that they fail to secure all available funding, said Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, who said his constituents in north central Connecticut have been disappointed at the lack of progress made developing a high-speed, rail commuter service between New Haven and Springfield.

"For whatever reason, Connecticut doesn't get a huge amount for high-speed rail," he said. "I have towns that are very excited (for Connecticut) to move forward with these projects."

Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, one of the committee's co-chairmen, said one of state government's biggest flaws is that it lacks any mechanism to measure each agency's effectiveness in securing federal aid.

"We don't learn about things until after the fact," he  said, adding that Connecticut needs to learn "whether we're doing a good job, whether we're missing opportunities -- and not always after a deadline has already passed."

Connecticut received $7.7 billion out of the $630 billion the federal government distributed to states and municipalities, ranking 18th on a per capita basis, according to Program Review staff.

In the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, federal funds account for about $3.5 billion, or 19 percent, of total revenues in the state budget's General Fund, which covers the bulk of operating costs.

"While optimizing federal revenues has always been important to the state, Connecticut's current fiscal climate makes garnering all available dollars a higher priority," staff wrote in a proposed outline for the study. "Advocacy groups, legislators and other policymakers have questioned whether Connecticut is 'leaving federal monies on the table.'"

A mayor of Manchester in the 1980s and 1990s, Cassano said his community dramatically expanded its level of federal assistance by developing a local office charged specifically with tracking grants and writing applications for all town agencies. A similar approach could pay big dividends, he added, for state government.

"I think we have done just a terrible job in grant writing and preparation," he said. "The grant writing office pays for itself," he said. "For these federal grants you cannot just have Charlie in the office writing a grant."

The committee also authorized two other studies on Tuesday.

  • Access to Substance Use Treatment for Privately Insured Youth. This study would examine both state and federal "parity" statutes requiring insurers to cover both physical and mental health treatments, the reasons why many young patients' requests for coverage for mental health treatments are being denied, and the availability of treatment providers in Connecticut.
  • Improper Medicaid Payments: This study would evaluate how the state detects and prevents fraud, including recovery of improper payments. It also will address how the state investigates cares providers suspected of fraud, as well as resulting sanctions.

State Auditors Cite $225,000 Screw-Up
Hartford Courant
Jon Lender, Government Watch
3:13 PM EDT, May 19, 2012

The Office of State Treasurer Denise Nappier issued a $225,000 check to a Fairfield man as his half of a $450,000 workers' compensation settlement related to his wife's continuing disability stemming from a 1996 work-related injury.

But there was a problem: It was illegal to write him the check while his wife is still living, because a spouse can only paid as a "survivor" of a person who dies of such an injury, the state's auditors of public accounts, John Geragosian and Robert Ward, said in a report last week.

Nappier's office paid the full $450,000 under a "stipulated agreement," approved by the state Workers' Compensation Commission, for Debra Coleman, who is eligible for the compensation because of the determination that she has a disability from a traumatic brain injury suffered in a 1996 fall at Yale University, where she then worked as an architect.

The auditors said the treasurer's office ran afoul of the law when it went along with the terms of the agreement to split the total into two settlements of $225,000 each: one for the disabled wife and one for her husband, Bruce Graham.

State law says that "death benefits … shall be paid to the dependent spouse in the event of death resulting from a compensable injury," the auditors' wrote in their report. "The husband was not due any payments since the wife was still alive," they said in a separate memo.

Under the settlement, the husband was considered to be "a potential surviving spouse," but that's not a status recognized by the law, the auditors said.

The gaffe quickly drew a blast from state House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, who called for "tighter fiscal controls" for handling claims for benefits, and lumped it in with "headlines … filled recently with news of improper food stamp payments and social services checks being cashed by dead people."

Nappier just as quickly acknowledged in an interview that her office had erred in issuing the $225,000 check to the husband, and said procedures are being revised to prevent any recurrence.

But the case becomes more complicated the closer you look at it. For one thing, as odd as the circumstances sound — that is, paying a survivor benefit to a husband whose wife isn't dead — the screw-up didn't change the amount of money the state had to pay in the case, according to lawyers and officials involved in the case.

Everyone agreed that if the whole $450,000 had been paid directly to the disabled woman, no one would have raised an issue. The question — and the auditors' finding of illegality — arose because the Fairfield couple, for their own reasons, wanted it split into two.

The reason for that "technical allocation" of the benefits was that if all the money went to the wife, her long-term disability payments from private insurance would have been cut by several hundred dollars a month, said the couple's attorney, Robert Carter of Woodbridge.

But the auditors say it isn't a question of whether or not money was lost in this instance, but a matter of following the law.

Geragosian, one of the two auditors, said that even though the settlement may have been split with "noble" intentions and "for a very good cause," it "might not be that way" in future cases. "The concern is if it went to a totally unauthorized party. … That's the prism that we look at things through."

"If they want to allow for this, change the law," Geragosian said.

The Fairfield couple could not be reached for comment.

Their lawyer, Carter, said Friday he disagrees with the auditors' statement that state law was violated. He said other statutes empower the state to enter such settlements, adding that it is common to split benefits between an injured person and a potentially surviving spouse to settle a case.

Carter said that the settlement may have saved the state money in the long run, because the husband signed away his rights to seek further compensation in the event of his wife's death.

The settlement also eliminated the uncertainty and expense of a trial, said Workers' Compensation Commission Chairman John Mastropietro.

The $450,000 was paid from the Second Injury Fund, administered by the treasurer's office, under a "stipulated agreement" among the various parties — including the Fairfield couple, Yale and the state. Under the workers' compensation program, the employer is required to continue paying benefits to the disabled employee as long as she lives, Carter said, and the Second Injury Fund is responsible for cost-of-living adjustments going beyond five years from the injury.

Nappier, the state treasurer, said in a phone interview Friday that she had no contact with the matter before the auditors' report revealed it on Wednesday. She said it was a complicated issue. "It was not a black-and-white situation," she said, but she added, "I agree with the auditors."

She said she has told Maria Greenslade, the administrator of the Second Injury Fund in her office, that such settlements should not be approved if they are "contrary to a strict reading of the statute." If there's any doubt, legal advice should be sought, Nappier said.

Greenslade is in the process of drafting new, clearer procedures for handling such cases, Nappier said. She added that since the Second Injury Fund was notified a few months ago of the problem, it has placed a moratorium on approving such settlements.

Asked if the state would try to undo the financial arrangements of the settlement, Nappier said she doesn't know yet, and will be looking into it.

She said in an email, sent later, that a draft of new procedures, now being worked on, would require that the state Office of the Attorney General "sign off on all stipulated agreements and attend the Commission's pre-formal and formal hearing," where it could object to any parts of an agreement it thought improper.

She said she has asked her staff to seek an attorney general's opinion "on its authority to settle, specifically as it pertains to a potential surviving spouse."

State Treasurer Nappier Acknowledges Her Office Erred In $225,000 Settlement
Hartford Courant
By Jon Lender On May 17, 2012 ·

The Office of State Treasurer Denise Nappier improperly issued a $225,000 workers compensation survivor’s-benefit check last year to the husband of an injured woman who was not dead, the state’s Auditors of Public Accounts say in a new report.

The $225,000 settlement check to the husband — from the treasurer’s office-administered Second Injury Fund, under a “stipulated agreement” — was improper because such benefits should only be paid to surviving dependents of someone who died, auditors John Geragosian and Robert Ward said in the report issued this week.

Nappier acknowledged in an interview Thursday that her office had erred in issuing the check. She said that mistake occurred after the state Workers Compensation Commission also had erred in approving the settlement with the injured woman’s husband.

The auditors said that the $225,000 check to the husband represented half of a $450,000 settlement of a claim approved by the Workers Compensation Commission.  The auditors said that it would have been proper if the whole $450,000 had been paid to the woman – but they added that the law didn’t authorize splitting the settlement into two equal checks, one for the husband, and one for the wife.

The law says that “compensation shall be paid to dependents on account of death resulting from an accident …. in the course of employment,” the auditors said, but in this case “the husband was not due any payments since the wife was still alive.”

The splitting of the checks apparently was intended to settle any future claims filed by the husband if his wife were to die, Nappier said, and amounted to two separate “stipulated agreements.”  The auditors said the $225,000 for the husband was, in effect, a “settlement with a potential surviving spouse.”

House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero brought the issue into the public political arena Thursday by issuing a press release saying:  ”I don’t know what a ‘potential surviving spouse’ is, but it is troubling  in this day and age when we are struggling to make government more accountable to taxpayers, watch every penny and balance the books that we have this sort of failed fiscal oversight on our bureaucratic front lines.’’

He added: “The headlines have been filled recently with news of improper food stamp payments and social services checks being cashed by dead people. The auditors have come up with more examples of where more oversight is needed.’’

Cafero quoted a memo from the auditors as saying: “The (Second Injury) fund’s internal control procedures were circumvented to allow settlement funds to be paid to an individual that did not have a valid claim on such funds.’’

Nappier said she’d had no contact with the matter before the auditors’ report revealed it on Wednesday. She said it had been a complicated issue – “it was not a black-and-white situation.” But she added that now she he has he has told Maria Greenslade, the administrator of the Second Injury Fund in her office, that such settlements should not be approved if they are “contrary to a strict reading of the statute.” If there’s any doubt, legal advice should be sought, Nappier said.

Greenslade is in the process of drafting new, clearer procedures for handling such cases, Nappier said. She added that since the Second Injury Fund was notified a few months ago of the problem, it has placed a moratorium on approving such settlements.

“I agree with the auditors,” Nappier said.  Asked what can be done to address the apparent illegality of the payment in this case –  such as to possibly try to recover the husband’s half of the settlement that’s been called improper – Nappier said she doesn’t know yet, and will be looking into it.

In an email to The Courant after she talked on the phone,  Nappier said that her office’s “decision to award two stipulated agreements was neither arbitrary nor unilateral.  The Worker’s Compensation Commission ordered this agreement upon request of the claimant’s attorney.”

She said that a draft of new procedures, now being worked on, would require that the state Office of the Attorney General, or OAG, “sign off on all stipulated agreements and attend the Commission’s pre-formal and formal hearing,where any objections to the Commission’s pending order could be challenged by the OAG, if necessary.  The OAG was not present at the pre-formal hearing of the stipulated agreement in question, and from my perspective it would have been advisable for my staff to request a stay of the Commission’s decision pending review by OAG.  For your information, in accordance with our state law, the OAG has negotiation powers and can settle matters in the best interest of the state.”

She said that she has asked her staff to seek an attorney general’s opinion “on its authority to settle, specifically as it pertains to a potential surviving spouse.”

“There’s a legal issue..."
How do you do that without a vote by the Legislature?

Special Session Resolution Needs To Be Refined
by Hugh McQuaid | May 22, 2012 2:06pm

Legislative leaders may be prohibited from raising the minimum wage and expanding job proposals during the upcoming special session due to the narrow scope of a resolution calling them back, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday.

In order to convene a new legislative session, lawmakers passed a resolution on May 9, but the wording of the resolution was reserved for bills needed to implement the budget.

Both House Speaker Chris Donovan and Senate President Donald Williams have expressed an interest in raising bills that didn’t pass during the regular session.

Williams has said he plans to raise Senate Bill 1, a measure expanding the jobs programs passed last October. Meanwhile Donovan wants to pass a proposal to raise the minimum wage 50 cents over two years. Both bills died on the last night of the regular session.

Malloy said if they plan on raising bills that do not have to do with the budget, they need to adjust the special session resolution.

“There’s a legal issue and that is they have to address the call because it’s clearly not included in the call,” he said. “If they have the ability to do that then they need to do that if they’re going to take up non-implementation issues.”

House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey said last week that expanding the call for the special session is something they’re considering.

Republicans have argued the session should only be used to implement the budget. House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said when the House passed the resolution calling for a special session, he specifically asked about the scope of the session and was told it would be strictly for budget-related bills.

“If we can make no justification on how [raising the minimum wage] implements the budget, they’re breaking their word,” Cafero said.

Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Williams, said they’re working on nailing down what can be raised during the session.

“We’re working with legislative leaders and the governor’s office to define what the call for the implementer session covers,” Joseph said Tuesday.

Malloy said he does believe that a proposal removing a statutory requirement that the state employ at least 1,248 state police troopers belongs in a special session.

“There are direct budgetary implications with respect to the police, as you well know, it’s about $18 million,” he said.

Minimum Wage Bill, Jobs Package Won’t Stay Dead
by Hugh McQuaid | May 16, 2012 4:15pm

The Senate Democrats’ jobs package and a bill to raise the minimum wage were among the those that dropped dead last Wednesday. But both appear to be ready to crawl from the grave to latch onto budget implementers when the legislature meets for special session.

The bills in question both died May 9 after a standoff between House and Senate leadership. Despite its bipartisan support, House Speaker Chris Donovan held the jobs bill hoping to convince Senate Democrats to pass his minimum wage increase. Senate President Donald Williams maintained that there was never enough support to pass the bill in the Senate.

After the legislative session concluded, Williams said people would be scratching their heads wondering why a bill helping to create jobs didn’t pass. He said he planned to have the bill, which expands job programs created last fall, inserted into to a budget implementer during special session.

“It was wrong for anyone to think that these two bills should in any way be linked at a time when our businesses need help in a very tough economy,” Williams said last week.

But he’s not the only one hoping to resurrect his signature piece of legislation. If Donovan has his way, the bills will be linked again. In a statement, Donovan said he intends to have both concepts inserted in the same implementer.

“I absolutely support SB1, which along with an increase to the minimum wage will be part of a special session bill,” Donovan said. “Increasing the minimum wage has the support of 70 percent of Connecticut voters and will help over 100,000 state residents meet basic needs.”

On Wednesday, Williams said he hadn’t spoken with Donovan about his intentions and would refrain from commenting until they had a conversation. Messages were left for Donovan, who was not immediately available for comment.

Sen. Gary LeBeau, D-East Hartford, who supported a later version of the minimum wage bill, said Donovan’s plan endangers a good bill for the second time.

“I think he’s jeopardizing an important piece of legislation,” LeBeau said.

As Speaker of the House, Donovan was calling the shots in the lower chamber and could have passed the jobs bill during the regular session, LeBeau said. But under his leadership, the bill was never raised.

“Ultimately, he killed the bill,” LeBeau said.

If a bill dies in session it shouldn’t be revived in a trailer session dedicated to implementing the state’s budget, House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said. When the House passed the resolution calling for a special session, Cafero said he specifically asked about the scope of the session and was told it would be strictly for budget-related bills.

“If we can make no justification on how [raising the minimum wage] implements the budget, they’re breaking their word,” he said.

The big fear in holding a trailer session, Cafero said, is that everyone who had a bill die during the regular session will try to get it jammed into a budget implementer.

“It’s a fraud on the state of Connecticut,” Cafero said.

Why have a legislative process if it will be ignored under one-party government, Cafero asked. Why not just have one massive implementer bill and cram everyone’s legislation into it?

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said the jobs package is related to the state budget, which already plans to fund programs helping small businesses. Raising it during a session focused on the budget could be appropriate but the minimum wage hike is another story, he said.

“Reviving bills that died, especially ones that died due to lack of support in the legislature, has no business in the special session,” he said.

McKinney said Donovan’s plan to include the minimum wage bill “smacks of a lot of politics” given the fact that he is in the midst of a campaign for a congressional seat. If there still isn’t enough support for his bill in the Senate, its inclusion could jeopardize the budget implementer into which it’s inserted in.

“Maybe I should be happy about that because it’s a bad budget, but that to me is not the right course of action,” McKinney said.

Also expected to be revived is legislation removing a statutory requirement that the state employ at least 1,248 state troopers.

In place of the staffing mandate, the bill asks the staff of the Program Review and Investigations Committee to conduct a study next year and arrive at a data-driven recommendation for the appropriate number of state police.

The requirement has been largely ignored since it was adopted in 2001. The legislature has only appropriated enough money to fund that many troopers during one year. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed the bill following a lawsuit by the troopers union after 56 officers were laid off.

The bill died on the Senate calendar but Andrew McDonald, Malloy’s chief legal counsel, has said he expects it to be included in an implementer.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said Wednesday that she wasn’t sure if a bill to change the composition of the Insurance Exchange Board will be included as a budget implementer.

Meanwhile, state Health Care Advocate Vicki Veltri said the state risks federal funds if it doesn’t include at least one consumer advocate on the board. She said the federal government changed its regulations in March requiring states to have at least one voting member represent consumers. Veltri is on the board, but does not vote.

Senate takes its time - spending oodles of time rehashing experiences with retiring - or not so "retiring" Senator who, by the way, didn't think much of electronic tolling.  Sometimes the Legislature resembles an iceberg - most of it's action ongoing out of sight; or like cold macaroni - you have to have a taste for it!  At other times, NO ACTION is best!!!  And how about more PURA power!

In End of Session Tug & Pull: It’s Dem Against Dem
by Christine Stuart and Hugh McQuaid | May 10, 2012 1:15pm

Breaking with tradition House and Senate Democrats did not hold a joint post-mortem press conference Thursday to discuss the 2012 legislative session, instead Sen. President Donald Williams and Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney held their own.

Williams claimed there were “scheduling” issues between the party leaders. However, a spokesman for House Speaker Chris Donovan said the Senate didn’t want to do a press conference with House leaders and dueling press conferences would have been “unproductive.” The conflict highlighted the tension between the two leaders.

Williams was unable to convince the House to pass the Senate’s signature legislation that expanded job programs created last fall during a special session. The bill passed the Senate 32-2 with broad bipartisan support.

Donovan was unable to convince his Senate colleagues to raise his minimum wage hike. Williams said that’s because it never had the votes.

“It was wrong for anyone to think that these two bills should in any way be linked at a time when our businesses need help in a very tough economy,” Williams said.

He said he was told if the Senate had run the minimum wage bill on Tuesday night that the jobs bill would have been run in the House.

“But we don’t run bills when we don’t have the votes,” Williams contended.

Messages were left for Donovan who was not immediately available for comment Thursday. Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said there is always an expectation that the House and the Senate will work with each other on making sure each other’s priorities clear the opposite chamber.

The minimum wage bill was one of those things that was very important to the House, Sharkey said in a phone interview.

“There’s always an expectation that the Senate and the House will help each other and when that doesn’t occur there are consequences,” Sharkey said.

It’s the nature of compromise and Sharkey didn’t feel the Senate had put forth very much effort in making sure the bill was passed.

Williams, who supports the minimum wage in general, said Donovan worked hard to lobby his Senate members “but at the end of the day the votes simply were not there.”

Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, a proponent of the minimum wage increase said Wednesday that she was just two votes shy of getting the Senate to vote on a two year, 50 cent minimum wage hike.

Republicans, who held their own joint press conference later in the day, saw the death of a bipartisan bill as an example of dysfunction within the majority party and a reason why one-party government isn’t working for Connecticut.

“Obviously no one’s ever going to admit it, but the reality is, a good bipartisan jobs package working, off of what we worked on last fall, died because of one man’s insistence on passing the minimum wage increase,” Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said, referring to Donovan. “The blame for that falls squarely on his shoulders.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said he resented being caught in the middle of a dispute between Democrats.

“The irony of it was that decision was made the night before. As Sen. McKinney indicated, this was a trade off between the minimum wage and S.B. 1. When that did not happen on Tuesday evening, it wasn’t going to happen,” he said.

Williams vowed to resurrect the jobs bill or a version of it during the special session to implement portions of the budget.

However, Cafero said he may have trouble getting it raised due to the narrowly defined call to special session, which calls for bills needed to implement the budget.

“I think they have to be true to their word and what they said publicly. If they do try to bring it up, I think we’re going to call them on it and point that out,” he said.

What the legislature decides to address during its upcoming special session will be up to them, Malloy said Thursday morning. But he said there were useful aspects of the Senate Democrats jobs package.

“I think making dollars available to small companies but bigger than 50 makes a lot of sense,” the governor said.

But if he brings up the jobs bill does that mean Donovan will continue to push a hike in the minimum wage? Sharkey said that’s a question still under discussion.

Williams said there is “no sensible link” between the two bills. He said his bill has overwhelming bipartisan support and it should not be linked to a bill that “never had support throughout the session.”

Sharkey said one person’s perception about something is not necessarily a view shared by others.

But the session wasn’t a complete loss according to Williams.

Repeal of the death penalty, strengthening racial profiling laws, medical marijuana, Sunday liquor sales, allowing home care and daycare workers to organize, and campaign finance reform were all victories for the Democratic majority in both chambers.

“Let me say I think one of the crowning achievements for Senate Democrats this session was rescuing the education bill,” Williams said.

He said when they got to the end of the session it looked like Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature piece of education legislation would fail and would need to be finished in a special session. But that all turned around last Sunday morning when lawmakers were able to reach an agreement which pleased both education reform advocates and the state’s two teacher unions.

The bill not only “provides real reform” but it was able to do so in a way that “respects the teaching profession,” Williams said.

At a separate press conference Malloy said he saw no cause for disappointment in what was accomplished during the short session.

Malloy said lawmakers passed bills this year that have been issues at the state Capitol for years.

“We really accomplished a great deal in a short period of time. Folks were good enough to work with our administration to see those things like voting rights and Sunday sales and design build and medical marijuana and storm response all pass,” he said speaking to reporters.

“I’d be hard pressed to come away from this session disappointed,” he said.

Malloy said he plans to sign the Sunday liquor sales bill early next week so alcohol would be available for purchase the following Sunday.

The education reform package that passed late in the session gives the state a whole new toolbox to bring about education reform in the state, he said, but don’t expect it to happen over night.

“We’ve moved from being dead in the water to being in a situation where, if properly implemented, our state will surge ahead of other states,” he said. “Surge in education reform means that five, or seven, or 10 years from now we’ll be in a substantially better situation than we are.”

The governor remained lukewarm on his position regarding legislation reworking the state’s campaign finance system. The bill cleared the legislature despite the concerns of his chief legal counsel Andrew McDonald, who said provisions in it may be unconstitutional.

“I have not reached a conclusion but there’s plenty of time to study it at this point. Certainly we’ll reach out to some legal scholars on that subject,” he said.

Moving forward, the governor said the state needs to focus on continuing to foster an economic recovery. He said he’s always concerned about the state’s fiscal situation.

“If I had a billion dollar surplus I’d worry about the state’s finances. I’m watching very carefully what’s going on in Europe,” he said. “... Fundamentally I think we’re in a pretty good place.”

Republican lawmakers disagreed.

“One party government has given us the biggest tax increase in the state of Connecticut,” McKinney said during their post-mortem press conference Thursday afternoon. “It’s given us a budget that’s out of balance and a budget that’s not honest and transparent.”

Republican Lawmakers Say Malloy Needs To Be Honest With Wall Street
by Christine Stuart | May 1, 2012 11:27pm

Republican legislative leaders claimed Tuesday that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s decision to use $222 million that had been reserved to pay off 2009 borrowing won’t help the state’s credit rating.  Just two months ago, the Malloy administration told the Wall Street credit agencies that it would pay off the 2009 Economic Recovery Notes.

“It is of crucial importance that the governor, at very least, be honest with the bonding agencies,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Tuesday.

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney called the plan to balance the budget “fiscally irresponsible.” He said Republicans are asking the governor if he’s alerted the rating agencies that the information his administration provided in March is no longer correct.  The state makes two presentations a year to the three credit rating agencies.

“The diversion of these funds to finance operational expenses is fiscally irresponsible and will lead to another downgrade by the agencies and ultimately higher interest rates on future bond issuances,” McKinney and Cafero wrote in a letter to Malloy on Tuesday...

Governor, Legislators Grappling With $200M Budget Deficit
The Hartford Courant
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, ckeating@courant.com
9:59 PM EDT, May 2, 2012

One year after enacting the largest tax increase in Connecticut history, state officials learned this week that the state budget is still $200 million short.

Because state tax receipts were lower than expected by the traditional tax deadline of April 15, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislators are making moves to close the deficit.

Top Republican legislators are calling upon Malloy to enact spending cuts immediately to balance the $20 billion state budget, but Malloy wants to plug the hole by using money that was originally slated to help pay off debt. Republicans are questioning whether that move could harm the state's bond rating following a downgrade by Moody's earlier this year.

The projected deficit increased when the official calculations were made, partly because the state collected $147 million less from the state income tax than expected. The collections are lower despite tax increases totaling $1.5 billion, including those on income, retail sales, corporations, estates, electric power plants, alcohol, cigars and cigarettes.

Malloy's budget increased taxes on more than 50 items in different categories, including charging sales tax for the first time on previously tax-free items such as nonprescription drugs, clothing and shoes under $50, pet grooming, automotive towing, manicures and pedicures. The tax on retail sales increased to 6.35 percent, while the maximum rate on the state income tax increased to 6.7 percent for those with the highest incomes.

The annual tax deadline, which was extended by two days this year, generally helps fill the state's coffers during economic boom times. But when the economy is still sluggish, as it is now, the collections are often lower than expected.

Income tax revenue was lower than expected for various reasons, including the high unemployment rate during the 2011 calendar year and lower-than-expected Christmas bonuses for many Wall Street traders. With the state's unemployment rate dropping recently, the state's budget situation should improve in the future as more workers are paying more income taxes.

Although Republicans were sounding alarm bells, Malloy and his budget director, Ben Barnes, said the projected deficit represented only 1 percent of the $20 billion annual state budget.

"I expect that there will be those who play politics with this news, claiming that it represents broader budgetary problems,'' Barnes said before the Republican criticism. "This couldn't be further from the truth. We aren't borrowing to cover operating expenses and we continue the move" toward changing the state's financial system to generally accepted accounting principles.

With the regular legislative session set to end at midnight Wednesday and the fiscal year ending on June 30, Republicans are calling for quick action.

To cover the deficit, Malloy intends to transfer $222 million from the 2011 surplus that had been intended to pay off bonds that financed the previous deficit from the 2009 fiscal year under then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Those payments are required by law, and the legislature would need to change the law to change the payments.

"In effect, it would be like needing an $80,000 mortgage, borrowing $90,000, and using $10,000 to pay your first couple of mortgage payments,'' said Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield.

If the transfer is approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature, lawmakers could avoid painful spending cuts that would cause protests from various constituencies.

Both McKinney and House Republican leader Larry Cafero oppose that transfer of funds, telling Malloy in a letter that they fear another bond-rating downgrade by rating agencies.

"Back in January, Moody's downgraded our bond rating. There was a lot of talk by the administration that they got it all wrong,'' Cafero told reporters. "This is a governor that nary 5 1/2 months ago said that the budget that he adopted, that he signed, with his Democratic colleagues, put us on solid fiscal ground not only then, but in the near future. It's obviously no longer the case 5 1/2 months later. ... It is of crucial importance that the governor, at the very least, be honest with the bonding agencies, tell them what he plans to do, and listen to what they respond back.''

"It's in a long litany of, unfortunately, broken promises by this governor,'' Cafero said. "Not only as a candidate, but certainly even as governor, he stated that GAAP — generally accepted accounting principles — was a priority. That has now been scrapped. He's even conceded that. He said we were on solid fiscal ground. He has to concede that is not the case. That he would not borrow money to pay operating expenses — he's broken that promise as well.''

But Barnes and Malloy think differently, saying that the money transfer is a smart move.

"This strategy will allow state government to use money saved to pay down debt early to cover the unexpected revenue shortfall, so that we won't be forced to cut essential services for Connecticut's most vulnerable residents,'' Barnes said. He added, "Connecticut has finally addressed its budget problems, but it's not something that will be solved overnight.''

Malloy also rejected the notion by Republicans that he was resorting to a budget gimmick.

"I don't think so,'' Malloy told reporters. "For Republicans to lecture me on what is or is not an appropriate way to balance the budget, I didn't run up a structural deficit of $3.6 billion. I didn't spend every dollar that was in the cookie jar.''

Malloy described the issue as "basically a revenue problem'' that could be solved by an upswing in the state's economic fortunes.

"I wish the economy was growing a little bit more rapidly,'' he said. "One percent is what we're talking about on the revenue side.''

State uses funds for employee retirement health care to help cover bills

Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
June 22, 2012

The state has kept nearly $50 million designated for workers' retirement benefits -- including $25 million provided directly by employees -- in its cash pool used to pay bills, rather than depositing them into an "irrevocable trust" fund as set forth in two different concessions contracts, a new report from nonpartisan analysts disclosed this week.

In an analysis of state savings for retiree health care benefits, the Office of Fiscal Analysis noted that more than $49.6 million had been collected before ratification of the union concessions deal last August. Those funds -- received primarily from state employees -- have remained in the common cash pool, which the state uses to cover its operating expenses.

It was not immediately clear from the report if employee contributions since that deal was ratified in August 2011 also have gone into the common cash pool, or have been placed in the trust.

And while the state still has an obligation to provide the retirement benefits, regardless of how the worker contributions toward that expense have been saved, the OFA report notes that the cash pool is kept in short-term investments which were earning 0.1 percent interest last month. The latest actuarial assessment of the state's trust fund for retiree health care benefits, assumes long-term investments of trust fund assets with an average annual return of 5.7 percent.

That cash pool has been the source of controversy at the Capitol since January. That's because minority Republicans in the General Assembly have warned that the state's cash pool has been dangerously low throughout much of the calendar year, despite more than $1.5 billion in state tax increases enacted in May 2011 to help balance the budget.

Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, a Hartford Democrat, notified the legislature earlier this month that her office has temporarily transferred funds away from capital project accounts at four different times this calendar year to help the state cover its operating bills on time.  Connecticut operates from a common pool that mingles tax revenues, federal grants and receipts from fees and licenses with borrowed funds. The treasurer's office is allowed to transfer dollars -- temporarily -- between operating and capital programs. Though it is done infrequently, it has been employed during tough fiscal times when bills exceed tax and other operating fund receipts.

But Republican lawmakers have argued what happened relatively infrequently in the past -- less than once per year on average -- now happens all too often and is a sign of the state's poor fiscal condition.  And though Nappier also wrote on June 1 that total available cash remains "adequate" right now, she added that pressures on the state's cash flow continue to mount.

"The common cash pool balance has fallen substantially during the year," she wrote June 1 in her last monthly report to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. "...The common cash pool is trending downward over time and the need for temporary transfers or other resources is growing."

There has been a "significant decline" over the past 12 months, the treasurer wrote. The balance stood at $121 million May 26, down from $895 million at the same point in 2011.  Weekly disbursements from the entire common pool average approximately $540 million, according to the treasurer's office.  In fact, the cash pool dipped as low as $46.7 million during the week of Feb. 11, 2012 -- below the $49.6 million in worker contributions that had been kept in the pool.  Neither Nappier's office, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, nor the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition had any immediate comment early Friday.

OFA added in its report that "investment options are being discussed which would involve removing the funds from the treasurer's common cash pool and placing them in an irrevocable trust as required by the revised 2011 SEBAC agreement."

The Pew Center on the States issued a report last week ranking Connecticut as one of the worst four states in the nation at saving for employee retirement benefits through 2010.  Connecticut has $17.9 billion in long-term obligations to provide retiree health coverage. The $50 million saved through June 30, 2011, represents less than one-third of 1 percent of that obligation.  Connecticut had saved nothing until the 2007 legislature and then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell launched a trust fund using $10 million in budget surplus.

A 2009 union concessions deal negotiated by Rell also called for employees with five years of experience or less to contribute 3 percent of their annual pay toward their retirement health care. That provision pumped $25.1 million into the fund through mid-2011.  The 2009 agreement also required the state to deposit another $14.5 million into the fund.

And that agreement also said the workers' contributions toward their retirement benefits would go into "a fund established for the provision of health coverage to retired state employees."

The next concessions deal, which Malloy reached with unions last summer, required all state employees to contribute 3 percent of their annual pay to the retiree health care savings account, and requires state government to match those contributions starting in 2017.

Home Health Services Company Lured Across River By State $$
by Hugh McQuaid | Jun 28, 2012 4:43pm

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday that home health services company CareCentrix will become the fifth company to participate in the First Five program as it relocates from East Hartford to Hartford.

Under the program, CareCentrix will receive a total of $24 million in state grants for creating 290 jobs over five years. The company will get one $12 million grant, if it retains its current 213 jobs for the five-year period, and another $12 million, if it adds close to 300 positions. CareCentrix is investing around $62 million in the project, according the governor’s office.

“This is a great day to be talking about American health care in so many, many ways,” Malloy said, referring to the Supreme Court ruling upholding the national health care reform law. “... The reality is that more Americans will in fact have the kind of coverage that will then turn to companies like CareCentrix to make sure that they’re providing the highest level of care at the best possible price.”

The company helps its customers manage and optimize home-based care. CareCentrix CEO Eric Reimer said the company had outgrown its East Hartford offices and said their decision to stay in Connecticut was due to the ‘First Five’ deal.

“I just want to be frank, without the governor’s program we wouldn’t be here today. We wouldn’t be able to retain these jobs and we certainly wouldn’t be able to grow these jobs,” Reimer said.

The company had considered relocating to Florida or Kansas, where it already has personnel, as well as one other state, which Reimer declined to name.

Governor, Legislators Grappling With $200M Budget Deficit
The Hartford Courant
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, ckeating@courant.com
9:59 PM EDT, May 2, 2012

One year after enacting the largest tax increase in Connecticut history, state officials learned this week that the state budget is still $200 million short.

Because state tax receipts were lower than expected by the traditional tax deadline of April 15, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislators are making moves to close the deficit.

Top Republican legislators are calling upon Malloy to enact spending cuts immediately to balance the $20 billion state budget, but Malloy wants to plug the hole by using money that was originally slated to help pay off debt. Republicans are questioning whether that move could harm the state's bond rating following a downgrade by Moody's earlier this year.

The projected deficit increased when the official calculations were made, partly because the state collected $147 million less from the state income tax than expected. The collections are lower despite tax increases totaling $1.5 billion, including those on income, retail sales, corporations, estates, electric power plants, alcohol, cigars and cigarettes.

Malloy's budget increased taxes on more than 50 items in different categories, including charging sales tax for the first time on previously tax-free items such as nonprescription drugs, clothing and shoes under $50, pet grooming, automotive towing, manicures and pedicures. The tax on retail sales increased to 6.35 percent, while the maximum rate on the state income tax increased to 6.7 percent for those with the highest incomes.

The annual tax deadline, which was extended by two days this year, generally helps fill the state's coffers during economic boom times. But when the economy is still sluggish, as it is now, the collections are often lower than expected.

Income tax revenue was lower than expected for various reasons, including the high unemployment rate during the 2011 calendar year and lower-than-expected Christmas bonuses for many Wall Street traders. With the state's unemployment rate dropping recently, the state's budget situation should improve in the future as more workers are paying more income taxes.

Although Republicans were sounding alarm bells, Malloy and his budget director, Ben Barnes, said the projected deficit represented only 1 percent of the $20 billion annual state budget.

"I expect that there will be those who play politics with this news, claiming that it represents broader budgetary problems,'' Barnes said before the Republican criticism. "This couldn't be further from the truth. We aren't borrowing to cover operating expenses and we continue the move" toward changing the state's financial system to generally accepted accounting principles.

With the regular legislative session set to end at midnight Wednesday and the fiscal year ending on June 30, Republicans are calling for quick action.

To cover the deficit, Malloy intends to transfer $222 million from the 2011 surplus that had been intended to pay off bonds that financed the previous deficit from the 2009 fiscal year under then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Those payments are required by law, and the legislature would need to change the law to change the payments.

"In effect, it would be like needing an $80,000 mortgage, borrowing $90,000, and using $10,000 to pay your first couple of mortgage payments,'' said Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield.

If the transfer is approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature, lawmakers could avoid painful spending cuts that would cause protests from various constituencies.

Both McKinney and House Republican leader Larry Cafero oppose that transfer of funds, telling Malloy in a letter that they fear another bond-rating downgrade by rating agencies.

"Back in January, Moody's downgraded our bond rating. There was a lot of talk by the administration that they got it all wrong,'' Cafero told reporters. "This is a governor that nary 5 1/2 months ago said that the budget that he adopted, that he signed, with his Democratic colleagues, put us on solid fiscal ground not only then, but in the near future. It's obviously no longer the case 5 1/2 months later. ... It is of crucial importance that the governor, at the very least, be honest with the bonding agencies, tell them what he plans to do, and listen to what they respond back.''

"It's in a long litany of, unfortunately, broken promises by this governor,'' Cafero said. "Not only as a candidate, but certainly even as governor, he stated that GAAP — generally accepted accounting principles — was a priority. That has now been scrapped. He's even conceded that. He said we were on solid fiscal ground. He has to concede that is not the case. That he would not borrow money to pay operating expenses — he's broken that promise as well.''

But Barnes and Malloy think differently, saying that the money transfer is a smart move.

"This strategy will allow state government to use money saved to pay down debt early to cover the unexpected revenue shortfall, so that we won't be forced to cut essential services for Connecticut's most vulnerable residents,'' Barnes said. He added, "Connecticut has finally addressed its budget problems, but it's not something that will be solved overnight.''

Malloy also rejected the notion by Republicans that he was resorting to a budget gimmick.

"I don't think so,'' Malloy told reporters. "For Republicans to lecture me on what is or is not an appropriate way to balance the budget, I didn't run up a structural deficit of $3.6 billion. I didn't spend every dollar that was in the cookie jar.''

Malloy described the issue as "basically a revenue problem'' that could be solved by an upswing in the state's economic fortunes.

"I wish the economy was growing a little bit more rapidly,'' he said. "One percent is what we're talking about on the revenue side.''

Slippery-slope gets new meaning in CT politics - these steps (l) are particularly slippery;  Caucus room (r)


In the last week, anyting can happen...
Senate Democrats blocking minimum wage increase

Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
May 1, 2012

The state Senate's Democratic majority is at least four votes shy of passing a compromise minimum-wage increase approved last week by the House of Representatives, leaving one of the House speaker's key bills on life support in the annual session's final seven days.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said he texted House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, from the Democratic caucus room Tuesday, telling him he did not see a path toward passing a 25-cent increase in the $8.25 hourly wage.

"Barring some significant turnaround, we have a significant number of folks who would not support the minimum-wage bill as it is," Williams said.

He declined to give a hard vote count, but acknowledged being at least four votes short. Democrats hold 22 of the 36 seats in the Senate. Democrats routinely support raising the minimum wage, but many in both chambers balked at an increase with the economy still fragile.

"It was the timing," Williams said. "They felt the economic times were not right. They supported minimum wage increases in the past. They strongly supported the earned-income tax credit last year, which provided a boost to low-income workers."

Donovan said Tuesday night he has not given up on passage.

"We need to work harder to get more support. That's my reaction," Donovan said.

On a party-line, election-year vote, the House of Representatives voted 88-62 last week for a compromise to raise the $8.25 minimum wage by 25 cents in each of the next two years, bringing pressure on a reluctant Senate to follow.

Donovan submitted the bill to a vote without a commitment from the Senate to take up the bill, a calculated risk.

His own caucus was lukewarm on an increase this year, but he lost only 10 Democrats, including Rep. William Tong of Stamford, then a candidate for U.S. Senate, and Rep. Timothy Larson of East Hartford, the brother of U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, a Democratic congressional leader.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said he was surprised that the House speaker would tie up the House for a day without knowing if the Senate had the votes for passage.

"I'm appalled. I mean, come on man," Cafero said. "By the way, I'm probably not as angry as many Democratic legislators are. They were so uncomfortable to make that vote. They only did it with the assurance it would pass the House, the Senate and be signed by the governor."

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he expected that proponents will bring "all kinds of pressure" on Senate Democrats to reconsider.

"I'm not going to hold my breath until midnight May 9," he said, a reference to the constitutional adjournment deadline for the 2012 session.

Donovan said he believes that some senators did not understand changes in the bill that lessened the impact on the restaurant industry.

"So, we're passing on that information," he said.

To win passage, Donovan, a congressional candidate presiding over his last annual session, accepted a two-thirds reduction in his original proposal, abandoned an automatic cost-of-living provision and delayed implementation from July to January.

But Williams said even the changes were not enough to win support in the Senate.

The setback for Donovan is a potential complication in the session's last week, when House and Senate leaders routinely hold each other's bills hostage until favored legislation is passed.

Donovan said he has not threatened to hold Senate bills hostage.

"Not at all," he said.

Governor calls for more budget cuts.  Minority Leader of Senate predicts lots of tax increases coming...

Budget Deficit Grows As Revenue Drops
by Christine Stuart | Apr 30, 2012 9:01pm

After the biggest tax increase in the state’s history and a built-in surplus, some lawmakers never expected to be dealing with another budget deficit so soon. But that’s exactly where they found themselves Monday.

State budget analysts from both Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Office of Policy and Management and the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated Monday that the state would end the year with a $275 million to $285 million budget deficit. Revenue, according to budget analysts, dipped about $150 million this year.

“Nothing has changed. It’s not the path less taken. It’s exactly where we were two years ago,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said.

The deficit is large enough to require Malloy to submit a budget mitigation plan to the General Assembly and it has the administration reminding people that last year the state was facing a $3.6 billion deficit.

“While today’s drop in estimated revenue is disappointing, the fact remains that we’ve solved more than 94 percent of the budget shortfall,” Ben Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management said in a statement. “And let’s be clear about one thing: we will end the current fiscal year in the black.”

Barnes attributed the budget deficit largely to a $147 million decrease in income tax receipts.

“To put these numbers in perspective, our estimated deficit is equal to approximately 1 percent of general fund expenditures,” Barnes said.  “In November of 2010, we faced a deficit that was 17 times greater. Clearly, we have made real progress in tackling the immense problems left on our doorstep long before we moved in.”

Outside his capitol office, Barnes said the administration will be asking the General Assembly to delay paying the $222 million it reserved to pay off the borrowing it did to balance the budget in 2009. In that year, the legislature borrowed close to $1 billion to balance its budget and promised to use any surplus funds in future years to pay off the borrowing. Malloy panned the move on the campaign trail.

Since the Economic Recovery Notes don’t need to be paid off immediately, Barnes said the state can take its time making the payments without injury to the state’s finances. But Barnes will need the approval of lawmakers to do it.

“This strategy will allow state government to use money saved to pay down debt early to cover the unexpected revenue shortfall, so that we won’t be forced to cut essential services for Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents,” Barnes said. “We will continue to pay down the ERNs in accordance with the required repayment schedule.”

Cafero called the proposal a “gimmick” and he reminded reporters Monday that Malloy “railed against” such gimmicks when he took office in January 2011.

“I hope Connecticut’s experience with the first two years of the Malloy administration puts to rest once and for all the idea that government can simply tax its way out of a fiscal crisis,” Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said in a statement.

“When you try to balance a budget on revenue alone it doesn’t work. They’re too volatile,” Cafero said.

He said the Malloy administration needs to stop talking about the problem it faced when it walked in the door and it needs to take responsibility for a budget it proposed and implemented.

“Admit that you failed and let’s go back to the drawing board,” Cafero added.

The bad budget news creates an even bigger problem for fiscal year 2013. It means that the budget Malloy proposed Feb. 8 — which included an increase in education spending — and the legislature’s Appropriations Committee budget are both out of balance.

The General Assembly and Barnes will be hustling in the last week of the legislative session to figure out how to balance and pass the 2013 budget before adjournment May 9.

Rep. Toni Walker, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said she will be going over the various budget scenarios. She admitted there is policy “we will have to change or not enact at this time because of budgetary issues.”

The biggest of which may be the education reform proposal.

“What do we do with education?” Walker said. “That’s a $128 million new policy.”

The question about whether the General Assembly is prepared to give Malloy the power to delay the payments on the Economic Recovery Notes is an issue for legislative leadership, Walker said.

Asked if it was an easier solution to the state’s budget woes than spending cuts, Walker replied: “Simple solutions don’t always translate to something that easy.”

Rising tax refunds strain state budget

Greenwich TIME
Stephen Singer
Published 06:52 p.m., Wednesday, May 2, 2012

HARTFORD (AP) -- Tax refunds are up, which is good news for Connecticut taxpayers but straining the state treasury, which will lead to more spending cuts.

Between July 1 when the state's budget year began and April 26, taxpayers received $827.8 million in refunds, up 18 percent from the same 10 months the previous year, according to the Department of Revenue Services.

The higher refunds are due to inaccurate tax withholding, taxpayers taking advantage of the new Earned Income Tax Credit and an early year boom in the stock market, which caused some taxpayers to pay more in estimated taxes, Revenue Commissioner Kevin Sullivan said.

"We're paying more money than anticipated," he said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Legislature enacted income tax increases last year that were retroactive to January 2011. It caused year-end problems for employees who lost money to inaccurate withholdings in their paychecks. Taxpayers who were overtaxed are making up for it now with higher refunds.

In addition, the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is intended to help low-income workers, provides credits of $137 to $1,700 for single heads of households with incomes of between $5,950 and $16,500 and up to $21,500 for joint tax filers. The tax credits amount to refunds.

For taxpayers who received a refund last year, refunds now would be larger because of the tax credit, Sullivan said.

A third reason explaining the higher refunds is that taxpayers who pay estimated taxes appeared to make very large payments in the first three months of the year in anticipation of the higher income taxes or who "were having a better year in the stock market," Sullivan said.

Whatever the reason, the increased refunds are adding pressure to an already unbalanced budget. The state expects refunds will total more than $1 billion, about $70 million more than anticipated.

Benjamin Barnes, Malloy's budget director, wrote to state commissioners last week that income tax revenue "appears to be trending in the wrong direction." The Malloy administration is projecting a $142 million deficit, up $79 million from an estimate in March, Barnes said in a letter to Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

In addition to the higher tax refunds, the Malloy administration blamed a Medicaid shortfall of $93.2 million.

"Put all that together and the governor will have to do additional budget cuts," Sullivan said.

Conn. tax refunds up, adding to budget woes
Associated Press
Apr 30, 1:47 PM EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Tax refunds are up, which is good news for Connecticut taxpayers but straining the state treasury, which will lead to more spending cuts.

Between July 1 when the state's budget year began and April 26, taxpayers received $827.8 million in refunds, up 18 percent from the same 10 months the previous year, according to the Department of Revenue Services.

The higher refunds are due to inaccurate tax withholding, taxpayers taking advantage of the new Earned Income Tax Credit and an early-year boom in the stock market, which caused some taxpayers to pay more in estimated taxes, Revenue Commissioner Kevin Sullivan said.

"We're paying more money than anticipated," he said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature enacted income tax increases last year that were retroactive to January 2011. It caused year-end problems for employees who lost money to inaccurate withholdings in their paychecks. Taxpayers who were overtaxed are making up for it now with higher refunds.

In addition, the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is intended to help low-income workers, provides credits of $137 to $1,700 for single heads of households with incomes of between $5,950 and $16,500 and up to $21,500 for joint tax filers. The tax credits amount to refunds.

For taxpayers who received a refund last year, refunds now would be larger because of the tax credit, Sullivan said.

A third reason explaining the higher refunds is that taxpayers who pay estimated taxes appeared to make very large payments in the first three months of the year in anticipation of the higher income taxes or who "were having a better year in the stock market," Sullivan said.

Whatever the reason, the increased refunds are adding pressure to an already unbalanced budget. The state expects refunds will total more than $1 billion, about $70 million more than anticipated.

Benjamin Barnes, Malloy's budget director, wrote to state commissioners last week that income tax revenue "appears to be trending in the wrong direction." The Malloy administration is projecting a $142 million deficit, up $79 million from an estimate in March, Barnes said in a letter to Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

In addition to the higher tax refunds, the Malloy administration blamed a Medicaid shortfall of $93.2 million.

"Put all that together and the governor will have do additional budget cuts," Sullivan said.

Brother can you spare a...quarter?  The inflationary force is with us.

Half Of Senate Dems Undecided On Minimum Wage Hike

by Hugh McQuaid and Michael Lee-Murphy | Apr 27, 2012 6:32pm

The House spent more than three hours Thursday passing a bill to raise the minimum wage, but with just 12 days left in a busy session it’s still not clear whether the legislation will see a vote in the Senate this year.

At a Friday press conference, Senate President Donald Williams said there hasn’t been a vote count among Senate Democrats to determine whether there’s enough support for the version of the bill passed by the House.

The House reduced the minimum wage increase to 25 cents per year for two years, down from the 75 cents per year the bill originally proposed. They also scrapped a provision that would have linked automatic increases in the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index, which measures the cost of living.

“I do have to tell you, as I’ve told folks in the past, the previous versions really did not have the support of the Senate,” he said. “It remains to be seen. It’s moving in a direction where it may be more palatable. We just don’t have a hard vote count.”

On Friday, more than half the 22 Senate Democrats said they weren’t sure whether they would be supporting the bill this year. Several said they’d reserve judgment until the group had time to caucus the measure. Some said they’d yet to read the language of the House bill, but 12 members said they didn’t know if they’d support it.

“I’m still having difficulty with it,” Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, said. “[The changes] give me more to think about but I’ve said plenty of times, I don’t think this is the year for it. If we’re serious about growing the economy, this just isn’t the time to do it.”

Cassano wasn’t alone in his concern about the bill’s timing. While Williams said he wouldn’t weigh in until the group had discussed it as a whole, he also seemed to be considering the current state of the economy.

“I’ve always been a supporter of the minimum wage, but we’ve always done it in years when we’ve had a robust economy,” he said.

Kia F. Murrell of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association said she was happy lawmakers were considering the bill’s timing. She added that Democrats who are wavering on the issue understand that most people work at small businesses that would be negatively impacted by an increase.

“Simply put, it’s a popular idea but it’s a really bad time for any increase in labor costs,” Murrell said.

She also cited a Quinnipiac poll from this week which found that while 70 percent of voters favored a minimum wage increase, 50 percent also felt that small businesses will reduce the number of people they hire if it were increased.

However, Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, who also said she was undecided about the bill, said the timing issue plays both ways.

“The people making minimum wage need it right now because the times are so tough, but the businesses don’t need it right now because the times are so tough,” she said.

Seven Senate Democrats have expressed their intention to support the bill. Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, said increasing the minimum wage helps fight poverty. He said he preferred the bill in its original form but he would take what he could get.

“If we can get anything in a minimum wage bill, I’ve always been a ‘yes’ vote,” he said.

The Working Families Party tried to remind lawmakers Friday why an increase in the minimum age is necessary by bringing to the capitol a group of people who have fallen on hard times, including Bernice Weinstein.

When Weinstein, a New Haven mother of six, worked a third shift job at a Branford Wal-Mart, she said she would walk more than two hours from her home.

She said she made the walk every day for two years.

Now unemployed, she said she couldn’t keep her finances together and eventually became homeless. She now lives with friends on Davenport Avenue in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven.

Friday, Weinstein brought a petition of about 4,000 signatures supporting a minimum wage hike to Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Williams.

The increase “would help me a lot. Because if I get a job, then I could support my kids,” Weinstein said.

Wyman took the petition and said she would deliver it to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Asked about the bill Thursday, Malloy said it “is a bill that if it passes I can get behind.”

Malloy continued: “I think moderation that’s being demonstrated is appropriate.”

Wyman also spoke in support of the legislation.

“We are about the regular people, and we need people to be able to live in our state and afford to live and take care of their families and have a house,” Wyman said. “You can’t do that the way it is now.”

Asked if the governor would be sending any message to Senate Democrats about the minimum wage, Wyman said, “If you look at the polling data, I think that gives the message to the people in the Senate chamber that people in the state want to see a minimum wage raised.”

Chris Doucot, a missionary from the Catholic Worker House in the North End of Hartford, asked Wyman if she would lobby to make the minimum wage higher than the bill proposed, saying even the current wage hike would still be a “poverty” level salary for a family of four.

Wyman said she has no control over what Senate Democrats do, but that “we still have a lot of work to do.”

Perhaps this administration's actions resemble more the Marx Brothers?

Proposed aid for left-leaning center sparks dispute on bond panel
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
April 27, 2012

A proposal to give more than $300,000 in state assistance to a New Haven community center with ties to the Communist Party was pulled abruptly off the State Bond Commission agenda Friday.  And while Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose budget office sets the agenda, insisted the item was tabled only because the New Haven People's Center wasn't ready to use the funds, a key Republican on the commission called the proposal an inappropriate use of state funds and charged the administration with conducting sloppy research.

"An organization like this should never have made it onto the bond commission agenda," Rep. Sean J. Williams of Watertown, one of two Republicans on the 10-member bond panel, said after Friday's meeting. "The responsibility of the governor and his budget office is to vet this stuff."

Williams was referring to a proposal to give a $343,500 grant to the Progressive Education and Research Associates, a nonprofit entity that runs the New Haven center. According to the center's website, it is "a meeting place of labor, community, peace and social justice groups."

It hosts the Connecticut bureau of the communist newspaper "People's World." But the center also provides space for poetry, music and film, various training programs, meetings for community groups and Food Not Bombs -- an anti-hunger, peace organization.  The center also is a site on the state's African American Freedom Trail.

Malloy declined after the meeting to discuss the proposed funding, which would have paid for masonry repairs, new roofing and other improvements to the center at 37 Howe St. The governor referred questions to his budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes.  OPM did not immediately respond to questions after the meeting.  But during the meeting, both Barnes and Malloy said the proposed funding was being pulled from the bond commission's agenda at the request of Progressive Education and Research Associates.

"The project is not ready to go forward," the governor said.

Barnes also told Williams that political affiliation is not a factor when the administration weighs applications for bonded state assistance.  Still, Williams said afterward that the center's political connections are significant enough -- regardless of where they lie on the political spectrum -- that they shouldn't be receiving public assistance.

A representative of the center and of Progressive Education, Joella Fishman, could not be reached for comment immediately after Friday's meeting.

WARNING:  We do not agree entirely with this assessment...more recent article.
Faltering income tax widens deficit, threatens Malloy's budget for coming year
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
April 20, 2012

Faltering state income tax revenues left Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reporting his largest budget deficit to date on Friday.

And unless tax receipts reported this week by nonpartisan legislative analysts improve, Malloy's budget plan for next year -- including a state employee pension fund fix and increased education aid to towns -- could be out of balance now and headed for more than $500 million in red ink by 2013-14.

The governor's budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, reported that the general fund in this year's $20.14 billion budget is $66.9 million in deficit. Malloy needs to finish $75 million in surplus this year to maintain the ongoing conversion of state finances to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and the administration now faces a $142 million hole.

"The state is in the middle of the year's busiest two weeks for tax collection," OPM Secretary Benjamin Barnes said Friday, referring to the rush of income tax filings the state has been receiving in the days before and after the April 17 deadline. "While early receipts are below targets, it is too soon to draw any firm conclusions about our income tax results for the year."

Barnes also warned of an "emerging shortfall" in the Medicaid program that could involve more than $90 million in cost overruns.

But it's the income tax -- and particularly its most volatile component, that was threatening not only the current budget, but Malloy's plans for next year.

The $20.7 billion plan the governor offered in February for the fiscal year that starts July 1 was balanced -- but only for 12 months. According to the administration's own numbers, that plan would slip $424 million into deficit by 2013-14.

More than half of the new spending in that budget was dedicated to shoring up the state employee pension fund and increasing education cost-sharing grants to cities and towns by $50 million. And while Republican legislators argued the proposed new spending was not sustainable, administration officials defended the plan, noting they still had time during the 2013 General Assembly session to deal with the projected shortfall.

But key lawmakers from both parties on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee said the state can't afford to take a wait-and-see approach any longer.

"We have no fiscal cushion. We have cash flow problems. The governor wants more spending and we're slipping into deficits," Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, a veteran member of the Finance panel, said. "There was no room for error when he proposed his budget" in February, "and now we're seeing more problems with our revenues."

According to memos prepared by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis and released by Candelora, receipts for capital gains, dividends and other earnings paid quarterly are running more than $116 million below expectations for April.

Income tax receipts from investment earnings are very volatile and can fluctuate by tens of millions of dollars from day to day at the tax filing deadline.

But if this year's income tax receipts remain more than $100 million below expectations -- and if projections for future years are downgraded in similar fashion -- the Democratic governor's new plan isn't balanced even for one year.

And Candelora said he fears that Malloy and the legislature's Democratic majority will try to solve it next January -- after the November legislative elections -- with more tax increases.

Malloy and the legislature ordered $1.6 billion in state and municipal tax hikes one year ago to close a huge budget deficit.

"I don't think you're going to find much appetite for any new revenue legislation, either this year or looking ahead to next year's session," Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, co-chairwoman of the committee, said. "We were very aggressive about raising new revenue last year."

Barnes said, "OPM continues to take every available step to end the year in balance and may take additional steps after consensus revenue is complete as warranted."

Friday's deficit forecast marks the first time that the Democratic governor reported a deficit. Last month the administration reported the general fund still to be $12.4 million in surplus.

Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo projected budget deficits in each of his past two monthly reports, including a $45.8 million shortfall announced on April 1. The Office of Fiscal Analysis has been tracking state finances in the red largely since the calendar year began, and reported a $124.4 million deficit on March 26.

And neither of those gaps, $45.8 million or $124.4 million, reflect the additional $75 million needed to fulfill Malloy's GAAP pledge.

The governor repeatedly has promised to maintain his planned conversion to a series of common financial guidelines established by the Government Accounting Standards Board to emphasize transparency. Unlike the modified cash basis state government has long used, GAAP rules require that funds be on hand to cover expenses as they are incurred.

State government would need another $1.7 billion in its coffers to cover all its obligations under GAAP rules. And that differential grows annually with inflation.

The $75 million surplus Malloy needs this year would be used only to cover that inflationary cost and stop the GAAP differential from growing.


Appropriations (hot off the press from friendly lobbyist)

And the Fiscal Notes:

About Town recommends this lobbying firm especially for education and social issues


The rest of us get mugged inside the its halls.
Pedestrian Mugged Outside State Capitol
The Hartford Courant
By CHRISTINE DEMPSEY, cdempsey@courant.com
11:56 AM EDT, March 20, 2012


A pedestrian was mugged outside the state Capitol Monday afternoon, police said.

The man was walking near 210 Capitol Ave. about 4:20 p.m. when four people approached from behind, the man later told police. One placed a sharp object to his back, and a second punched him and knocked him to the ground, Sgt. Steve Kessler said.

They stole two cell phones, cigarettes and a wallet, he said.

The pedestrian was transported to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, where he was treated for minor scrapes and bruises, Kessler said.

The suspects are described a men in their 20s, all of whom wore N.Y. baseball caps and denim shorts. They were about 5-foot-8, he said.

One wore a red T-shirt, one wore an orange T-shirt and two wore white T shirts.

Politically incorrect behavior?
Politicians Quick To Give CEO’s Donations To Charity
by Christine Stuart | Feb 27, 2012 7:50pm

Politicians were stumbling over themselves to give campaign donations from TicketNetwork CEO Donald J. Vaccaro to charity on Monday as stories about his arrest and charges against him were reported by the news media.

House Speaker Chris Donovan’s congressional campaign gave $1,000 to the Meriden Women and Families Center, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy gave his $1,000 to the WOW/NRZ Community Learning Center in Waterbury, and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney gave his $2,400 to a New London shelter and Vernon Community Program.

Vaccaro called the incident — which led to him being charged with a second-degree hate crime, second-degree threatening, breach of peace, first-degree criminal trespass, and interfering with police—“unfortunate.”

The incident, which happened at the Oscars party hosted by the Connecticut Aids Research Coalition and Real Art Ways, is detailed here by the Hartford Courant. The Courant reports that Vaccaro was thrown out by bouncer after inappropriately touching one of the women at the event. The bouncer told police that Vaccaro called him a “black mother-[expletive].”

“I am deeply concerned about what has been reported and I am taking the allegations very seriously,” Vaccaro said in a statement late Monday afternoon. Vaccaro has hired Jim Wade of Robinson & Cole, the longtime attorney for the Democratic Party, to represent him in court.

Vaccaro’s company, which is one of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s ‘First Five’, will receive $4.5 million from the state if it creates 200 to 600 jobs over the next 10 years.

When the announcement was made, Malloy praised Vaccaro, calling him a serial entrepreneur and someone who Connecticut wanted to keep in the state. But his comments weren’t as flattering Monday.

“If these allegations prove true, they are reprehensible,“ Malloy said in a statement. “Mr. Vaccaro should be ashamed of himself.”

“My approaches to life and work are highly inclusive and the comments reported do not reflect my values,” Vaccaro said Monday.

The Malloy administration said it was not aware in July 2011 of the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Vaccaro’s former marketing assistant. The lawsuit, which was withdrawn one day after the ‘First Five’ announcement, alleged that at a company-sponsored Halloween party, Vaccaro “pushed his body up against the plaintiff and grinded himself against the plaintiff and other female defendant employees.” At another social event, Vaccaro told the plaintiff and in the presence of her boyfriend said “you have amazing tits,” according to the original complaint. Plaintiff was fired after she complained about the unwanted advances. Defendants claimed it was because she didn’t meet her daily call quota.


Governor's opening of the Short Session 2012:  State of the State - comment here.
Surplus story here.  and from the Waterbury Republican-American today below;  First Five now only 3? And then there is the Deputy DEEP Commish who made a joke about spying on lobbyist (our interpretation)...

Governor reacts diplomatically to education vote
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
March 27, 2012

One day after legislators substantially watered-down his proposed education reforms, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy opted for a resolute, if diplomatic approach to the revisions by the Education Committee.

"What I like is that everyone admits that this is not the final bill," Malloy told reporters Tuesday. "I'll certainly be speaking to legislative leadership about that... There is no expectation that I am going to sign the current bill."

Malloy, who has not shied from conflict with teachers at public forums on his reforms, has not given up on winning over teachers' unions, even as he begins negotiating with legislative leaders about restoring provisions that were deleted from his bill by the Education Committee, largely at the behest of teachers.

The governor said he saw no need to confront the legislators, at least for the moment.

"I suspect they know what my feelings are already," Malloy said.

His reform package included linking teacher tenure and pay to evaluations, directing state money to the lowest performing districts, allowing the education commissioner to bypass collective bargaining with teacher unions when intervening in the state's lowest performing schools and increasing state funding for charter schools.

The Education Committee set aside those recommendations by approving a revised bill that shrinks Malloy's proposed increase in support for charter schools and makes delays linking tenure to evaluation until a study is complete.

"There are task forces that are working... that have yet to complete their tasks," said Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, the co-chairwoman of the Education Committee, of the half dozen education-related task forces that have not yet completed their reports. "This bill is working around what I think are almost impediments to coming to a very firm conclusions as to what to do."

But Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford and co-chair of the committee, still calls the modified bill "groundbreaking and bold."

Malloy brushed off a question about  whether he would veto a bill that does not include linking teacher evaluations to pay, tenure or certification, which has generated the most opososition from the teacher unions.

"We need an evaluation process that is tied to something, not five years from now, but we should've had it yesterday," he said. "I think the [teacher] unions have created problems for themselves. They didn't tell their members that they had fully developed a framework for evaluation. And when we came forward and we said let's take that framework for evaluation and make it mean something they specifically made it seem like good teachers have something to worry about, and of course that's not the case."

But that's doesn't mean the administration has given up with getting the teachers on board.

"It's essential," Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said of getting their buy-in.

Malloy had proposed changes to how the state divies up $1.9 billion in education aid.

He proposed sending more to the districts with the lowest-performing students and more non-English speaking students, but the Education Committee decided to wait until the task force charged with recommending changes completes its work. That task force released two-pages of interim recommendations in January that many say lacks substance. Their panels' final recommendations are not expected until later this year.

"There is no reason to spend any more money under the current formula. Period," Malloy said. His budget proposes spending $50 million more for these districts.

Prodded again by reporters if he will veto the bill, Malloy said he will not answer that question because everyone seems to agree that this will not be the final bill.

"This is a bill written in pencil. I am not going to sign a bill written in pencil," he said. "This is not the final product."

CEA Turns Up The Heat With TV Ad
by Christine Stuart | Apr 13, 2012 11:26am

Connecticut’s largest teacher union launched a new television advertisement Friday criticizing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s education bill.

The ad paid for by the Connecticut Education Association calls Malloy’s reform bill “a bad science experiment.”

The narrator goes onto say Malloy‘s bill includes “Unproven ideas backed by special interests. Taking tax dollars away from our neighborhood schools. It’s sure to explode.”

The ad says that the legislature’s Education Committee which changed portions of Malloy’s bill on March 26, “is getting it right and moving reform forward...“

The committee bill postponed for one year Malloy’s effort to tie a new teacher evaluation system to tenure.

“With roughly four weeks left in the legislative session, the stakes could not be higher,”  CEA President Phil Apruzzese said in a press release. “There are enormous consequences to our children’s future, and decisions will determine the path of educational and economic opportunity in our state.”

Malloy seems to agree the stakes are high but he made it very clear Thursday that he won’t be supporting the bill approved by the legislature’s Education Committee. Malloy told two dozen local elected officials not to count on the $39.5 million in additional education funding for their districts, if he can’t reach a compromise with the legislature.

“I think this money is very much in the lurch until we have an educational bill we can agree on,” Malloy said Thursday.

Since March 26, the day the Education Committee voted on its revised bill, Malloy’s administration and the two teacher unions haven’t spoken. The unions had been at the table, but Malloy canceled two previously scheduled meetings with the unions after the committee voted on the revised bill.

The unions and their representatives have been speaking with legislative leaders, who are informally speaking with the governor about how to move forward.

In the meantime, Mary Loftus Levine, executive director of the CEA, said they will continue to broaden public awareness of Malloy’s ”damaging”  proposals.

“Too many are unproven and untested—notions that will ultimately hurt, not help, our children to succeed and close the achievement gap,” she said.

Who's holding what hostage?

New funding for districts held hostage by larger ed reform debate
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
April 12, 2012

Legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy may agree that an education overhaul package will include a $40 million bump in funding for districts that make necessary reforms. But the governor warned municipal leaders from the lowest-achieving districts Thursday not to count on that money.

He will not sign the bill pending before the legislature that stripped many of his initiatives, even though it still includes the new funding.

"They should not be depending on this money," said Malloy, flanked at the state Capitol by a bipartisan group of 22 mayors and first selectmen from the lowest-performing districts. "I think this money is very much in the lurch until we have an educational bill that we can agree on."

And the administration has had no formal meetings with the teachers' unions since the Education and Appropriations committees downgraded his proposals weeks ago. Many legislators are hesitant to sign off on an overhaul that the unions vehemently oppose.

The dropped initiatives include tying teacher evaluations to tenure and salary decisions, and giving the education commissioner the authority to bypass union contracts in the state's 25 worst performing schools. 
Several mayors said they hope lawmakers can get past this impasse and get a bill passed that sends them additional money.

"We would greatly benefit from those funds, but I could not in good conscience include that in our budget," New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said after meeting with Malloy and the other municipal leaders.

As in President Obama's Race to the Top, the money, in this case $40 million, is being offered to those districts willing to make certain reforms.

"This has broad support," said House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey D-Hamden. "We're not just going to just write a blank check [to school districts] and say 'Go at it.'"

The state currently spends more than $2.8 billion a year on education, which is almost 15 percent of the state's budget. The money is awarded regardless of what kind of reforms districts make or the results they achieve. Funding is based on a predetermined formula, and high-need districts receive grants to pay for specific programs.

The education overhaul plan, the administration and legislators agree, will have $40 million for the 30 lowest-performing districts to apply for. Some of the reforms that could land Bridgeport, for example, with an additional $4.4 million next school year include extended school days or promoting teachers based on their performance evaluations. The education commissioner and the State Board of Education would determine if the plan is bold enough to warrant new funding.

"I have more failing schools than anyone in that room. ... We need to create schools that are more accountable," said Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.

He and several other mayors think that tying new state funding to promised reforms makes sense.

"It's a great start," Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said of the $4.8 million in new funding his schools may get. "We will definitely be applying. ... We aren't counting on it though."

If the Democratic-controlled legislature and Malloy work out their major differences on teacher tenure and state limiting collective bargaining in the worst schools, then both sides acknowledge the $40 million will be included in the final bill.

"It looks promising for them," said Commissioner Stefan Pryor of these low-achieving districts. "This is a critical component of a much larger education package."

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Education Committee, agreed with the governor that towns should not bank on this money because an agreement is still a long way off and only four weeks remain before the legislative session adjourns.

"If I was the [budget chief] for these districts, I would have a backup plan in case nothing happens," he said. "We all want to make sure the money is there that these districts need... This is good education policy."

Malloy's tenure reforms get major rewrite by committee
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
March 26, 2012

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's plans for education reform got a dramatic rewrite Monday by the legislature's Education Committee, but the changes are only one step in a process that some leaders say will end with high-level negotiations by top lawmakers and the administration.

“The bill the Education Committee appears set to approve represents just one step in the legislative process.  Gov. Malloy has made it clear that he’s determined to begin fixing what’s broken in our public schools, no matter how long it takes," said Roy Occhiogrosso, the governor's senior adviser.  "In the coming weeks, members of this administration will continue to work with legislators and other key stakeholders until there is a bill that represents meaningful education reform.”

Occhiogrosso made that statement before the Education Committee voted 28 to 5 for extensive substitute language.

The version approved by the committee Monday night after an all-day closed-door caucus would relegate Malloy's teacher tenure reforms to a study to be completed by next year.

It also would minimize his efforts to increase funding for charter schools. The revisions would cut his $2,600-per-pupil increase for students in charter schools to $1,100. A $1,000 local contribution for each student that heads to a charter school would become optional.

Copies of the revised language became available at midday, leaving lobbyists, reporters and even some legislators to scramble to see what is still in the bill, which Malloy has designated as his top priority in 2012.

"We're punting on all the imporant stuff," said Rep. Gary Holder Winfield, D-New Haven, and a leader of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. "Tenure, collective bargaining, everything." He would prefer for a decision to be made, not start another study or task force.

Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Education Committee, called language negotiated over the weeked "version 2." He said the caucus of Democratic committee members would last until every member's question was answered.

Other notable changes:

• Small school districts with expensive per/student price tags would have been forced to cut spending or lose state funding. The committee's bill will require the State Department of Education to complete a study first.

• Any new state funding for the state's 30 lowest performing districts would have been directed to the state's education commissioner to be spent on necessary reforms. The committee's bill will require "key stakeholders" to first come to an argreement of which reforms to finance.

• Allow local school districts to include the results of local charter school students when reporting their districts standardized test results and graduation rates.

• Malloy's plans would have allowed the education commissioner and the State Board of Education to assume responsibility of the state's lowest-performing schools, which would have been about 25 schools. Instead, the committee bill has the education commissioner study the plan for a year and report back to the committee by next year.

• The bill completely strips out tying teacher performance evaluations to earning tenure or earning their certifications to teach. Instead, the University of Connecticut's education college will run a pilot on 10 districts to see how well the evaluations work before linking it to certification, tenure or pay.

These changes did not sit well with some.

"It's really hard to change schools. It's even harder when you ask school officials to do it under the current existing rules that have already failed them for decades," said Pat Riccards, the leader of the New Haven education reform group ConnCAN.

Leaders of the Republican minority, Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield and Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk, called the closed-door talks with the unions an affront to the process. Absent from the talks were Republicans and rank-and-filed Democrats.

At midday Monday, Cafero pulled Fleischmann aside in the atrium of the Legislative Office Building. The conversation appeared intense, but cordial.

"What we're seeing is substitute language here that appears to be signficiantly different from the bill that the governor had proposed, and, quite franklym we are very troubled the process," McKinney said.

The GOP leaders focused their anger on the Democratic co-chairs, not the Malloy Administration.

But even they said that the bill will continue to evolve, with the administration promising them a seat at the table.

"I think this is just a step in the process. There will be a lot of work left on the education bill to go," McKinney said. "Education's a critically important issue. We don't need more studies and more testing and more evaluation. We need more action, and we need that action now."

Malloy, who was in Washington D.C., is expected to take the same stance as McKinney.

Democrats' gas tax pledge leaves them in a tight fiscal mess
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
March 21, 2012

Democratic state legislators this week wedged themselves between a fuel pump and a fiscal hard place -- and there may be no easy way out.

Trying to outmaneuver Republicans on the sticky issue of rising gas prices, Democrats pledged to cap a wholesale fuel tax, announcing Wednesday it could be approved next week.  But because that cap could worsen the deficit problem tied to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's new budget, Democrats also set a 15-month limit on it.

That leaves the legislative majority with a few choices, all politically unpleasant:

    Lift the cap as planned on July 1, 2013, just in time to impose one of the largest gas tax increases in four decades -- one several times larger than the savings the cap would provide;
    Keep the cap in place and push the projected deficit in Malloy's new budget dangerously close to half-a-billion dollars in 2013-14;
    Or, try to close that gap now either by cutting dollars out of the governor's new initiatives or by ordering more tax increases in a legislative election year.

And Republican lawmakers, who argue they first proposed capping one of the state's most volatile taxes -- only permanently -- are trying to press Democrats into showing their hand now.

"To have (a gas tax hike) come back with a vengeance a year from now is something we don't believe in," House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Wednesday during a GOP rally in the Legislative Office Building.

"The party that calls itself the party of the people doesn't even want to listen to the people," said Sen. Len Suzio, a Meriden Republican who has been advocating a permanent fuel tax cap since last October.

Multiple gas taxes

And the polls say voters are growing increasingly frustrated with Connecticut's double-barreled system, which taxes gasoline at both the wholesale and retail levels.  A March 2011 Quinnipiac University poll found more voters opposed to a plan to add 3 cents per gallon to gas taxes than were opposed to income and sales tax hikes.  The state imposes a fixed, 25-cents-per-gallon tax when consumers fill up. But first a wholesale tax adds another 7.53 percent to the cost of gasoline -- an expense built into the price paid by motorists. Based on the average wholesale price recorded this week -- $3.18 per gallon -- the wholesale tax adds another 24 cents per gallon. Connecticut's combined 49 cents per gallon tax ranks first among all states.

According to the Connecticut AAA, the average retail price of regular gasoline Wednesday stood at $4.03, a price topped by only five other states and the District of Columbia.  Wholesale prices, which typically peak in late spring or early summer, already have jumped 43 cents here since January, according to the Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association.  Another problem with Connecticut's system is that even after ordering several tax hikes, state officials siphoned off a significant portion of fuel tax revenue for non-transportation programs.

The wholesale tax was increased three times between 2005 and 2007 by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the legislature to finance what was billed at the time as a major transportation initiative. But in the first five years after those tax increases were ordered, 60 percent of the nearly $1.5 billion raised by the wholesale tax was spent outside of transportation.

Michael J. Fox, executive director of the Gasoline Automobile Service Dealers of America, which represents about 450 gas station owners statewide, said in a 2008 interview that "the biggest price-gouger in Connecticut is state government."

Though Malloy has worked to wean non-transportation programs off gasoline tax revenue since he took office last year, nearly 40 percent of the tax from this year's wholesale levy, about $146 million, still is expected to end up in the general fund.

A final fuel tax increase

But there's still one more fuel tax hike left over from the 2005 legislation -- and it's a big one.  Unless state law is changed before July 2013, the wholesale tax would jump by one-sixth, adding another 8.81 percent to the price of gasoline. At current prices, that would add 4 cents at once.  The Democrats' temporary cap would shave 1.4 cents per gallon off the tax burden -- based on the current wholesale price -- but then vanish in time to accommodate a tax hike three times its size.

State tax records dating back to 1972 show the largest increases in either the retail or wholesale tax didn't add more than 3 cents per gallon in any one year.  Given voters' feelings, why set the cap to expire just before a big tax increase?  Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said this week that while his party's cap system does expire in 15 months, that doesn't mean Democrats won't consider renewing it.

"We will come back next year and look at the totality of circumstances of the budget," he said.

A potentially daunting deficit

But if Malloy's numbers are correct, the $20.7 billion budget the Democratic governor proposed for the coming fiscal year will need more revenue -- not less -- by July 2013.  Administration numbers show the governor's plan would run $424 million deficit in 2013-14. And that's assuming the state gets the extra $37 million projected from the next fuel tax increase.  Take that away, and based on the administration's numbers, the governor's plan would produce a $460 million-plus fiscal hole in 2013-14 -- a gap that could require raising more than fuel taxes to close.

Administration officials are quick to counter that there's still plenty of time to deal with that problem in the 2013 legislative session, which starts next January.  But if Democrats want to try to whittle that gap down now, while legislators are running for re-election, the choices are arguably as unpopular as raising gasoline taxes.

By far the largest new expenditure Malloy proposed this February involves a plan to bolster the cash-starved state employee pension fund. The budget also boosts education aid to cities and towns, and offers a modest rate hike for private, nonprofit social service groups.

"That is the problem," Fairfield Republican John McKinney, the top GOP senator, said. "You won't have people clamoring to raise taxes if we spend less money."

The governor was coy when asked by reporters Wednesday about what type of gas tax cap he would support.

"If there's gas tax relief, it'll be produced because Democrats did it, that's what I say," he said. "I assume we're going to get a package and we're prepared to move it forward."

When asked about expanding the projected deficit in his budget proposal, Malloy said he wasn't worried. "I believe as the legislation is being formulated, we'll be OK."

The House passed it with 11 "no"votes.  Will the Senate?

Could Malloy believe in more than feeding?
By Chris Powell, J-I
Published: Saturday, February 25, 2012 1:13 AM EST

When last year he copied his predecessor from 20 years earlier, Lowell P. Weicker Jr., and proposed a record tax increase so that the government class, government dependents generally, and rent seekers might be insulated against the sacrifice being exacted from taxpayers, Governor Malloy was a hero to Connecticut Democrats -- that is, a hero to the government class, government dependents generally, and rent seekers.

But this year Malloy is starting to make the same bunch nervous.

First he proposed to repeal Connecticut's parasitic liquor laws, which forbid competition in pricing and business hours and turn licensing into political patronage. It was a spectacularly gratuitous assertion of something seldom even acknowledged by a governor -- the public interest. As most legislative districts have many "mom and pop" liquor stores whose operators will jump desperately into politics to protect their privileges, legislators are thinking: Did the governor need this fight? Do we?

Then came the governor's proposal for the state Education Department to take control of as many as 25 of the worst-performing local schools. Terrible schools long have been wonderful pretexts for municipalities to obtain more financial aid from state government. But for someone to request responsibility and legal authority to actually change things? That would be awfully inconvenient for the thousands living well off the dreary status quo. Already school administrators, teachers, and parents are agitating against the possibilities, and that will end up in the legislature's lap too.As if the governor's school takeover legislation wasn't enough, then he went after the fattest sacred cow of all, teacher tenure, proposing to replace it with a system of rigorous and frequent evaluation that would greatly diminish job security and greatly increase accountability. Though some of their union leaders lately had been suggesting that they would consider weakening tenure to improve education, most teachers quickly exploded in anger and denounced school administrators as being too stupid and corrupt ever to handle serious evaluations fairly. Since every legislator has dozens if not hundreds of teachers among his constituents and as most legislators are the tools of any three people with a letterhead, the tenure issue soon may have most legislators -- not just union-stooge Democrats but Republicans too -- hiding under their desks sending text messages to the governor's office, pleading for rescue.

And then Malloy resubmitted legislation from last year to eliminate state government scholarships for students attending private colleges that have large endowments and can easily afford to replace the state scholarship money. State government shouldn't be paying students to attend private colleges when the state's own college system claims to be under such stress. The scholarships for private college education are remnants of the days when nearly everyone in state government thought it could afford anything that sounded nice. But here too there is shrieking about the governor's sudden assertion of a public interest superior to the interest of students in attending rich private universities at public expense.

While state government is running a deficit again despite last year's mammoth tax increase, the deficit seems manageable with some budget tweaking, and state government probably could sustain itself in continued obliviousness to Connecticut's decline if only the governor would leave well enough alone.

So some Democratic observers remark bitterly that Malloy's tenure proposal is meant only to scapegoat teachers for public education's failures. Other observers sneer that the governor is just trying to toughen his image in regard to public employees after letting them off so lightly last year, his "shared sacrifice" having meant only a slight reduction in the rate of increase in public employee compensation. Others are not sure what the governor means to accomplish by offering so many disruptive proposals at once, and their confused but cynical concern evokes the remark attributed to Prince Metternich at the Congress of Vienna upon being told that the Russian ambassador had died: "I wonder what his motive was."

Malloy is certainly feeding the machine of government, and amply, but could he really want to do more than that? Could any governor of special-interest-besotted Connecticut want to do more than that? Could Malloy see feeding the machine not as the usual end in itself but as the regrettable prerequisite for changing its direction?

Whatever the governor's motives, his colleagues in government probably wouldn't be any happier even if they knew.

FOI Legislation Pits Donovan Against Malloy
by Christine Stuart | Feb 22, 2012 10:39pm

Since the Supreme Court issued a decision that requires municipalities to redact the addresses of police officers, correction officers, and other “protected classes” in public documents, local officials and lawmakers have been searching for a legislative solution.

The legislature’s Democratic majority says it found one and they thinks it’s so good it should be passed tomorrow in the House as an emergency certified bill. An emergency certified bill, also called an “e-cert,” doesn’t receive a public hearing and doesn’t go through the committee process.

“They have a fix and they don’t care what people think and they don’t care to have it scrutinized,” Sen. Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, said Wednesday in his office.

Fasano said he was outraged by the majority party’s attempt to get this passed outside of the regular legislative process. He even went as far as interrupting the Planning & Development Committee public hearing on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s bill to let everyone know they had just wasted their time.

“Those of you who gave testimony — it doesn’t really matter. Those of you who haven’t given any testimony might as well go home,” Fasano said.

Fasano isn’t the only one upset about the Democrats’ end-around. Lobbyists for a diverse coalition of town clerks, tax assessors, the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, and the Freedom of Information Council say the Democrats’ bill will only create more confusion. The governor’s office, which was taken by surprise with the Democratic majority’s bill proposal, agrees.

“We’ve recently been informed about what the leadership is proposing, which takes a different approach than what the governor introduced a few weeks ago,” Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman said Wednesday.

“We’re trying to reconcile the implications of the Supreme Court decision with the need for state and local governments to respond to FOI requests in a timely manner,“ Doba said. “The governor has concerns about the implications of the leadership’s proposal in its current form.”

What’s the rush?

House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said there’s been a “tremendous amount of anxiety about this issue since last June when the Supreme Court issued a decision.”

He said the impact of the decision had far reaching implications and many town clerks, tax assessors, and town officials are facing difficulty dealing with the decision because they don’t know who belongs to this protected class of individuals.

In fact, Sharkey said the problem was such an emergency that they almost attempted to draft legislation in October during the special session on jobs, but they were unable to get their arms around a solution in time.

Land records, dog licenses, property records, voter lists, and the dozens of other public records held by municipal officials have been held off limits for the most part since the ruling in June.

Av Harris, spokesman for the Secretary of the State, said that since the Supreme Court ruling was issued, they have had no way of knowing who is part of a protected class, so the Secretary of the State’s office hasn’t been fulfilling requests for voter lists even though the lists would normally be available under the Freedom of Information Act.

“Until the General Assembly cleans up the law, we aren’t allowed to give out the voter file,” Harris said Wednesday. “The burden is on the government agency not to disclose the information and we just can’t be certain.”

Some suspect obtaining a voter list is part of House Speaker Chris Donovan’s motivation for passing the legislation so quickly. Donovan is running for Congress and a voter list is a crucial component to a campaign.

But Sharkey said lack of access to the state voter file “is not the driving force behind the proposal.”

“It’s the driving anxiety of all the public officials,” he said.

Sharkey said Malloy’s bill “is not comprehensive enough and did not really address the Supreme Court decision.”

Malloy’s bill eliminates the mandate to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, but says that no public agency may disclose the “residential addresses” of the 12 protected classes provided that the employee has submitted a written request for nondisclosure to their human resources department.

Donovan’s bill asks local officials to make a copy of the record requested and to redact a person’s residential address prior to disclosing the document, and also asks municipalities to make a reasonable effort to erase the addresses from electronic databases. Earlier versions of Donovan’s bill exempted land records, voter lists, and grand lists from this requirement, but it is unclear where the latest version of the bill may stand at the moment.

Donovan’s bill also asks the Labor Department to create a guide instructing employees how to opt out of the public record database and forms a joint standing committee to study the issue further.

The Connecticut Bar Association testified in favor of Malloy’s bill earlier Wednesday saying it will resolve the majority of the issues raised by the Supreme Court’s decision.

Even Peter Sachs, the attorney and private investigator who brought the FOIA complaint that eventually led to the Supreme Court decision, testified Wednesday that the law is not workable as it currently stands.

“This statute in its current state is not only an unfunded mandate, any attempt to fund doing something that cannot be done is, by definition, a complete and utter waste of taxpayer dollars,” Sachs wrote. “The proposed changes to Sec. 1-217 found in the Governor’s Bill 5035 will eliminate this mandate and allow those wishing to be protected by the statute to do so without requiring public agencies to perform impossible tasks at their own expense.”

The House is expected to take up Donovan’s bill Thursday afternoon.

"Short Session 2012" for budget readjustments; list of bills, to be revived fromthe Long Session of 2011, maybe?  Long run implications?

Davos, site of World Economic Forum
What can we learn from the likes of Bono, Soros, et.al.?

Up next: Shared sacrifice for retired teachers
Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT MIRROR
February 15, 2012

Waves of retired teachers once covered by their districts' health plans are opting to get insurance through the state's less expensive policy.  If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has his way, his budget will slow this migration by increasing the cost the state's 32,000 retired teachers and spouses would pay to join the state's health plan. Almost two-thirds of the state's retired teachers get insurance through the state. 

Malloy wants to reduce the state's share of an individual teacher's health care from one-third to one-quarter, saving the state $7.5 million a year.

"This will encourage them to stick with their local [health] plans," said Ben Barnes, the administration's budget chief. "The state is not in a position to be the insurer of last resort for this many people that were never state employees."

Over the past four years, nearly 3,100 retired teachers have dropped out of their local health plans to join the state plan, according to the Office of Policy and Management. This has led to a 32 percent spike in enrollment in the state's plan and millions in increased costs for the state.  But for retirees like Janess Coffina, who taught in Stamford and Greenwich public schools, she is counting on the state plan to be her refuge when she turns 65 so she can abandon the skyrocketing costs her districts charge for health insurance.

"I know times are tight for everyone, individuals and governments alike. I just shake my head at how Connecticut teachers as a group seem to be on the wrong end of the stick in retiree benefits," the retired Spanish teacher wrote in a newsletter to her colleagues of the $915 she pays a month for health care.

Barnes and the lobbyist for the Connecticut Association of Retired Teachers said districts across the state are purposely directing their retirees to enroll in the state's plan, a move that can save municipalities millions each year. When a retired teacher joins the state's plan, districts shed all financial responsibility.

"They're getting them off their tab," said Randy Collins, who represents the state's retired teachers at the state Capitol.

Plausible solution?

Retired teachers say they doubt that this increase will lead to fewer retirees signing up for the state's health plan.  The $47 a month proposed increase to $226 a month for a retiree still has the state's plan costing significantly less than local coverage.  For example, in Greenwich the cost is $915 a month. And in other Fairfield County districts, the cost is easily $800 a month for retirees, Collins said.

"When you consider what I'm paying now (for local coverage), this will absolutely not convince me from enrolling (in the state's plan)," Coffina said during an interview. She spends one-quarter of her pension on health care.

Barnes said Stamford is one of the main culprits in this influx of teachers switching to state coverage. A Stamford official Wednesday acknowledged that their retirees do have incentives to move to the state's plan.

"We don't give any incentives, the incentives are already there," said Meryl Meitelen, an official in the city school district's benefits department.

"It's up to them, they have a choice. If they want to leave, they can, it's going to be cheaper for them to do that," she said. The state's plan also covers hearing and vision and covers much more dental than Stamford.

Officials from the Teachers' Retirement Board, which administers the state's health plan for teachers, have been unavailable since this proposed increase was announced last week. It is unclear where the 3,100 retired teachers who joined the state's plan had been teaching. It is also unclear if this proposed state increase will somewhat equalize the costs of state and local premiums.  Regardless if the increase slows the pace of teachers enrolling in the state's plan, the president of the retired teachers group says this change will have a huge impact on the 19,000 retired teachers already on the state's plan.

"This is getting to be extremely expensive," said Michael Norman, a retired teacher from Manchester. "So many teachers are already making the decision between food and medication. This isn't going to help that."

Barnes said he is confident the changes will not limit retired teachers from getting insurance.

"It's still very competitive with other plans," he said.

This health plan has been on a fiscal roller coaster the last several years. The Democratic controlled General Assembly and former Gov. M. Jodi Rell deferred paying the state's $30 million annual share for two consecutive years.

Last year, Malloy fully funded the health plan, and did not ask retired teachers to chip in more, despite the "shared sacrifice" mantra he said was needed to close a historic budget gap.  This year they weren't so lucky, as Malloy needed to find $330 million in new money for his education initiative, his state employee pension initiatives and his small rate increases for nonprofit service providers.

"This is not acceptable," said Collins of the state increase. "The state should have been raising their share not decreasing it."

The retired teachers also suggest that the state consider increasing the $34 a month it gives municipalities for each retiree they cover. Instead, Malloy's proposed budget would send $7 less each month for every retiree in a move to save the state $2 million.

"I would like to see the state encourage towns to do the right thing. This isn't doing that," Coffina said.

Budget Balanced Next Year, But Not Year After That
by Christine Stuart | Feb 13, 2012 1:23pm
(Updated 3:50 p.m.)

It was no secret last week that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal uses almost all of the nearly $500 million budget surplus in order to balance the 2013 budget, including about $329 million in new spending. What wasn’t as clear was the large deficits it creates fiscal years 2014, 2015, and 2016.

In order to balance the budget in 2014, Malloy’s budget office will have to cut about $650 million from current services in order to stay in balance and under the constitutional spending cap. That’s twice the amount of additional spending it plans on doing in fiscal year 2013. .

Where will the cuts come from?

“That’s the budget we’ll submit a year from now,” Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes, said Friday. “And we’ll balance it then.”

According to a spread sheet compiled by one of Barnes’ interns, out year deficit projections are fairly common place during past administrations too.

Under former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration the deficit was headed for $395.1 million in 2008 and in 2010 it was projected at $3.3 billion. Malloy’s deficit in 2014 is about $423 million.

“Every single budget since 2003 has been shown to be over the cap and out of balance in the out years,” Barnes said. “The way we define current services is hyper inflated.”

But not everyone is as confident about the projections as Barnes.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis has said his current 2012 budget is about $145 million in deficit. Its analysis of the 2013 budget is expected out later this week.

Republicans lawmakers expressed doubt about the administration’s ability to balance not only this year’s budget, but next year’s budget.

“Gov. Malloy has staked his political reputation on the fact that this economy will turn around,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said Friday. “Obviously we disagree.”

He recalled the budget battle three years ago when Rell, after months of fighting with the Democratic legislature, agreed to let a budget go into effect without her signature that closed a more than $8 billion deficit, but created a structural hole. It was that structural hole which lead to the $3.5 billion problem Malloy and the legislature solved last year with the largest tax hike in the state’s history and $1.6 billion in union concessions.

Cafero said Malloy’s picture of where the state’s revenues stand at the moment is entirely optimistic and believes if Malloy’s budget passes as proposed he will be back asking for a tax hike next year.

“We as a state are in for a rude awakening,” Cafero said.

But Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he has confidence in Malloy’s revenue projections and the budget proposal.

He said it’s unlike a few years ago when Rell’s budget failed to close an $8 billion deficit. In Feb. 2009, Rell’s initial budget closed a $6 billion deficit and the two sides spent weeks fighting over the size of the deficit.

“These are projections,” Looney said of the out year deficits. “And the administration has expressed confidence it will balance the budget.”

So while Republican lawmakers are likely going to want to rein in state spending, the legislature’s Democratic majority is more likely to agree with the governor, as it did during his first term.

Cafero warned that if the legislature abdicates its authority to balance the budget again, it would be a mistake.

Meanwhile, some economists believe the state will continue to have problems on the revenue side of the budget.

Peter Gioia, an economist with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, is not one of them.

Gioia said he doesn’t have as pessimistic a view of the state’s economy. He said he’s actually seeing some improvements in manufacturing and exports.

A CBIA survey released Monday showed that 46 percent of respondents saw their own company improving over the next three months, with only 14 percent expecting a worsening. In the third quarter survey, only 29 percent of respondents saw the potential of improvement and 28 percent saw the potential that their company would worsen.

Gioia said he’s not trying to be ‘Pollyannaish” about the projections, but he doesn’t agree with other state economists, like Fred Carstensen, who projected revenue growth would be about half of what Malloy projecting in order to balance his budget.

On The Spending Side

The additional spending the state plans on doing this year should be considered investments in Connecticut’s future and should not be pared back in order to deal with a projected deficit, Barnes said.

“Frankly, if we end up having to cut something in the future, it’s not going to be our commitment to education or eliminating the achievement gap,” Barnes said. “I frankly think that’s more important than some of the current services the state provides.”

Barnes acknowledged it’s hard to cut spending on anything. Asked where he would cut if he has to cut, Barnes was noncommittal.

“I wouldn’t guarantee that we won’t ever propose cuts to municipal funding,” Barnes said. “Of course we may. It may mean there are higher priorities.”

But right now education and contributing more money to the state employees pension fund are at the top of the administration’s list. Municipalities will be able to breath a sigh of relief for the moment since they will receive the same amount of money next year that they received this year. Beyond that the administration was making no commitments.

Red ink, spending cap threaten new budget next year
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
February 8, 2012

One year after building the largest fiscal security blanket in more than two decades of state budgets, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy moved onto the fiscal high wire Wednesday without a net.

While the governor talked decisively about finding more spending cuts to keep his new $20.7 billion plan for 2012-13 in balance, lawmakers from both parties and the state's chief business lobby balked at the plan's barely visible margin for error.

And Republican legislative leaders again questioned whether the Democratic governor's budget, which stands to shatter the constitutional spending cap in 17 months, also will leave them staring at another deficit by the time they return to the Capitol in 2013. One set of numbers from the administration identifies a potential shortfall topping $423 million one year after that covered in the proposed budget.

"We need to maintain the fiscal discipline we imposed a year ago," Malloy said. "That business has made Connecticut a more predictable, reliable, stable place in which to do business."

But the governor's critics, and some of his allies, were uncertain just how stable the new budget will be. While Malloy and lawmakers adopted a preliminary $20.4 billion plan for 2012-13 that featured an unprecedented, built-in fiscal cushion of $555 million. By comparison, the revised $20.73 billion package the governor offered Wednesday is designed to finish $8.5 million in the black.

That's a margin of error equal to less than 1/24th of 1 percent of all spending.

Further complicating matters, since a mid-November administration projection that state revenues were on pace to run $200 million above expenses in the third year of Malloy's term -- the 2013-14 fiscal year -- the developments since then have largely been negative.

Revised revenue projections in mid-January shaved away about one-quarter of that projected cushion.

And the spending level Malloy proposed Wednesday stands $225 million higher than what the administration's November forecast estimated Connecticut would be spending in 2012-13.

Carry that spending forward one more year, and even without inflationary cost increases, the numbers slip into a deficit of about $70 million.

Malloy's budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, offered numbers that show a much larger potential shortfal. The office reported that the spending and revenue trends in the budget proposed for 2012-13 would produce a negative gap of $257 million by 2013-14.

If Malloy keeps his pledge to convert state finances to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the potential shortfall swells beyond $423 million. That's because the conversion process requires state government to set aside more than $1.7 billion over 15 years, including $166.8 million in 2013-14. Unlike the modified cash basis state government has long used, GAAP rules require that funds be on hand to cover expenses as they are incurred. Similarly, revenues are counted in most situations in the year in which they are received.

OPM also projected that while the proposed budget would fall about $6 million under the constitutional spending cap next fiscal year, but would shatter the cap by $650 million in 2013-14 and by about $1 billion three years from now.

"I'm very concerned about the long-term implications," Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield, said.

Many economists have warned Connecticut's sluggish recovery from the recovery from the recession could take several more years, and House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, said legislators can't ignore where Malloy's proposal appears to be headed.

"I hope that those (economic) experts are wrong and the governor is right, but we as a legislature have to be prepared," Cafero said.

The governor's budget primarily increases spending for two purposes: bolstering contributions to the cash-starved pension fund, and adding $50 million to an Education Cost Sharing grant program that last enjoyed an increase in 2008-09.

Malloy's budget chief, OPM Secretary Benjamin Barnes, acknowledged that there are some concerns about projected finances after 2012-13, but he insisted that the administration isn't finished searching for new means to curb spending, and won't let a deficit develop.

"We remain committed to reducing expenditures below current services level to remain below the cap," Barnes said.

But that would mean the administration would have to find hundreds of millions of dollars worth of spending cuts one year from now.

And current efforts to control state spending have hit a few bumps in the road. Controversial labor-management panels charged with finding $170 million in the annual cost-saving measures that are part of the concessions deal got off to a slow start.

John Rathgeber, president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, praised Malloy for recognizing the need to search for new ways to make government lean.

"Now we encourage them to be more forthcoming about how they are doing that," he said, adding that if the administration begins sharing some cost-cutting measures publicly, it would greatly bolster confidence in the business community.

"If the economy even burps right now, we could end up in a deterioration" of the fiscal picture, he said.

In addition, the governor is restricted, both legally and politically, from touching some of the largest segments of the budget.

State employee salaries and benefits, which represent close to 30 percent of all spending, are locked in for the most part by a provision in last summer's union concessions deal. In exchange for a two-year wage freeze, new restrictions on health care and retirement benefits, and savings from other changes, the administration agreed to exempt most bargaining units from layoffs for four fiscal years, through 2014-15.

Malloy also has pledged not to reduce municipal aid, which approaches $2.9 billion, or 14 percent of his entire budget.

And debt service, which is nearly $2.4 billion or more than 11 percent of the budget, is another contractual obligation and therefore a relatively fixed cost.

Even one of Malloy's fellow Democrats in the House, Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey of Hamden, acknowledged "we have to keep on eye on the second and third years out" from the governor's budget. "Some of our plans and expectations may have to be toned down."

But Sharkey quickly added Malloy deserves to be praised for decisively moving forward with key reforms in education and health care. "We're setting the stage for economic growth with this budget," Sharkey said. "We're not just treading water."

Malloy exhausts his fiscal cushion to bolster education aid, worker pensions
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
February 8, 2012

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveiled a revised, $20.73 billion budget plan for the next fiscal year, adding nearly $330 million in spending over the preliminary budget, largely to fund additional education aid for towns and to bolster the state employees' pension fund.

Malloy would pay for the extra spending largely by consuming what is left of the nearly $555 million fiscal cushion he and legislators built into the preliminary 2012-13 budget adopted last spring. But the plan does rely on more than $8 million in new revenue to be generated by allowing Sunday liquor sales.

The governor also launched a few other initiatives in his budget, but relied in part on the state's credit card to cover much of that funding. These include a major boost in funds for supportive housing, an extra $2 million for tree trimming and additional spending to cover increased demand for social services.

The proposal also sets a new assets test for providing health insurance to individuals on the state's welfare program for single adults.

Malloy's budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, said the revised plan would fall under the constitutional spending cap by just $5.9 million, but would shatter the cap by about $650 million by 2013-14. Nonetheless, Barnes said, "we remain committed to reducing expenditures below current services level to remain below the cap."

But the Democratic governor's Republican critics have argued that the administration has a poor track record when it comes to finding budget savings. Though a record-setting $1.5 billion tax increase was needed to balance finances for the current fiscal year, Malloy and the legislature's Democratic majority still approved a 5 percent increase in spending, and the current budget either lies $145 million in deficit or stands a razor-thin $1.4 million in the black, based on estimates from legislative and executive branch analysts.

"We believe there are going to be significant challenges in the future," Barnes said Wednesday during his budget briefing with Capitol reporters. "There were challenges in the past."

The administration would continue its efforts to merge state departments and agencies under this new budget, shrinking them from 59 to 52. But the governor already has acknowledged that there would be relatively little in terms of position cuts, and budgetary savings, in this round of mergers.

That's largely due to a provision in last summer's union concessions deal. In exchange for a two-year wage freeze, new restrictions on health care and retirement benefits, and savings from other changes, the administration agreed to exempt most bargaining units from layoffs for four fiscal years, through 2014-15.

Barnes continued a theme Wednesday that Malloy has struck repeatedly in recent weeks: keep the current budget challenges in perspective.

When Malloy took office last January, he inherited a budget on pace for a $3.7 billion deficit -- equal to roughly one-fifth of overall spending -- in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

That deficit was closed with a $1.5 billion tax hike, a major union concessions deal and some controversial assumptions about economic recovery and revenue growth that have since been scaled back.

"There's still more to do, but we believe this budget continues that progress," Barnes said.

Barnes said the administration would recommend no cuts to the existing $2.8 billion package of grants to Connecticut's cities ands towns, and would also add an extra $50 million to the single-largest grant, the $1.9 billion Education Cost Sharing program.

Malloy also would support easing some existing mandates on cities and towns, including making it simpler for communities to levy local property taxes on partially completed property developments -- a change Barnes estimates to be worth $30 million annually to municipalities.

The single-largest new initiative in the budget is Malloy's planned fix for the pension fund, which currently has enough assets to cover just 48 percent of its long-term obligations. Fund actuaries typically cite a ratio of 80 percent as fiscally healthy.

The governor's plan would add $123 million to pension spending in the coming fiscal year, and about $300 million by 2013-14.

Malloy would pump an extra $62.5 million into programs to develop subsidized housing for low- and low-to-middle income families as well as additional congregate care housing for the frail elderly. Barnes added that this latter initiative typically costs only about one-tenth of the cost of nursing home care. "We think it's an important part of our community care spectrum," he said.

All of this $62.5 million investment would be financed over the long term through bonding, rather than paid for directly in the proposed operating budget.

The budget also would create a new state office of housing within the Department of Economic and Community Development.

The plan adds more than $58 million to cover increasing demand for social service programs, particularly health care for clients of the state's welfare program for single adults.

To help control costs in that area, Malloy proposed a change that has drawn opposition from his fellow Democrats when raised in the past by Republican governors.

Malloy would restrict access to benefits for adults earning more than $25,000 per year. Individuals with these earnings "should not be relying on the state to buy them health insurance," Barnes said. "Those individuals should be purchasing it for themselves."

Connecticut's private nonprofit community, which provides the bulk of state-funded social services, would receive its first funding increase in five years -- albeit a small jump of 1 percent -- under the governor's plan.

The state currently dedicates more than 6 percent of current spending, more than $1.3 billion, for contracts with these community-based agencies. The governor's plan would spend an extra $8.5 million on these programs in 2012-13.

From Davos...
Fiscal Office Says Malloy's Numbers Off By $3.1 Billion
The Hartford Courant
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, ckeating@courant.com
5:54 PM EST, January 27, 2012

HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's estimate of pension savings over 20 years was wrong by $3.1 billion, the legislature's nonpartisan fiscal office said Friday.

Malloy had announced that the state would save $4.8 billion over 20 years from a negotiated deal last year with the state employee unions. Republicans blasted various aspects of the deal at the time, saying that the estimates were overinflated, unrealistic and unreachable.

On Friday, the nonpartisan office said the actual pension savings over 20 years would be $1.7 billion — representing a $3.1 billion shortfall over two decades.

The Malloy administration defended the numbers as actuarially sound, but Republicans ripped them as an exaggeration.

"It speaks to a constant overstatement and misrepresentation of our real budget difficulties and deficits,'' Senate Republican leader John McKinney told reporters at the Capitol. "We now know [Malloy] cannot achieve the health care savings that he said he would achieve. Even he has conceded that. We have yet to see the first penny from the $180 million in savings from the employees suggestion box. And now we learn that, over a 20-year period, on one part of his deal, his promise fell short by $3.1 billion.''

The pension problems, McKinney said, were one of the fiscal problems that prompted the Moody's Investors Service to lower the state's bond rating. Republicans have charged that Malloy's deal with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, known as SEBAC, did not generate enough savings.

McKinney added, "The Moody's downgrade is evidence that we didn't solve all of our problems with the SEBAC deal. And this is further evidence that we're $3.1 billion short of where the governor thought we would be.''

House Republican leader Larry Cafero described the numbers as "fiction'' that are essentially illusory savings from the deal with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, known as SEBAC.

"Just as in the other areas of the SEBAC deal concerning health care and other built-in savings, the pension fund savings are just one third of what was budgeted,'' Cafero said. "This is just more bad news.''

But Malloy's budget chief, Ben Barnes, said Friday that the administration stands by its numbers and the actuaries who developed them. He criticized Cafero, McKinney and Govs. John Rowland and M. Jodi Rell by name for creating the state's financial problems. Earlier this week, the Malloy administration criticized the fiscal office for its estimate on the state deficit.  Meanwhile, Malloy, who is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, announced Friday that he is proposing consolidating more state agencies. His drive to streamline state government has already reduced the number of agencies from 81 to 59. He is now calling for an additional trim, which would bring the number to 52.

Malloy said in a conference call from Switzerland that the consolidations would bring no immediate budget savings except for having one fewer commissioner. Republican legislators criticized last year's consolidations as mostly for show because they produced relatively negligible savings in a $20 billion annual state budget.  Among other consolidations, Malloy proposes the merger of the Teacher's Retirement Board with the Office of the State Comptroller, as well as the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner with the University of Connecticut Health Center and the University of Connecticut.

For the second day in a row, Malloy delivered a summary of his activities in Davos. At a breakfast meeting Friday, he was with the new head of UBS, who is the former prime minister of Switzerland.

Malloy also said he spent time with "some business interests who I'm trying to attract.'' He then added that he talked to a company that is interested in "growing 1,000 jobs in the state,'' but he said he could not elaborate. The company "has a presence'' in Connecticut, but "not the likes of what we're talking about,'' Malloy said. He noted that 22 companies are currently in the pipeline that could qualify for state benefits under the law if they expand their operations here.

"I'm working these people,'' Malloy said of the business prospects. "I'm working them hard.''

$291 Million Jackson Lab Deal Goes To Bond Commission Jan. 30
Courant Staff Report
11:27 AM EST, January 20, 2012

Financing for the Jackson Laboratory deal  is scheduled for a vote by the State Bond Commission on Jan. 30.

Last October, the legislature approved a plan hatched by the Malloy administration for Jackson Laboratory to open a facility at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, to anchor a planned bioscience cluster known collectively as the Connecticut Bioscience Collaboration Program. Jackson Laboratory, a research firm based in Maine, specializes in genomic medicine.

The commisison vote would authorize $290.69 million in bonding for fiscal years 2012 to 2021.
Once an item is placed on the bond commission agenda, it usually passes.

Among other items scheduled for a vote Jan. 30:

    $255 million to issue and sell general obligation bonds
    $57 million for the Department of Transportation to pave 200 miles of roadway.
    $10 million to subsidize the employment of 1,100 people through a jobs and training program established in October.
    $5.24 million toward hot water piping and air conditioning improvements at Manson Youth Institute in Cheshire.
    $5 million to increase the amount of crop land in the state.
    $2.9 million for state park improvements, provided $2.5 million goes toward Silver Sands State Park in Milford.
    $2.2 million for the Department of Administrative Services to buy technology equipment.
    $1 million for the Department of Administrative Services to design facade restorations at 79 Elm St. and 18-20 Trinity St. in Hartford.
    $1 million for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to improve state parks and other recreational facilities.

The meeting, originally scheduled for Jan. 27, will be held in Room 1E of the Legislative Office Building, beginning at 10:30 a.m.

The full agenda is available here.

Copyright © 2012, The Hartford Courant

Wall Street credit agency downgrades Connecticut's bond rating
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
January 20, 2012

One of the leading Wall Street credit rating agencies downgraded Connecticut's rating Friday, citing both a heavily loaded state credit card, huge debts in pension and retiree health care programs, and a depleted emergency reserve.

The decision by Moody's Investors Service to lower state government's bond rating from Aa3 to Aa2, opens the door for Connecticut to pay higher interest charges on future capital projects, even though its rating remains relatively high.

Moody's cited "pension funded ratios that are among the lowest in the country and likely to remain well below average," referring to retirement programs that serve state employees and Connecticut's public school teachers.

The state employees' fund, which had enough assets to cover just 44 percent of its obligations in June 2010, had climbed to nearly 48 percent by mid-2011, based on a new report filed earlier this month with the comptroller's office. But fund analysts typically cite a funded ratio of 80 percent as a healthy level.

The teachers' pension fund is in somewhat better shape, with enough assets to cover 61 percent of its obligations. But it was in much worse shape nearly four years ago until state government borrowed $2 billion to shore up that pension program, another debt Connecticut will be repaying for about two more decades.

The health care program for retired state workers is in far worse shape than either pension fund. According to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget staff, the state's long-term obligation in this area is $26.6 billion.  State government traditionally has followed a pay-as-you-go system, allocating money each year to fund retiree health care, a cost that continues to grow rapidly with no investment earnings to offset it.

That first changed in 2007 when $10 million from that year's budget surplus was used to open a savings account. A 2009 deal with unions required new employees and those with less than five years of experience to contribute up to 3 percent of their pay toward their retirement health care. Malloy's concessions deal with the unions, ratified in 2011, requires all workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay, and state government will have to match that contribution starting in the 2017-18 fiscal year.

And Connecticut also ranks as the most indebted state in the nation in terms of bonds issued to finance capital projects.

The state entered the fiscal year with close to $19.5 billion in debt owed to investors who purchased state bonds to finance municipal school construction, capital programs at public colleges and universities, road and bridge upgrades, repairs to state buildings and other projects. That's according to fiscal projection reports filed in November with the legislature both by Malloy's budget staff and by the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

Another way to look at that debt, according to Malloy's budget staff, is that it represents more than $5,569 for every man, woman and child in Connecticut, based on U.S. Census population numbers. That is the highest debt level of any state in the nation.   Set against all of these debts, state government has nothing in its emergency reserve, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund. Malloy's predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, and the legislature emptied a nearly $1.4 billion reserve in 2009 and 2010 to mitigate the need for tax hikes or spending cuts during the last recession.

Moody's announcement drew sharp criticism Friday both from Malloy's budget chief, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, and state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier.

"The decision is certainly disappointing, but not totally unexpected given the negative outlook placed on the State's rating by Moody's last June," Nappier said in a news release.

"In many ways, Moody's action is going in the wrong direction, particularly since Connecticut has made tough decisions to bring structural balance to its operating budget and set in motion a clear path to improve financial stability," Nappier said.

Malloy, who inherited a built-in budget deficit approaching $3.67 billion for 2011-12 when he took office last January, worked with legislators to close that gap with $1.5 billion in new state taxes, a major union concessions plan and several state agency consolidations.

"Despite these steps forward, this rating agency appears to be judging the State's creditworthiness through the rearview mirror," Nappier said She added that Moody's gave scant consideration to Malloy and the legislature's commitment to convert state finances to generally accepted accounting principles, a series of fiscal standards that emphasize transparency and accountability.

"Moody's is caught up in a labyrinth of mathematical ratios that loses sight of the essential question: How likely is it that Connecticut would ever default on its debt?" Nappier added. "The answer is, never in a million years!"

Barnes said that "Moody's is wrong in its analysis of the state's finances, and wrong to change Connecticut's credit rating. Connecticut has done all the right things to shore up our finances, and Moody's has responded with a downgrade intended to satisfy their internal corporate need to deflect attention from their historic lack of credibility."

But House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, said the downgrade is just more evidence that state government's fiscal house is not in order.

"We have to hope for the best but prepare for the worst possible financial scenario,"Cafero said. "The marketplace -- the credit rating agencies -- is the final arbiter when it comes to assessing the fiscal health of the State of Connecticut. And the marketplace is signaling that we have a problem."

Cafero also chastised the Malloy administration this week after fiscal analysts for the executive and legislative branches agreed on a consensus revenue report that pushes the current budget to the brink of a deficit.

The governor and his fellow Democrats in the legislature's majority took considerable heat from the GOP after adopting a biennial budget last June with nearly $600 million in projected operating surpluses.

The $20.14 billion plan approved for the current fiscal year was projected to finish with a general fund surplus of $88 million, and a preliminary $20.4 billion budget for 2012-13 with a $496 million cushion built in.

But latest consensus numbers now show general fund revenues down nearly $95 million this fiscal year from the level anticipated in the adopted budget. And that overall drop would be much greater had not a $169 million shortfall in income tax revenues been partially offset by gains in sales and wholesale fuel tax receipts.

Before this latest revenue change, the administration and OFA had estimated small surpluses of $83 million and $101 million, respectively, in this year's budget. After the new revenue numbers are considered, the forecasts drop to either a $12 million deficit or a $6 million surplus.

And for 2012-13, revenues now are down $139 million from the level anticipated in the adopted budget. Combine that with administration estimates released in mid-November that showed spending on pace to run $104 million above forecast, and next year's cushion is below $250 million.

Inquiring minds want to know what significance this has on bonds for Jackson Labs...
Moody's Downgrades State Bonds; Malloy Chief Complains

12:58 PM EST, January 20, 2012


After the largest tax increase in Connecticut state history, the Moody'srating agency has downgraded the state's bonds.

The downgrade prompted a sharp rebuke from Ben Barnes, the budget chief for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Barnes released the following statement Friday:

"Moody’s is wrong in its analysis of the state’s finances, and wrong to change Connecticut’s credit rating.  Connecticut has done all the right things to shore up our finances, and Moody’s has responded with a downgrade intended to satisfy their internal corporate need to deflect attention from their historic lack of credibility.

"Connecticut has always paid its debt, and remains an attractive issuer of public debt.  Investors appreciate Connecticut’s strong income levels, conservative debt management practices, and fiscally conservative leadership.''

The news richocheted quickly throughout Wall Street and the financial world with an article in The Bond Buyer, an influential financial publication for insiders. The news was also carried by publications like The Hartford Business Journal and The Courant.

Upon hearing about the reaction regardingMoody's, one Capitol insider said, "He's confusing them with Lisa.''

Barnes continued, "Moody’s lowered the rating for Connecticut below where it has been since April 2010 even though Connecticut’s fiscal health has significantly improved during that period.  Recall that in 2010 Connecticut faced looming multi-billion deficits into the future, had pension funding ratios in the low 40s, had spent the entire rainy day fund, and was in the middle of a series of budgetary gimmicks which Governor Malloy has spent his first year in office undoing.

"Today, we have a structurally balance budget, have converted to GAAP, have fully funded our current pension obligations and seen their funding ratio rise, have negotiated significant pension benefit concessions from organized labor, have negotiated significant employee contributions to retiree health benefits, and have begun to add jobs to the state economy.

"Moody’s Investor Service decision today to lower their rating of Connecticut’s General Obligation debt from Aa2 (negative) to Aa3 (stable) is unfortunate.  It reflects their continued reaction to their central involvement in the financial scandals that led to the deepest recession since the Great Depression.   Coming on the eve of our budget release, without an imminent bond sale, suggests that the move is motivated by factors other than Connecticut’s creditworthiness.

"Moody’s, which receives approximately $170,000 per year in fees from the State for their bond rating services, is one of three agencies that rate Connecticut debt.  The others, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, continue to rate Connecticut debt as AA (equivalent to Aa2 from Moody’s.)"
Copyright © 2012, The Hartford Courant

Connecticut bond ratings cut by Moody's on debt, pension costs
Michael McDonald, Bloomberg News
Updated 12:48 p.m., Friday, January 20, 2012

Connecticut had its general-obligation bond rating cut to Aa3 from Aa2 by Moody's Investors Service, which said debt and pension costs are consuming an increasing amount of its budget.

Gov. Dannel Malloy, who raised income taxes the most in state history last year, said this week that receipts haven't met estimates, leading to a $94.9 million revenue shortfall this fiscal year. The cut to the fourth-highest grade affects about $14.6 billion in outstanding general-obligation bonds, Moody's said. The outlook was revised to stable from negative.

"Connecticut's combined fixed costs for debt service, pension and other post-employment benefits are already high and, absent significant further reforms, will continue to consume an increasingly larger portion of the state's budget," Moody's said in a release.

The ratings company said Connecticut is susceptible to "financial market fluctuations" because it depends on taxes on capital gains from wealthy residents, who are concentrated in the New York City suburb of Fairfield County. Connecticut has the highest net tax-supported debt among the 50 states, Moody's said in a previous report. The state is also the wealthiest, with per-capita personal income of $54,397 in 2009, according to Department of Commerce data.

"Moody's is wrong in its analysis of the state's finances, and wrong to change Connecticut's credit rating," Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, said in a statement. "Connecticut has done all the right things to shore up our finances, and Moody's has responded with a downgrade intended to satisfy their internal corporate need to deflect attention from their historic lack of credibility."

Lower-than-expected tax collections in Connecticut mirror a trend in other states with high-wage earners, including New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, Malloy, the Democratic governor, said in a statement Jan. 17. Fiscal 2013 revenue is projected to trail forecasts by $139 million, according to the statement.

Malloy Promises No New ‘Tax’ Increases
by Christine Stuart | Jan 19, 2012 5:30am

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday that he doesn’t plan on tinkering with tax increases to make up for the projected budget shortfall unveiled yesterday by the consensus revenue estimates.

Instead, Malloy will address the less than a half of percent drop in revenue by cutting spending. Republican lawmakers who were opposed to Malloy’s two-year budget with a built-in $1 billion cushion and the largest tax increase in the state’s history said it’s about time.

“We intend to end the year in balance,” Malloy said emphatically at an event in South Windsor.

He said there’s a reason he built a cushion into the budget because “you don’t know what your revenues are going to be.”

The same lawmakers complaining about the budget now, were criticizing it when it was proposed because it raised more revenue than the administration initially thought was necessary.  But despite his best efforts consensus revenue estimates released late Tuesday showed the budget on the precipice of a nearly $95 million deficit.

Republican leadership in the legislature was quick to issue a press release Tuesday questioning how Malloy planned to handle the situation in the wake of a $1.6 billion deal with the state employee unions that includes a no layoff provision. 

“The deal the governor stuck with the unions really ties our hands and we still have not seen any savings on the spending side,“ House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk,  said Wednesday. “The only option left is to significantly cut services to balance the budget.”

Malloy said cutting spending is exactly what he plans on doing. However, details of those spending cuts won’t be available though until next week.

“They want to have their cake and eat it too,” Malloy, who has promised to improve education and hold municipalities harmless in the second year of the budget, said Wednesday.  He said the state watches the revenue numbers “literally everyday” and what happened in Connecticut and other states with high income earners was a “precipitous fall off in the last few days of December.”

He said he reached out to surrounding states like Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey and tried to find out if they were experiencing the same thing and “low and behold they were.” The biggest taxpayers were paying less in the fourth quarter than they had in the previous year.  The jump in revenues in the last quarter of 2010 can be attributed to potential expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which forced high income earners to realize their revenue in that year as opposed to the next, Malloy said.

“Having said that, that’s not an issue. We’re going to balance the budget,” Malloy said. “We’re going to make spending cuts that’s what we’ll do.”

Like last year Malloy continues to do things differently than his counterparts in New York and New Jersey.  On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proposed a 10 percent reduction in income taxes during his state of the state address.

“Gov. Christie has not funded his pensions prior to this year’s budget to the extent of $2 billion,” Malloy countered. “You’re looking at the first governor in the state of Connecticut to fully fund pension obligations on an actuarial basis.”

Meanwhile Republican lawmakers speculated that while Malloy won’t seek to hike any taxes in a budget adjustment year he will look for ways to increase revenues even if they don’t come in the form of a tax hike.

Last week Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes didn’t rule out changing regulations or policies in order to bring in new revenue to the state. The proposal Malloy announced last week to allow Sunday liquor sales is expected to bring in an additional $6.4 to $11.2 million in revenue.  Malloy is expected to roll out more policy changes in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 8 start of the legislative session.

LINK TO LWV of Weston for full story

Split differently in the 26th, same in the 135th.

Special master recommends keeping New Britain in 5th CD
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
January 13, 2012

A Republican leader conceded defeat today after the state Supreme Court's special master on redistricting recommended to the court that it adopt congressional districts that are close to the existing borders, rejecting Republican calls for broader changes.

"This is ostensibly the Democratic map," said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. "I respect it. It's over. We move on from here."

The maps recommended by Nathaniel Persily would keep Democratic New Britain in the 5th District, frustrating an effort by the GOP to improve its chances at winning what will be the only congressional seat in Connecticut in 2012.

Democrats had no immediate comment as they read Persily's recommendations and viewed his five district maps.

The report he filed is a draft subject to revisions from the court, but Cafero said he it is clear no changes will be made.

His recommendations were not unexpected, as the court had directed Persily to make minimal changes as he draws new lines for the state's five U.S. House districts, echoing arguments made by Democrats.

"In developing the plan," the court said in its instructions order, "the Special Master shall modify the existing congressional districts only to the extent reasonably required to comply with the following applicable legal requirements..."

Those requirements are that the districts be equal in population, consist of contiguous territory and meet "other applicable provisions of the Voting Rights Act and federal law."

In the new maps proposed today -- one for each of the five U.S. House districts -- Persily recommended keeping New Britain in the 5th District, maintaining a city with a strong Democratic voter base in a district that is expected to be the most competitive in 2012.

He did suggest changes from the Democratic plan, which he described as meeting the conditions set by the court.

"Both the Special Master's Plan and the Democrats' Plan reunite Durham and split Glastonbury, Middletown, Shelton, Torrington, and Waterbury," Persily wrote.

"The Democrats' Plan changes the current district boundary in Waterbury; whereas the Special Master's Plan changes the current district boundary in Torrington. Assuming no additional towns would be split or moved, one of those changes is necessary to achieve population equality in District 5. It should be noted, however, that the way one town is split in each plan affects how the other towns are split even if they are hundreds of miles away. This is due to the fact that only certain combinations of census blocks will achieve perfect population equality."

Oops - click here

Is next state tax debate nearer than expected?
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
February 6, 2012

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy insists he won't seek more taxes this session after raising more than $1.5 billion last spring.

But with a sluggish recovery and an expensive pension fix turning Malloy's future budget surpluses into a potential deficit by July 2013, Republicans already are questioning whether more tax talk is dead -- or simply being swept under the rug until after the November legislative elections?

"It would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility to make changes to the pension plans now that would create a budget hole in a little more than a year," House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, said.

"The governor's budget passed by the Democrats continues to fall apart ... despite the largest tax increase in state history," added Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Fairfield.

Even Malloy's fellow Democrats in the legislature are beginning to show concerns over the direction of state finances.

"The revenues don't look as good as we had hoped, but hopefully the income tax will turn around by April," Sen. Toni N. Harp, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said, adding that the pension fix shouldn't come at the expense of crucial education and health care programs. "We want to make sure that we're moving our (pension) contributions up in a responsible way, but not so it makes it difficult to run the rest of government. I'm not sure how that all comes together in 90 days."

The 2012 legislative session, which starts Wednesday and runs through May 9, doesn't pose anywhere near the fiscal challenges Malloy and the legislature faced in January 2011, when nonpartisan legislative analysts projected a nearly $3.7 billion budget hole for 2011-12.

Officials closed that gap not only with the tax increase but also with more than $1 billion in cuts to the current services budget, including a major union concessions package, and many hoped the worst was over for some time.  Malloy and lawmakers even built considerable fiscal cushions into the budgets for this fiscal year and next, margins of nearly $90 million and $555 million, respectively.  But problems with the budget began to spring up a few months after its adoption.

Controversial labor-management panels charged with finding $170 million in the annual cost-saving measures that are part of the concessions deal got off to a slow start.  Reports of underperforming state taxes began to trickle in in late in 2011, and income tax projections in particular took a serious hit in mid-January.

By month's end the $90 million surplus built into the current year had all but evaporated. Nonpartisan legislative analysts were reporting a $145 million deficit, while the administration insisted finances were still a razor-thin $1.4 million in the black.  And Malloy's big fiscal security net -- the half-a-billion-dollar cushion built into his second budget -- had been chopped in half.

Still, the governor urged everyone to maintain some perspective. "We're in much better shape than we were a year ago," he told his commissioners at their January meeting. And he also pledged to use just one tool to keep current finances out of deficit.

"We're going to make spending cuts," Malloy said on Jan. 20, shortly before announcing $34 million in emergency reductions. "That's what we do. We balance the budget."

But just three days later he rolled out an ambitious plan to undo more than two decades worth of damage done to the state employees' pension fund. The plan would boost pension payments nearly $125 million next year and even faster after that.  Connecticut eventually would save billions, but the savings wouldn't begin until 2025.

What drew less attention, though, was that these pension costs open a new budget hole just 17 months down the road.  Malloy's budget office had reported in November that, based on spending and revenue trends, the state could expect a nearly $200 million fiscal cushion in the year that starts July 2013.

The governor's budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, briefed lawmakers at that time about the need to begin rebuilding the state's emergency reserve, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund.  Two months later, though, Barnes' office and legislative analysts sliced more than $40 million off their revenue expectations for the budget to be written in the third year of Malloy's term.  Now subtract more than $300 million extra that Connecticut would spend on pensions in 2013-14 under the governor's plan, and a potential gap of more than $150 million opens up.

Barnes was quick to counter last week that the administration has a strong track record when it comes to cutting spending, and it isn't finished yet. Malloy consolidated more than two dozen state agencies and offices last spring, recently proposed seven more consolidations, and has frozen the bulk of nearly 2,700 positions left vacant across state government by retirements this year.

"When you get out that far (17 months from now), it's very much dependent on economic growth rates and we have slowed down our long-term projections on revenues," Barnes said.

"I would say that there's no question there is always a challenge to find the savings, to find the resources, to address the priorities that we have, but that is what we're doing. The administration isn't done finding ways to make government more cost-effective."

Still, Barnes conceded that the sluggish economy is making it more difficult to achieve all of the goals the governor has set.

"We could face limits to our ability to implement everything we want to implement, including addressing these long-term (pension) liabilities," he said. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

But Republicans said if Malloy's pension plan gains legislative approval now -- the governor needs lawmakers to endorse an exception to the spending cap rules to implement it -- then the bridge they all ultimately cross will lead to more tax increases when the legislature convenes in 2013.  McKinney said that despite arguments from the administration, spending hasn't been cut sufficiently. Even though the level needed to maintain current services was cut, the overall state budget is still 5 percent above last year's level.

"Connecticut faces a current deficit and possible out-year deficit in 2014 instead of promised surpluses largely due to the failure of both the governor and majority Democrats in the legislature to make any spending cuts or achieve promised union concessions," McKinney said.

Rep. Patricia Widlitz, a Guilford Democrat and co-chairwoman of the tax-writing Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said Democrats aren't ready just yet to give up on the budget they adopted last spring.

"I think realistically we need to have the experience of a whole year behind us before we can fully evaluate it," she said. "That's why we're really not delving into any tax changes in the coming session."

But Widlitz added that she believes no one at the Capitol is anxious to revisit taxes -- this year, next year, or any time in the foreseeable future.

"We're going to really scrutinize any new spending," she said. "Certainly there is no appetite to look forward to future tax increases within either party."

Editor's Note: Parts I and II, running today, of a three-part series previewing fiscal issues in the 2012 legislative session focus on shrinking surpluses and rising fears of future tax increases, as well as a push from municipal leaders for more than simply another year of sparing town aid from the budget axe.

Part III, to be posted Tuesday, will look back at dramatic personnel reductions created by the 2011 union concessions deal, and the growing likelihood that agencies will be allowed to fill very few of those positions in 2012 as the state struggles to keep its finances out of the red.

Malloy frames education reforms as human rights issue
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
January 11, 2012

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy promised today in a wide-ranging radio interview that his planned education reforms would be "the most far-reaching in our state's history," a bold assertion certain to raise expectations about how he intends to improve troubled districts in an era of tight finances.

In a one-hour interview on WNPR's "Where We Live" about his first year and the year ahead, Malloy said his administration is preparing to concentrate attention and resources on 29 under-performing school systems that are failing students - while somehow maintaining aid to all municipalities.  With few details expected until he delivers his budget and State of the State address to the General Assembly on Feb. 8, Malloy is working to frame the narrative for his second year as governor, using broad and dramatic language.

"This is an issue of civil rights, of human rights," Malloy said. "We can't afford to give up on 40 to 60 percent of the young people living in some of our urban areas.  It is morally repugnant to do that."

Malloy, an urban mayor narrowly elected in 2010 as the first Democratic governor in 20 years, proved adept last year in convincing fellow Democrats to endorse a dizzying freshman agenda that included a record tax increase, labor concessions, a higher-education reorganization and a $1.1 billion investment in bioscience. Now, he will test how compliant - or ambitious - the legislature might be in an election year dominated by presidential politics, a fragile economy and general pessimism about the direction of the state and nation.

His one-hour appearance today on "Where We Live," which was simulcast live on CT-N, the state's public affairs cable network, is part of the Malloy administration's plan to shake off the inertia of the holidays and do what it did best in 2011: dominate the public discussion about the role of government.  His latest campaign - he oversees an administration forever in campaign mode - began last week on his first anniversary governor, a day packed with events intended to remind voters of his first-year accomplishments and to engage them on what's to come.

"The holidays are over," Malloy said brightly on his anniversary at a ceremonial signing of legislation that commits the state to $291 million to build and subsidize a genetics lab at the UConn Health Center, part of a larger bioscience investment. "It's back to work on a 24-hour basis. I've been looking forward to a day like this."

Also on his anniversay, he addressed a workshop he called on education reform, which attracted Randi Weingarten, the national leader of the American Federation of Teachers and Martha Kanter, the Obama administration's undersecretary of education.

Malloy has released his six principles of reform to shape the education debate, similar to an approach he took last year in setting parameters on spending cuts and tax increases before the budget debate. He has yet to talk in detail about what his plan would cost or how he would pay for it.

"First of all, let's hope the economy continues to improve. That would be helpful," Malloy said today. "We're not talking about new taxes, so we may talk about reallocation of resources."

"Reallocation" is a word that causes jitters in towns with high-performing schools. Malloy noted he has promised municipalities he would maintain overall state aid to them in 2012, but he has not said if education funding formulas will change.

Details will come no later than Feb. 8, when Malloy must propose any changes to the biennial budget adopted last year.

"We're not far away from laying out both what we think the budget adjustments need to be, as well as I think what will be noted to be more of the more aggressive educational reform proposals, certainly the most far reaching in our state's history and probably one of the most far-reaching in the nation," Malloy said.

In a state with two landmark court decisions on education reform and one major case that is pending, that is a significant promise.

In Horton vs. Meskill, the state Supreme Court forced the state into a funding formula in the 1970s that was intended to equalize education spending. Sheff vs. O'Neill yielded a push in the 1990s toward greater racial and economic integration in Greater Hartford.

In 2010, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of all students to an adequate education, allowing a case brought in 2005 by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding to go forward. As mayor of Stamford, Malloy signed on as a plaintiff.  But as of Friday, the administration has not yet met with lawyers for the coalition to talk about remedies to what critics say is a defective system of funding public education in Connecticut. The case is pending.

Then-Sen. Thomas P. Gaffey, D-Meriden, reacted to the court's decision in March 2010, when the identity of the next governor was unknown, by saying he agreed that the current system of funding education, with its heavy reliance on the property tax, is broken. But fixing it, especially in today's economic climate, will be extremely difficult.

He made a prediction: "For this to change as dramatically as the plaintiffs intend it to change, it's going to take an awful lot of political courage from whoever is the next governor, working with the General Assembly."

Malloy names new chief of staff
CT POST Staff reports
Updated 11:18 a.m., Thursday, December 15, 2011

HARTFORD -- Mark Ojakian, the deputy secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, has been named Tim Bannon's replacement as Chief of Staff for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Malloy credited Ojakian with negotiating a deal with the state employee unions that he said will save taxpayers $21.5 billion over the next 20 years.

"It has been an honor to have Mark in our administration over the past year in his current role, helping direct the charge on the restructuring and streamlining of state government in our efforts to find efficiencies while making government leaner, less expensive, and more effective," Malloy said in a news release. "He has a tremendous breadth of knowledge, experience, dedication and character, and an extraordinary capacity to produce results for the people of the state."

Ojakian said he is looking forward to the challenges that will come with his new role.

"In his first year in office, Governor Malloy has demonstrated his determination to change the direction of our state away from stagnation, inaction and limited results to one of growth and prosperity," Ojakian said. "Reinventing and restructuring our state will not happen overnight, but with a dedicated public servant like the Governor at the helm, I have no doubt we'll get there."

Ojakian will replace Bannon, who announced in November he would be stepping down, and whose last day with the governor's office will be Jan. 5.

"I also want to give a special thanks to Tim Bannon, who agreed to take on the responsibilities of the first year of the administration," Malloy said. "He helped model for us an approach to the financial crisis that we inherited, and became a tireless worker on behalf of our agenda to reinvent Connecticut and improve the economic development outlook of this state. I will miss seeing him every day, though he'll remain a friend and advisor."

Ojakian formerly served for 16 years as deputy comptroller under current Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, while she ran that office.

"Mark and I have been friends, colleagues and members of each other's families for about 25 years, so I know how much he brings to the table on so many levels," Wyman said. "He not only has an incredible understanding of how government works, but knows how to bring the best out of people in order to get things done. He has been and will continue to be a huge asset to the Governor, to me and to the State of Connecticut."

Ojakian, as deputy comptroller, was the senior policy advisor for the office and had administrative responsibility for more than 250 employees and fiscal responsibility for more than $1 billion in state accounts.

A 1975 graduate of St. Anselm's College in Manchester, N.H., Ojakian went on to receive a master's in international relations from American University in Washington, D.C. in 1977.

He lives with his husband, Jason Veretto, in West Hartford, and has two children, Brandon and Kyle, and two grandchildren, Connor and Madison.

State pledge to meet all teacher pension costs means big budget increases

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas and Keith M. Phaneuf
December 2, 2011

Just four years after the state borrowed $2 billion to shore up the troubled retired teachers' pension fund, another infusion of state money will be necessary to cope with the hit the fund took during the recession.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget office estimated this week that teacher pension-related spending will jump 40 percent over this fiscal year and next combined — one of the fastest growing state expenses — climbing more than $260 million since 2010-11.

"Since we lost money in the market, we now have to make up for it by increasing the contributions that we make," said Gian-Carl Casa, an undersecretary at the Office of Policy and Management.

Over the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, the market value of teacher pension fund investments plunged by $2.3 billion, according to the latest actuarial report.

The losses mirrored problems experienced by nearly all states in the last recession. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, one of the leading indicators of the health of blue-chip stocks, hovered close to 11,300 points entering July 2008, but plunged to a recession-low 6,626 by early March 2009.

"I don't think any state's fund was immune from the market downturn," state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier said Thursday.

The fund uses contributions from government and from teachers, as well as investment earnings, to pay for the benefits paid to about 50,000 retirees. When earnings fall, contributions typically rise. Those contributions fulfill two purposes: saving funds to cover benefits earned by teachers during the year, and catching up on savings Connecticut should have deposited in the past, but did not.

And when the state borrowed the $2 billion to prop the pension fund up, it pledged to its investors to contribute the full annual payment recommended by fund analysts, or actuaries.

"The state was using the teachers' pension as an ATM before this. The teachers feel more secure now," said Mary Loftus Levine, leader of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. Connecticut teachers are not eligible for Social Security.

"This is the right thing to do," she said, adding it being the fastest growing state expense could be because Connecticut no longer has any other choice but to "properly" fund the pension system.

Past legislatures and governors routinely budgeted less-than-recommended levels for the teachers' pension fund before the borrowing plan was enacted in 2007. The fund had enough savings to cover 60 percent of its obligations in 2006. Actuaries typically cite 80 percent as a fiscally healthy level.

But while the borrowing helped boost the pension's funded ratio to 70 percent of obligations in mid-2008, that ratio had fallen to 61 percent by June 30, 2010.

State government paid $647 million last fiscal year to cover fund contributions and debt payments on the $2 billion borrowed. The state Office of Policy and Management projected this week in its annual forecast of short- and long-term budget trends that these expenses will rise to $838 million this fiscal year, $909 million next year and reach $1.02 billion by 2016.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, and member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said this added price tag to the fund "should send up major red flags for us."

While he understands that the economy has caused the market to plunge, he also remembers being promised a 6.5 percent return when the state decided to borrow $2 billion to prop up this pension.

"It's a huge problem. We put in $2 billion to catch up in 2007," he said.

On a more positive note, Nappier added that teacher pension fund investments have fared much better since the last recession. Fund investments earned a 21 percent return in the 2010-11 fiscal year, she said.

GOP hearing challenges Malloy order on home care attendants
Arielle Levin Becker, CT MIRROR
November 10, 2011

Opponents of two executive orders that establish a way for home care attendants and child care workers to unionize voiced their frustration Thursday, warning that they could hurt home care in the state, criticizing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for issuing the orders without input from the people most affected, and questioning whether he overstepped his authority.

Several who spoke said they wanted the orders amended or rescinded, although there's not a clear path for doing so. Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, who co-hosted the forum on the orders, said it's unlikely that the legislature's Democratic majority would take action against the executive orders of a Democrat governor, and that he wasn't sure if he wanted to challenge the orders in court. The forum, he said, was intended to gather information.

"Let's air everything and then we can see where we go from there," he said.

The orders have generated intense opposition, as well as support from some home care attendants and people with disabilities who did not participate in the forum, which union officials criticized as being one-sided.

Malloy said Thursday that any problems that arise from the executive orders can be dealt with. He said the orders were intended to give bargaining rights to workers who are treated as independent contractors but often employed by agencies. "All I am saying is that if those folks want that opportunity, I believe in America they should have that opportunity," he said.

In the past, Malloy has said that the orders begin the process for establishing bargaining rights, but don't determine anything.

The orders, which Malloy issued in September, apply to home care attendants and child care workers in state-funded programs. Both orders were scaled-back versions of proposals that legislators considered but did not pass this year.

The order involving home care attendants in particular drew intense opposition, and was largely the focus of Thursday's forum. Personal care attendants, or PCAs, work for seniors and people with disabilities, performing tasks such as helping them dress, bathe, eat or drive to work. The people who receive the services are considered the PCAs' employers, but the state funds their wages.

The demand for PCAs is expected to grow rapidly as baby boomers age and the state moves toward providing more long-term care outside nursing homes, but experts say getting enough people to do the work--which does not come with benefits--is a major barrier to expanding the use of home-based care.

Malloy's order allows PCAs to elect a "majority representative" for non-binding discussions over issues including compensation, recruitment and training of PCAs, and established a seven-member workforce council to hold discussions with the majority representative. The order also established a working group to make recommendations about the best way to structure collective bargaining rights for PCAs.

Those who spoke at Thursday's forum criticized the effect the order would have on PCAs' wages, their relationships with their employers, and on small businesses. Many, including Republican legislators, also questioned the process behind the executive order, saying Malloy should not have unilaterally enacted something the legislature rejected and without input from people affected.

"The disability community places enormous importance in the concept of 'Nothing about us without us,'" said Catherine Ludlum, a Manchester resident who hires PCAs and has opposed the order. Without input from people with disabilities or PCAs, she said, "the executive order is fatally flawed."

Ludlum also expressed skepticism that the state would be able to raise wages given its budget problems, and noted that workers would have union dues taken out of their paychecks. "I agree that there should be a high-level dialogue about improving wages and benefits for personal assistants," she said, but added that a union was not the way to do it.

Michelle Tyler, who has worked as a PCA for 9 years, said she believed turnover among PCAs was the result of working too many hours, not the wages, and predicted that the order would lead to fewer attendants. She likened the relationship between a PCA and an employer to a marriage, and said adding a third party would put "a huge damper on that relationship."

Stephen Mendelsohn, an advocate for people with disabilities, criticized the Service Employees International Union, which backed the proposal to let home care workers unionize. Mendelsohn questioned the union's tactics, which he said were intimidating, and said that the union's leaders had received awards from the Connecticut Communist Party.

In response, some Republican lawmakers offered a defense of the union. Rep. Len Greene, R-Seymour, noted that most SEIU members are upstanding citizens and patriotic.

Mendelsohn said he supports the right to unionize, but said that there has been a history of antagonism between people with disabilities and unions, which he said have campaigned to retain jobs in institutions while people with disabilities have sought to live independently.

Andy Markowski, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, focused on the effect of both orders on businesses, saying they would for the first time make the government the employer of private employees.

Markowski warned that the orders would make child and home care more expensive, and said they set a "terrible precedent," allowing unionization of employees to bypass small business owners because of the relationship with the state.

"Small business owners are scared," he said, and they're wondering what industry would be next.

Deb Stevenson also focused on precedent, warning that Malloy overstepped his authority in issuing the orders.

"Unfortunately, our governor is not adhering to his oath of office and is not obeying the constitution of Connecticut," said Stevenson, chief counsel for We the People of Connecticut, Inc., which is aimed at making sure government officials adhere to their oaths of offices.

She asked lawmakers to call an immediate special session to review the executive orders and declare them unconstitutional.

Several lawmakers criticized Malloy's use of the executive orders to enact what the legislature did not pass, although they stopped short of promising a special session. Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, called them "simply an overreach of government," while Rep. Christopher Coutu, R-Norwich, said, "I really don't think this was democracy, and the people had no say."

State Child Advocate Jeanne Milstein did not take a position on the orders but offered cautions about the process for moving forward, saying it was important that families of children with disabilities or complex health care needs not face additional obstacles to getting home care or lose any control or flexibility. Milstein said she supports improving wages and benefits for home care workers, but said it's important to ensure that any cost increases are not borne by the people who receive care or their families.

In addition, she said, the disability community and families must be involved in all planning and implementation efforts. "That's critical," she said.

Some supporters of the orders spent time in the Legislative Office Building Thursday to express their support outside the forum.

Caldwell Johnson, a New Haven resident, hires PCAs through an agency for help with things including getting out of bed, showering and cleaning his home. He said he needs at least eight hours a day of services, but can't find PCAs to work more than two to four hours at a time because the state funding does not cover more hours. There's a lot of turnover, and if a PCA is sick, there's not always a backup. Johnson thinks PCAs should have health insurance and more stability.

"If we can get this union going, that would help us and help them," he said.

Dawn Luciano said she'd love to work full-time as a PCA, but for now, only does it on the side.

"It just didn't pay enough, so I just couldn't do it," she said.

Luciano works full-time as a financial sales representative, a job she said she needs for the health insurance and pay.

She thinks having bargaining rights would allow more PCAs to work full-time and work for the same people, and said she thinks the people who use PCAs will benefit from not having to use multiple aides and not having to replace them as often.

"They really have an opportunity to get a lot out of it," she said.

Analysts: $80M in concession savings would have come anyway
Keith M. Phaneuf and Arielle Levin Becker, CT MIRROR
October 28, 2011

The legislature's non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has identified more than $80 million in projected savings ascribed by the Malloy Administration to the union concession deal that don't actually depend on the contract changes ratified in late August.

In its first analysis of the concession deal since ratification, the Office of Fiscal Analysis also raised questions about whether the $241 million biennial savings from the Health Enhancement Program projected by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget office can be fully achieved.

The nonpartisan analysts didn't question the administration's ability to achieve savings in connection with drug patents and negotiated rates for medical and dental care. But they also noted that these savings had nothing to do with the concession deal with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.

That package--which also reduces costs through a two-year wage freeze, new restrictions on benefits,  a wave of new retirements, an employee wellness program, and budget cuts to be identified by labor-management efficiency panels--projects savings of $1.5 million this fiscal year and $12 million in 2012-13 tied to pharmaceuticals coming off patent. As expensive brand name drugs become available in less costly generic form, "it is reasonable that savings may be realized," the legislative analysts wrote.

But OFA added that "savings attributable to prescription drugs coming off patent are not contingent on an agreement between the state and SEBAC."

Similarly, the deal also calls for an existing labor-management panel, the Health Care Cost Containment Committee, to find $40 million in savings this fiscal year and $35 million next year in health care expenditures.

OFA noted in its report that the administration is projecting $36.3 million will be saved this year and $33.6 million in 2012-13 in pharmaceutical and medical service coverage for state workers and retirees.

The comptroller's office oversees the state's self-insurance program and does receive guidance from the health care cost panel. But the office projected savings in pharmaceutical and medical service costs back in May--one month before the first vote on the SEBAC deal failed in mid-June and three months before it finally passed in August.

The comptroller's office routinely offers a preliminary cost estimate for medical benefits in December or January, just before the governor's budget is proposed, and offers a revised estimate in April or May. Projections can change due to new caseload data. Before the state switched roughly one year ago to a self-insurance program, medical service cost estimates also were revised as the comptroller negotiated new insurance rates.

But the authority for these functions was not created in the August SEBAC agreement.

For example, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, while serving as state comptroller in late April 2005, announced that her office had revised estimates and was projecting $75 million in savings in medical and dental insurance programs over two fiscal years combined.

"The SEBAC agreement directed the Health Care Cost Containment Committee to find $40 million in savings," Malloy's budget office said in a statement released this week, adding "it is not certain" these savings "would have happened anyway. That's why it was important to make sure these savings are part of the committee's negotiations with providers.

"The SEBAC agreement has savings targets, and we will meet them."

SEBAC declined to comment on the OFA report.

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, who has charged frequently that the value of the Democratic governor's concession deal with the unions was unfairly inflated, said that while legislative analysts believe the savings are real, "these were totally unrelated to any concession deal."

The OFA report also questioned whether savings anticipated from the Health Enhancement Program included in the concession deal can be achieved fully. The program is intended to promote wellness among workers and retirees. Members are encouraged to use preventive services and manage chronic conditions, based on the premise that doing so will improve health and reduce the use of more costly services that become necessary when a person gets sick. Whether the plan saves money depends on whether the cost of the increased use of preventive services and incentives for participation are outweighed by reduced claims costs overall.

In its analysis, OFA wrote, "It is uncertain if changes in behavior and utilization will occur and lead to long term savings."

In particular, OFA said it's not certain whether a new copayment for avoidable emergency department visits would be enough to lead people to seek care elsewhere, and whether the cost of disease management programs for people with certain chronic conditions--waiving copays for office visits for the conditions and giving people who comply $100--would be offset by reduced acute care costs and long-term savings from better health outcomes.

The Health Enhancement Program is voluntary, and those who join must get all recommended screenings and exams recommended for them. Those who don't participate will have to pay an additional $100 a month in premiums and face a $350 deductible.

The administration's savings calculations assumed that 50 percent of eligible employees would participate in the Health Enhancement Program. In that case, the state would save approximately $49.9 million from the increased copays and deductibles the nonparticipants would pay, according to OFA.

But in reality, 96 percent of state employees chose to participate, reducing the state's savings in increased copays and deductibles for nonparticipants to about $3 million.

Malloy's budget office responded that "In the long term, the fact that over 95% of state employees chose to participate in the Health Enhancement Program will save even more money for the state. While higher participation may mean we don't see as much savings in the short term, we will live within the budget - we'll make sure numbers work."

Legislative analysts also questioned savings attributed to the Health Enhancement Program, including:

    Savings from changes to the dental plan. The Health Enhancement Program requires participants who have dental coverage to get two cleanings a year, and covers unlimited periodontal care. OFA noted that the documents supporting the plan suggest that people with chronic conditions might have complications if they don't get regular dental care, but the analysts wrote that, "It is unclear if the estimated savings from individuals with chronic conditions will offset the increase in utilization from all other plan members including otherwise healthy individuals.
    $3 million in projected two-year savings from tobacco cessation and obesity programs, which OFA called "unlikely" to be achievable.
    The projection that the administration used for the Health Enhancement Program would lead to a 10 percent reduction in total claims costs for active employees, which OFA said would amount to about $52.5 million. OFA said it's not clear if that can be achieved in the short term.

On some changes, OFA said it did not have the information to evaluate savings assumptions, including information about the current utilization of preventive services.

Lawmakers Get Schooled On ‘Modern’ Social Services
by Christine Stuart | Jul 18, 2013 5:30am

Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby told about 10 lawmakers and their staff Wednesday that his agency is working in earnest to modernize the phone and computer systems to make it easier for its 750,000 clients to apply for programs or get answers about their benefits.  In the past that meant standing in line and submitting a paper application or trying to call a caseworker to leave a message on a voicemail that filled up almost hourly.

On July 8, all that changed for most of the 12 regional DSS offices.

A new centralized phone system allows any one of 800 eligibility workers to receive the phone call while, simultaneously, the caller’s information and application is arriving on their computer screen eliminating the need for the 4 million pieces of paper the agency received every year.  Under the new system, which hasn’t yet been implemented in every regional office, clients should be able to get an answer the first time they call. Since July 8 — when the new phone system debuted — 22,757 calls have been answered and the average wait time was less than five minutes.

“When we redesigned our business process we moved away from case management to a task-based system,” Bremby said.

That has meant in the Hartford office, which made headlines last year when agency officials were notified that 125 boxes of benefit applications had been discovered in a closet, 80 percent of the applications that have come in during the past two weeks have been resolved the same day, Bremby said.  In addition, the department has scanned 312,857 documents and is working on processing the remainder on a daily basis. In the near future, all 800 eligibility workers will have access to a client’s file as soon as they answer the phone. In the past the file would have been a paper document on one eligibility workers’ desk and a client would have to hunt down their caseworker to get a resolution.

Bremby admitted that meant having to show up sometimes at the offices three times before getting an answer. Under the new system, Bremby wants the issue resolved on the first call or visit.  Starting last March the department rolled out its new eligibility website that allows individuals to figure out whether they’re qualified to receive benefits and allows those already receiving benefits an opportunity to check on them.

There’s currently no way to register for benefits online, but a client can fill out an application and print a copy to mail or fax to a central location to be scanned. Once the document is scanned, it’s in the system and can be accessed by any eligibility worker.  By this time next year, the department envisions getting rid of the 24-year-old “Eligibility Management System,” which is written in a computer language so old that there are few people left who can service the system.

“It’s a 24-year-old marvel,” Bremby said.

In the meantime, eligibility workers will have two computer monitors on their desks, one with the new system and one with the old EMS system. In the mornings and in the evenings before they leave work, workers will be making sure the old paper files are added to the new computer system so the old one can eventually be eliminated.  The Department of Social Services also is the defendant in two class-action lawsuits that allege the department failed to process Medicaid and food stamp applications in a timely manner. A federal judge gave the department a year to improve its timeliness regarding food stamp applications. The lawsuit challenging the timeliness of the Medicaid applications is currently pending in Hartford federal court.

“We know that the way in which we’re performing now is better than we ever have,” Bremby said.

When it comes to food stamps the Hartford office is processing about 70 percent of the applications for expedited service on time, and about 80 percent of the regular food stamp applications on time, Bremby said. 
He said in April there were more than 20,000 pending applications, and by the end of May that number had dropped to 3,000. The Hartford office today is current with processing applications, Bremby said.  That means when someone walks through the door they’re getting same-day service, but not every office has been trained in the new business processes, Bremby said.

Ultimately, the goal on the web side is to work in coordination with other agencies, such as Access Health CT, the insurance exchange, to offer “no wrong door service” to individuals looking for government assistance.

IMPORTANT BIPARTISAN EFFORT:  Link to call of Special Session and below, stories as a result of this action



Jackson Lab trial to test Hartford patients' tumors in mice
Arielle Levin Becker, CT MIRROR
April 30, 2013

The Jackson Laboratory will team up with Connecticut Children's Medical Center and Hartford Hospital for a clinical trial of "cancer avatars" that attempts to grow human patients' tumors in mice to determine the best therapies for each patient's disease.

Hartford Hospital President and CEO Jeffrey A. Flaks offered a glimpse at one of the goals of the work: "We're going to have patients who come to us, and we'll be able to treat them in a way that says, 'For you, for your particular tumor, for your cancer diagnosis, we can perfect with extraordinary precision the exact medications, the exact treatment regimens that provide you with the best care possible,'" he said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined Jackson Lab and hospital leaders to announce the trial Tuesday, touting it as evidence that the state's massive investment in bioscience -- including nearly $300 million to help Maine-based Jackson build a new institute at the UConn Health Center in Farmington -- was paying off.

The trial will be small at first, testing the capabilities of a new approach, and will be focused on patients with a high risk of recurrence. Dr. Edison Liu, Jackson's president and CEO, cautioned that although he and others have hope for the concept, he didn't want to overhype the idea.

"There's going to be a lot of hard work," Liu said.

Here's how it will work: Once a patient is identified as meeting the trial's criteria and agrees to participate, his or her tumor will be extracted and split.  Part of the tumor will go to Jackson's Connecticut institute, where researchers will analyze it.  Another part will go to a Jackson facility in California, where scientists will attempt to grow it in a specially engineered type of mouse with a suppressed immune system, allowing the foreign tumor to take hold.

Once the tumor grows in the mice -- it can take four months to a year -- researchers can try different treatments to see which are effective in combating the patient's tumor.  And a team of clinicians, pathologists, scientists and computer analysts at the two hospitals in Hartford will review all the information generated to determine what it means for treating the patient.

Liu said he jokingly refers to the work as rocket science. Sending a man to the moon didn't break new conceptual ground, he said, but represented a massive coordination of technologies and infrastructure. "It's the same thing here. Perhaps not as grand, but still it's the same principle," he said.

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, the lab's Connecticut institute, is aimed at making advances in "personalized medicine," and the cancer avatar concept, if it works, is one form of it. The idea is to better tailor treatments to a person's particular condition and characteristics.

Many of the tools now used in medical treatment are fairly blunt instruments. Chemotherapy, for example, works on some patients, but many who get it don't improve, and others face severe side-effects. Researchers pursuing personalized medicine hope that by gaining a better understanding of the tumors they're targeting, and of the genetic makeup of the person being treated, they'll be able to more precisely target the therapies.

Dr. Fernando Ferrer, surgeon-in-chief and executive vice president at Connecticut Children's, said Tuesday that a new approach to children's cancer is sorely needed. After making tremendous progress in treating pediatric cancer in the late 20th Century, progress stalled, he said.

"We desperately need new approaches to treat children with cancers that fail the treatments we've designed thus far," he said. "Our increasing ability to leverage our knowledge of the human genome provides us this way forward. It provides us a new strategy, so to speak, to tackle this problem."

Researchers can already identify some mutations and "gene signatures" in certain tumors, but they generally don't yet know what to do with that information, limiting its ability to produce precise treatments, said Dr. Andrew Salner, director of Hartford Hospital's Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center. For most mutations, it's not clear how important they are in the tumor cells' survival, and there aren't drugs to target the mutations, Salner said.

The "cancer avatar" approach will help build on what researchers can find out about a tumor's makeup by allowing them to see how the tumor responds to certain therapies and how it behaves in mice, Salner said.

"Those two bits of information together, there's some synergy there because it allows us to develop a much more personalized approach to the patient," he said.

Salner said the work will be helpful for patients who are at high risk of problems after their initial treatment. "We need to know what therapies we can offer them next after the initial up-front treatment, for example, the removal of their tumor or radiation afterwards, that will offer them a likelihood and prospect of long-term survival," he said.

The clinical trial is expected to include certain types of pediatric cancer and colon cancer in adults. Liu said it's not yet clear when the first tumors will be gathered, but he said the goal is for recruitment to begin right away.  The three institutions participating are funding the trial internally, and there will be no cost to patients, Liu said.  The trial will build on work Jackson Laboratory has been doing for several years. Four years ago, Jackson started an effort to develop a "library" of human tumors, getting donated samples from patients through affiliated institutions, including University of California Davis, the Scripps Research Institute in California, and Swedish Hospital in Seattle. There are now 22 institutions in the consortium.

Jackson, which originated as an institute to study cancer in mice, also developed a type of mouse with a suppressed immune system, meaning that researchers can grow human tumors in them.  Liu said Jackson is talking with other hospitals, both in Connecticut and nationally, about potentially joining the trial.  Malloy, who has put millions of state dollars toward trying to establish the state as a center for bioscience research, said the trial shows that Connecticut’s commitment is paying off.

"In a relatively short period of time, we are seeing what we said would happen, actually happen," he said.

Malloy called it "an exciting announcement about the future of medicine, not just in Connecticut, but in the world."

Seeking Answers in Genome of Gunman
December 24, 2012

In a move likely to renew a longstanding ethical controversy, geneticists are quietly making plans to study the DNA of Adam Lanza, 20, who killed 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn. Their work will be an effort to discover biological clues to extreme violence.

The researchers, at the University of Connecticut, confirmed their plans through a spokeswoman but declined to provide details. But other experts speculated that the geneticists might look for mutations that might be associated with mental illnesses and ones that might also increase the risk for violence.

They could look at all of Mr. Lanza’s genes, searching for something unusual like gene duplications or deletions or unexpected mutations, or they might determine the sequence of his entire genome, the genes and the vast regions of DNA that are not genes, in an extended search for aberrations that could determine which genes are active and how active they are.

But whatever they do, this apparently is the first time researchers will attempt a detailed study of the DNA of a mass killer.

Some researchers, like Dr. Arthur Beaudet, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and the chairman of its department of molecular and human genetics, applaud the effort. He believes that the acts committed by men like Mr. Lanza and the gunmen in other rampages in recent years — at Columbine High School and in Aurora, Colo., in Norway, in Tucson and at Virginia Tech — are so far off the charts of normal behavior that there must be genetic changes driving them.

“We can’t afford not to do this research,” Dr. Beaudet said.

Other scientists are not so sure. They worry that this research could eventually stigmatize people who have never committed a crime but who turn out to have a genetic aberration also found in a mass murder.

Everything known about mental illness, these skeptics say, argues that there are likely to be hundreds of genes involved in extreme violent behavior, not to mention a variety of environmental influences, and that all of these factors can interact in complex and unpredictable ways.

“It is almost inconceivable that there is a common genetic factor” to be found in mass murders, said Dr. Robert C. Green, a geneticist and neurologist at Harvard Medical School. “I think it says more about us that we wish there was something like this. We wish there was an explanation.”

Scientists are well aware of the fraught history behind the questions of biology and violence.

In the early 20th century, claims that criminal behavior was inherited arose during the eugenics movement and led to sterilizations of mental patients and felons.

On Christmas Day in 1965, two researchers published a paper saying men with an extra Y chromosome, the chromosome that confers maleness, were “super males” and born criminals. The hypothesis was helped along by the fact that these men “fit the classic Hollywood criminal — big, awkward, thuglike and with low I.Q.’s,” said Dr. Philip Reilly, a lawyer and clinical geneticist who has studied this history.

The idea persisted for about 15 years, Dr. Reilly said, but eventually the epidemiological evidence convinced scientists that these men were no more violent than men without an extra Y chromosome.

In 1993, in a paper published in the journal Science, researchers reported that a mutation leading to a lack of the enzyme monoamine oxidase caused violence in a Dutch family. Every family member who inherited the mutation was a violent criminal; those without it had no criminal behaviors.

“It was a stunning piece of work,” said James Blair, the chief of the unit on affective cognitive neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health. But, he added, it turned out not to be generalizable. For the most part, “it was just this family,” he said.

The National Institutes of Health was embroiled in controversy about 20 years ago simply for proposing to study the biological underpinnings of violence. Critics accused researchers of racism and singling out minorities, especially black men.

Shortly after, the N.I.H. took back financing for a conference at the University of Maryland to examine genetics and criminal behavior. The conference was canceled.

But genetics has come of age in recent years with new and powerful methods to determine DNA sequences and analyze the results. Studies of people at the far end of a bell curve can be especially informative, because the genetic roots of their conditions can be stark and easy to spot, noted J. H. Pate Skene, a Duke University neurobiologist.

“I think doing research on outliers, people at an end of a spectrum on something of concern like violent behavior, is certainly a good idea,” he said, but he advised tempering expectations.

“I would call it a caution, not about whether to do this research but about what to expect,” he added.

Perhaps it will be fruitless to search for one or a few major gene mutations that always lead to extreme violence, Dr. Beaudet said. But what if a significant fraction of the shootings were linked to gene variants? What if scientists were to discover genes that were risk factors, increasing a person’s chance of violent behavior but not foreordaining it?

“If we know someone has a 2 percent chance or a 10 percent chance or a 20 percent chance of violent behavior, what would you do with that person?” Dr. Skene said. “They have not been convicted of anything — have not done anything wrong.”

But a genetic profile might play a role if someone were convicted of violent offenses, Dr. Beaudet countered. Criminals are routinely denied parole based solely on psychiatric evaluations. Perhaps a genetic test could add to the certainty of the decision, he said.

Ultimately, understanding the genetics of violence might enable researchers to find ways to intervene before a person commits a horrific crime. But that goal would be difficult to achieve, and the pursuit of it risks jeopardizing personal liberties. Some scientists shudder at the thought of labeling people potential violent criminals.

“The idea of screening with a view of preventing those kinds of incidents is basically unthinkable,” said Dr. Steven E. Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of Harvard and M.I.T. “You would fail. You would stigmatize.”

Some day, he added, it might be important to know the phenotypes — the characteristics — of violent killers and have their DNA, but not for the reasons many think.

“I am always happy to store DNA and phenotype information and freeze cells, thinking that one day we would have usable clues,” Dr. Hyman added. “But that would be biology, not prevention.”

Seeking Cures, Patients Enlist Mice Stand-Ins
September 25, 2012

BALTIMORE — Megan Sykes, a medical researcher, has a mouse with a human immune system — her own. She calls it “Mini-Me.”

There are also mice containing a part of 9-year-old Michael Feeney — a cancerous tumor extracted from his lungs. Researchers have tested various drugs on the mice, hoping to find the treatment that would work best for Michael.

In what could be the ultimate in personalized medicine, animals bearing your disease, or part of your anatomy, can serve as your personal guinea pig, so to speak. Some researchers call them avatars, like the virtual characters in movies and online games.

“The mice allow you the opportunity to test drugs to find out which ones will be efficacious without exposing the patient to toxicity,” said Colin Collins, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Experiments on mice have been done for decades, including implanting people’s tumors into the animals. But the techniques have improved in the last few years and interest is growing. The National Institutes of Health held a workshop on personalized animal models earlier this month. And while the models are mainly being used for research, companies are beginning to commercialize them for use in drug development and medical treatment as well.

Experts caution that it has not been proved that the use of avatars will prolong the lives of cancer patients. And it costs tens of thousands of dollars, which insurers will not cover, to create and test a colony of the animals.

“It’s an act of faith to say this is a superior way of proceeding,” said Dr. Edward Sausville, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland.

But some cancer patients, wanting to try everything possible, are turning to the mice anyway.

“This just seems right to us,” said Jill Feeney, the mother of Michael, who has been fighting a type of bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma since 2009, when he was 6. “It’s actually his tumor growing somewhere, and we’re treating it the way he would be treated.”

When Michael had surgery in February to remove a tumor that had spread to a lung, a courier was waiting outside the operating room in New York to whisk the tumor to a laboratory here run by a company called Champions Oncology.

Four hours later, technicians cut the tumor into five pieces and placed each piece under the skin of an anesthetized mouse. Two months later, after the tumors had grown, they were removed, cut into pieces and each piece implanted into another mouse. A month later there were enough mice models to begin testing.

The Feeneys, who live in Ridgewood, N.J., paid $25,500 for the creation of the avatars and the testing of four different drugs or drug combinations.

The results came back in July. A combination of four drugs — gemcitabine, docetaxel, Avastin and Afinitor — was “astonishingly active” in shrinking the tumor in the mice, said Michael’s oncologist, Dr. Leonard H. Wexler of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Wexler said that the combination was not something oncologists would typically choose.

Michael has not tried the combination yet because he is participating in a clinical trial of an experimental drug. But if that drug does not work, his mother said, “we have the home run in the back pocket.”

Cancer is not the only area where the animal models may be useful.

Dr. Sykes, a professor at Columbia, led the team there and at Massachusetts General Hospital that replicated an individual’s immune system in mice using a bone marrow sample from the person’s hip. The immediate goal is to study how Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, develops. But in the future, she said, such “personalized immune mice” might produce immune cells that can be transplanted into the patient to help fight disease.

At Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Jeffrey Gordon has transplanted the collection of bacteria in a person’s intestines into mice. The “humanized” mice might be used to study, for instance, how a change in diet could influence the person’s health.

In cancer, drugs that work in mice do not always work in people. But some studies suggest that tumors freshly implanted from patients more closely resemble human disease than those created by the common technique of implanting tumor cells that have been cultured in a laboratory dish.

“It’s the closest we can get to the real deal,” said Alana Welm, a breast cancer researcher at the University of Utah.

At the Mayo Clinic, avatars are being used to “immortalize” tumors from patients in a clinical trial. The Jackson Laboratory in Sacramento is building a big collection of personalized animal models representing various cancer types to use in studies. Companies like Oncotest, based in Germany, and StemMed in Houston are helping pharmaceutical companies do clinical trials on the mouse surrogates of patients.

Researchers at Bayer Schering Pharma, for instance, tested an experimental drug on mice stand-ins for 22 people with lung cancer. By comparing the 14 mice for which the drug worked with the eight for which it didn’t, they figured out how to improve the drug’s effectiveness, according to a paper in Clinical Cancer Research.

Still, the stand-ins are not perfect surrogates. A tumor implanted under the skin of a mouse might not behave the same as it did in the human breast, lung or other organ from which it was extracted. Unlike people, the mice are bred to have a deficient immune system, so they will not reject the human tumor.

There are also practical problems. Sometimes, patient tumors do not grow in the mice at all, and it takes at least four months to create enough mice to test a reasonable number of drugs. Dr. Harvey Pass, a thoracic surgeon at New York University, said four of the eight patients he referred to Champions died before any results from the mice came back.

Dr. Ronnie Morris, the president of Champions, said the company has had about 160 patients so far and has tested drugs on mice for 60 of them. The other patients either died too soon, or the tumor did not grow in the mice, or the patients are too new to have reached the drug testing stage.

Champions, started by two prominent oncologists from Johns Hopkins, published a paper last year reporting on 14 patients. The mouse testing found a drug or drug combination that could shrink tumors for 12 of them.

Tumor shrinkage does not always mean longer life, however, and skeptics say randomized trials are needed to prove patients using avatars will fare better than they would have otherwise. Better evidence is also likely to be needed before insurers would pay for the use of avatars.

In one room of Champions’ lab recently, David Vasquez, a scientist, picked up an anesthetized mouse, made a small slit in its back with a knife, slipped a tiny piece of tumor from a nearby petri dish under the skin, then stitched the mouse up. The process took about five minutes.

Another room is full of cages of the nude mice, so-called because the genetic abnormality that makes them immune deficient also leaves them hairless. Huge tumors bulge from the left sides of some of the mice. But if a drug is working, the bulge is barely visible. The mice are killed if the tumor is removed for transplanting into more mice or is causing too much suffering.

Some experts say that testing a tumor for genetic mutations is a far more practical way to figure out which drug may work best. But that technique, at least for now, does not always yield a useful result. Nir Toib, an Israeli filmmaker with lung cancer, said treatments suggested by a genetic analysis of his tumor did not work, but that a combination of two drugs suggested by the avatar testing did.

“I had 10 tumors on my right kidney,” said Mr. Toib. “All of them disappeared.”

While Mr. Toib joked that he had himself “cloned” in the mice, neither he nor most other patients feel any personal attachment to their mice.

“You just look at it as a tool for saving yourself,” said a 60-year-old New Jersey man with lung cancer who asked that his name not be used to protect his privacy. “From my perspective, the more that die, the better for me.”

Ms. Feeney said that she had bad memories of the mice that infested her first apartment in Brooklyn.

And she said Michael “was a little upset to hear we would be giving mice cancer and that we might kill them.”

But if Michael is saved by a treatment resulting from testing on his avatars, she said, “I will love these mice forever.”

NEXT FIVE PROGRAM (LEGISLATURE LIMIT TO 20):  When are bonds of a state "junk" is my question...

Bridgewater on Wikipedia...so how will this affect Westport's Grand List?  HomeServe from Stamford to Norwalk - change of address to elude somebody?

Bond Commission Approves Money For Home Repair Company
by Hugh McQuaid | Dec 13, 2013 1:51pm

In its last meeting of the year, the state Bond Commission approved $1 million in borrowing Friday to help an emergency home repair company move its headquarters from Stamford to Norwalk.

The bonding will assist the HomeServe USA Corporation in relocating its headquarters as part of an agreement to create 130 jobs and maintain another 109. In addition to a $1 million grant, the company is also eligible for a $3 million, partially forgivable loan and up to $5 million in tax credits. The project was the only item on an unusually short bonding agenda to be opposed by the group’s two Republican members.

Senate Republican leader and gubernatorial candidate John McKinney raised questions about HomeServe in a press statement Thursday evening. McKinney pointed to news articles on questionable business practices by HomeServe USA and its UK-based parent company.

The company has been fined and has been investigated by government agencies in the UK and states including Massachusetts, which fined the company $85,000, as well as Kentucky, and Ohio. The Better Business Bureau also has warned consumers of complaints against the company in various states across the country.

Among the allegations against Homeserve are claims the company sent communications to customers falsely appearing to be from local utility companies, or using logos intended to look governmental. The company also is accused of misleading customers on their insurance products.

“Here we are, handpicking another company for state funding even though that company has had several questions raised about its business practices. It is reckless and careless,” McKinney said in a press release.

A spokeswoman for HomeServe declined to comment on for this story. However, McKinney also leveled criticisms against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration for entering into the deal with HomeServe.

“Does the Malloy administration vet the companies it is providing millions of our taxpayer dollars to? Did anyone do any research or did they just write out the check?” he said. “Through a simple Google search, this is what I found.”

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith said the state was aware of the issues McKinney detailed Thursday.

“We looked at and discussed with the company pretty much all the issues that you have seen,” Smith told reporters after the Bond Commission meeting. “We became satisfied that they had dealt with and managed, to the satisfaction of their customers . . . all of the issues that were raised.”

Smith said the administration researched the company before it engaged them on the economic development deal.

When picking companies to partner in economic development programs with, Smith said the state prioritizes practical issues like whether the company is following state rules and regulations, is doing appropriate business, paying their taxes, and has a business plan that seems likely to succeed.

But she said the department also considers the public image of a company it plans to help financially support.

“And yes, do we also look at the softer side of this? Yeah, we learned from TicketNetwork that it’s a good idea to do a little bit of research and make sure we understand who we’re doing business with,” she said.

TicketNetwork is an online ticket exchange company that withdrew last year from a state economic development agreement following the arrest of its CEO Don Vaccaro. Vaccaro also had a lawsuit pending against him at the time his company entered into a deal with the state.

“To be honest with you, in HomeServe’s case, they raised the issue with us, which I found was extremely useful,” she said. “It is something that we want to take into consideration. Why? Not because we’re worried about [news reports] when we do the deal, but because we want to make sure the taxpayer dollars are being managed in a fiduciary sense, in a smart and careful way.”

Despite concerns about the HomeServe agreement, Friday’s Bond Commission meeting was not marked by partisan arguments. The commission ended up borrowing less than $1.8 billion in 2013. That number was a self-imposed bonding limit the governor set back in January.

During the meeting, Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, thanked Malloy for not exceeding the limit.

“When I received the agenda for today’s Bond Commission meeting I felt like it was an early Christmas or holiday gift, at only $10.5 million. Clearly, this is below your soft bonding cap you gave us in the month of January,” he said. “I just want to say thank you for respecting it.”

CHARTER COMMUNICATIONS: About that $10 million we’re giving you…
"What?  Wait! blog
Jon Pelto
Oct 06, 2012

Earlier this week, Charter Communications, Inc., “a Fortune 500 company and the fourth-largest cable operator in the United States,” became Governor Malloy’s ‘Next Five’ Corporate Welfare recipients.  With revenue of $1.9 billion during the last financial quarter, the company did lose $83 million, but that was an improvement over the same quarter the year before, when Charter lost $107 million.

For most of us, not enough revenue to cover expenses poses a problem.  As I can attest, banks seem to frown on giving, or even loaning money to people whose income is deemed inadequate or insufficient.

But we don’t call our economic system “advanced capitalism” for nothing.

In return for promising to create 200 jobs, Charter will receive a taxpayer-funded 10-year loan of $6.5 million with an interest rate of 2 percent.  Even better, the Connecticut Department of Economic Development will defer principal payments for the first three years.  If the company does create the jobs, the entire loan will be forgiven.

The St. Louis Business Journal wrote a detailed article following the announcement.  The good news for them is that the company has said that moving its corporate headquarters will not lead to any lay-offs.  In fact, apparently without any state funds, Charter’s social media specialist explained that the company will be adding 300 new jobs in their St. Louis offices.

Ten years ago, Charter purchased their present St, Louis headquarters for $43.5 million.  With approximately 16,800 employees nationwide, about 3,000 of Charter’s employees are now working in St. Louis.

According to Governor Malloy’s press release, Charter is the ninth company to participate in the “Next Five” Corporate Welfare program, which is one of a number of economic development programs administered by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

The press release explains that the $6.5 million will go toward Charter’s costs for tenant improvements and the purchase of furnishings and office equipment.  Considering the company will start with about 100 employees at the site, those keeping track will realize that our taxpayer subsidy equates to about $65,000 worth of furniture and improvements per employee.

The Stamford location must come as especially good news to Charter’s new chief executive officer, chief operating officer and chief marketing officer.  All three left Cablevision Systems Corporation in Bethpage, New York, earlier this year, but never moved their homes to St. Louis.

As an aside, the final sentence of the Governor’s press release states that the package, “also includes funding provisions for future job growth,” but for some unknown reason, it doesn’t quite get to explaining what that might mean.

Charter relocating headquarters to Stamford
Relocation of company headquarters part of governor's First Five program

Kate King, Stamford ADVOCATE
Updated 10:48 p.m., Monday, October 1, 2012

STAMFORD -- Charter Communications will relocate its corporate headquarters from St. Louis to 400 Atlantic St., a move expected to bring 200 high-level jobs downtown.

The Fortune 500 company will join UBS Financial Services and Harman International in the 15-story high-rise, which is owned and managed by the Landis Group.

The move, confirmed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office Monday, is part of his First Five program, which offers incentives to companies that boost jobs or move to the state.

Laure Aubuchon, Stamford's director of economic development, called the news "terrific."

"It's another corporate headquarters," Aubuchon said. "It's another affirmation for Stamford, especially coming from St. Louis. When someone moves that far -- they can go anywhere. And they came to Stamford, which I think is great."

State Rep. Gerry Fox III, D-146, whose district encompasses the office building, said the move is good news for the city.

"It's certainly exciting that companies continue to look to Stamford as a place to base their headquarters," he said. "I look forward to hearing more of the details as we go forward. They're certainly a renowned international company."

Charter, which provides video, Internet and telephone services to about 5.2 million customers across 25 states, is the nation's fourth-largest cable operator, according to its website. The company employs more than 16,000 workers nationwide.

Charter is one of several companies to recently announce headquarter moves to Stamford. Tweedy, Browne, Co. LLC, an asset management firm handling more than $14 billion, announced plans last month to relocate its headquarters and about 55 employees from Manhattan to Stamford's Metro Center.

In August, Malloy announced the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, which has 1,225 employees and $130 billion in investments, was interested in building a $750 million headquarters on Stamford's waterfront in exchange for tax incentives and forgivable loans. The move, which is contingent on approval from Stamford's planning and zoning boards, is expected to create 750 to 1,000 new jobs in Connecticut over the next 10 years.

Tronox Inc., a global mineral company, received a 10-year, $3 million state loan to move its corporate headquarters -- and an expected 100 jobs -- from Oklahoma City to 1 Stamford Plaza.

A message left for Scott Landis, a principal of Landis Group, was not returned Monday.

The governor's office is scheduled to provide more details on Charter's relocation plans at a news conference set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at 400 Atlantic St.

Connecticut Offers Millions to Aid Bridgewater Expansion
Bloomberg (linked to from "What?  Wait!")
By Michael McDonald and Saijel Kishan - Aug 16, 2012

Bridgewater Associates, the world’s biggest hedge fund, intends to build a $750 million headquarters financed partly with state aid in Stamford, Connecticut, according to Governor Dannel Malloy.

The company, which paid founder Raymond Dalio $3.9 billion in 2011, occupies five buildings in nearby Westport. The new headquarters is planned for Stamford’s Harbor Point waterfront district, Malloy, 57, said yesterday in a statement. Bridgewater also committed to adding hundreds of jobs.

Connecticut agreed to give Bridgewater a $25 million “forgivable” 10-year loan at 1 percent interest to help finance two buildings totaling 750,000 square feet (69,700 square meters). It will also provide as much as $5 million for job training, $5 million for alternative-energy systems and $80 million in tax credits, according to the statement.

“This is stealing from the poor and middle class to make a billionaire even richer,” Jonathan Pelto, a former deputy majority leader in Connecticut’s House of Representatives, said by e-mail. “This isn’t economic development.”

Pelto, a Democrat who works as a political consultant and commentator, said it was “shocking beyond words” that Malloy, a Democrat elected in 2010, was giving handouts to a company as wealthy as Bridgewater. “If a Republican governor did this, we Democrats would be calling for impeachment.”

SAC Capital

Stamford, where Malloy, a Democrat, was mayor before he became governor, is home to hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors LP, run by billionaire Steven A. Cohen. The city is about 13 miles (21 kilometers) from Westport, where Bridgewater oversees about $130 billion in assets.

The Bridgewater project is expected to be completed in 2017, subject to regulatory approvals, according to Malloy’s office. State financial support will come from the Economic and Community Development Department. James Watson, a spokesman, said part or all of the $25 million loan to help pay for construction won’t have to be repaid “if certain job-retention and creation requirements are met.”

Bridgewater agreed to create as many as 1,000 “high- level” jobs within 10 years, while retaining its current workforce, according to Malloy’s office. The company employs 1,225 people in Westport.

‘Economic Win’

“To have a company of Bridgewater’s stature make the business decision to invest $750 million in our state and significantly increase its workforce is not only an extraordinary economic win, but signals to the rest of the world that Connecticut is strengthening its leadership position in the very competitive financial services sector,” Malloy said in the statement.

Company managers and Malloy share a “vision of creating a state-of-the-art and environmentally sustainable” headquarters that will restore the city’s waterfront from past industrial uses, Greg Jensen, co-chief executive officer, said in the statement from Malloy’s office.

“A lot of work needs to be done to see if a move to the Stamford campus can become a reality,” Lindsay Fetzner, a Bridgewater spokeswoman at Prosek Partners, said by e-mail. “We will continue to work with our team of skilled partners to evaluate and plan the campus and will make our decisions known as we make them.”

The new buildings will “facilitate creativity, collaboration and help reinforce Bridgewater’s distinct culture,” Jensen said. The hedge-fund firm is known for a workplace governed by a voluminous set of management principles created by Dalio, 63, and posted on the company website.


Dalio, who grew up in Manhasset Hills on New York’s Long Island, started Bridgewater in 1975 in his New York apartment and built it into the world’s largest hedge-fund firm, with about $77.6 billion in assets as of January, according to Bloomberg News research. A 1973 Harvard Business School graduate, Dalio was the best-paid U.S. hedge-fund manager last year, according to AR Magazine, an industry publication.

Malloy, who served 14 years as Stamford’s mayor, said Bridgewater is one of eight companies, including Deloitte LLP and NBC Sports Group, that are participating in his development initiative. The Legislature passed a measure authorizing the program last year.

The governor has previously taken steps to keep financial- services jobs in the state. In August 2011, he announced a five- year agreement with UBS AG to keep at least 2,000 of the company’s 3,500 workers in Stamford. In exchange, Switzerland’s biggest lender got a $20 million forgivable loan.
Wealthiest State

Connecticut, which is the wealthiest U.S. state, is a hedge-fund mecca. Many are based in Fairfield County, which surrounds Stamford and such wealthy enclaves as Greenwich and Darien and abuts New York’s suburban Westchester County.

Malloy’s predecessor, Republican Jodi Rell, started a campaign in 2010 to lure hedge funds from New York after that state approved a measure to increase taxes on their highly paid managers. The step was later retracted.

While the Stamford area is wealthy, Fairfield County is also home to Bridgeport, where the metropolitan area encompasses the largest gap between rich and poor in the country. If the region were a country, it’d be the world’s 12th-most unequal in terms of income, ranking just below Guatemala.

“This is an insult to anyone in Stamford who may not be one of the 1,000 to get a well-paid job at this hedge fund,” said Dana Baliki, a local organizer for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“It’s hard for me to believe that a billionaire needs a tax break for his firm,” Baliki said. “These are the skewed priorities taking this country down. The money could have been directed towards education, housing and community needs.”

Malloy offers aid to entice hedge fund to Stamford
August 15, 2012

Connecticut is providing up to $115 million in incentives to a major hedge fund that is committing to the construction of a new $750 million headquarters in Stamford and a doubling of its present workforce of more than 1,000, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday.

Bridgewater Associates, whose employees are now spread among several buildings in Westport, will move into a 750,000-square-foot campus at Harbor Point.

Incentives for the move include: a $25 million forgivable loan at a rate of 1 percent for a term of 10 years to be used for construction; a job training grant of up to $5 million; a grant of up to $5 million for the installation of alternative energy systems; and up to $80 million in Urban and Industrial Sites Reinvestment Tax Credits.

The incentives, which are offered through the governor's "Next Five" program for major employers who are committing to at least 200 new jobs, are contingent on meeting hiring goals. The name is a play on the program's original name, First Five.

Bridgewater now employs 1,225.

"For a long time, our state failed to compete for the kinds of good paying jobs with good benefits that will grow and sustain our economy," Malloy said. "Thanks to the ‘Next Five' program, we are clearly charting a new course. The jobs we are announcing today have the potential to grow our economy in a profound way because the spin-off effect of these positions will drive growth in other sectors."

How about this  - a Connecticut government-assisted venture, no longer there - at the right...read newsreport from the beginning of the project here..

Documents: O'Garro Admitted To Creating Phony Website In Scam
Hartford Courant
7:42 PM EST, January 30, 2014


Earl O'Garro, Jr. testified during a civil trial that he created a phony website and e-mail account in an attempt to scam a company out of several hundred thousand dollars, according to documents newly obtained by The Courant.

AmTrust E&S Insurance Services has filed a lawsuit against O'Garro, the CEO of Hybrid Insurance Group in Hartford, accusing him of posing as one of their underwriters in order to secure payments from another company, Capital Premium Financing, for four policies that did not exist.

The suit also charges that Hybrid received $300,000 for premiums on more than a dozen policies, but failed to send the money to AmTrust.

During a Dec. 4 civil proceeding in Hartford Superior Court, O'Garro told Judge Carl Schuman and AmTrust's attorney that he purchased a web domain name that closely matched that of AmTrust's in a scheme to obtain more than $600,000 in premium payments.

O'Garro testified that he directed a local IT provider, MD Tech Team, to create the fictitious domain and e-mail account on July 10. Capital had wanted verification that the four policies were real, O'Garro said.

Capital Premium relied on the e-mail, and the verification provided in it, in deciding to release the funds to O'Garro, according to testimony in the case.

"Why did I need to verify the existence of those four non-existent policies? To receive financing from Capital Premium Finance," said O'Garro, according to a court transcript. Under questioning from Andrew O'Toole, the lawyer for AmTrust, O'Garro acknowledged that he did not have permission to create the phony website or e-mail account.

O'Toole asked O'Garro why he tried to take down the domain only a day after he sent the e-mail in which he posed as an AmTrust employee.

"Specifically you said, Please get rid of it. Correct?" O'Toole said.

"Yeah," O'Garro replied. "That's correct."

"Why did you want a domain name registered for one day and then taken down the next?" O'Toole asked.

"Because I no longer needed the domain name," O'Garro said. "The e-mail was already sent."

David C. Lewis, the president of AmTrust E&S, testified that O'Garro sent an e-mail with the domain name AmTrustgrp.com. The company's real domain name is AmTrustgroup.com.

In the e-mail to Capital, Lewis said, O'Garro pretended to be a female AmTrust employee named Regina. Posing as the woman, O'Garro claimed to be "on her way back from Rocky Hill," and included a cell phone number with a Connecticut area code. The real AmTrust underwriter, who works out of California, had never been to Rocky Hill, Lewis said.

"In addition," Lewis said, "the listing of accounts [in the e-mail] with the policy numbers are not our policy numbers. We verified that we did not issue those policies nor [are those] our policy numbers."

O'Toole asked O'Garro, "How much money did you obtain as a result of your misrepresentations?"

"I don't remember," O'Garro answered.

"In excess of $600,000?"

"I would imagine," O'Garro replied. "Yeah."

O'Garro told the court that he took full responsibility for the e-mail scam. He said MD Tech Team had no knowledge of his intentions.

Lewis also testified that about $300,000 in premium payments given to O'Garro by retail agents was held in a trust account, instead of being forwarded to AmTrust.

AmTrust is seeking $300,000 and has asked the court to garnish all of O'Garro's bank accounts, real estate and personal property. Schuman had ordered that O'Garro disclose his assets by Jan. 8. After he failed to do so, O'Toole filed a motion for contempt against O'Garro.

O'Garro's attorney, Kevin Roche, has objected to the motion. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 5.

A spokeswoman for AmTrust has declined to comment on the suit. O'Garro, 31, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

O'Garro, who formed Hybrid in 2010, is now the target of a federal grand jury investigation. The FBI is investigating O'Garro for allegedly failing to pay premiums on several insurance plans, including policies for the city of Hartford. City and school officials have said he did not pay $670,000 in premiums to two of Hartford's insurance carriers last July.

Accusations that he created a fake website and e-mail address to extract payments first came to light in October, when the state Insurance Department lodged an 11-count complaint against O'Garro and Hybrid.

The state revoked O'Garro's insurance license in November after he failed to respond to the complaint.

Top Economic Official Defends Role In Second O'Garro Loan
The Hartford Courant
January 29, 2014

HARTFORD — — Emails show that a top-ranking economic development official intervened to help Earl O'Garro, Jr. receive a second state loan to expand his business, after a different official had concluded that O'Garro's Hybrid Insurance Group was not eligible for additional money.

Ron Angelo, deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, defended his actions Wednesday and said he was merely doing his job when he responded "I'll take care of it" in an email to Hybrid's lobbyist last February.
"I take personal responsibility for every single financial deal that leaves this agency," Angelo said. "Thousands of them have my signature on them ... I play an active part in all of these."

O'Garro, 31, now the target of a federal investigation, owes the state more than $350,000 after defaulting on the two DECD loans last October, months after the lobbying to Angelo.

Following the denial of O'Garro's request for a second Small Business Express loan early last year, Angelo said the agency directed O'Garro to apply for a different funding source from the state, "which is completely proper."

DECD's project manager for the Hybrid loans, Barbara Fernandez, informed O'Garro on Feb. 1, 2013, that he could not apply again for the Small Business Express program "until your current loan and grant are audited and closed out," according to documents released to the Courant Wednesday.

Fernandez was referring to the $126,000 DECD loan and grant package that O'Garro received in March 2012 to relocate Hybrid from Windsor to a Hartford building owned by city Treasurer Adam Cloud, twin brother Christopher Cloud and their father, former state legislator Sanford Cloud, Jr. Christopher Cloud became Hybrid's lobbyist later that year.

A few hours after Fernandez's Feb. 1 email to O'Garro, Christopher Cloud forwarded her response to Angelo and wrote that O'Garro had "filled out the express application as you suggested just to get the process started. His hope is to receive a larger loan this time to grow more jobs at Hybrid. I am sure that Barbara's response is technically accurate, however, we hope that we can discuss this application with you directly and work through whatever issues there may be to move this process forward. … Thanks for your continued support."

"I'll take care of it," Angelo replied to Cloud and his lobbying partner, Tony Camilliere of the firm Camilliere, Cloud and Kennedy.

Cloud replied to Angelo, "Thanks my friend! Have a great weekend!"

In a separate email Feb. 1, Angelo instructed a DECD employee to move the Hybrid request to "MAA funding outside of EXP." MAA refers to the state's Economic and Manufacturing Assistance Act initiative that provides low-interest loans to small businesses showing "strong economic development potential," according to a DECD description.

Angelo told the Courant that Hybrid qualified for a "program within MAA that allows for smaller investments."

On Feb. 20, Angelo sent an email asking to speak with O'Garro about his request for a second DECD loan.

A day later, Angelo instructed DECD employees to "get the ball rolling" on a $3.5 million loan request by O'Garro, despite O'Garro's late payments on the first state loan.

In March 2013, when discussing O'Garro's second loan request, Fernandez wrote to a colleague that the late payments were "a troubling sign."

O'Garro's request for $3.5 million was eventually amended, and he instead received state approval for a $500,000 loan last summer to expand his company — just as it was about to collapse. Angelo said O'Garro was current on payments for the first loan when Hybrid received the second financial package "after a significant amount of due diligence."

Angelo said Wednesday that the second loan to Hybrid "was a very sound decision based on the information I had in front of me" at the time. He said he met with O'Garro on several occasions to discuss his business plan.

"We take our responsibility with taxpayer dollars very seriously," Angelo said. "We are not perfect but we're really good at what we do, as you can see by the over 1,000 different companies that we've assisted. ... I try to meet with as many clients as I can."

O'Garro obtained the first $250,000 installment on that second state loan in early August and was in default for non-payment within a few months. He never received the second $250,000 installment.

O'Garro owes $106,000 on the first state loan and about $265,000 on the second, according to state default notices.

Angelo said DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith was not directly involved in the decision to award Hybrid the loan.

He also told the Courant that it is not unusual for lobbyists, or "mayors, first selectpeople, you name it — legislators," to contact him when they seek to put in a word with DECD.

"We get contacts from all over ... So lobbyists are no different," Angelo said. "Lobbyists represent certain individuals, just like attorneys or law firms do ..."

First Five Manufacturer Working To Save Deal After Partnership Breaks Up
The Hartford Courant
By BRIAN DOWLING, bdowling@courant.com
6:05 PM EDT, March 26, 2013

Eight months ago, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state and local officials hailed an international manufacturing partnership that would fill an old industrial building on State Street in North Haven while adding more than 400 jobs.

The $97 million project from Sustainable Building Systems LLC was promised a $19.1 million boost from the state's First Five program.

But the joint venture that would have manufactured and built efficient, steel-framed buildings was nowhere to be seen Tuesday, despite early predictions from company executives that operations would be underway in six months. The North Haven building showed few signs of life. The company's website was recently pulled down, the company's phones disconnected. One of the building's owners said that Sustainable Building Systems terminated its lease months ago.

The operational delay and lack of company presence online and by phone comes from the fact that there won't be a Sustainable Building Systems.

The partnership between Australia-based Weeks Group and Arizona-based Diverse Services Group fizzled out sometime after the announcement, according to Kevin Weeks, managing director of the Weeks Group. And although his Arizona partner has since moved on to other opportunities, Weeks said that his company plans to piece together the details of the economic development deal that almost unraveled along with the international partnership.

Since the split, Weeks Group has shuffled a few aspects of its Connecticut plans, including its location, name and American partner.

"The deal is definitely not broken down," Weeks said in an interview late Monday. "The partnership has changed its structure, but we are still in business with the state of Connecticut."

Ron Angelo, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said that his office has maintained contact with the Weeks Group throughout the partnership's split. "With a lot of deals, there's complex financial structures, and in this case there was a partnership that didn't work out like it wanted to."

Changing the deal over from Sustainable Building Systems to the Weeks Group will require some additional due diligence and some administrative changes, Angelo said, adding that the state's $19.1 million offering hasn't been disbursed to the venture.

"The only issue is logistics," Weeks said.

The timeline for the venture has been pushed back, Weeks said, with the main delays being a rush of work in the company's other markets. The boom ended up diverting some machinery bound for Connecticut.

The Weeks Group — founded 20 years ago in south Australia — manufactures steel-framed buildings for residential and commercial use. The partnership was designed so that the Weeks Group would do all the design and manufacturing, while a building contractor would handle the construction and distribution.

Weeks expects the company to be up and running in the second quarter of 2013. And although the major terms of the deal are the same — investment levels, job targets — some details differ.

For one, the old 386,000-square-foot Quebecor building on State Street will need to wait for a new savior. The venture is looking elsewhere in the state for a home, Weeks said, declining to name the new location because the deal hasn't closed. He wasn't comfortable with the terms of the lease on the North Haven property.

The new building is being repaired from Hurricane Sandy damage, Weeks said, something not as negative as one would think. The repairs, in a way, are allowing Weeks to fit the building around the company's planned operations. "The storm did us a favor," he said.

The venture's previous name, Sustainable Building Systems, is gone, too, Weeks said, without disclosing a new name.

Weeks said he's also looking for a new American partner — choosing between two or three companies that are interested — to replace the Diverse Services Group.

"We would like to have an American partner simply from the point of view that we don't know the customs," he said.

Weeks declined to explain how or why his former business partner decided to leave the venture and whether it related to Diverse Services Group's rebranding as Aris Integration LLC, which in November announced that it was establishing its headquarters and manufacturing site in Tucson, Ariz., and had a new business partner.

"They were the people who introduced us to the opportunity, to the First Five program," Weeks said of Diverse Services Group. "The relationship with DSG and ourselves was one of introduction."

Aris Integration, while setting up its headquarters in Arizona, says it still plans on establishing a manufacturing presence in Connecticut, possibly at a large site in Waterbury that the initial partnership considered, said Duane Armijo, chief executive of Aris Integration.

As for the breakup with the Weeks Group, Armijo said that neither company did their adequate due diligence for the partnership.

"We wanted to move the process forward quickly, and as it moved forward we saw some pretty big differences between the mind-set of the different companies," he said. "It was just a different philosophy in how the company was going to be run."

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

International Building Systems Firm Moving Into Former Quebecor Site In North Haven
The Hartford Courant
By BRIAN DOWLING, bdowling@courant.com
12:53 PM EDT, July 18, 2012

A new international construction technology and materials firm will bring 408 jobs to the state, filling a North Haven building emptied when a Canadian printing company closed operations in 2008.

Sustainable Building Solutions, introduced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Wednesday morning, becomes the sixth company in Connecticut's First Five program, which offers aid packages to businesses adding at least 200 jobs and investing at least $25 million.

SBS, a partnership of companies in Australia and Arizona, will design, manufacture and install components of commercial and residential buildings, such as panels and trusses. The idea behind the business is to help create buildings using technology that saves energy and makes construction more efficient.

The partnership, formed this year, will receive $19.1 million of loans at 2 percent interest, in three installments as they meet job targets, through the state Department of Economic and Community Development. Much of the loan would be forgiven if the company creates and maintains 408 jobs at the North Haven headquarters within the next four years.

"Across the country, we are grappling with the fundamental question of how we can reinvent the American economy," Malloy said, adding that the steel industry once formed a backbone for an economy that supported the middle class. "Companies like Sustainable Building Systems represent the next evolution of that industry."

SBS is a partnership between Steel Building Systems International, a subsidiary of the Weeks Group based in Adelaide, Australia, and the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Diverse Services Group, a building contractor. The company said it will begin work in North Haven in six months, with the aim of being fully operational by the summer of 2013.

The business will occupy most of the giant building vacated when Quebecor, a Montreal printing company, laid off 350 local employees in a reorganization.

Leading the design and manufacturing portion of the partnership, Steel Building Systems produces factory-fitted interconnected building components that rely less on traditional, skilled building tradespeople.

"The technology is superior to anything else in the marketplace. The end result is almost clinical in relation to perfection," said Kevin Weeks, CEO of the Weeks Group. "We were obviously interested because this is the market we wanted to pursue: You have 300 million people in your country and you're a framing market."

With the opportunity to join together with a U.S. construction firm, Weeks said, "we saw it was the perfect opportunity."

Duane Armijo, CEO Design Services Group, said that for a long time he was looking for a building manufacturing partner. He expects SBS — which he also heads as CEO — will change the traditional housing market.

"We came out of the home building market in Phoenix and we built with wood our whole careers, and what we've found is that there has to be a better way to build," Armijo said, adding that the design-to-constructing partnership will enable the company to bring energy-efficient homes to the U.S. market at a price competitive with traditional construction

SBS will invest a total of $97 million, financed partly through the state loan.

The 386,000-square-foot building "has interior rail siding, can be subdivided...and offers clear heights of up to 36 feet," according to the web site of the current ownership group, MCP Mountain 297 State St LLC. That group, formed from Marcus Partners and ClearRock Properties, bought the property from a Quebecor subsidiary in 2011 for $3.75 million, records show.

The First Five program was expanded this year to cover more than five companies.

The previous First Five companies are, in order, Cigna in Bloomfield, ESPN in Bristol, NBC Sports in Stamford, Alexion Pharmaceuticals in New Haven and, most recently, CareCentrix, which is moving from East Hartford to downtown Hartford.

International Steel Firm Becomes Sixth ‘First Five’ Company
by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 18, 2012 11:47am

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Wednesday the state will be giving $19.1 million in forgivable loans to a joint venture steel product company as the next part of the First Five program. In exchange the new company will create 408 jobs in North Haven over four years.

Sustainable Building Systems, a cooperative effort by Australia-based Weeks Group and Arizona-based Diverse Services Group, will manufacture steel building material and establish its United States headquarters at a 400,000 square foot facility in North Haven. The company is the sixth to take part in Malloy’s First Five program.

Under the program the Department of Economic and Community Development will provide the company with a 10-year, $19.1 million loan at 2 percent interest. Sustainable Building Systems will get $10 million at the closing, another $5 million if it creates 208 jobs within two years and $4.1 million if it has created another 200 jobs within four years. If all 408 jobs are created the loans will be forgiven.

Malloy said new technology has made the steel industry an economic driver again.

“In the last century the steel industry was the backbone of our nation, providing jobs and helping to build the middle class. Companies like Sustainable Building Systems represent the next evolution within that industry,” Malloy said. “By embracing 21st Century technology, what is old is becoming new again and green manufacturing jobs represent the future.”

The governor said he wasn’t surprised the international company would choose Connecticut as its headquarters, given the state’s educated workforce, high quality of life and the competitive business climate the state promised it.

“The First Five program is working, it’s giving Connecticut a significant advantage in attracting the top companies around the world and allowing them to grow and expand operations here,” he said.

Kevin Weeks, founder of the Weeks Group, agreed.

“We can design our commercial buildings anywhere we like in the world. We are choosing to do that here in Connecticut and there’s a very good reason for that, it’s because you have a great deal of wealth in your education system here and the smarts to see it through,” he said.

Weeks said the company has design centers in Australia and India but has trouble finding qualified staff who understand the technology involved.  Peter Zitis, CEO of a steel building subsidiary of the Weeks Group, said the company was happy to participate in the First Five program.

“Connecticut is very strongly positioned as a strong state for house growth and other programs we are endeavoring to pursue in these markets,” Zitis said.

Duane Armijo, CEO of Diverse Services group and president of Sustainable Building Systems, said he expects the facility to be operational within the next year. Malloy said he’s often been asked when the state would bring the manufacturing industry in on the First Five program.

“Obviously this is a very big step in manufacturing and quite frankly the kind of manufacturing which is a sweet spot for us,” he said.

State offers $19 million in global HQ deal
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
July 18, 2012

The state is providing a low-interest, $19-million loan to two global steel companies that are combining to create a new business, Sustainable Building Systems, and open a North Haven headquarters that could eventually employ more than 400, the Malloy administration announced Wednesday.

The company is a joint venture of the Australian-owned Weeks Group and an Arizona company, Diverse Services Group. They will produce "sustainable building panels for homes, hotels, the military, as well as other applications," the administration said.

"Today's announcement is about jobs," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement issued by his office.

The state Department of Economic and Community Development will loan the new venture $19.1 million at 2 percent interest in three installments, beginning with $10 million. Two other payments will be pegged to the creation of jobs.

The company will receive another $5 million within two years if it has created 208 jobs. The last installment of $4.1 million will be paid if it creates another 200 jobs in the next two years, for a total of 408 positions within four years.

With private investment, the total cost of the project will be $97 million.

In a press release from the governor's office, an official from the Weeks Group said Connecticut was "strategically located" for its new business.

The Weeks Group builds homes and manufactures steel framing products for residential and commercial construction. It has seven subsidiaries, with joint ventures in Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates.

One of its subsididaries is Steel Buildings Systems International, which will be a part owner of the new venture. DSG calls itself a leader in "energy efficient and innovative building products."

"These two companies are bringing the principles of advanced precision manufacturing to the construction industry," said Catherine Smith, commissioner of economic development. "It's that kind innovative spirit and entrepreneurialism that the state wants to support with the Governor's First Five program."

The First Five program was created to provide economic incentives to the first five companies that contract to create at least 200 new jobs. Five companies previously have received aid, but the program has been expanded.

The headquarters will occupy 400,000 square feet of space at 297 State Street in North Haven.

Malloy characterized the project as a vote of confidence in Connecticut, where unemployment is below the national average, while still remains at a relatively high 8.2 percent.

"We know there is a growing confidence in our state's economy because more people are looking for work. That influx in the workforce caused our unemployment rate to increase slightly last month, and it may well increase again," Malloy said. "But let's be clear why this is happening. It's happening because more people are looking for work and we continue to battle national and international headwinds."

Defamation Lawsuit Explores The Idea of Public Hearing ‘Immunity’
by Christine Stuart | Apr 3, 2014 5:30am

Connecticut courts have never had to decide whether a member of the public, who is testifying at a legislative hearing, can defame another person without consequences. But a judge may soon get a chance to clarify the issue.

Last month a Hartford Superior Court judge refused to throw out a defamation lawsuit filed by a South Windsor company against the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts and its president, David Fay, for statements Fay made during a 2011 public hearing.

Judge Trial Referee Jerry Wagner said in a March 12 decision that he couldn’t decide the case because there was an issue as to when Fay had made defamatory statements against TicketNetwork. Was it during the General Law Committee’s public hearing or on the phone with a Journal Inquirer reporter?

Wagner’s decision to allow the case to move forward to trial boiled down to whether Fay’s statements to the Journal Inquirer — which published articles on the legislation and the public hearing — were from an interview with a reporter, or paraphrased from the transcript of the public hearing available on the legislature’s website.

“Addressing whether a privilege would protect statements made to a legislative body, the appellate courts of this state have stated that an absolute privilege protects statements made in legislative proceedings; but have never fully addressed whether or under what conditions that privilege attaches to the statements made by witnesses before legislative bodies,” Wagner wrote in his March 12 decision.

“In the only Connecticut case where the issue was before the court, the Appellate Court noted that the privilege protected state and federal legislators but did not address whether the privilege extended beyond these categories,” Wagner wrote.

Fay and the Bushnell made a motion for summary judgment in August, arguing that he had “absolute immunity for the statements made during the legislative proceedings before the committee.”

TicketNetwork alleged that Fay made comments that were not true in opposing 2011 legislation regarding the fair sale of tickets to entertainment events. TicketNetwork is seeking to hold Fay liable for those statements. Fay testified that TicketNetwork used software to buy tickets and put a “hold” on them to sell them at a profit. TicketNetwork is a ticket exchange and provides an online marketplace for ticket brokers and secondary sellers, but doesn’t actually handle tickets, according to court documents.

In testimony before the General Law Committee back in 2011, “Mr. Fay stated that TicketNetwork used computer systems with ‘thousands of virtual buyers’ to place tickets on ‘hold’ temporarily unavailable for purchase by the public, while deciding what tickets to purchase,” according to court documents. “However, when asked at his deposition whether he knew if TicketNetwork bought tickets or used computer systems to place tickets on hold, Mr. Fay testified that he lacked sufficient information to know if those statements were true or false.”

Fay did not respond to repeated phone calls for comment over the past week.

Despite the details in the underlying complaint, TicketNetwork CEO Don Vaccaro said “this has become a mission to make sure folks will tell the truth at public hearings.”

But Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, isn’t sure that such a standard is good idea. Without commenting on the case at all, Doyle said there shouldn’t be any barriers for the public to come testify at public hearings.

“We don’t want to censor what people are saying,” Doyle said. “We want to hear all opinions.”

But Vaccaro said he thinks it would be better for democracy to guarantee that the public is telling the truth.

“I think in the long run the state will be better off if folks at public hearings have to tell the truth,” Vaccaro said. “Public hearings are not the same as years ago. Everything is instant and online. You can’t defend someone or a company without it going viral or harming their reputation.”

A trial is on track to begin sometime this summer. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for today.

The 2011 bill which would change how ticket companies operate was abandoned by the legislature’s General Law Committee after the lawsuit was filed.

Only the fifth because the original five contained the ticket broker who dropped out
State gives $24 million to keep company in Connecticut

Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
June 28, 2012

Hartford -- The fifth recipient of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's "First Five" program obtained $24 million in state aid Thursday with a hint of the genteel blackmail common to economic aid packages: the threat of leaving Connecticut for another state.

The state aid will help underwrite a move by CareCentrix, a fast-growing national health care company with $850 million in annual revenues, from East Hartford into two floors of a refurbished high-rise in downtown Hartford.

"Basically, this was a bet on the future job potential of this company," Malloy said. "On a growth basis, I think is a pretty good investment."

Malloy announced the award in the lobby of 20 Church St., where CareCentrix will occupy 30,000 square feet on the 11th and 12th floors of a  high-rise  popularly known as the Stilts Building.

The company will receive $12 million for retaining 213 existing jobs and can receive another $12 million by creating at least 290 new jobs over the next five years. CareCentrix will invest $86 million.

"First Five" is aimed at major employers pledging to create at least 200 new jobs. The previous recipients are Cigna of Bloomfield, ESPN of Bristol, NBC Sports in Stamford and Alexion in New Haven.

Eric Reimer, the chief executive officer of CareCentrix, said the company began a multi-state search for a new headquarters after outgrowing its offices in East Hartford's Founders Plaza.

"We were going to have to move one way or another," Reimer said.

While based in Connecticut, CareCentrix already has more employees in Florida and as many employees in Kansas, two states that were potential locations of a new headquarters, along with a third state, he said.

"We really took a very hard look and said what would be the cost of operations. How do the leases compare? How do the tax codes compare?" Reimer said. Of the "First Five" program, he said, "This again, really made Connecticut stand out."

Malloy said the potential "loss of this company was real."

To Reimer, he said, "I didn't want to lose you to Kansas. And I didn't want to lose you to South Carolina or Florida. We wanted to keep you here."

Reimer declined to say directly if Florida, Kansas or South Carolina had offers on the table.

"We had a lot of conversations with folks," Reimer said. "We know what our options were."

CareCentrix is a provider of home health care that contracts with insurers to help patients remain in their homes, rather than in nursing homes or other rehabilitative facilities. Its care also can shorten hospital stays.

It is an important niche in a nation with aging population and growing health-care costs. Reimer said the company arranges services that save money, while keeping patients at home.

"The cost of a home care day is 90 percent less than the cost of a hospital day," he said. "The nation needs to be treating people in the home, where it's appropriate."

The company has a network of 7,000 providers that have served 30 million people nationwide. It was founded in 1996 as part of Gentiva Health Services and became an independent company in 2008.

More recently, it has begun testing patients for sleep apnea in the home, something that often requires two nights' stay in a medical facility at a cost of over $3,000. CareCentrix said their test is 75 percent cheaper.

It was nearly a year ago that Malloy made his initial First Five award: a package worth up to $71 million to Cigna in return for its investment of $100 million, the creation of as many as 790 new jobs and the designation of its Bloomfield campus as its headquarters.

"We finished our First Five," Malloy said Thursday. But the program will continue as the enabling legislation allows up to 15 recipients.

Malloy said the program has retained 8,449, produced 2,640 new jobs and attracted $561 million in private investments.

If all five companies deliver on their job promises, they will receive $191 million.

"The First Five" doesn't include Jackson Labs

Cigna, Bloomfield: $71 million
ESPN, Bristol: $25 million
NBC Sports, Stamford: $20 million
Alexion, New Haven: $51 million
CareCentrix, Hartford: $24 million

At UConn, two key players' paths cross again
Arielle Levin Becker, CT MIRROR
June 11, 2012

The first time they met, in the early 1980s, Frank Torti and Edison Liu were newly minted doctors, Liu training to be a cancer specialist at Stanford University and Torti a young oncology professor who taught him.

Soon after, they would both shift their focus to basic science, motivated by what they expected would be tremendous changes in the way cancer could be studied and treated.

Their careers continued to evolve in parallel in the three decades that followed. Both went to work for research universities in North Carolina. Liu would later develop and run a genome institute in Singapore, while Torti spent time running the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Now, Liu and Torti's paths are crossing again, this time as key players in two of state government's biggest investments -- critics say gambles -- for Connecticut's economic future.

Last month, Torti took the helm of the UConn Health Center, where the state is investing $864 million to expand the medical and research capabilities. Since January, Liu has led The Jackson Laboratory, the Bar Harbor, Maine-based genomics firm developing an institute on the health center's Farmington campus with $291 million in state funds.

It comes at what both Torti and Liu see as another turning point for scientific research.

"The very interesting thing is that you can track the careers of Frank Torti and Ed Liu as a little bit of metaphor for where oncology, and to a certain degree experimental oncology, has evolved," Liu said.

"We've known each other a long, long time. We have great respect for each other," said Torti, UConn's vice president for health affairs and medical school dean. "Even more than the friendship is the sense of a common vision about the future of medicine."

That vision is rooted in the increasing capability of researchers to decipher the genetic codes for living organisms and study the complex factors that contribute to disease and how people respond to treatment.

"My feeling about this is that medicine of the 20th century, and medicine even of these first years of the 21st century, will be laughed at some years from now, and not many years from now," Torti said. "Just the way we sort of chuckle when we remember that people were doing bloodletting...We even laugh at some of the treatments of just 50 years ago, as just not having any basis in scientific evidence."

Liu calls the changes in biology at the start of their careers an "inflection point." Now, he said, science has reached another one -- something at which he hopes Jackson Laboratory and Connecticut's research universities will be poised to lead.

New tools, methods

Both men started their careers as cancer doctors, Torti with a medical degree from Harvard, Liu with one from Stanford.

Torti said he chose the career for a simple reason: "I've always wanted to cure cancer."

Liu said he was influenced by a mentor they shared at Stanford, Dr. Saul Rosenberg. "He was a real mensch," Liu said, using the Yiddish term for good guy.

Rosenberg was the sort of doctor who could walk into a room and, even if he could do nothing to cure the cancer, made patients feel better, Liu said.

Soon, the tools oncologists had to help their patients would change significantly, enabled by the shifts in biology that led both Liu and Torti to alter their career paths.

For the first time, researchers were beginning to understand how genes functioned normally, and how certain genes could transform a normal cell into a cancer cell, Torti said. Liu described a shift from a science based on observation to one in which researchers focused on understanding the individual parts of the biological system, identifying and sequencing individual genes to see how they worked within cells.

Thinking the future of cancer treatments lay in molecular biology and genetics, Torti decided he should be retrained and took on a fellowship in 1984 to learn molecular techniques so he could run a basic science laboratory.

Liu, who had planned to be a clinician, found himself curious about molecular biology and decided to seek training at the University of California San Francisco. He got "swept up in the beauty" of the science, he said.

Increasing complexity

Liu left California in 1987 for a position at the medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Six years later, Torti moved to North Carolina to direct Wake Forest University's comprehensive cancer center.

The two kept in touch from time to time, even after Liu moved to the National Cancer Institute and then overseas to build and lead the Genome Institute of Singapore.

The institute focuses in part on the emerging fields of genomics and computational biology -- that is, studying how all the genes in an organism interact, and using mathematical techniques to make sense of the massive amount of data that is now being produced about those genes and their interactions.

Liu's time in Singapore gave him a close-up view of the intense focus Asian countries place on science, which is seen as a way out of poverty.

"There's no natural resources in Asia," he said. "Manufacturing is technology applied, and so everything is based on management of human capital and harnessing the scientific trends. And they do it, quite frankly, not even for human health. They do it primarily to ensure that their countries are rising, because as far as they're concerned, you can't have health unless the economy is stable."

Liu returned to the United States in January to become president and CEO of Jackson, an institute aimed at studying genetics, primarily in animals, as a way to understand human diseases. The creation of Jackson's Connecticut institute is intended to give the firm a larger role in studying human diseases and treatments -- something for which UConn's access to patients and clinical expertise will play a key role.

Of his relationship with Torti, Liu noted, "It's fallacious to think that just because we know each other it's going to guarantee success, or that we would be devoid of conflict because we represent institutions that have their own interests."

But, he added, "There's no question that if you do know each other and trust each other and have a long history of trust, that you tend to work out problems faster and easier."

Torti said it's "delightful" to be working with a partner with a common vision.

"It makes the whole job that I have so much easier, because we don't have to sort of forge or negotiate a common vision," he said. "We both know what the next steps need to be, and we both have an appreciation of what really good people and good recruits are in these areas."

Cancer and beyond

The advances that led Torti and Liu back to basic science three decades ago had implications for how doctors targeted cancer. The chemotherapy they had been using was imprecise, targeting cells indiscriminately.

"It was a little bit more like carpet-bombing at that time," Liu said.

Being able to identify specific genes that produced mutations that drove cancer growth gave researchers targets for more precise therapies.

Now, the next step, Torti and Liu said, involves being able to study the entire genome of a creature and understand how the pieces interact.

"We're ready for that next inflection point, where we can now ask the question, 'If you have a disease, tell me how all genes interact to give you that disease, and if that's the case, then why is it that some people respond to therapies and others don't?'" Liu said.

Why does someone live to be 100? It's not because of one gene, he said, but a robust system. Studying all the genes in an organism and how they interact, something fast-evolving technology now allows researchers to do, can offer clues about why some people with a disease respond to therapies and others don't.

Liu likened it to going from being blind and feeling an elephant's tail to seeing the entire elephant.

Torti described it as moving from looking at one gene under a microscope to looking through a telescope at a galaxy.

While cancer treatment is more precise than in the "carpet-bombing" days, it's still imprecise; most patients with a certain type of cancer are likely to get a treatment that will work in some of them, but not all, while exposing them all to toxicities.

"Now, is it worth doing that? Yes it is, because some patients really benefit enormously," Torti said. "But is that the future? I don't think so."

The future, he, Liu and others believe, is to better identify which patients will respond to particular treatments, based on their genetics as well as other factors. The concept is frequently referred to as personalized medicine.

It could mean determining that a drug won't work in a particular person because his or her genetics causes the drug to be metabolized too quickly to be effective. Or it could focus on drug delivery; perhaps a treatment isn't working because a tumor is blocking the blood supply that would carry the treatment there. To determine that, patients could get a very low dose of the drug that wouldn't cause toxicity, allowing clinicians to see if it can reach the target.

Liu noted that the same principles can be applied to fields beyond biomedicine and human health, including agriculture, animal husbandry and environmental studies. He and his former oncology professor now represent two institutions with focuses far broader than cancer, and both say the advances in medicine will stretch beyond their original field.

Torti hopes UConn will build on the drug delivery aspects of personalized medicine, and develop work on the interface between genetic and environmental factors in disease. As an example, he cited prostate cancer. The disease is far less common among Asians than Caucasians, but when Asians move to the U.S., within a generation they become far more susceptible to prostate cancer, a change that occurs far too quickly to be genetic. Some experts believe it could be related to diet; perhaps the Asian diet is protective against prostate cancer, while the Western diet makes men more susceptible.

"There's this connection between diet, which is a kind of environmental susceptibility, and the genetic," Torti said. "How do you tease those out?"

Scientists understand much of what makes normal cells behave, and often know just what genetic abnormalities occur in cancer, Torti said. The challenge now is to figure out how to develop treatments that will intervene.

"We're right on the cusp now," he said.

Getting Rid of ‘Greasy’ Stigma
by Tikeyah Whittle | Oct 2, 2012 12:00pm

Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith told the legislature’s newly formed bipartisan Manufacturing Caucus that they need to make manufacturing more appealing to young people if it wants the industry to thrive in the state.


Get rid of the “greasy” stigma that manufacturing companies have and show younger people how times have changed, Smith told the caucus Monday.

As she waved her Blackberry in the air, she told the caucus that manufacturing is now focused on technology, but that the younger population doesn’t necessarily associate technology with manufacturing.

“Partly because we did lose a lot of manufacturing jobs and partly because people still have in their head the idea of the greasy floors manufacturing organization, kids have not chosen to go into this field,” Smith said.

But there’s plenty of blame to go around for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the state. Parents and counselors are ill-informed about the industry and often stray from advising kids to enter the manufacturing field, Smith said.  That’s something she wants to change. Her plan is simple and includes creating a positive image of manufacturing careers among Connecticut youth to increase the number of well-prepared workers.

Smith said it is very important that we change the notion of what manufacturing is about.

“[The events during manufacturing month] are really intended to help our younger people and their parents and their teachers and their counselors understand that manufacturing has changed a lot and that manufacturing is really a good business to consider going into a career,” Smith said

Changing people’s ideas about the manufacturing field and recruiting young workers is important because Connecticut’s workforce is aging.

“If you look at today, 25 to sometimes as much as 50 percent of [CT’s manufacturing companies’] workforce is in retirement in the next 10 to 15 years,” Smith said. “That means we need a group of young people coming through the ranks, taking up jobs and ready to go right behind them.”

“It is extremely important that we build a future,” she added.

To do this, Smith and her team is partnering up with Connecticut. Dream it. Do it. to develop school curriculum’s that are up to date with the demands of the state’s manufacturing companies.

Connecticut. Dream It Do It. was launched in December 2010 by the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, Inc. (CCAT) as one of 22 initiatives in 20 states focused on creating a positive awareness of rewarding careers in today’s manufacturing.  The team is also training incumbent workers for higher level positions and leveraging employee funding from the Subsidized Training and Employment Program, better known as the STEP-UP program.  The program pays half of an employees salary while they’re going through training so that businesses are more apt to hire them once the subsidy goes away.

Chris DiPentima, president of Pegasus Manufacturing, shared his personal experience with the program.

“Within the last 30 days, we hired four unemployed people through the STEP-UP program which is a matching salary program that, for the first six months, subsidizes 50 percent of the employee’s salary,” DiPentima said. “Two of those employees we would never have hired. They did not have the experience that we needed, but the funds were out there to allow us to take a chance on that.”

DiPentima said that one of the four employees his business hired failed the certification test. His business did not have the time or the money to invest in training the underskilled employee. The STEP-UP program allowed DiPentima’s business to invest in that employee because it provided a monetary safety net while that employee was brought up to speed.

The STEP-UP program was part of the 2011 jobs bill.

The other goals of Smith’s plan include creating a sustainable business- friendly environment for advanced manufacturers in the state, improving connectivity among manufacturers and companies in relevant field which will lead to new ideas and partnerships for new commercial opportunities, and enhancing the technologies of Connecticut manufacturers.

In Connecticut, manufacturing accounts for almost $25 billion in total manufacturing output and close to 12 percent of the total gross state product, according to the Connecticut. Dream It. Do It. website.

Connecticut has more than 4,800 manufacturers that employ nearly 170,000 workers or nearly 11 percent of the state’s workforce. Manufacturers pay $13.3 billion in wages and salaries, with workers averaging $87,000 in annual compensation, according to the same source.

But the news isn’t always positive, which is why Smith is developing a plan.

In July, the 201(3?) Connecticut Manufacturers Register reported that Connecticut lost 1,522 manufacturing jobs in the past year.

Malloy launches express job-growth program with South Windsor company
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
January 18, 2012

South Windsor -- Gov. Dannel P. Malloy used one of the new job creation tools Wednesday that state lawmakers authorized during last fall's special session, tapping a South Windsor company to launch the new Small Business Express Program.

Oxford Performance Materials, which is expected to be the first of dozens of firms to receive assistance within 30 days of appealing to the administration for help, is to use $300,000 in state funds to add 12 jobs and expand its production of skeletal replacement parts using advanced polymers.

Malloy, who announced the award at the company's headquarters on South Satellite Road, said state agencies were breaking new ground with the express program. "They're learning a new way of doing business," he said, adding that when it comes to responding to business requests for help, "that means getting to 'yes' in in record time."

"Small businesses are critical to re-inventing Connecticut," the governor said. "Little by little, we must harness the can-do attitude of our state's small companies so that their success will spur our state's recovery."

To help spur that recovery, Malloy and legislators from both parties launched several initiatives last October, including borrowing $100 million to fund the express program, which is designed to provide aid to companies within a month of first contact to help grow jobs.

Oxford will receive a $200,000 loan, repayable over 5 years with an annual interest rate of 2.5 percent, as well as a $100,000 grant that doesn't have to be repaid. The company has agreed to double its work force and move forward with plans for a $1.8 million expansion.

"This project is critical to our success and has resulted in immediate hirings," Oxford president Scott DeFelice said.

Catherine Smith, Malloy's commissioner of economic and community development, said her office has received about 200 requests for express program aid to date. The $100 million in bonding authorized for the program is supposed to be divided evenly, with $50 million allocated this fiscal year and the remainder in 2012-13.

Smith said if express proves extremely successful, the department has authority to replenish the program with funds from the existing Manufacturing Assistance Act program. Smith didn't indicate Wednesday how much might be drawn from that program.

"Right now we're trying to help as many companies as we can," she said. "Tell your friends and family, we are here to help."

Malloy said that while the program was designed to provide assistance in quick fashion, that doesn't mean state investments will be made recklessly. "It is an expedited review, but it is a review nonetheless," he said.

Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the legislature's Commerce Committee, praised the administration for launching the express program with the South Windsor company. Though it lies within LeBeau's district, the East Hartford lawmaker also noted that it typifies the cutting-edge business that state economic development programs ignored too often under prior administrations.

"This is a great example of the new technologies we're talking about," he said. "This is the future."

Jobs bill a slam-dunk in legislature
By JC Reindl Day Staff Writer
Article published Oct 27, 2011

Hartford - A package of economic development and jobs-growth initiatives passed both chambers of the General Assembly Wednesday night with nearly unanimous bipartisan support.

The bill authorizes $626 million in bonding over two years to pay for a series of tax credits, investments and other measures aimed at lowering Connecticut's 8.9 percent unemployment rate and improving the quality of the work force.

Also included were plans to streamline the processes for obtaining various state permits.

The bill passed the House 147-1, with state Rep. Chris Coutu, R-Norwich, casting the lone "no" vote. It passed the Senate 34-1, with a nay from Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton.

"These incentives have been sorely overdue for a long time," said state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia.

Many of the package's initiatives resulted from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's recent listening tour across the state.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, emphasized that the bonding will fit within the existing debt limits set by the Malloy administration.

"We're not adding new debt, we're finding better ways to spend our money," McKinney said.

During the House debate, state Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold, praised the package and Malloy's effort to meet with scores of business leaders and groups to hear their suggestions and concerns.

"I have not always been a supporter of the governor, but I tell you I'm impressed with his activist approach" to job creation, Mikutel said. "This is a real document, a document that reflects the needs of our employers."
Mikutel called attention to the bill's investments in expanding job training at state community colleges. He said that many manufacturing employers have reported difficulty finding enough skilled workers to fill their job openings.

Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, made a similar point during the Senate debate.

"We're proving that we're listening to our manufacturers who are saying, 'Please, help us find new well-trained employees,'" Stillman said.

But this wasn't enough to get Coutu's vote. He said he liked a few items in the package, such as the streamlined permitting process, but couldn't get over the final price tag, which comes in a year in which the state has already raised taxes on residents and businesses.

"My only purpose on this Earth right now is visiting business owners and asking them what's wrong," said Coutu, who is campaigning to replace U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, in 2012. "Very few of them say, 'I need the government to raise my taxes and give other people the tax money.' "

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said the package was the result of numerous hours of discussion and compromise between Democrats and Republicans. "I'm proud of this bill, and I'm proud of the process that took place to create this bill," he said.

The package will:

• Require state agencies such as the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to adopt a streamlined permitting process.
• Create a Small Business Express program to provide small businesses and manufacturers with loans, forgivable loans and matching grants that range from $10,000 to $250,000.
• Create a Subsidized Training and Employment Program to help small businesses and small manufacturers train and employ workers.
• Permit two wine festivals a year in Connecticut instead of just one.
• Authorize up to $50 million in additional funding for the Department of Transportation's Fix-It-First Bridge Program.
• Double to 100 the number of small manufacturing companies that can participate in the Manufacturing Reinvestment Account program.
• Make the Business Entity Tax, currently a $250 annual payment, payable every other year.
• Expand and rebrand the governor's First Five program of economic development incentives. It will now be the First Five Plus program and will provide growth incentives for up to 10 projects this fiscal year.
• Require boards of education to better promote vocational and technical career fields to students and their parents.
• Lower to $25,000 from $100,000 the minimum investment required to qualify for the "angel investor" income-tax credit.
• Expand the precision manufacturing program at Asnuntuck Community College, which is in Enfield, and make investments to establish or expand manufacturing technology programs at regional community-technical colleges.
• Provide $20 million to remediate and market for private development five "geographically diverse" state-owned contaminated properties, known as brownfields.
• Allow the Connecticut Airport Authority to set up new airport development zones.
• Provide $5 million in annual funding for an energy efficiency boiler program for nonprofit organizations and housing authorities.

Jackson Lab debate pits costs against jobs
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
October 25, 2011

Though the potential for dramatic job growth in cutting-edge bioscience is supposedly the chief selling point for the proposed Jackson Laboratory research center, it's the finances behind the deal--and two very different ways of presenting them--that is controlling much of the Capitol debate.

For nearly a month, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration has been touting two numbers: $291 million from the state and $809 million from Jackson Laboratory. Together, officials say, they represent the total money that will be spent on capital and operating costs at the proposed facility for the next two decades.

"For every $1 the state is spending on the project, Jackson Laboratory  will spend $3," read a press release Malloy's office issued on Sept. 30, when a tentative deal first was announced.

But another way to describe the same arrangement is that Connecticut will pay the entire construction cost of the Farmington laboratory and subsidize its research operations for the first decade. Jackson Laboratory's contributions won't exceed the state's $291 million direct contribution until the 11th year -- one year after Connecticut stops putting money into the facility. And neither of these comparison's includes the $120 million in interest charges Connecticut will face to borrow $291 million.

"It was presented to create the appearance that Jackson Laboratory is making an investment in the building, and they're not," said Deputy House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora of North Branford, whose fellow Republicans have been increasingly critical of the Democratic governor's push to bring Jackson Laboratory here.

Why were interest charges not highlighted in many of the comparisons with Jackson Laboratory's contributions?

Malloy's commissioner of economic and community development, Catherine Smith, noted during an interview Friday that the extra $120 million cost to Connecticut will go to its bond investors, not into the research facility. "We've never included the debt service" in describing state's contribution to the project, she said.

Why juxtapose that $291 million--which Connecticut will spend in the first 10 years on construction costs for a 173,000-square-foot center and to supplement research operations--with 20 years of projected operating costs for Jackson Laboratory, specifically $809 million?

Based on a 20-year financial projection for the project, Jackson Laboratory's total operating expenditures for the first decade--when the state is contributing--will fall between $279 million and $290 million.

While supporters said the goal was to contrast finances over the same period used to calculate job growth forecasts, critics again countered that political spin was at work. The interest costs are outlined in a project summary report distributed by the administration last week, but Candelora said the initial presentation did its work: Many legislators and news media already are referring to the proposal as a $1.1 billion initiative.

"You can't have it one way and not the other," Candelora said. "You can't look at Jackson's costs through a 20-year window and not talk about the interest at the same time. It's disingenuous."

But key Democratic legislators responded Monday that Candelora and his fellow Republicans are trying to shift the debate away from numbers that are particularly enticing for state government.

The administration estimates that partnering with an international leader in genetic research on will create over 7,400 jobs.

The Maine-based, not-for-profit research institute is required to have 300 direct jobs at the center by the 10th year, and is expected to create over 660 direct positions within 20 years.

But administration officials also estimate more than 4,600 bioscience jobs would be generated largely through spin-off companies, and another 2,000 would be added to local service and retail operations from increased economic activity. Lastly, the project would create more than 840 temporary construction jobs in the next few years.

Smith said the forecasts might be somewhat conservative. She noted that a 2009 analysis of the bioscience industry by PricewaterhouseCoopers, a global accounting and professional services firm, is projecting 11 percent annual growth for the foreseeable future. But the administration, in preparing job estimates, pulled back dramatically in the second decade, assuming a modest 4.5 percent annual jump.

"I am very confident about those numbers," Smith said.

"I think what really motivates most people, including myself, is that Jackson Labs brings with it an international credibility," added House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. "We have an opportunity to really launch meaningful economic growth in this particular field."

"If this debate was not focused on the much bigger picture, this could not happen," said Sen. Gary D. LeBeau, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the Commerce Committee, who said Republicans' focus on contrasting public and private investments is short-sighted.

"It's like we're planting a tree in the woods and they're asking 'How much can I sell the lumber for if I chop it down in 20 years?'" he said. "What they should be asking is 'How many seeds will that first tree produce and will we be looking at a grove in 20 years?'"

LeBeau quickly modified his analogy to note that with annual investments in stem cell research since 2006, top-flight research institutions like the University of Connecticut Health Center and Yale University, and one of the largest per capita scientific workforces of any state, Connecticut already has several seeds planted.

"I believe this is the only direction for us to go," LeBeau added. "I really believe we have no choice but to do this."

Lawmakers return to vote on jobs bills
Greenwich TIME
Published 12:00 a.m., Monday, October 24, 2011

HARTFORD (AP) -- State lawmakers are returning to the Capitol to vote on two bills intended to help create new jobs in Connecticut.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has called a special session for Wednesday.

There appears to be more bipartisan support for the wide-ranging jobs package, which includes ideas from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration as well as Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

The plan calls for spending $516 million over two years on numerous initiatives, including assistance to small businesses.

Republican House Leader Lawrence Cafero said he's not ready yet to support a second bill. It calls for eventually spending $291 million toward a new genetic research lab at the University of Connecticut in Farmington.

The Jackson Lab of Maine has said the $1.1 billion facility will attract world-class researchers.

Alexion tapped as 'First Five' recipient
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
June 19, 2012

New Haven -- Alexion, a global pharmaceutical company, was announced today as the recipient of up to $51 million in economic development aid that will help the company become the anchor tenant in the new Downtown Crossing project near the Yale medical campus.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, his political rival from the 2006 race for governor, in announcing the latest recipient of aid through the governor's "First Five" program for employers willing to commit to a major expansion of jobs.  Alexion, a company founded in 1992 by a Yale faculty member, Dr. Leonard Bell, will relocate its existing Connecticut workforce of 350 from Cheshire to the building by 2015. It expects to increase employment by 200 to 300 jobs by 2017.

The move will be a homecoming: Alexion was a startup born in New Haven's Science Park. After outgrowing its incubator space, it moved to Cheshire in 2000.

For both Malloy and DeStefano, the project solidifies their administrations' respective efforts to make the city and state a center of a bioscience industry that Malloy says is worth $284 billion annually and is growing rapidly.

"This is an important transaction, not just in terms of bringing back home a great company," Malloy said. The project, he said, "builds on things we've already done."

The DeStefano administration had been working for three years to bring Alexion back to the city, which already is home to Yale's medical school and hospital and 40 smaller science companies.

"Our niche is clear," DeStefano said.

For New Haven, the project also erases what DeStefano called one of the great mistakes of urban renewal, the destruction of city neighborhoods to build Route 34, a highway off I-91 that was never finished. The city has planned to close the highway for 12 years.  Alexion's new address will be 100 College Street, across a portion of the Route 34 Connector that will be abandoned, knitting the city's downtown to the Yale medical campus.

The aid includes a $20 million forgivable loan, assuming the delivery of promised jobs, plus a $6 million grant for lab construction and equipment and tax credits of up to $25 million.  Malloy and DeStefano shared a small stage Tuesday, praising each other's administrations.

Malloy joked that he and DeStefano shared lots of stages in 2006, but few of those events ended with the two Democrats posing together for photos.

Malloy, NBC Sports announce deal to bring 450 jobs to Stamford

Kate King, Staff Writer
Updated 11:46 a.m., Tuesday, October 25, 2011

STAMFORD -- Gov. Dannel Malloy returned to his hometown Tuesday to announce a $100 million deal with NBC Sports, which will bring about 450 permanent jobs to Stamford as part of the state's "First Five" economic development program.

In exchange for $20 million in tax breaks, the network has signed a lease for studio, production and office space at the former Clairol building on Blachley Road on the city's East Side. The agreement will bring NBC Sports in addition to other elements of the network that were part of Comcast's takeover earlier this year.

The 32-acre site is to house NBC Sports, NBC Olympics, NBC Sports Digital, VERSUS, which will be renamed the NBC Sports Network on January 2, and the Comcast Sports Management Group, which oversees the NBC Sports Group's 14 regional networks. According to the governor's announcement, the NBC Sports Group will also use the site to construct numerous state-of-the-art studios to house the company's growing need for studio content.

The NHL Network will also build studio space on the property that will house most of the network's personnel and will create additional jobs that are not included in the 450 figure, according to Malloy's office.

"This is a terrific project for the city and state, and one that I am proud to support as the fourth `First Five.' The companies that are participating in this economic development program are job producers, and NBCUniversal has been doing that since it first arrived in Connecticut," Malloy said in a statement. "Stamford has been home to NBCUniversal television production since 2008 when it retrofitted the Rich Forum Theatre in downtown to create the Stamford Media Center. As Mayor of Stamford at the time, I was supportive of the city and state assistance for the project because I understood its potential. I am strongly supportive of this expansion in Stamford because we continue to see the positive impact in the local economy and on the workforce."

NBC has existing operations in Stamford. The Rich Forum theater on Atlantic Street serves as home base for television shows hosted by Jerry Springer and Maury Povich and the sports division of the network has had offices in the city since 1997.

Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia said NBC's move to Stamford represented "the greatest vote of confidence" in the city.

"The economic impact of the growth of a brand such as NBC is invaluable in broadcasting to the world that Stamford is the place to be," Pavia said. "And Stamford continues to identify itself as both a well-diversified economy and one clearly positioned for the 21st century."

According to the property's developers, formal negotiations to bring elements of NBC Sports started in late spring.

"This new campus is about bringing people together to maximize production, creativity and efficient teamwork," said NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus. "We are creating one 32-acre unique location that allows us to build numerous state-of-the-art studios, house more than 450 employees, and prepare for anticipated future growth. However, this initiative would not have been possible without the financial support of Governor Malloy's `First Five' program and the local support provided by Mayor Pavia, who we look forward to working with for many years to come."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman attended Tuesday's announcement and said the new studio space will allow the NHL Network to expand its offerings.

"This collaboration with the NBC Sports Group, including the construction of our new NHL Network studio in Stamford, will give our fans unprecedented year-round access to the game," Bettman said in a written statement. "NBC has been a great partner and has played a significant role in our strong growth over the past five years. We look forward to building on our relationship."

The "First Five" program is meant to attract companies that commit to creating 200 jobs within two years or invest $25 million and create 200 jobs within five years. NBC Sports joins with CIGNA insurance, TicketNetwork and Bristol-based sports network ESPN as the initial members of the "First Five" program.

"The new NBC Sports Group presents a tremendous opportunity to build and develop this sector of Connecticut's economy," DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith said in a statement. "The state is increasingly seen as a great home to television, film and digital media, and this project -- in terms of jobs and infrastructure -- will help us create the needed critical mass that can successfully attract new industry players to Connecticut and the greater Stamford area. We thank NBC for making this large investment here in Connecticut."

The former Clairol property was purchased in March 2010 by a partnership affiliated with Steven Wise Associates LLC, Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate Partners and the Connecticut Film Center. The partnership, Stamford Exit 9 LLC, paid Clairol about $16.75 million and announced plans to establish a film, television and video production center. The 770,000-square-foot facility was used by Clairol and parent company Procter & Gamble starting in the 1960s before operations were relocated to Mexico.

A chunk of the real estate was claimed last year by Chelsea Piers Connecticut LLC, which announced plans to build a sports facility on the complex similar to one on the Hudson River in Manhattan. Construction on the 418,000-square-foot athletic facility is under way.

State Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, welcomed NBC Sports into the neighborhood he represents.

"NBC's decision to expand and continue to invest in Stamford is bringing to realization a legitimate film and entertainment industry in Connecticut," Leone said. "NBC is a valued employer, a good neighbor and an involved community sponsor. We hope they become a longstanding member of our community, much the way Clairol was before them. Our goal has always been to create new jobs and add business diversity to Stamford. Having NBC reside in our city accomplishes both."

When the Stamford Zoning Board approved the Chelsea Piers project, it also approved use of 81,000 square feet inside the building for two production studios for the Connecticut Film Center.

Cable companies such as the YES Network and A&E Television also have offices in Stamford. Both networks are housed in a complex on Harbor Drive, where the signals for their broadcasts are transmitted.

The YES Network, which broadcasts New York Yankees baseball and New Jersey Nets basketball games, handles production work for pre- and post-game shows in Stamford.

Malloy Vague About NBC Sports, Special Session Jobs Bill
by Christine Stuart | Oct 13, 2011 4:57pm

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was as vague as he could be Thursday about the prospects of NBC Sports moving to Stamford. He was just as vague about what exactly will be in the special sessions jobs bill.

The NBC Sports rumor was first reported by Kevin Rennie.  Rennie’s blog post says the company is looking to locate as many as 1,000 jobs to the former site of the Clairol hair dye factory.

“At any given time we’re in discussions and I will tell you we are in discussions with many, many companies right now,” Malloy said responding to questions from reporters Thursday afternoon. “When and if an agreement is reached with any of those companies, no one is more anxious to make an announcement than me.“

“Many drops can be spilled between the cup and the lip,” he added.

As for the Oct. 26 special session on jobs, Malloy didn’t offer much more detail and a meeting with leaders from both the Democratic and Republican caucus was rescheduled until next week.

“We know what the main groupings are. Some of it has to do with regulation timeliness, some of it has to do with access to capital, particularly in early stage development, a lot of it has to do with education and workforce preparation,” he said. “So it’s going to fall into all of those categories as well as major retooling of DECD to give it some additional tools and sharpen the ones it has.”

Malloy said he believes they’re days away from announcing something more concrete. Sources say Malloy will make the proposal public on Monday to give lawmakers almost two weeks to digest it.

Asked if the package will include help for small businesses Malloy said it will include help for businesses regardless of size.

“We understand that smaller businesses have some particular concerns and I think on a bipartisan basis we’ll be able to address some of it,” Malloy said.

But “some of it” won’t be good enough for Republican lawmakers, who say they are making every effort to collaborate in a bipartisan manner with their Democratic colleagues.

“I’m also hopeful we have a jobs package that also gives aid to small businesses,” House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said. “We’re not all about grabbing some marquis company and helping out the big boys.”

“We realize this economy in the state is made up more than 80 percent by small business” Cafero said.

Cafero said he was unwilling to support the request to bond $291 million in state funds for Jackson Laboratories or the rest of the jobs package, if there is no aid for small business in the jobs package.

“I made it clear from the beginning of our discussions, and I’m not a vague talker, that I was unwilling to collaborate if the package didn’t come about from a true bipartisan effort,” Cafero said. “Also if this becomes a Christmas tree of bills that didn’t get passed during the regular session we’re off the package.”

Rumors about special exemptions for certain things made their way around the Capitol Thursday. Cafero said if any of them are true “that’s not going to pass muster.”

He admitted the call for the special session is vague giving lobbyist and lawmakers hope of getting things they need passed into the bill.

Currently, there are about 75,000 small businesses in that state that account for nearly 98 percent of the state’s employers and half its private-sector jobs, according to the latest (2006) U.S. Commerce Department data. The vast majority or 88 percent of these businesses have fewer than 20 employees, Steven Lanza, executive editor of the Connecticut Economy wrote in the September issue of the quarterly.

Looking at data from 1996 to 2006 Connecticut has one of the worst records in terms of small business growth.

“We’re third worst after West Virginia and Ohio,“ Lanza said. “Small businesses actually contracted by about 3 percent over that 10 year period while they grew everywhere else.”

Connecticut’s inability to grow small business is not something Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith is ignoring. In fact she said back in June that it’s an area the state needs to improve upon.

Back in June Smith said Connecticut has a strong, diverse base of big businesses, but lags behind other states when it comes to companies with 10 to 100 employees.

“We need to have a critical mass of startup companies,” Smith told a group of commissioners.

When it comes to jobs that have 500 or more employees Connecticut is ranked seventh in the country in terms of business creation and growth, while jobs with 10 to 99 workers ranks 44th in the country and those with two to nine employees ranks 34th, said Smith.

Smith said Thursday that her staff and legislative staff from both parties are collaborating on a package, which won’t revisit things that didn’t get done in the last legislative session and will focus on getting the state’s economy back up and running.

She said she expects the package will be “finalized and crystallized” in the next couple days.

Malloy targets hedge funds as key players in state's economy
Richard Lee, Staff Writer (Greenwich TIME?)
Updated 08:30 p.m., Thursday, September 22, 2011

Job creation is high on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's agenda, and the hedge fund industry in Fairfield County plays a key role in his efforts.

Malloy, who knows the industry well through his 14 years as mayor of Stamford, told more than 200 Thursday at the opening day of the Global Alpha Forum, a gathering of hedge fund professionals from throughout the nation at the Greenwich Hyatt, that he wants Connecticut to be seen as a state that welcomes hedge fund operators.

The two-day event was organized by the Connecticut Hedge Fund Association in Stratford and the Investment Management Institute in Greenwich.

"We understand that this industry is very important to our future. We have a better tax structure than nearby states. It has led to many hedge funds and their officers moving to Connecticut," Malloy said. "Let me say this loud and clear: We are going to defend our position in our tax policy and be supportive of this industry. I'm not in favor of Connecticut regulating hedge funds further than federal requirements."

That comes as good news to hedge fund operators in Fairfield County, where 8,655 people worked in the sector in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are 10,900 across the entire state.

Commenting that Connecticut, along with Michigan, has been among states with the worst record in net job creation in the past 20 years, Malloy said the General Assembly will conduct a special session on Oct. 26 focusing on job creation.

One goal, Malloy said, will be to streamline regulations to spur job creation.

The task is made more difficult as Connecticut works to emerge from a $3.5 billion budget deficit that Malloy inherited from the administration of former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

It is the largest per capita debt in the nation, Malloy said, reminding the audience of the contentious battle he endured with state employee labor unions to agree to concessions.

Malloy is doing an admirable job in addressing challenges facing Connecticut amid a weak economy, said John Brunjes, a transactional securities and investment lawyer at GreenbergTaurig and a member of the Hedge Fund Association's board.

"He has a very ambitious agenda," he said. "It was very encouraging to hear him say he's prepared to defend the importance of the hedge fund industry in respect to the Connecticut economy."

Craig Heatter, managing director of research at IMI, credited Malloy for his commitment to the sector, but also suggested that he should encourage those in the audience to meet with him to discuss the challenges that the state faces.

"He should be sitting down with people in this room and getting ideas," Heatter said.

One topic could be examining the possibility of establishing a rapid transit manufacturing industry in Bridgeport and seeking federal funds to get it started, he said.

"We invited Malloy because he wants to help grow the hedge fund industry," said IMI President Russell Mason, who invited Gov. Chris Christie, the Republican from New Jersey, to address the audience Friday morning on the topic of educating children.

"He's a smart politician, and he's interested in building his tax base in New Jersey," he said. "This is an august group of speakers and attendees from all over the country -- leaders from Wall Street, pension funds, endowments and wealthy families."

New brownfield proposal called 'window dressing'
Jan Ellen Spiegel, CT MIRROR
October 21, 2011

Among the items in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's jobs package for next week's special session is one on brownfields - those polluted properties that have become darlings of the environmental and economic revitalization sectors in recent years.

The package earmarks $20 million to develop and market five to-be-determined state-owned brownfield sites, to review and ultimately consolidate existing programs and to create a more comprehensive brownfields website.

"Window dressing," said Barry Trilling, an environmental and climate change attorney with Wiggin & Dana in Stamford who is versed in the issues pertaining to brownfields here and around the country. "We passed the law we needed this past summer and now we have to implement it."

Largely unnoticed in the last legislative session's laser focus on the budget and -- for the environmental community -- matters related to energy reform and the creation of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, were two pieces of legislation on brownfields.

In the view of Trilling and others, they will do more in the long run than the measures in the jobs package.

One provided $50 million for brownfield development low-interest loans over two years. The other -- the result of recommendations formulated over the last several years by a brownfields task force -- was "An Act Concerning Brownfield Remediation And Development As An Economic Driver." Among its many programmatic provisions was a major change in liability, which - though somewhat diluted in its final form - all parties point to as the single most important action for wrenching brownfield development into gear.

It set up a pilot program for 32 brownfield sites a year under which their buyers would no longer be liable for pollution that had migrated off the site - a longstanding and huge deal-breaker stymieing brownfield remediation here.

"That's all you need to know," said Trilling who along with others called that elimination of some of the economic uncertainty for those willing to take a risk on brownfields key.

The remediation and redevelopment of Connecticut's thousands of brownfields, the legacy of everything from century-old mills to abandoned gas stations, has staggered under a sometimes impenetrable web of  overlapping programs, outdated and cumbersome statutes, cross-agency jurisdictions, and inadequate funding.

The obstacles have made the state an inhospitable place to take on brownfields, often sending would-be developers to other states.

"If its easier to get a job done on regular basis in New Jersey or New York, you know we have a problem," said Trilling referring to Connecticut's system as Byzantine.

"For the longest time, since I've been involved, Connecticut needed to do some catching up with respect to its brownfield programs," said Gary O'Connor an attorney with Pullman & Comley who has co-chaired the task force since it began five years ago.

"I think over the last four or five years we've done so," he said.

O'Connor noted the creation of the Office of Brownfield Remediation and Development under the Department of Economic and Community Development, though not with a deputy commissioner running it or with the level of staffing he would have preferred. The result, he said, has been far more communication among the various departments who figure into brownfield work, making it easier for developers to navigate.

"Are we completely there yet?" he said. "No, I think we have almost all the tools in place."

New Haven-based attorney Nancy Mendel, part of a group of attorneys who helped craft the liability language - the original version of which had no cap on the number of participants -- said she already had one client apply for a liability protection spot - one of eight applications so far in the small window since the legislation's July 1 effective date. She said she has five clients likely to be ready to apply next year - at least two for whom whether they are accepted will dictate if they buy the brownfield.

"With this program they will take on the more difficult properties," she said. "I'll clean up the property; you protect me."

The problem Mendel and others said, many potential buyers don't know this or other programs exist.

"I think we need to do more outreach; I think we've been fairly silent as to what's available," said Ned Moore, the economic development agent with the OBRD. He said the website already is being reworked, and he would like to see better out-of-state marketing now that Connecticut can compete with the regulatory landscape in other states. "We need to be better salesmen."

Last session's legislation further loosened the brownfields logjam by expanding eligibility for a program that goes by the initials ABC - Abandoned Brownfield Cleanup. And to the issue of the many overlapping programs, it set in motion a rapid review, spearheaded by DEEP.

Its six working groups looking at existing programs, best practices, assessment of environmental risks, liabilities and other issues, have already filed reports and recommendations.

Public comments will be accepted for another couple of weeks, with a final report due mid December that is likely to form the basis for legislation in the next full session to reorganize and streamline the programs. The review process included in the special session package is a catchall for any programs or funding mechanisms not already under review, said Graham Stevens, the brownfields coordinator at DEEP overseeing the existing review.

"Everybody's house gets tidied at the same time," he said.

The idea of brownfield development brings with it potentially troublesome economic realities. The benefits are clear: getting rid of the contamination; putting people to work doing it; creating a business that will employ more people; putting the property back on the tax rolls; and in many cases doing it in an urban area that otherwise faces long term abandonment.

But in the current economic climate with a general glut of available clean properties and new development all-but stalled, there are doubts about how many likely takers there are for brownfields given their difficulty, cost and longer time frames.

"The important thing for state government to do right now in tough economic times is make sure we're well-poised when we turn the corner," Stevens said.

But Todd Berman, a senior environmental analyst for Robinson & Cole who was co-chair of the DEEP work group evaluating the existing programs said, "The real problem with brownfields is that the economics are still very, very marginal."

"If you're somebody contemplating a brownfield development, you need to be a courageous entrepreneur, maybe willing to spend a little more," he said.

And while the term "level the playing field" was uttered by just about everyone explaining why legislative reform for brownfields was necessary, Berman didn't think that was enough. "You have to make them economically competitive," he said. "Not just leveling the playing field; you've got to tilt it."

Among the recommendations from Berman's work group: consolidating the remedial programs in one location; sensible milestones for evaluating cleanup so properties aren't stuck in limbo for long periods of time; better assessing the risk of just how clean a property has to be for it to be usable; and allowing licensed professionals doing remediation to make decisions without constantly waiting for approval from an outside monitoring authority.

Even with the prospect of significant legislative modifications for brownfield development coming next legislative session, the consensus is that moving ahead using the programs in place now, as flawed as some of them may be, along with the potential additional money from the special session jobs package would still be beneficial.

"Every dollar helps; what we need to do is choose priorities," said Roger Reynolds of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, who added he was a little disappointed with the watered down result last session.

The priorities Reynolds prefers -- tying brownfield remediation to the new transit lines and hubs recently approved for development. "Taking our scarce resources and putting them into those areas and into modern, green, sustainable, livable communities is exactly what we ought to do," he said.

Anne Peters, an attorney with Carmody and Torrance in Waterbury who co-chaired the DEEP work group looking at liability issues said adding money to the brownfields equation could be done simultaneously with needed additional statutory reform.

"Every brownfield, every abandoned, blighted, under-utilized property that we restore to active use is of value to the state," she said recognizing they may not produce thousands of jobs, but at least will no longer drag down the rest of the neighborhood. "Even if it's just 32 properties for the pilot project, in my book, restoring 32 properties is much better than waiting and not restoring any."

State employees at center of post-Irene benefits probe
Ken Dixon, Staff Writer
Updated 12:17 a.m., Monday, December 5, 2011

HARTFORD -- An undetermined number of state employees were among those who fraudulently took federal aid offered under a $12.4 million disaster-relief program for spoiled food in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Sunday.

Malloy, in announcing an in-house investigation by the state Department of Social Services into false statements on aid applications, said he has also notified state and federal prosecutors.

During a rare weekend news conference outside his Capitol office, alongside Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and DSS Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby, Malloy said that he's not sure how many state employees may have misstated their incomes in September to gain eligibility in the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program program, but about 800 applied, including workplace supervisors.

"There are people from many different state departments that applied for this relief," Malloy said.

The irregularities came up during a routine DSS audit of the 23,000 D-SNAP applications.

"Through the normal process of applications for the program, it has come to my attention that a number of state employees appear to have filed applications that materially misrepresented their incomes," Malloy said. "Based on those apparent misrepresentations, they received benefits under the D-SNAP program."

Malloy said that it's too early to tell how many fraudulent applications were filed, but he credited Bremby's employees who uncovered it.

"Rod's team was doing their job and doing the review that they were required to do and they came across some names," Malloy said. "They looked familiar and that gave rise to Rod doing more work on it. It was brought to my attention and I instructed him to conduct as thorough as investigation as he could."

The governor said he first heard about the apparent fraud on Thursday.

Asked for an approximate number of alleged fraudulent filings by state workers, Malloy said "more than a few" were involved.

"If we found out that state employees, or anyone else for that matter, used the occurrence of Tropical Storm Irene as an opportunity to defraud the disaster-funding program, the consequences we'll have will be immediate and severe," Malloy told reporters. "For state employees, that means termination and prosecution."

Those accepted for the D-SNAP program received plastic debit cards with up to $1,202 on them, to pay for the replacement of food that was spoiled after the power went out when the storm hit the state with heavy rain and high winds on Aug. 27. The average award was $684, Bremby said.

The D-SNAP had a wide variety of income guidelines, including $5,600 a month for households of eight people.

"What I find so troubling is that, as we believe, state employees defrauded the system," Malloy said.

About 208,000 low-income state families are enrolled in the federally funded SNAP program, which replaced food stamps. Bremby told reporters that the D-SNAP program was for people who were not normal SNAP recipients. It was the first time that the state issued a D-SNAP program following a major weather event.

Non-union workers getting $6.2 million in longevity pay next week
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
October 14, 2011

State government will issue nearly $10.3 million in longevity payments to senior employees on Thursday, including nearly $6.2 million to non-union executives, managers and other staff and $4.1 million to union workers, according to numbers released Friday by Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo.

About 39,200 union workers forfeited their scheduled longevity payments as part of the concession deal approved in August. But nearly $466,000 will be paid to 757 state police troopers and 437 correction officer supervisors who rejected wage and longevity givebacks.

Abut 5,200 other union employees--mostly professionals in higher education and the Judicial Branch--also will be bonuses, but at a reduced rate agreed to in the concession deal. Their payments total more than $3.6 million.

It is the the $6.2 million being paid to 3,085 non-union workers that has caused a stir lately, however. Minority Republicans in the state Senate urged Malloy in writing recently to rescind the payments, while the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition filed a grievance earlier this month over the bonuses.

Administration officials have countered that shy of a legislative repeal of the longevity statute, canceling longevity payments for non-union workers could be challenged in court as an illegal taking of salary--a legal argument that Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, has challenged.

In a 2007 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that final, pro-rated longevity payments earned by two retiring assistant attorneys general had to be included in their pension calculations.

The longevity pay system, first created by statute in 1967 and subsequently guaranteed in most union contracts since then, rewards most workers with bi-annual bonuses after they have achieved 10 years of service. The statutes also call for higher bonuses after workers hit their 15-, 20 and 25-year anniversaries, after which longevity pay is capped.

Under concession deal reached last summer between Malloy and the state employee unions, about 39,800 unionized employees forfeited their entire longevity payment this October. Another 5,248 unionized employees, primarily involving higher education faculty and Judicial branch professionals, forfeited 25 percent of their October payment.

Also under that deal, all unionized employees hired after July 1, 2011 are ineligible to ever receive longevity pay.

For non-union workers, the administration opted not to cancel October payments.

Instead it has capped payments for non-union workers. That means those payments never will increase in future years, regardless of how much experience non-union staff accumulate. It also means that those non-union workers who lacked the minimum experience level of 10 years when longevity payments last were issued in April are permanently ineligible from receiving them.

Administration officials insist this produced far greater savings than the concession deal's provision regarding longevity pay over the next few decades.

"We filed a grievance under the recently ratified SEBAC 2011 agreement because we believe that the comparable or greater sacrifice understanding must apply in the short-term, too," coalition spokesman Matt O'Connor said. "Especially since paying out these bonuses now means there are some managers who won't sacrifice their longevity at all."

Union spokesmen have noted that some senior Malloy officials already had qualified for the top longevity payment before the new cap was imposed, meaning their payments won't decline under this system in October or later.

McKinney argued in a separate letter to the governor that the statutory and legal precedent gives the governor the authority to reform the longevity pay system, including canceling payments.

McKinney added Friday that the longevity statute also gives the administration the flexibility to reduce payments to non-union staff.

For example, the statute reads that employees with greater than 10 by less than 15 years of service shall receive either $75, "or an amount determined in accordance with the longevity rate schedule established for his class of position by the Commissioner of Administrative Services, whichever is greater." And in the case of managers, they are entitled only to the amount set in the commissioner's schedule.

Similar language and options exist for workers with more experience. The fixed payments in the statute increase to $150 for 15-20 years of experience, $225 for 20-25 years, and $300 for more than 25 years.

"I'm disappointed that the governor refused to ask the commissioner of DAS to even issue a new longevity payment schedule" that matches the minimum levels set in statute, McKinney said Friday, adding it would have significantly discounted longevity payments for many non-union staff.

"The longevity payments have no business in state government anymore," he added. "They're not based on merit. They're not based on how well you do your job."

Malloy's senior advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso, reasserted Malloy's oft-stated stance on the issue Friday: "He doesn't think anybody should be getting longevity payments."

Occhiogrosso added that Malloy can't accomplish that without legislative action, and is ready to work with lawmakers on this during the regular 2012 session, which starts in February. "I think he's probably glad we're spending less money on it now than last year," Occhiogrosso added.

Thousands of non-union workers to receive longevity bonuses
Keith M. Phaneuf, CTMIRROR
September 29, 2011

While most veteran unionized employees are forfeiting their longevity pay as part of the labor concession deal, thousands of non-union workers, including many top official in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration, will share millions of dollars in seniority bonuses next month.

The Department of Administrative Services declined Thursday to release a preliminary list of staff slated to receive longevity payments next month. Department spokesman Jeffrey Beckham said it still was being adjusted to reflect resignations, retirement and layoffs over the past six months. But longevity pay is issued twice yearly and 3,599 non-union staff received such bonuses, worth about $7 million in April.

Malloy's budget chief argued that a new longevity cap imposed on non-union employees earlier this year will save more money over the next 30 years. But he conceded that the administration executives and managers with the most years of service will sacrifice nothing.

Ironically, non-union workers would have shared in the longevity pay cutbacks had union workers approved the first labor concession deal. After that deal was rejected in June, however, legislation cutting bonuses for non-union workers was repealed, and it wasn't reinstated when the deal passed in a second vote.

Key lawmakers from both parties were surprised to learn that the cuts in longevity pay for non-union workers had been revoked.

"This is not apples and apples," said House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, one of Malloy's most vocal critics. Cafero noted that while Malloy imposed an across-the-board longevity bonus cap on his top executives in January, many of those same executives will collect thousands of dollars in bonuses in a few weeks. "What looked like a grand fiscal gesture in January has turned out to be a windfall in October for Malloy's senior staff," he said. "Where is the shared sacrifice?"

"Oh my God," said Sen. Edith G. Prague, D-Columbia, co-chairwoman of the Labor and Public Employees Committee. "It's outrageous."

The longevity pay system, first created by statute in 1967 and subsequently guaranteed in most union contracts since then, rewards most workers with biannual bonuses after they have achieved 10 years of service. The statutes also call for higher bonuses after workers hit their 15-, 20 and 25-year anniversaries, after which longevity pay is capped.

The bonuses, paid to most eligible workers in May and October, have been an increasing source of controversy at the Capitol amid the fiscal crises of recent years.

Prague, who chastised state employee unions for initially rejecting a concession deal in June before ratifying on a second vote in August, added Thursday that non-union workers should have to make some immediate salary sacrifice.

That appeared to be the plan on June 7 when the legislature enacted a budget policy statute that the administration "shall implement changes to longevity payments for such (non-union) officers and employees comparable to the longevity payment provisions of the agreement" with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition. Malloy signed that into law on June 21.

But on June 30, that language was repealed in another budget policy bill adopted in special session and also signed by Malloy. Instead the administration was directed to apply the longevity pay cap it had imposed on to executives to all non-union staff.

The executive cap was ordered by Malloy on Jan. 21, and applied to about 50 top officials. It said the officials could not earn higher payments in future years, even if they had fewer than 25 years of service.

The order also stipulated that those who hadn't received a longevity payment in October 2010--such as legislators who left that branch in January to join his administration--would not be eligible for bonuses in the future.

By expanding these ground rules to all non-union workers, the June 30 legislation did two things:

•It blocked all non-union staff who have not yet qualified for longevity payments from ever receiving them.
•And it also locked those who do receive them from receiving any future increase in their bonus, regardless of how many years of service they accrue.

By comparison, the concession deal means about 39,800 unionized employees will forfeit their entire longevity payment this year. Another 5,200 union members, primarily involving higher education faculty and Judicial branch professionals, will forfeit 25 percent of their October payment.

About $13.2 million in longevity payments went out to more than 28,640 unionized employees in April.

"The current system has been unfairly skewed towards management--but we have always said that on the merits longevity bonuses make good fiscal sense," State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition spokesman Matt O'Connor said. "They encourage the workforce to continue their public service careers. And we believe that longevity bonuses also justly reward workers for decades of service to their employer. Plus they save millions in retraining costs and improves the quality of services that we all count on.

But Malloy's budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, noted that while these groups will lose money now, they and any other unionized employees hired before June 30 this year remain in the longevity pay system and will be able to qualify for increasing bonuses down the road.

By comparison, all non-union workers shy of 10 years of experience never can qualify for longevity pay under the new system, and those that do receive them will never see those bonuses increase.

"We believe that the savings we are imposing here is significantly greater over the long-term," he said.

But 38 out of the 41 salary groups for unionized workers call for longevity bonuses ranging from $75 to $998, and the last allow workers to earn between $1,000 and $1,100 after they reach 25 years of service. Bonuses in the middle three salary groups range from $114 to $568.

By comparison, 18 of the 20 bonus levels Malloy executives can qualify for top $1,000, ranging as high as $5,600.

And Barnes conceded that those executives who already topped out under the old system because  they had more than 25 years of experience -- such as deputy OPM Secretary Mark Ojakian, who negotiated the concession deal -- aren't penalized at all under the new system, which simply reinforces an existing cap.

Ojakian, who received a $4,800 payment in April, will not lose his in October and his payments weren't slated to increase under either the old system or the new one.

And even those executives who have fewer than 25 years of state service might need to work two to four more years, Cafero noted, before the capping system would cost them enough to equal what they otherwise would lose if they had to forfeit their October payment instead.

"This is the problem," Prague said. "Executives and managers already make good salaries. There's not a balance here."

For example, three top scientists at the state's agricultural experimental station qualified in April for bonuses above $4,100.

Over 18 non-union staffers in the state auditors' office earned bonuses in excess of $4,000 last time.

"Of course there are examples where management salaries -- and as a result, their bonuses -- are out of whack," O'Connor added. "The solution is to do the hard work of transforming state government so that resources are redirected to the people who need services and the workers who deliver them."

"And that's our focus right now -- holding the Malloy Administration to their obligation to work with us to make state government work better and be a better place to work," he added.

Barnes added that even though the administration signed legislation in early June that would have required non-union longevity pay to be adjusted comparable to any unionized concessions, it believes such a move might be challenged in court as an illegal taking of salary.

In a 2007 decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that final, pro-rated longevity payments earned by two retiring assistant attorneys general had to be included in their pension calculations.

Lawmakers say utilities did 'terrible' job on Irene response
Ken Dixon, Staff Writer
Updated 11:41 p.m., Monday, September 19, 2011

HARTFORD -- The response by the state's two major electric utilities to last month's Tropical Storm Irene was inadequate and troubling, state and local lawmakers charged Monday.

They recalled incidents from throughout the state, where communications were so poor that utility work crews would sit in their vehicles, seemingly paralyzed, for hours until finally getting assignments from supervisors.

During the first of two days of legislative hearings on the Aug. 27-28 storm, executives from Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating admitted that there were communication lapses, but claimed their overall response -- once contract crews from out of state arrived -- was good.

The executives said that state residents need to accept a more extensive tree-trimming program to prevent the most common cause of outages: trees falling on power transmission lines.

Legislative leaders started off the eight-hour-long hearing with low-key, conciliatory statements. The question period from committee members to the utilities was limited to 15 minutes and the executives received little direct criticism.

But during the afternoon session, elected leaders led by Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said that Connecticut consumers pay far too much money for the length of time their towns were without power.

"We pay the highest electric costs," Marconi told the joint hearing before several legislative committees. "Look at the service we got. If they can't deliver that kind of service, maybe we should pay lower rates," Marconi said, noting that 140 roads were closed in his town.

"I don't think C L & P could do a worse job if they tried," said Sen. Edith G. Prague, D-Columbia. "Coordination problems were terrible," added Sen. Ed Meyer, D-Guilford.

Rep. Steve Dargan, D-West Haven, co-chairman of the Legislature's Public Safety Committee, told the utility executives that glaring communications problems were widespread both within the companies and between the utilities and their customers.

"The utility companies couldn't operate until the tree personnel cut the tree down," Dargan said. "The tree personnel said, `We can't take the tree down until the power lines are shut down. So what was happening is the utility company truck would be there and they would leave, then the tree-company truck would come and they would leave. I think we need to do better communication in that area."

The hearings began with promises from legislative leaders that their role is to prepare for the next big storm, not point the blame for outages that enraged customers and frustrated local officials throughout the state.

Jeffrey Butler, president and CEO of CL&P, said that planning for the storm began six days before it hit during the weekend of Aug. 27 and that outside contractors were heavily relied upon, to restore power.

"Storm Irene was the worst in Connecticut state history," Butler said of a nine-day period that mobilized 7,500 company workers and contractors who handled 15,000 trouble spots, including 1,300 broken poles.

In all, about 158,000 UI and 671,000 CL&P customers were without power due to the high winds and flooding.

"I do believe we had a strong response to this storm," Butler said. "Resources were effectively deployed, once we had them."

James P. Torgerson, president and CEO of United Illuminating Holdings Co., said he believes the utility reacted appropriately, but there are plans to invest up to $15 million over the next two to three years to improve communications with customers and community leaders.

More information would include the tracking of work crews then getting that information to office personnel who would contact customers on the status of repairs.

From the Capitol via CT-N, Monday, September 19, 2011

10am - CL&P wants to trim "hazard trees" that could be 50 to 100 feet away from lines on private property - this would require action by the Legislature to permit private home owners' property to be enterred..and then who pays for taking down big trees that might endanger power lines?  Answer:  Rates will go up to pay for it.  Also, they trim every five years but would like to do it every four years.

Data and details were manually translated from system maps to town maps.

10:30am - Discussion of "breakfast buffet" and work during nighttime.  Mutal aid turnout not as good a expected (in some places).  Tree trimming an issue.

10:50am - United Illuminating.  Assessment.  Circuits stretch two to eight miles across town lines.  Water damage and danger.  Location of all town and emergency systems took time (not in Weston, I would think!).  Downed wires must be confirmed at various stages.  UI wasn't moving to restore customers until Tuesday.  Technology:  integration of "platforms" of data needed.  BETTER INFO to public needed.

11:10 Q&A - answered info question - 2 to 3 years changes to outage management and where crews will be and tell call center.  Mobile devices digital.  Land line.  E-mail to site where customers can get info.  Utility truck, tree company truck confusion.  First responders practice - power companies should too (Steve Dargan).  Brendan Sharky complained about UI blaming the town public works crews.  Chastises UI for having crews talk to the public.  Small utility at a disadvantage getting help - is there coordination between UI and CL&P to best use crews?  Should the State of CT "facilitate" this?  UI President reacts to this last threat by Sharky. 

11:27am - Steve Mikutel - Changing the character of towns.  More rain softening soil.  Main lines first.  Big trees that are sick.  Underground wires?  Six times more expensive, different technology.  Cost prohibitive at this point.   Liaisons - communications to companies didn't work - Candelora.

11:40am - MUNICIPAL UTILITIES:  Groton Utilities - winds have to be under 35 miles an hour to send out bucket crews.  Communications need improvement - data acquisition.  Isolated customes.  Mikutel - why did cities get back power sooner?  Groton did help CL&P.  John Hiscock - S. Norwalk electric - no trees.  They help CL&P.  Nardello - what is the diffedrence between size, urban areas...Edith Prague - Groton Utilities did a better job than CL&P...

12 Noon - Municipalities.  Canterbury.  THEY HAVE A COG - didn't help them!  Sen. Williams - mentions other communities BUT NOT WESTON.  Inequality of response by towns - Sen. Ritter talks about her two towns were diferent (don't know what she was hinting at, except for the fact that Waterford is wealthy and Montville isn't).  Internet availability.  RADIO updates suggested.

12:27pm - CCM - Mary Glassman, First Selectman.  Transmission lines, tree trimming and excellent and regular communication with CL&P.  ATT and COMCAST in Simsbury not reponsive.  CCM survey:  excellent communication before the storm, after the storm not exactly - liaison majority approved.  Reverse communication was good.  Websites helpful.   Radios important.  G.I.S. worked.  CRCOG Homeland Security points out that Regionalization worked.  A.M. Radio was great on the local level!!!  REGIONALIZATION - MUTUAL AID TEMPLATE WE EXPECT WILL DERIVE FROM THIS.  Naugatuck. Trees.   Regional control  of private property.  Customer service and EOC gave different info.  CODE RED good.  "About Town" takes a lunch break

2:15pm - ATT gets bashed.  NO ONE WHO SPOKE CAME FROM CABLEVISION OF SWCT AREA.  Rudy Marconi speaks for Weston, Wilton and Redding (Ridgefield) - Ridgefield not in Cablevision area.

2:20pm - American Red Cross testimony.  Previously, some had complained about ARC.  It was pointed out about purchase  of generators - "heater meals" and volunteers' importance.  United Way, Rick Porth.  E-library helpful to people.  Individual disaster declaration data...this hearing kept going - when we checked in at 4:59pm, cell phone companies were testifying!

Lawmakers' 1st Irene Hearing Begins Monday Morning
Will Look Into State's Readiness And Response To Major Storms

The Hartford Courant
Staff Report
5:00 p.m. EDT, September 18, 2011


The first of two legislative hearings on issues raised by Tropical Storm Irene begins Monday at 9:30 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building.

The hearings, scheduled for Room 2C, will examine the state's readiness for — and response to —the storm. The second hearing is next Monday, Sept. 26.At the first hearing, legislators expect to hear testimony from representatives of the electric, cable and telecommunications industries, as well as from municipal leaders. The session will finish by 4:30 p.m.

The Sept. 26 hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Members of the general public will be heard first. After that, union representatives and the electric utility companies will have a chance to present testimony. The second hearing is expected to conclude by early afternoon.

Citizens who can't attend the Sept. 26 hearing can still participate. For what's believed to be the first time, legislative committees are taking testimony via Twitter and Facebook.

Senate and House Democrats have set up Facebook and Twitter accounts at

http://www.facebook.com/pages/After-Irene-CT/262762473747233 and

http://twitter.com/#!/AfterIreneCT to accept public comment and suggestions.

CL&P ready to defend its response to Tropical Storm Irene
Keith M. Phaneuf and Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
September 19, 2011

Facing a legislative inquiry after the state's worst power outage, Connecticut's largest electric utility intends to defend its performance today by telling legislators that it restored power to more customers and in less time after Tropical Storm Irene than in any previous blackout.

Jeffrey D. Butler, the president and chief operating officer of Connecticut Light & Power Co., acknowledged an "opportunity" for the company to improve communications with the public and towns after blackouts. But in an interview with The Mirror, he said CL&P deserves good marks overall for its response before and after Irene.

The nine days to restore power after Irene was one fewer than it took to make repairs after Hurricane Gloria in 1985. At its peak, 671,000 CL&P customers were out from Irene, compared to the previous record of 477,428 from Gloria.  United Illuminating, the state's second-larges utility, reported 158,000 outages. It serves 324,000 customers, mostly along the shoreline from the New Haven to Bridgeport areas.  Nearly all the damage from Irene in CL&P's territory was caused by trees and branches falling on 17,000 miles of electric lines, which snake through one of the nation's densest canopy of trees, Butler said.

CL&P says it had to replace 1,200 poles, hang 108 miles of wire, repair 1,700 transformers and help clear more than 1,500 roads across the state.

For every mile of electric line in Connecticut there are, on average, 184 trees close enough to require regular trimming, Butler said. With 17,000 miles of wires, that means more than 3 million trees for CL&P to monitor and trim.  Both Butler and UI spokesman Michael West said their utilities will ask lawmakers to reassess state regulations governing tree-trimming, noting that Connecticut is one of the two most vegetation-dense states in the nation when it comes to foliage close to power lines.

"We need to take a look at the process through which trees are pruned," West said.

Legislators intend to press utilities to disclose not only the problems they face in arranging for tree trimming, but also how much of their budgets they allocate toward this task, said Rep. Vickie O. Nardello, D-Prospect, co-chairwoman of the Energy and Technology Committee.

"I think we need to know how they spent the money from the last rate increase, and how well they used it to prepare for this storm," Nardello said.

The energy committee is one of several participating in the legislative inquiry. The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also has convened a separate independent inquiry to examine the overall response to the storm by the state, towns, utilities and others.  CL&P and UI will send representatives to the legislative inquiry at 9:30 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building. Cable and telephone industry representatives and municipal leaders also have been asked to testify.

The hearing continues on Monday, Sept. 26, with testimony from the general public and from unions representing utility crews, who complained about staffing levels and overtime policies that allowed no employee line or tree crews to work more than 16 hours in a 24-hour period.  Butler said NU has no doubts that requiring eight hours off after a 16-hour shift was a sound safety policy, given that crews would be working for more than a week to repair the extensive damage, nearly all of which was attributed to falling trees and branches.

One lineman was electrocuted making repairs after Gloria, and an investigation found fatigue was a factor.

"We recognized early on that this was going to be a multi-day event," Butler said of Irene, a hurricane that ravaged 15 states and cut power to 7 million homes and businesses between Aug. 20 and 29. It was downgraded to a strong tropical storm before its winds and rains reached Connecticut on Aug. 27.

Since power to the last customer was restored Sept. 6, CL&P has been preparing to defend its response, gathering data showing that eight or nine days was the norm for repairs in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

"I still think we were looking at an eight- or nine-day restoration period" regardless of the size of the company's staff, Butler said. "That was just the amount of damage we were looking at."

Butler, who absorbed a hail of media questions about declining repair crew manpower, said during the interview in the company's Hartford offices that many don't realize company employees always have comprised a small fraction of the response effort during huge events like Irene.  CL&P directly employs 204 crews--most of which are two-member teams--for line repair, but put 1,889 crews in the field for line work or tree trimming and clean up after Irene, augmenting its numbers primarily through private contractors.

By comparison, the company had 268 crews on the company payroll during Hurricane Gloria in 1985. But it put 1,032 crews into the response effort and needed 10 days to restore power to 477,428 customers. 

CL&P belongs to two regional mutual aid groups composed of electric utilities, but since they all were struck hard by Irene, little help came from that source. "Quite honestly the resources weren't available," Butler said.  The company has strong ties with several private repair contractors, Butler said, including two national giants, Asplundh and Quanta Services. "We do a lot of work with these companies," he said. "Having strong relationships with these contractors gave us an advantage" in securing help at a time of fierce competition.

Butler was less confident about CL&P's relationships with leaders of Connecticut's cities and towns, or with its 1.2 million residential and business customers, but added the company is focused on improving communications.

"Giving our customers the information they are looking for--I think that's our biggest opportunity," said Butler, who declined to use the word "failing."

CL&P began reaching out to customers two days before Irene with media releases, public service announcements, and through online social media such as Facebook and Twitter. "We wanted people to understand this was going to be multiple days to get power restored," he said.

But one of the problems with telling customers that it could take anywhere from a couple days to a week or more to restore power is that many may hopefully count on the former, not the latter. "I think a lot of people took it that way," Butler said.

And as people pressed for more specifics about their respective situations after the storm, it was largely too late to refine the message. "We live on the Internet," he said. "Without power you don't have the Internet."

A round of automated calls made about one week after the storm helped the company reach about 190 customers suspected of still lacking power though no outages had been reported.  The company also experienced problems working with local officials, whom Butler said "want to know the trouble by streets, not by circuits.  ... Certainly our communications with the towns we can improve."

Irene damaged 21 major transmission lines that link generation sites with substations.

These lines have to be repaired before lower-voltage distribution line problems can be addressed. But because these transmission lines are located away from neighborhoods, local officials and residents often don't notice, and mistakenly assume no repair work has begun in their community.  Northeast Utilities, the owner of CL&P and smaller utilities in western Massachusetts and New Hampshire, estimates the storm cost it $100 million, with about three quarters of the damage coming in Connecticut.

West put the price tag for UI's damages at between $20 million and $25 million.  Neither said Friday what portion they would seek to pass on to customers through future rate hike requests, with Butler saying that each state has a regulatory process to make that assessment.

But Nardello said lawmakers will want some indication today about their fiscal plans. "I believe there will be questions about their costs and their intentions," she said. "I think the public deserves to know."

Malloy plan would end heat aid to gas and electric utility customers
Arielle Levin Becker, CT MIRROR
September 14, 2011

Forecasting a drop of more than $68 million in federal funds to help low-income residents heat their homes, the Malloy administration has proposed limiting assistance to people who buy fuel from dealers, leaving more than 80,000 households with electric or gas heat without the aid.  The administration's plan notes that state law protects low-income residents with electric or gas heat from having their utilities shut off because of unpaid bills between Nov. 1 and May 1. No such protection exists for those who buy fuel such as oil or propane from dealers--so-called "deliverable" fuel.

More than 60 percent of households that have participated in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program get heat from utilities and would not be covered by LIHEAP next winter under the administration's plan, unless additional funds become available.

"Our plan is focused on what we see as the most critical public policy goal of low-income heating assistance, which is preventing people from freezing to death," said Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget office.

The plan drew opposition from the advisory board that oversees LIHEAP, which recommended an alternative that would reduce benefit levels, rather than eligibility, if additional federal funds don't come through. The administration's plan requires legislative approval.

"It's going to have a devastating effect," said Patricia J. Wrice, a board member and executive director of Operation Fuel, which provides emergency energy assistance to people who are not eligible for government programs.

Shirley Bergert, director of the public benefits task force at Connecticut Legal Services and a member of the Low Income Energy Advisory Board, questioned the legality of the administration's plan and called it "by far the most harmful thing we've ever seen in Connecticut."

"Connecticut's not prepared to deal with the level of spring shutoffs" that will occur, she said.

Barnes said having people's utilities shut off in May if they can't pay their bills is a concern, but he said he is "far less concerned about people facing shutoff in May than people facing shutoffs in December."

Many people eligible for LIHEAP will be eligible for an earned income tax credit in the spring, which Barnes said would provide some assistance paying utility bills. He noted that the legislature could address the matter when it is in session, possibly by adjusting the ability of utility companies to shut off service, but said he's reluctant to say the state could make up for a drop in federal funding.  The administration's plan directs community action agencies to help low-income residents with gas or electric heat enroll in programs to reduce their payments or negotiate reduced rates with the utility companies.

LIHEAP last year served 117,876 Connecticut households, with $115 million in federal funds. Under the administration's proposal, the program would serve approximately 36,826 households this winter, when heating oil prices are estimated to be 64 cents per gallon higher than last year. LIHEAP's program year is aligned to the federal fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

If benefit levels and caseload growth match what they were last year, Connecticut would need nearly $120 million for LIHEAP this year. Instead, the administration's plan assumes that the state will receive $46.4 million from the federal government.

In February, President Obama recommended slashing LIHEAP funding, leaving Connecticut with less than half of what it received last year. Congress can deviate from the president's recommendation, and Malloy and several other governors wrote to Congressional leaders earlier this month asking for LIHEAP funding to remain level. But the emphasis on cutting government spending in Washington has left advocates less than optimistic about increased LIHEAP funding.

The state could adapt to the shortfall in one of two ways: Leave the program as is and give every recipient less money, or change the program structure so fewer people get assistance.  The administration's plan takes the latter strategy, making funding available only for people who rely on deliverable fuel. The state would continue to provide funding through two benefits, known as crisis assistance benefits and safety net assistance, that are only available to households heated by deliverable fuel.

In past years, everyone in the program, regardless of type of heat, received "basic benefits," and people who rent their homes and have heat included in their rent were eligible for rental assistance benefits. Under the administration's plan, their availability would depend on federal funding.  The plan would also tighten eligibility for a benefit for higher-income households in the program, lowering the threshold from 60 percent of the state median income to 200 percent of the poverty level. For a family of four, that means lowering the limit from $61,276 to $44,700. Bergert said 9,721 households that received LIHEAP funds for deliverable fuel last year would lose eligibility because of the income limit change.

Barnes said he respects the position of advocates who want the state to take another approach, but he said it would be reckless for the state to move forward with a program that can't be sustained, potentially leading to a need for emergency shelters in the winter.  Lowering the benefit for everyone would make the program meaningless, Barnes said. Oil deliveries require a minimum of 100 gallons, and spreading the funding across all heat types could leave oil-heated households without enough money for a delivery.

And running the program as it has run in the past and expecting federal funding could mean the program runs out of money in November, he said.

"I just think that if there's a risk of not receiving that additional funding, I think it's prudent to have the risk be borne by the utility-heated households, because they, frankly, won't get [turned] off for the winter," Barnes said. "Whereas the other folks, they won't get a delivery."

Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby called the administration's plan realistic given the expected cuts in federal funding. He said additional federal funding could become available, but it would be irresponsible to count on it.

"The plan focuses on helping low-income households that heat with deliverable fuels because these families and individuals are most at risk of freezing this winter," he said.

Wrice said she understands the state's position, given the projected funding level. In past years, she's been optimistic that the federal funding levels originally anticipated would be increased, but this year, she said, she's less hopeful.  But Wrice said that limiting the assistance to people with fuel heat will hurt families in urban areas, where electric and gas heat are more common.

"If you have limited resources, then distribute the resources equitably. Don't favor one source of heating against another," she said.

Bergert called the administration's approach a "radical and damning departure from any prior Connecticut energy assistance plan." She said the plan ignores a federal requirement that energy assistance be focused on the lowest-income households that pay a high proportion of their income for energy, and a state law that prohibits energy assistance programs from discriminating based on heat source in the basic benefit provided to eligible households.

In addition, she said, changing the LIHEAP structure could create problems for other services that help low-income residents with energy costs, including debt forgiveness programs offered by utilities, because they depend on LIHEAP eligibility and benefits. The community access agencies that administer the program are likely to see their funding slashed since it is based on LIHEAP funding, making it more difficult for them to process as many applications.

Changing the program's structure could also make it more difficult to adjust if more money comes through later in the year, Bergert said.

The administration's plan would also lower the income threshold for people to receive federally funded weatherization services. The program has the same application as LIHEAP, and Bergert said families with utility heat who do not expect to get LIHEAP benefits are unlikely to apply.

The board that oversees LIHEAP recommended that the state maintain the program's existing structure and eligibility levels, but modify benefits based on how much money is available. The board also recommended that the state provide funding for the benefits and for the community action agencies and other organizations to administer the program.

The legislature's Appropriations, Human Services and Energy and Technology committees will hold a public hearing on the administration's plan on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 3 p.m., in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Malloy: Aid probe implicates 42 workers
Brian Lockhart, CT POST
Published 03:40 p.m., Monday, March 12, 2012

Gov. Dannel Malloy's investigation into whether state workers fraudulently sought federal disaster aid has caught 42 workers and cleared 685 others.  Malloy's administration in early December began investigating more than 800 state workers who had applied for benefits under the Disaster-Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  The aid was intended for low-income victims of Tropical Storm Irene in late August and the October nor'easter. Eligible recipients were given debit cards ranging from about $700 to $1,200.  In an update Monday Malloy's office announced 27 employees have been dismissed, another 10 took early retirement, and five resigned.

"While this is certainly not something anyone should take joy in, the people of Connecticut should know we are serious about running a government that honestly serves them," said Malloy.

The governor also said the total number of state employees under scrutiny has increased by 240 to 1,053.  State employees represent a small fraction of the 23,000 D-SNAP applications. The administration in December said it was expanding its review to the private sector but did not include any of those details in Monday's announcement.

Elements of 'Plan B' on the table despite concessions approval
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
August 29, 2011

With the concession deal ratified by unionized workers and roughly 2,800 layoff notices now revoked, the ugliest elements of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget-balancing alternative to givebacks have been put away.

But even though most of Malloy's $1.6 billion concession plan has been approved, that doesn't mean every  option raised last month when concessions still hung in the balance has been scrapped.  More than 128 layoffs were ordered for non-unionized personnel, including several employees at government watchdog agencies, whose leaders insist they were supposed to be statutorily insulated from such cutbacks. Malloy's budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, has offered all agencies a chance to appeal for these positions to be restored but already has indicated some will remain vacant.

And commuter rail and bus service fare increases ranging between 10 and 15 percent also remain a possibility. The administration, which included these hikes in its July 15 plan to balance the budget in the absence of concessions, is moving forward with the process and conducting public hearings on these proposals, though one key official said no final decision on whether to implement them has been made.

"We still have a lot of work to do with this budget," said Benjamin Barnes, the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.

Though the $20.14 billion budget adopted in June for the current fiscal year is balanced on paper with the concession deal, there is no guarantee it will yield the planned savings targets: $700 million this fiscal year and $900 million in 2012-13.  Nearly 25 percent of this year's concession savings, about $170 million, is supposed to come from joint labor-management panels working to cut costs through as-yet-unidentified efficiencies in health care, technology, and across state government in general.

Mark Ojakian, Malloy's chief negotiator on the concession package, said Friday that the health care effort already is underway, while teams addressing technology and general government costs will get started in the next few weeks.  Those efforts all were supposed to be underway by Sept. 1, Ojakian said.

But a wrench was thrown into the schedule in mid-June when the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition rejected the concession plan on the first vote. Panelists to serve on potentially the most challenging cost-savings assignment -- a general government efficiency program that must find $90 million per year in savings -- haven't even been named yet.

"We're still working out who's going to be sitting on that," Ojakian said.

The administration also is counting on saving more than $200 million this fiscal year through a new state employee wellness plan, another savings target in the concession package that critics have called too aggressive.  Further complicating matters, the legislature tasked Malloy when this year's budget was adopted with finding over $112 million in undefined savings in addition to those tied to the concession plan. 
Malloy reminded all of his department heads during a meeting this past week of the crucial need to control spending.

"You have got to begin the task in earnest," the governor said. "You have got to demonstrate your willingness to drive efficiencies."

That means no reasonable idea to make government more efficient can be ignored, Barnes said.  The administration ordered 128 layoffs earlier this summer for non-union personnel. About half of them were connected with agency consolidations approved by the legislature in June. The remainder were linked to efforts to cut costs when it appeared union concessions wouldn't be forthcoming.

"We haven't finalized our decision-making on these" jobs, Barnes said. "But we've invited each department to submit a plan" to try to reclaim those jobs it deems are most crucial.

This position already has sparked criticism from the state's three chief watchdog agencies, which were rolled on July 1 -- along with six others -- into a new, unified Office of Governmental Accountability.  The heads of the Freedom of Information Commission, the Office of State Ethics and the State Elections Enforcement Commission, have said they shouldn't have to ask the governor to restore positions in their budget. Malloy laid off three non-union watchdog jobs and to date has not allowed these agencies--now divisions within the OGA- to fill newly vacant posts.

That's because at the height of the scandal that drove former Gov. John G. Rowland from office in 2004, state lawmakers legally insulated the freedom of information, ethics and elections enforcement agencies with a measure sparing them from any emergency cuts after the budget had been adopted, arguing this was essential to keep government open and honest.

The watchdog agencies say Malloy is violating at least the spirit, and possibly the letter of that law, by laying off their staff and using the governor's control over state hiring rules to prevent them from using their approved budgets to fill the positions.

Malloy also took some heat last month when his alternative budget included cuts to subsidies to force rate increases that included:

    14 percent for the Shoreline East rail commuter line.
    15 percent for the Metro-North rail commuter line.
    And 10 percent for the CT Transit bus service.

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North Rail Commuter Council, said the rail subsidy cuts amounted to a "hidden tax increase."

Cameron said that for the typical Metro-North passenger purchasing a $300-per-month rail pass, that's an extra $45 per month, or $540 per year. Bus service riders would face an extra $4.50 added to the $45 price for a 31-day pass.

Barnes said those proposals were "clearly very aggressive," but reasonable when trying to balance the budget without concessions.

Why are they still on the table now?

"I know that that's unpopular," Barnes said, noting that after hearings are held it will be determined if the full proposed rate hike, or something less is needed. He added that the administration also inherited serious fiscal problems in the special fund that maintains Connecticut's transportation network.

According to Department of Transportation data, the number of structurally deficient bridges is at its highest level since 1993. And there are more potential problems in the near future: Much of the interstate highway system in this state was built in the 1950s and 1960s, and many of the bridges that serve it have a 40- to 60-year life span. The state maintains about 3,900 highway bridges and about 200 rail bridges; just over 2,850 were built prior to 1970.

Further complicating matters, the DOT projected last year a $926.4 million gap between the cost of highway, bridge and transit projects planned through 2014 , and the level of anticipated funding available.

Malloy, who decried the low priority transportation has received under past administrations, has made progress reversing that this year. The new budget redirects nearly $40 million in fuel and other revenues from general government operations and into the transportation fund.

"We'd like to get the fund to a sustainable place," Barnes said.

State police union headed to court to fight layoffs
By Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
August 24, 2011

The Connecticut State Police Union will go to Hartford Superior Court this afternoon in hopes of stopping 56 layoffs of troopers ordered Tuesday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said the union's president, Sgt. Andrew Matthews.

Matthews also complained today that his reassignment from his duties as a lawyer in a special licensing and firearms unit to traffic duty of out Troop H in Hartford was punishment for his public criticism of the layoffs, which were ordered after the union refused to accept a two-year wage freeze.

"We're hopeful that we'll be able to stop the layoffs," Matthews told Capitol reporters shortly before 3 p.m.

He declined to say whether the union would seek an injunction against the layoff order, but he confirmed that some type of action would be sought to stop the first wave of layoffs -- involving 34 of the 56 troopers served notices -- from taking effect at midnight.

Though he didn't disclose specifics of the legal arguments the union would make, Matthews did say it would center on Section 29-4 of the Connecticut General Statutes, which says the state "shall appoint and maintain a minimum of 1,248 sworn state police personnel."

Connecticut currently has 1,120 troopers, and that total would fall to 1,086 Thursday after the layoffs begin and to 1,064 by the time all 56 layoffs take effect on Sept. 8.

"What's the point of having a statutory mandate ... if you're not going to abide by the law?" Matthews added.

"They have a right to pursue whatever legal action they want to pursue," said Malloy's senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso.

When asked about the union's legal argument that the 1,248 trooper-level is a mandate, Occhiogrosso said "I'm not a lawyer, but I know the state has no money."

The governor's chief adviser added that the overwhelming bulk of unionized state employees voted earlier this month to forfeit a 2.5 percent raise this fiscal year and any increase in 2012-13 to help eliminate the enormous budget deficit Malloy inherited when he took office in January. The concession deal that was ratified offered four years of protection against layoffs for bargaining units that accepted the wage freeze.

Occhiogrosso also disputed Matthews' charge of retaliation. "It's ridiculous even to suggest that," Occhiogrosso said, adding that layoffs in the state police force mean "there are gaps that have to be filled. There were six other sergeants that were transferred. It seems perfectly fair."

The union has noted repeatedly that as a gubernatorial candidate last fall, Malloy spoke strongly in support of the 1,248-trooper level despite knowing at the time that the next governor would inherit a deficit in excess of $3 billion.

A Malloy campaign position paper stated that "we must ...ensure that Connecticut meets and exceeds statutorily required State Police staffing levels."

Occhiogrosso said today that the governor's position has been consistent, and that 1,248 troopers on the job is "a goal" that Malloy supports.

The state police's chief administrator, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner Reuben Bradford, repeated the administration's position Wednesday that the layoffs would not affect public safety -- a stand the union disputes.

"This is something we do not want to do," Bradford said, adding that the administration had no other fiscal options other than layoffs to keep the department's adopted budget in balance.

Bradford did say he would be challenged to meet Malloy's directive Tuesday to all agency heads to curtail overtime, given the loss of 56 troopers. "We will have to backfill those positions," the commissioner said. "This process cannot avoid overtime."

Bradford said the layoffs would not affect the force's emergency response capabilities. Though the troopers removed from their jobs involve a new class of recruits headed for highway patrol, those assignments still will be filled by reassigning more experienced staff.

Those transfers will draw troopers from administrative, training, other specialized duties, and some investigative units, according to Col. Dan Stebbins. "Most of these are positions you don't normally see on the highways," he said.

But while they will reduce staffing in these areas, they will not force the closure of any of these units, Stebbins added.

They beat us to it!
Rhode Island's plan for tollbooth near Connecticut border comes as a surprise to Connecticut officials

By Kenton Robinson Day Staff Writer
Article published Aug 20, 2011

Stonington - Connecticut officials were angered and dismayed Friday by Rhode Island's proposal to place tollbooths on Interstate 95 at the Connecticut border.  And, in particular, they were upset that Rhode Island made the proposal at the end of June without informing them or the public.

"What is (Rhode Island Gov.) Lincoln Chafee thinking?" state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said Friday. "He has not called us. He has not communicated with us, and we share a downtown: Westerly and Pawcatuck."

"I didn't hear about it until it hit the papers yesterday," said Stonington First Selectman Edward Haberek Jr. "It really upsets me."

Asked for comment, the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was clearly caught flat-footed.

Colleen Flanagan, director of communications for the governor, asked for more information and then issued the statement: "The administration is reviewing the matter and will have more to say when the particulars of the plan are known - especially how it will work and how it will impact Connecticut residents."

Haberek wasted no time in acting on the news, firing off a letter to the Federal Highway Administration, asking the agency to deny Rhode Island's request, arguing that the tolls would have a negative financial impact on residents who "live, work in or commute through the area."

Haberek also objected to Rhode Island's proposing tolls only at the Connecticut border but not at the Massachusetts border. Urban saw the proposal as tailored to do the least amount of harm to Rhode Island residents who commute to work in Massachusetts, while hammering Connecticut residents as well as New York and New Jersey tourists bound for the Cape.

"First of all, where did they decide to put the tolls?" Urban said. "On the Rhode Island/Connecticut border, not the Rhode Island/Massachusetts border. It's enormously self-serving. They're trying to hit the New Yorkers, the people from New Jersey, doing the least amount of damage to their own state."

Both Haberek and Urban worried that the increasing congestion on I-95, especially in the summer months, coupled with tolls, could result in more traffic on secondary roads in the area.

"Sunday nights it's bumper to bumper all the way to New York," Haberek said, and he cited research that indicates tolls would increase congestion and pose a safety hazard on secondary roads.
In his letter, Haberek cited studies that show tolls increase traffic on alternate routes, and on Friday Urban agreed.

"Let's see, don't we have these things called GPS's now? That's going to tell you how to get around the toll, but what roads are we going to be going through? Very narrow, very poorly lit, my farms. Yes, I call them my farms. Cows get out all the time. But now I've got out-of-staters coming down farm roads at night," Urban said.

The Rhode Island proposal is outlined in an "expression of interest" that was submitted to the FHA June 29, saying funds generated by the tolls would be used for several major road projects in the state, in particular repairing the deteriorating Providence Viaduct and improving the Route 4/Route 95 interchange.  A 2008 study of the idea suggested that, given the volume of traffic, a $3 toll could raise in the vicinity of $42 million a year.  The state would like to erect the tolls between exits 1 and 2 in Hopkinton "as soon as possible," the proposal says. "Time is of the essence given the bridge conditions and inefficient operations of the current interchange."

If the FHA were to approve the proposal, it would have to be approved by the Rhode Island legislature. A letter of support attached to the proposal and signed by Chafee, state Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and House Speaker Gordon D. Fox indicates that legislative approval could be easily accomplished.

The state needs "to find alternative and sustainable means to fund Rhode Island's transportation infrastructure needs," they wrote, and tolling "could provide significant revenues."

More than 260,000 vehicles a day drive the 43 miles of I-95 that cross Rhode Island, according to the application.  Haberek said he holds out hope that the request would be denied, because Rhode Island wants to use the funds generated by the tolls to pay for infrastructure repairs, something that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has opposed in the past.

State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, co-chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee, said Friday that he thought Rhode Island would face a "high hurdle" in getting approval for the tolls because the FHA frowns on using toll revenue to repair roads.

State unions approve labor savings deal
Published 08/18/2011 12:00 AM
Updated 08/18/2011 01:45 PM

Hartford (AP) — Connecticut's state employee unions announced Thursday that rank-and-file members ratified a labor savings and concessions agreement, giving Gov. Dannel P. Malloy the go-ahead to rescind thousands of layoff notices and forgo additional state budget cuts.

Members of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition said 14 of 15 unions voted to approve the deal, which calls for changes to the workers' health and retirement benefits as well as wage-related concessions. The coalition sent a letter to Malloy asking him to immediately rescind the layoff notices.

"Today marks a victory for those who believe in the middle class," Kathy Fischer, the associate director of the University of Connecticut Women's Center, said at a news conference inside a packed Hartford union hall.

It marked the second attempt to approve a deal that Malloy has been counting on to generate $1.6 billion in savings and help balance the two-year, $40.1 billion state budget. The failure of a first vote by unionized workers in June was an embarrassment for the first-term Democrat, who has prided himself on being more pro-union than some Republican governors across the country.

Malloy said the deal showed what is possible when "management and labor work together in a respectful fashion."

"We have achieved something the skeptics said was unachievable: we've made the relationship between the state and its work force sustainable. And, unlike in most other states, we did it without going to war with public employees," Malloy said.

The failure of the first vote in June prompted Malloy to issue about 3,000 layoff notices and recommend deep spending cuts to the General Assembly to balance the budget.

While leaders of the union coalition decided to change their rules following the defeat in June — requiring at least eight of the 15 unions to approve changes to a coveted 20-year health and retirement benefits package, instead of 14 of 15 — leaders of the union locals said the agreement passed this time because a better job was done explaining the changes to their membership.

Lisa Marie Fontano, president of Local 387, which represents workers at the Cheshire state prison complex, said a clearer explanation about a new health care plan that requires workers to get age-appropriate medical tests, such as annual physicals, especially helped to get the deal passed. Many employees were concerned that the program was actually a proposed universal health care system known as SustiNet, but in disguise. Malloy then clarified that the health care plan had nothing to do with SustiNet, a concept that hasn't been approved by the General Assembly.

"What happened last time, the facts were just not given," Fontano said. "You have to make determinations on what's before you. If there's no consistency, you get what you ask for."

Fontano said this time Malloy and union coalition leaders kept their distance from the ratification process.

"It ultimately was about giving people the time to read it, understand it," she said.

Fifty-seven percent of members voted for the deal in June, but that was not enough for ratification under the union group's old rules. After the coalition voted to make it easier to ratify changes to the benefits package, Malloy sent his labor negotiator to meet with the union leaders and "clarify" parts of the tentative agreement that posed a problem with members, such as the health care changes. As leaders tried to sell the agreement again to members, Malloy continued to issue layoff notices.

He had originally called for more than 6,500 job cuts, a figure that included layoffs, retirements and the elimination of unfilled jobs, if union members did not ratify the agreement. Some workers have already lost their jobs, and a large number who've received notices were expected to lose theirs on Aug. 22. As of last week, about 3,000 workers, mostly rank-and-file employees, had received pink slips. There are about 45,000 unionized state workers and a total of more than 50,000 employees.

Malloy is expected to rescind most of the additional budget cuts he proposed to the General Assembly, such as closures of Department of Motor Vehicles offices and cutbacks in programs for the disabled, children and the elderly. The Judicial Branch also proposed deep cuts, including closures of courthouses.

The deal includes a two-year wage freeze, followed by 3 percent pay raises and changes to health and retirement benefits in return for a four-year, no-layoff promise. As part of the wage freeze, workers will give up raises of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent that took effect last month after the first deal wasn't ratified. Besides providing savings in the current two-year budget, the agreement also is supposed to provide future savings from changes such as the retirement age for some workers, increased employee contributions for retiree health care, and mandatory mail order for prescription maintenance drugs.

Group will study effectiveness of ECS, submit initial recommendations before start of next legislative session

(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced the members of a newly-formed task force that will review the effectiveness of the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant and how it relates to state constitutional requirements.  The group, whose membership was appointed by Governor Malloy and legislative leaders, will develop recommendations on possible ways to change how money is divided up by school district.

“It is our responsibility to routinely review the distribution of education grants to municipalities to ensure that communities are receiving a fair share of dollars under grant distribution rules, especially in light of constitutional requirements.  Unfortunately, it has been quite a while since the state last had a thorough review of this system,” Governor Malloy said.  “We must ensure this formula focuses on improving educational outcomes for all of our students, regardless in which city or town they live.”

The Governor continued, “As I’ve said before, much more needs to be done to improve the education our children are receiving in this state, and I intend on focusing the 2012 legislative session on education issues, concerns and ways in which we can better prepare our students for a global economy.”

In addition to focusing on the ECS formula, the group will also consider state grants to interdistrict magnet schools and regional agricultural science and technology centers as well as special education costs for the state and municipalities.  Under state statute, the group is required to submit an initial report on its findings and recommendations by January 2, 2012 and its final report by October 1, 2012.

Membership of the Task Force to Study State Funding for Education in the Context of State Constitutional Requirements:

    Governor’s selection: Chair – Benjamin Barnes – Secretary, Office of Policy and Management
    Governor’s selection: Dudley Williams – Director of District Education Strategy, GE Asset Management, former Assistant to the Commissioner, Department of Education
    Governor’s selection: Portia Bonner, Ph.D. – Educational Consultant, Wolcott Public Schools, former Superintendent of Schools, City of New Bedford, Massachusetts
    Governor’s selection: Theodore Sergi, Ph.D. – Former Commissioner, Department of Education
    Governor’s selection: Dr. Elsa Núñez – President, Eastern Connecticut State University
    Governor’s selection: Len Miller – Certified Public Accountant, Co-founder of the Fairfield County Collaborative Alliance, Treasurer of Kids in Crisis, former Chair of Stamford Achieves
    President Pro Tempore’s selection: Senator Andrea Stillman – Co-Chair, Education Committee
    Senate Majority Leader’s selection: Senator Toni Harp – Co-Chair, Appropriations Committee
    House Speaker’s selection: Mark Benigni – Superintendent of Schools, City of Meriden
    House Majority Leader’s selection: Mary Loftus-Levine – Executive Director, Connecticut Education Association
    Senate Minority Leader’s selection: William Davenport – Agriscience teacher, Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury, Director of the Ellis Clark Regional Agriscience & Technology Program
    House Minority Leader’s selection: Representative Michael Molgano – Member, Education and Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committees

Connecticut River ferry workers get two-week reprieve
By Jenna Cho Day Staff Writer
Article published Aug 5, 2011

New Britain - Crew members of the two Connecticut River ferries planned for closure were notified Thursday afternoon that their layoffs, originally set for Aug. 25, would be pushed back two weeks.

The notification, which came hours after a Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking to keep the ferries running, means the ferries will likely continue to operate through at least the end of the month.

The eight crew members will receive new layoff notices effective Sept. 8, said Tom Darcy, a captain of the Chester-Hadlyme ferry.
Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, confirmed the new date.

"I'm happy to be working another couple of weeks, I guess," Darcy said. But uncertainties surrounding his and his wife's jobs - both work on the Chester-Hadlyme ferry - remain, and no one at the DOT will give them a straight answer about the future of the ferries, he said.

The eight positions on the Chester-Hadlyme and Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferries are part of the thousands of positions Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is eliminating to fill a $1.6 billion hole in the state budget. Though a pending vote on union concessions could revoke the layoffs, ferry employees have been working under the assumption that they will lose their jobs later this month.

The DOT will run a notice in various newspapers today that says members of the public have until Sept. 5 to submit comments about the DOT's plan to close the ferries. The state said it would likely extend the layoff date while it gave the public time to comment on the issue.

The public notice is required under state law for any changes the state plans to make on scenic roads. It was a step the DOT had not yet taken when the town of Lyme took it to court, and one Lyme took issue with in its July 22 lawsuit.

Earlier Thursday, New Britain Superior Court Judge Henry S. Cohn dismissed Lyme's attempt to legally stop both the layoffs and planned termination of ferry service. The lawsuit named DOT Acting Commissioner James P. Redeker and Comptroller Kevin Lembo as defendants.

Cohn said the lawsuit was pre-emptive in that it requested a stay on a "final decision" that had not yet been made.

In the hour-long hearing, Lyme Town Attorney Ken McKeever argued that the town had no option but to file the lawsuit when it did because "the whole thing is happening in reverse," with the public comment period just beginning now and no guarantee that the ferries wouldn't be taken off-line in the meantime.

But Jane Rosenberg, of the attorney general's office, said the lawsuit had no merit because the ferries are, today, still on the river and running.

"We don't have any definitive decision to close anything," Rosenberg said. "There's nothing to enjoin yet."

Rocky Hill Town Manager Barbara R. Gilbert and attorney Morris Borea were in court to petition for intervener status, but Cohn recommended that they file their own suit if they hoped to prevail.

"I'm disappointed," Lyme First Selectman Ralph Eno said of Cohn's decision. "And I think, as we anticipated, from our point of view, I don't think the case was decided on merits."

What Eno called "arcane case law" on sovereign immunity, which generally shields governments from being sued, gave the state an easy out and let it "skirt the issue," he said. Eno said he and McKeever would review the case and may return to court with a new argument to keep the ferries running.

Humphrey Tyler, a Hadlyme resident who is leading the public "Save the Ferries" movement, said the judge's decision did not address any of the uncertainties surrounding the fate of the ferries. Tyler said his group would continue to encourage passengers and neighboring residents to call the governor's office in support of keeping the ferries operating.

Judge rejects effort to halt Conn. ferry closing
Aug 4, 3:12 PM EDT

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) -- A Connecticut Superior Court judge has dismissed a legal effort to block Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's plan to shut two ferries that cross the Connecticut River.

Ralph F. Eno (EE'-no) Jr., the first selectman of Lyme, had gone to court to block the planned closing of the Chester-Hadlyme and Rocky Hill-Glastonbury ferries.

New Britain Superior Court Judge Henry J. Cohn sided with the state and dismissed Lyme's request.

Jane R. Rosenberg, an assistant attorney general who represented state officials, said the decision to close the ferries is not a final decision over which the court has jurisdiction. She also said Lyme officials do not have standing in the matter.

Ending the ferries is among numerous budget-cutting proposals by Malloy.

The Rocky Hill Ferry has linked Rocky Hill and Glastonbury since 1655.

DMV delays branch closings, layoffs, until after concession revote
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
August 4, 2011

The state Department of Motor Vehicles will delay planned closings of branch offices and other facilities in eight communities - and layoffs of department workers -- until Aug 19 and 20 to await the results of a union concession vote that could make them unnecessary, according to a department statement released this afternoon.

The announcement marked the second time in two days the administration pulled back on a painful budget cut just before implementation. Fall sports for more than 1,500 students at the state's vocational-technical high schools were spared Wednesday.

"While we await the outcome of the unions second vote, we have determined that closing and reopening will cost the state money that should be saved. So, we are delaying both of these actions for a few weeks," DMV Commissioner Melody A. Currey wrote. It would cost the state an estimated $500,000 to close and potentially then reopen the facilities, the department estimated, citing costs tied to facility relocation, leasing, unused vacation and sick time pay-outs to laid-off employees, and unemployment compensation obligations.

The department had planned to close branch offices in Danbury, Enfield, New Britain and Old Saybrook, a satellite office in Putnam, and photo licensing centers in Derby, Middletown and Milford as of Aug. 11. Those closings, along with elimination of 191 jobs, were part of a department effort to meet Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's directive to save about $22.3 million in total over this fiscal year and next.

The administration submitted one of the largest budget-cutting plans in recent history to the legislature on July 15 to replace the $1.6 billion in savings it originally planned to achieve over two fiscal years through a concession package.

The State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition rejected an initial concession deal in June that included a two-year wage freeze, an employee wellness program, and new restrictions on pension and other retirement benefits. The deal also called for raises of 3 percent annually for the three years following the wage freeze, extended the state's health care retirement benefits program through 2022, and guaranteed job security for the next four years for workers who accept the wage freeze.

Union leaders voted last month to revise SEBAC bylaws to make it easier to adopt a concession package and reach an understanding with Malloy on July 22 to hold a second vote. That vote is expected to be completed by mid-August.

"At the time of announcing the closings, we did not know if a second vote would occur," Currey added. "Now that it is actually underway, we think it is prudent to put on hold these actions until the outcome of that vote is better known."

The closings and layoffs of workers in those branch and other secondary DMV facilities offices have been delayed until Saturday, Aug. 20. Layoffs planned for some workers in the DMV's main office in Wethersfield have been delayed until Friday, Aug. 19, the last day of that facility's work week.

After announcing that sports at the vo-tech schools had been saved, Acting Education Commissioner George Coleman said the move would require the State Department of Education to identify budget cuts elsewhere.

"Governor Malloy and the Office of Policy and Management have worked with [the SDE] to finance the fall sports program at vocation-technical schools across the state," Coleman wrote in an email statement.

State Prosecutor Takes On SEBAC
by Hugh McQuaid | Jul 28, 2011 5:58pm

The State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy have coerced and demonized dissenting union members, according to a labor complaint filed by an assistant state’s attorney from Manchester Superior Court.

The complaint was filed with the state Labor Relation Board by Lisa Herskowitz, a state prosecutor of 17 years. She lodges a number of allegations at the governor and SEBAC, claiming the coalition violated its own bylaws and overstepped its negotiating authority.

SEBAC had no authority to negotiate wage concessions for the labor agreement that it “forced union members to vote on in June,” Herskowitz wrote. She complained that her union, which approved the agreement by a slim majority, was not even given the option of voting on the wage package separately.

She said this underscored the “the fact that our wages were negotiated by SEBAC and not separately by our own union as required.”

The coalition violated its own bylaws by even reopening the standing pension and healthcare agreement and opening the 2009 wage agreement without letting members vote to on whether they should be opened, according to the complaint.

Once the agreement was opened, Herskowitz alleged SEBAC carried out the negotiations with the Malloy administration in secret without taking any input from the rank and file.

“SEBAC basically said ‘here it is, take It or leave it, and if you leave it, there will be layoffs and the state will be economically devastated.’ This was highly coercive,” she wrote.

She also implicated the Division of Criminal Justice and Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, who she said tried to squash any negative commentary over the agreement. After an employee used a state email account to communicate concerns about changes to the state employee healthcare package, Kane issued a memo instructing employees not to use their work emails for that purpose, she said.

And yet Kane allows employees to regularly email each other about discounts at BJ Wholesale Club, she wrote.

“Attorney Kane’s action in closing down the only practical avenue we had for communicating with other members as a group was totally unfair. His memo coerced us into silence to prevent negative communication on the agreement,” Herskowitz said in the complaint.

Soon after Kane’s memo Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman used her state email account to suppress rumors that the healthcare package was somehow connected to SustiNet. Kane did not comment on the appropriateness of Wyman’s email, she said.

Herskowitz’s complaint said Malloy bullied and coerced union members to vote yes. He repeatedly threatened layoffs and increased the number of projected layoffs from 4,500 to 7,500 in an attempt to scare union members into voting yes, she said.

“This was extremely coercive,” she wrote. “He and the union leaders had already made it clear many times that if the agreement was rejected, there would be layoffs. The governor’s repeated threats were not intended to furnish information; they were intended to coerce people into voting ‘yes.’”

Before union members began voting on the deal, Malloy said he would hold off on issuing layoff notices as an act of good faith. But Herskowitz claimed that that decision was likely made so people who were safe from the layoffs wouldn’t know it.

Malloy was coercive also when he showed up at a training session for state’s attorneys and talked about his days as a prosecutor, just minutes before the group was scheduled to vote on the agreement at Kane’s office only four miles down the road, she wrote.

“Many members were extremely upset by this unfair, coercive move on the part of the management and the governor. The agreement only passed my union by seven votes. This unfair labor practice may well have affected the result,” she wrote.

On Wednesday Herskowitz amended her complaint to include what she said were additional wrongdoings that occurred since she first filed it.

To add to the pressure on state workers, the Senate passed a Malloy-backed bill that changes worker pension calculations and their collective bargaining rights, she wrote.

Though the bill was never raised in the House, that move flies in the face of a 1986 decision by the Labor Relations Board which stated that “threats and attempts ... to seek legislative changes in conditions of employment that are mandatory subjects of bargaining are not favored,” she wrote.

The board found the state had engaged in no wrongdoing in the 1986 case, but Herskowitz said that things are different this year because Malloy is refusing to negotiate in good faith with the unions. He would not even sit back down at the table unless the unions changed their bylaws to make passing an agreement easier and then refused to consider anything but a clarified version of the old agreement, she said.

“Talk about pressure and coercion!” she wrote.

Union leaders did vote to change the ratification bylaws on July 18, so that a simple majority can now pass an agreement rather than the old requirement that 14 of the 15 unions and 80 percent of voting members approve.

Herskowitz said that decision has had a negative impact on her small union, the Connecticut Association of Prosecutors, a group that is also a respondent in the complaint.

“My union no longer has a meaningful voice in a sea of 45,000 plus state employee union members,” she wrote.

She said the president of the union, John Doyle, never asked for any input from the rank and file before voting to change the bylaws, a decision she said rendered the union “powerless and helpless.” She said she tried to bring the concerns to the union’s vice president but never got a response.

She also took exception to SEBAC’s decision to suspend a requirement that it notify the rank and file 30 days before a vote to change its bylaws is taken.

“Waiving it violated the duty of fair representation. I believe the members should have been allowed to vote on the bylaws change. At the very least, they should have been given adequate notice and an opportunity to protest it,” she wrote.

In casting an affirmative vote on the original agreement, her union also violated its own bylaws, which require a two-thirds majority vote on any membership action, she said. Her union’s vote was 114 “yes” to 107 “no,” nowhere near two-thirds, she said.

Herskowitz concluded her amended complaint by condemning SEBAC, CAP and all union leaders, saying that their abuses have been so flagrant that they should all be decertified. She appealed to the Labor Relations Board to act quickly, as those abuses will continue until the governor and SEBAC get what they want.

“They keep trying to shove this agreement down our throats. They act like the members did something wrong in rejecting it and they have to save us from ourselves. They have made us look bad to the public by touting something that we rejected as a ‘great deal.’ The leaders are not representing us at all, just themselves and they are bringing their scorn and wrath down upon us,” she wrote.

The board has scheduled a closed conference on the complaint for Aug. 3, according to Nancy Steffens, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor. But based on an interview Herskowitz did with WTIC on Thursday it sounds like state employees supportive of her complaint will hold a rally outside the Board of Labor Relations in Wethersfield to show their solidarity for it.

That conference could result in a settlement, a dismissal of the complaint, or a determination that the issue has merit. If the complaint is deemed to have merit it will be assigned a case number and eventually heard before a three-person board, Steffens said.

Prosecutor Challenges SEBAC Actions
Hartford Courant
Associated Press
10:27 AM EDT, July 29, 2011

HARTFORD — A state prosecutor has filed a complaint against a coalition of state employee unions, arguing that the group violated its own rules regarding a tentative savings and concessions deal with the Malloy administration.

The State Board of Labor Relations is scheduled to meet Aug. 3 for a closed-door meeting on the complaint, filed by Lisa Herskowitz, a senior assistant state's attorney in Manchester.

She says the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, an umbrella group representing 15 state employee unions, violating its own rules by bargaining with the Malloy administration about wages, according to a copy of the complaint.

SEBAC was created to negotiate on behalf of the 15 unions issues concerning health and retirement benefits.

"SEBAC had no authority to do this," she wrote in her complaint. "Had my union voted `no' to the agreement and all the other unions voted `yes,' my union's wage contract would have been reopened and voided. This is unfair."

Herskowitz also accused SEBAC of violating its own rules by reopening the pension and health care agreement that is in effect until 2017, reopening her union's wage agreement that is in effect until 2012, and carrying out negotiations in secret without input from union members. She also raised concerns about how information about the agreement was shared with members and how Malloy repeatedly threatened layoffs while the voting was taking place.

"He and the union leaders had already made it clear many times that if the agreement was rejected, there would be layoffs," she wrote. "The governor's repeated threats were not intended to furnish information; they were intended to coerce people into voting `yes."'

Matt O'Connor, a SEBAC spokesman, said the union leaders "have every confidence that union leadership has acted properly, legally, and in the best interests of their members and the public they serve."

In a message to members, SEBAC said at least nine of the 15 unions have decided to hold another vote on the clarified tentative agreement. Some of the remaining unions may have their leaders determine whether to ratify the deal while others have not yet decided their ratification process. Under the new rules, at least eight out of the 15 unions must agree to ratify the deal.

Labor complaint filed over Connecticut union deal
Associated Press
Article published Jul 27, 2011

Hartford (AP) — A senior assistant state's attorney has filed a complaint with the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations, claiming collective bargaining laws were violated when union officials negotiated a tentative labor savings and concessions agreement with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration.

The board has scheduled a closed-door, conference for Aug. 3.

In her complaint, Lisa Herskowitz, who works in Manchester, said the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition should not have bargained with the state on wage-related changes. SEBAC was created to negotiate health and pension matters.

A SEBAC spokesman says the coalition is confident union leaders "acted properly, legally and in the best interests of their members and the public they serve"

On Wednesday, Malloy's administration said 3,008 employees have received layoff notices because a deal has not yet been ratified.

SEBAC Voting At Height Of August Vacation Season; Casting Ballots On Revised Deal Over Next Three Weeks
Hartford Courant
By Christopher Keating  on July 26, 2011 4:36 PM

The state employee unions will be voting at essentially the height of the summer vacation season over the next three week on the revised concessions deal with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy - prompting concerns about a low voter turnout.

With some state employees take long-planned vacations on Cape Cod, Block Island, and points beyond, officials are questioning how a low turnout could affect the outcome of the vote.

Malloy said the question of voting should be directed to the unions, which control the process.

"If they're concerned, they should get back and vote - if they're on the Cape,'' Malloy told reporters Tuesday at the state Capitol. "That's an issue where we, as management, don't have a say. That is between the bargaining agent and their members.''

He added, "I think they've got to do a better job in communicating with their members what this agreement is and what this agreement is not. What this agreement is is a road forward that puts the state on a sustainable basis in a relationship with its employees. It gets us by the current, short-term crisis, and it goes a very long way to getting us by the current long-term crisis. Are sacrifices required to do that? The answer is yes.''

He added, "Clearly, if the unions want this to be passed, they need to do a better job in answering the questions of their membership.''

"I'm a Democrat. I prefer people to vote,'' Malloy said.

The unions will be voting on a savings-and-concession deal that guarantees four years of no layoffs, which the unions tout as "the most substantial layoff protection language for a state's workforce anywhere in the country.''

Malloy and his budget team say the union deal will save $1.6 billion over two years, but Republican legislators charge that at least $600 million of that total represents illusory savings that will never be achieved in a smoke-and-mirrors deal.

Two union spokesmen could not immediately be reached for comment.

If the unions reject the deal, Malloy says he will move ahead with deep budget cuts that will include more than 4,000 layoffs and the closure of motor vehicles branches, welfare offices, courthouses, two historic ferries, and a juvenile jail in New Haven.

Town officials in Lyme have already filed court papers to seek an injunction to block the closure of the historic Hadlyme to Chester ferry, as well as the Rocky Hill to Glastonbury ferry. The heavily subsidized ferries cost only $3 per vehicle and $1 for bicyclists and pedestrians for a ride across the river, and the state loses money on the seasonal ferries. But the losses are less than $500,000 per year in a $20 billion annual state budget. The loss for the Hadlyme ferry in the just-completed fiscal year was about $284,000, while the Rocky Hill ferry lost $204,000, according to the state transportation department.

Malloy said that he essentially has no role in deciding when or where the unions will vote. As such, he said he was not opposed to the three-week voting period.

"I don't have an option,'' Malloy said. "I don't play a role in that.''

"There's no way that we can afford our current relationship,'' Malloy said. "The labor agreement is a long-term fix. The current layoffs are a short-term fix.''

The vote on the original SEBAC deal was 21,415 in favor and 15,988 against, but the deal failed because the bylaws called for an affirmative vote from 14 out of the 15 unions - with those 14 unions representing 80 percent of the membership.

Malloy, unions reach new deal
State layoffs could be averted pending final ratification
By JC Reindl Day Staff Writer
Article published Jul 23, 2011

Hartford - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced late Friday night that his administration had reached a second concessions agreement with state union leaders that is nearly identical to the one that union workers voted down last month.

The new deal with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, worth a projected $1.6 billion in savings to state government over two years and $21.5 billion over 20 years, must be ratified by the rank-and-file and in place before an Aug. 31 deadline set by the state legislature.  The deal was announced shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, or about 30 minutes after leaders of the 15 state unions began filing out of a union hall in Hartford.

"I said all along that I was only willing to clarify terms from the last agreement, and that's what we've done," Malloy said in a statement. "I hope state employees ratify this agreement, but I am assuming nothing. If they ratify it, the vast majority of layoffs and painful spending cuts can be undone.

"If this agreement fails, then we'll unfortunately have to continue to lay people off and implement the spending cuts."

The governor and union representatives said the few changes to the agreement include "clarified" language on health care benefits aimed at dispelling false rumors that workers would be placed into the "SustiNet" program.  The agreement calls for a two-year wage freeze followed by three years of subsequent 3 percent increases. It also guarantees no layoffs for four years.

The agreement would rescind the governor's plan to eliminate 6,560 state positions - about 4,300 actual layoffs - and would also allow the state to roll back contractual raises that kicked in July 1.  To pay the state back, the raises set to happen in 2013 will be delayed for as long as a worker received his or her July 1 raise.

The agreement modifies and extends by five years a 20-year employee benefits agreement made by former Gov. John Rowland. The agreement now expires in 2022 rather than 2017.
Unions spokesman Eric Bailey said the new agreement will save jobs, protect benefits and preserve services.

"The united effort of union leaders has produced an agreement that is not just fair for the members they represent, it's also good for the people they serve and will restore vital public services cut in the governor's alternative budget plan," Bailey said.

He said the ratification process should get under way soon.

"They want to get it done as soon as possible, but nobody's set a deadline," Bailey said.

Negotiations for a new labor agreement restarted this week after SEBAC loosened its voting requirements for contract changes. The coalition of 15 state unions represents 45,000 workers.

The coalition's previous deal with the governor was voted down last month under its old rules, which mandated approval by 80 percent of the rank-and-file. The deal instead got 57 percent of the ratification vote.
Under the new rules, a majority of members' votes is generally sufficient.

Until the new deal was reached, Malloy had said he would continue enacting his Plan B to cut 6,560 state positions with budget cuts totaling $1.6 billion over two years. At least 1,850 employees had been issued notices by mid-week.

Plan B called for raising commuter train fares and shuttering DMV branches, courthouses, Connecticut River ferry service and highway restrooms across the state, among numerous other cost reductions.

Earlier Friday, the town of Lyme filed a lawsuit in New Britain Superior Court in an effort to stop the state from shutting down the ferries.

Union Web Site Reports That "SEBAC Changes By-Laws'' And Seeks Deal With Malloy To Avoid Layoffs, Job Eliminations, Closure Of Courthouses And Two Ferries; Malloy Pleased, Dispatches Ojakian To Speak With Unions

Hartford Courant
By Christopher Keating  on July 18, 2011 4:31 PM

State employee union leaders voted Monday to change their by-laws in a last-ditch effort to save the jobs of their members, according to a union web site.

The leaders had been meeting throughout the morning to consider whether to change their by-laws in order to allow a new vote on a revised deal between the Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the unions. If the unions agree to the new deal, the deep budget cuts proposed by Malloy would be largely avoided.

"It's good news that the unions have changed their ratification process to one that respects the will of the majority,'' Malloy said in a statement Monday. "Over the next few days, Mark Ojakian will be speaking with SEBAC leaders to understand which issues in the agreement need to be clarified.  Given the limited number of issues that have been identified as problematic, it shouldn't take more than a couple of days to have a clarified agreement that's ready to be voted on by all state employees.''

In a drastic change from the earlier by-laws, now only 8 out of the 15 unions - representing 50 percent of the overall membership - need to vote in favor of changes in healthcare and pension benefits. Previously, 14 out of the 15 unions - representing 80 percent of the membership - need to vote for changes.

The bar was so high that it would be difficult for Dwight Stones to clear.

The unions still have some unanswered questions in a long and winding road that has led to a still-unsettled budget limbo in the hot days of mid-July.

It is still unclear when a re-vote would take place and how long the votes would stretch out. The previous round of voting lasted two weeks, and some union members complained that the vote was tainted because some state employees spoke out against the deal even before their fellow state employees had the chance to vote.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to the deal was widespread reports on the Internet that the state employees healthcare plan would be merged into the state's SustiNet healthcare plan. Despite repeated denials by the Malloy administration and union leaders, the reports continued to circulate - and some state employees said they did not believe their union leaders. As such, they said that their "no'' votes were correct.

The next step would be for thousands of union members to cast their votes again on a clarified deal with Malloy. In the first round, 57 of those voting approved a four-year, no-layoff deal with Malloy that some legislators said would have been an absolute slam dunk in the private sector, where workers have faced pay cuts, pension freezes and layoffs in recent years.

But the complicated union rules required 14 of the 15 SEBAC unions - representing 80 percent of the overall membership - to approve changes in pension and healthcare benefits. The reason was that the unions purposely wanted to set a high bar for making any changes in hard-fought benefits and not make it easy to change important benefits in the lives of the union members.

As word started to spread at the state Capitol that a deal had been reached, the Administrative and Residual Union web site reported that the changes had been made on Monday morning.

As of 11:30 a.m.  Monday - at about the time that the SEBAC decision to change the bylaws was apparently being made in secret - union spokesman Matt O'Connor was telling reporters outside the Capitol that it wasn't definite that any decision would come by Monday night, or even in "the near future."

O'Connor said he was "not sure if that will be today, or in if in fact that's going to be at any point in the near future." When he was asked about the widespread reports that there would indeed be a decision on the bylaws change Monday, he said, "I know that that's on the table as a topic of discussion," but there would "not necessarily" be a decision Monday. Within 90 minutes of his saying that, the word was out: the decision was made.

There had clearly been confusion about the deal as O'Connor had said it was flat-out uncertain what would happen during the day.

The two top Senate Democratic leaders - Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams and Majority Leader Marty Looney - said that residents had been waiting for some good news amid talks of layoffs.

"Union leaders should be commended for working together to change their bylaws and helping to facilitate the potential for a successful vote by union members,'' they said. "Approval of the concession package is critical for Connecticut's fragile economy. We urge union leaders to quickly get clarification on any needed items, call for another vote and for all union members to vote yes. This is Connecticut's last - and best - chance to resolve its fiscal crisis without undermining its recovery."

House Speaker Christopher Donovan said, "I thank the SEBAC leadership for voting today to change its bylaws in a way that respects the opinion of a majority of state employees. This is the responsible course of action, as we look to avoid the terrible cuts and layoffs that would do so much harm to our state."

Without a deal, Malloy's proposed cuts would be among the largest in state history and would involve closing courthouses, welfare offices, motor vehicles branches, law libraries, a juvenile jail, and beds for patients undergoing detoxification. The plan also calls for increasing fares on the Metro-North Commuter Railroad by 15 percent and eliminating two seasonal ferries across the Connecticut River. The ferries, which are highly popular during the summer season, have been constantly in the news since Malloy proposed their elimination.

Some of the largest cuts would be rendered on the border town of Enfield, where three key employers - the courthouse, a major prison, and the Department of Motor Vehicles office - are all slated to close.

Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican, has complained that his hometown will be particularly hard hit with the planned closure of the courthouse, a major prison and the state Department of Motor Vehicles office. But Malloy's senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, says that Enfield is not being targeted.

The cuts have been proposed by Malloy to fill a budget gap of $1.6 billion over two years that would have been filled by a savings-and-concessions package with the state employees unions. The unions, however, rejected the deal that would have provided a four-year, no-layoff provision in exchange for two years of wage freezes and changes in healthcare and pension benefits. Some state employees resented the fact that they would be required to go to the doctor each year in order to avoid extra insurance premiums.

Malloy's 108-page package includes a wide variety of cuts, including eliminating the Shoreline East train service from Old Saybrook to New Haven on weekends, starting in November. That service, which had started in July 2008, covers 32 weekend trains - and the cut would save more than $4 million in the second year of the two-year budget.

The proposal would close the buildings at seven rest areas on interstate highways, although motorists could still pull off the road to rest or walk the family dog. The restrooms will be closed, and there are no plans to install portable toilets at the heavily used rest areas, including two in Willington along Interstate 84 that receive heavy truck traffic and increased use in the summer months by families heading east to Cape Cod.

Malloy's budget would also reduce the subsidy for buses by $4 million, which means reducing 40 buses and the 50 employees who work on them. Malloy will also reduce the frequency of inspections for new bridges, which would push the inspections on low-risk bridges to every four years, rather than every two years.

The package also reduces overtime at the DOT, along with saving $100,000 per year by reducing the number of state-owned cars that can be garaged at employees' homes.

Separately, the judicial branch - which has autonomy as a separate branch of government - released a plan Friday that would close four courthouses, including Enfield, and six law libraries across the state. It would also close a juvenile jail in New Haven and a juvenile court in Danbury.

In an interview with FOX CT's Jennifer Bernstein on Monday, SEBAC spokesman Matt O'Connor said that Malloy's proposed cuts on Friday were simply too deep.

"Frankly, it's an alternative that none of us can accept,'' O'Connor said. "It would change Connecticut as we know it, this would not be the state that we all love and live in and raise our families in if it were allowed to go forward."

"There's no question that something must be done to avert this unacceptable alternative."

When asked if the by-laws would be changed, O'Connor said, "At this point, leaders are looking at a range of options.  What leaders did resolve to do three weeks ago after the ratification process wrapped up was look at internal structures and so that's part of the discussion.  They've been meeting with members of their unions hearing from those who voted yes in the agreement, and the majority of state workers did vote yes, we've been hearing from those that voted no, whose vote by the way ended up standing because of the bylaws.  So right now leaders are weighing a variety of options all of which is informed by the members of the unions they represent."

He had said the general mood was both 'hopeful' and cautious.

"I think leaders are hopeful that they can and will develop plans to get us on a path forward.  They are confident that we have to do that because the alternatives are unacceptable."

He said they were cautious because they were operating under a compressed amount of time.

"There's no question that we've got an enormous amount of pressure on not just the leaders but more so on the individual union members especially those that received layoff notices."

"It's a big early to say what comes next.  We have to have a plan, we know what the outcome won't look like.  We won't be sitting back and accepting the layoffs and job cuts and permanent changes to negotiating rights. What we will actually do, once a plan is put in place, will all be dependant on what that plan looks like."

New Haven has a towaway policy, too (if you leave your can and get more than one ticket...
The governor and the parking ticket
Hartford Courant
By Daniela Altimari  on July 29, 2011 10:43 AM

What was one of the first topics Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was asked at his press availability this morning? The federal debt ceiling talks? The possibility of thousands of state layoffs?

Nope. Malloy was asked about the parking ticket his official state car received yesterday in New Haven. The $30 ticket, first reported this morning by Melissa Bailey of the New Haven Independent, was placed on the governor's official car after his driver parking in a no-parking zone near the Green.

Malloy was asked what he planned to do about the ticket. He said he's already paid it -- and he paid it out of his own pocket.

"What did you think when you got that ticket?" Malloy was asked.

"I dunno,'' he shrugged. "Got it a ticket and paid it."

Malloy indicated that he has had a little talk with the state trooper who drives the car.

State Heads Toward Layoffs, Shutdowns Neither Side Wants
Governor, Unions Don't Want To Make Jobless Rate Worse

The Hartford Courant
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, ckeating@courant.com
July 17, 2011

With 6,500 jobs and numerous state services on the line, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state employee unions remained entangled last week in a high-stakes standoff as they struggled toward a single goal: avert layoffs at a time when Connecticut's unemployment rate is already at 9.1 percent.

A governor in the middle of a statewide "jobs tour" and union leaders desperate to save union jobs are both hoping to slip out of the noose in a way that would make Houdini proud.

Malloy increased the pressure on the unions day by day, launching layoff notices, then announcing the closure of motor vehicles branches, welfare offices, and other state services — cutbacks that could well prove politically unpalatable with legislators and the general public.

Amid the governor's gloomy missives, however, some insiders still did not believe that the layoffs would ever take place. They are calculating that the unions have a rescue plan that would allow them to ratify a concessions agreement that would fill the $1.6 billion hole in the state budget for the next two years, and negate the need for deep cuts and layoffs.

On Monday, top union leaders will meet to consider changing their bylaws in a way that would make it easier to approve an updated savings-and-concession deal with Malloy. By making a slight change in the agreement that has already been crafted, the rank-and-file could vote again and potentially need only a simple majority to pass the changes.

In the first union deal, 57 percent of those voting approved the agreement, but that was not enough under the complicated union rules. Those rules state that workers in 14 of the 15 unions — representing 80 percent of the overall membership — must approve any changes in health care and pension benefits.

No Single Voice

Negotiations are often straightforward discussions between two sides, but the multi-headed union coalition involves 15 unions with 34 bargaining units and 45,000 employees who do not agree with each other on all issues.

Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy's senior adviser, said he has given up trying to predict what the unions will do and the chances of the layoffs' being rescinded.

"That's up to them,'' Occhiogrosso said. "It's not something that the governor is counting on having happen. If it happens, then we will revisit it at that point. But at this point, this is the budget that we have. … I think we have to wait and see what happens on Monday.''

Matt O'Connor, a spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, declined to provide details on exactly what the union