Saturday, December 29, 2007

More reason for my idea on Auditors' hearings.

Today's Hartford Courant had an article about wasteful spending in the Department of Children and Families. It is very good that this article brought public attention to these problems. And I would note something also very important - the article was based on an audit report by the State Auditors of Public Accounts.

As I have noted before, the Auditors are a very effective and time-tested state agency for rooting out waste, inefficiency and noncompliance with the law on the part of state departments. I think that the legislature should take better advantage of what this agency does. As I said back in October: idea is that, whenever the Auditors issue one of their regular reports on a state agency, the legislative committee responsible for that agency should hold a public hearing on the report. This will give Mr. Jaekle and Mr. Johnston the ability to present the major points their staff have discovered and recommended. And, it will allow legislators to ask questions of both the Auditors and, of course, of the heads of the agencies being reviewed, to gain an even better understanding of what is happening, and not happening, in state government - and what can be done to make things run better. This knowledge, in turn, could then be used by legislators in crafting better legislation for the state and in the annual state budget process.
Legislators cannot personally monitor state departments. We can visit them from time to time but, for the most part, what we know about how efficient they are and whether they are following the decisions of the legislature is in hearings at the State Capitol. And most of the time, the main ones we hear from are the top administrators in the departments, themselves. And these administrators will typically paint a rosy picture of how they are doing at running their respective departments.

Legislators and, as we see from the Courant article today, the public can only get a true picture of how things are going in state departments if we have an independent review. That is what the Auditors of Public Accounts do - and they do it well.

The legislature would find itself in a much better position to do our job if we, as I have suggested, hold regular hearings on the Auditor's findings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

I have not had the chance to post anything recently, largely because of the holiday season. So, I just wanted to wish everyone well.

I hope that everyone's holiday season has been a pleasant and restful time with family and friends.

And best wishes to everyone in this last week of 2007!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hearing on Appealate Court and Workers' Compensation Commission nominees.

The Judiciary Committee held a hearing and meeting on interim nominations by the Governor to the State Appellate Court and the Workers' Compensation Commission.

An interim appointment is a temporary appointment made between regular sessions of the General Assembly. All three of today's nominees are being appointed only until the sixth Wednesday of the next regular session of the legislature - which is March 12, 2008. The Governor can do this with the approval of the legislature's Judiciary Committee in order to allow for the jobs to be filled until the full legislature has time to review the nominations.

I decided to vote for all three interim appointments. The votes are presently being "held open", meaning that Committee members will be allowed to cast their votes on the motion to confirm the nominees until 5pm today. That is when it will have been decided. But, at the formal meeting, all of the legislators present supported all three nominees.

It looks like Attorney Jodi Murray Gregg of Stamford is about to be confirmed as a Workers' Compensation Commissioner, and Judge Robert E. Beach, Jr. of Glastonbury and Judge Richard A. Robinson of Stratford are about to be confirmed for the State Appellate Court.

Since the Appellate Court makes decisions similar to, though not as final as, the State Supreme Court, there was a couple of very important matters I asked both nominees about.

First, I asked them about the individual rights we have under that State Constitution. Of course, individuals have rights under the U.S. Constitution. But we also have rights under the Connecticut Constitution. It is understood that our rights in Connecticut are the whichever of the two constitutions gives us the strongest individual rights. So, if the federal Constitution has stronger individual rights, the State courts follow the U.S. Constitutional rights. If the State Constitution has stronger individual rights, the State courts follow the State Constitutional rights.

My question was, supposing that the State and U.S. constitutions have provide for the same or similar rights, but the federal courts rule that those constitutional rights provide less protection for individuals than the similar rights have been applied here in Connecticut under our State Constitution. Should the State Appellate Court go along with the Connecticut Constitutional rights or the federal courts' decisions?

This is a question I consider very important in light of a lot of the actions of the federal executive branch in recent years and some of the laws that were passed by Congress, especially before the 2006 election, that undermine individual rights and freedoms, combined with concerns that the new federal Supreme Court seems less inclined than past ones to take a stand for a lot of individual rights. I want to know that government officials of Connecticut will have to respect people's rights under our State Constitution.

The second question I asked both nominees might sound esoteric, but it is actually very important to a number of important issues that come before the State's courts. Both the State and federal constitutions provide that everyone is entitled to the equal protection of the laws. But, when we are asking whether someone actually has the equal protection of the laws, we can look at things in two different ways.

On the one hand, we can look at how the law is written and judge whether the law gives people equal treatment on paper. Do the words, themselves, give equal weight to the rights of everyone?

On the other hand we can look at the practical effect of the law. When we look at the real world results of government agencies or others following the law, do the outcomes that occur result in equal protections for everyone?

While Courts clearly must look at both of these, my question to the nominees was which of these two ways of looking at things should have greater weight?

Since there is not a lot going on at the Capitol right now, you will probably have the opportunity to watch the hearing on CTN. What do you think of the two judge's answers to my questions?

Tony Norris' memorial.

Yesterday, I was pleased to be able to volunteer at the dinner in honor of Tony Norris at the Marchegian Society Ballroom on Acorn Street.

The event was a great tribute to a phenomenal human being. And it was fitting that the event was at the Marchegian Hall right across the street from Urban Oaks organic farm, founded by Tony and his partner Mike Kandefer.

It was said by more than one person in attendance that, as an organizer, Tony would have really liked his tribute to be that kind of community event - with a committee organizing people to set up a hall, cook food and, of course, get people to attend.

It was good to hear different people talk about the different things Tony did to help and care for people in different stages and parts of his life. He touches so many lives and did so many things that I am sure that few people knew everything he did.

From the time he was young, he worked hard to undo the systems of unfairness and build a better world, as former State Representative and House Majority Leader David Pudlin described. He worked hard to build a stronger community in New Britain. For example, as the deeply honored community leader, Mr. Alton Brooks, pointed out, Tony was instrumental in building up the organization that became the Human Resources Agency. Former Congressional candidate Charlotte Koskoff talked about Tony's dynamic work in politics - and her race in 1994 was just one of many in which Tony's work was instrumental. Of course, in the past nearly two decades, he has worked on building up the Urban Oaks farm. And, as anyone active in the East Side knows, he has been a great leader in the East Side NRZ.

As if to sum up in my own mind what Tony meant to us all, as I was driving into the parking lot to volunteer at the Marchegian Society, I was wondering about what tasks I would be asked to do to set up for the event. I knew that I would find out my job by reporting to the event organizer, who, knowing it was a Tony Norris event, for just a moment, I, by reflex, expected would be Tony.

And that is just one part of the giant presence we will miss so very much in our community.

But mostly, we will all miss our dear friend.

Chris Murphy meeting in New Britain

Congressman Chris Murphy had a meeting in New Britain with representatives of different organizations in City Hall in New Britain last Friday.

It was a good opportunity to hear some of the details of Rep. Murphy's work, as well as more details about what is going on at in the federal government.

Even knowing about his good work at the State Capitol when he was a State Representative and State Senator, I am very impressed by how hard he has been working to represent us and to ensure that he reaches out to know how the people he represents feel on key issues.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Special session today.

Today the House and Senate were in special session. But, was, really, for procedural reasons.

The foremost of these reasons was to approve a resolution that calls the legislature into a special session to take up:
Bills relating to criminal offenses, sentencing and procedure, the incarceration, release and supervision of offenders, and the sharing of criminal justice information, including the costs related to such bills.
That session could, legally, be convened tomorrow. But, it looks like it will really occur in January.

There are a number of other issues that I am trying to also get taken up in that special session, as well. For example, the legislature approved $1 million to assist ambulance services, like the New Britain EMS, that have special funding needs, but the state Department of Social Services is refusing to release the money the way the legislature intended, so we need to approve legislation to direct the Department to release the money where it is needed.

More work is ahead in both of these areas.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Budget accountability hearing.

Today, the two budget committees of the legislature held a joint hearing on the state budget and the projections on the state's future financial prospects. The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, of which I am a member, and the Appropriations Committee, which I am not, heard from representatives of the Office of Fiscal Analysis and the Office of Policy and Management.

Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) is the legislature's budget office. It provides legislators with information on state spending and revenue and tells us how much legislation is expected to cost.

The Office of Policy and Management is the Governor's budget office. It also does spending and revenue estimates, but its main role is to administer the state budget on behalf of the Governor and according to her direction.

What we heard from both offices is that the state budget is expected to have a surplus in the current budget year (fiscal year 2007-08) and next year (FY2008-09), but that there are budget deficits expected after that.

It is common for both budget offices to predict deficits for a future year, and for the state to end up with a surplus once we actually reach that year. They try to be a little pessimistic about the future. But that pessimism helps legislators and the Governor to be cautious when we planning for the future.

And, since deficits are predicted for the future, we have to think about how we can plan ahead to prevent them.

Another big concern is the size of the state debt: $14.4 billion. Connecticut has an especially high state debt because the way the state spending cap has been interpreted has forced the state to borrow for things that it really should not have. The problems caused by this interpretation need to be addressed so that more and more of the state's budget does not get taken up by debt repayment.

All-in-all, it was a very informative hearing.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

New Pastor at Spottswoods welcomed.

Yesterday evening I was very happy to attend a welcoming reception for Rev. Sherman G. Dunmore, Sr., his wife Sharon V. Dunmore and their children. Rev. Dunmore is the new Pastor at New Britain's Spottswood AME Zion Church.

The Church community, religious leaders from New Britain and beyond come out to welcome Rev. Dunmore to New Britain. Joining them were a number of elected officials - Sen. Don DeFronzo (D-6), Ald. Shirley Black (D-3), Ald. Adam Platosz (D-2), Board of Education member Brian Riley and Democratic Party Chairman John McNamara.

I am very impressed by what I have already heard of Rev. Dunmore's active work in the communities in which he has served. I look forward to working with him for many things New Britain needs to accomplish for a stronger community.

Sen. Donald DeFronzo honored for work for people with disabilities.

The New Britain Herald has an article today about an award Sen. Donald DeFronzo (D-6) received from the ARC of Connecticut.

As the Herald says,
...He was honored for his work to create a pilot program of janitorial contracts for companies that employed people with disabilities and disadvantages.

“The objective of the program is to ensure that employment opportunities exist for all workers — specifically for people who traditionally can have difficulty finding employment opportunities — and to create more integrated job opportunities with good wages and benefits and job security,” DeFronzo said. “Thus far, the pilot has produced some promising results.”

The pilot program has made considerable progress since its launch. It has five companies as qualified partners. The partnership with Capitol Cleaners alone will yield 16 positions for disabled or disadvantaged workers by April.
I can attest, personally, to the enormous work Sen. DeFronzo did on this. I was involved, too, in advocating for this legislation, but no-one did more work on it, by far, than he did.

This is an award he richly deserves.

Rep. Sandy Nafis holiday extravaganza.

Rep. Sandy Nafis and I both represent different parts of Newington in the legislature. Sandy is very active in town and is well known and liked.

She does many things to benefit the town, big and small. And one of those is her annual holiday extravaganza and the home of her and her husband, Alan Nafis, which was last night.

The party is a good opportunity for people to come together, but it also doubles as a food drive. Guests at the event are asked to bring a donation of a non-perishable food item for local food pantries.

Sandy and Alan deserve a lot of credit for opening up their home...and for a good cause.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lower property taxes with better healthcare...the Donovan plan comes to New Britain.

State House Majority Leader Chris Donovan came to New Britain yesterday evening to talk about a proposal he has that would provide both lower property taxes and build a plan that could be used to offer good quality health care coverage at an affordable price to businesses and their workers.

The idea is very simple. The state is able to get a low price for a very good health plan for state workers because it is buying for many thousands of people. But Connecticut's 169 cities and towns each have their own separate employee health care plans, so they end up paying more to cover each employee than the state pays - often thousands of dollars more per worker.

So the idea is to let municipalities buy the same health coverage at the same low price that the state pays. This could save massive amounts of money, allowing city and town governments to have lower property taxes.

Rep. Donovan is trying to find out just how much it would save New Britain taxpayers. Council Majority Leader Micheal Trueworthy is working to get information Rep. Donovan needs to calculate what New Britain taxpayers' savings would be.

The New Britain Herald is coming out with an article on Donovan's press event tomorrow. The article is already online. One surprising thing in the article is that, even with the potential for such large taxpayer savings, New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart has precipitously dismissed it out of hand:
But Stewart wasn’t buying it.

“Donovan can pedal his dog-and-pony show somewhere else. They want AFSCME to control this thing. Well, not here. This is an issue between me and my unions — not Chris Donovan.”
It is important to find and cut real waste to save taxpayers' money. So, I certainly hope Mayor Stewart changes his mind.

Of course, this idea has possibilities that go beyond lowering property taxes.

Specifically, if lower priced, quality health care coverage can be offered to city and town governments, shouldn't it also be offered to businesses and their workers?

If we could let businesses in our state offer their employees a good health plan at potentially less than they are paying now, that would make our state more competitive in the world economy. And it could be a great benefit to small businesses and the self-employed, who are getting crushed by rising health care premiums - if they can afford health care coverage at all. All of this would help businesses to create jobs and for the state economy to grow.

Of course, making sure everyone gets good quality health care coverage is a top priority of mine and I have worked hard to get this done. And I would like to get this done - well, yesterday.

But, if the Donovan plan is approved, the truth is that it would be a major step in this direction. So I hope it is approved in the 2008 legislative session.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Health care forum tonight at CCSU.

There was a health care forum tonight at CCSU. Since I have been at the Capitol, I was not able to go. Here is information flyer.
Universal Health Care Forum

When: Tuesday November 27, 2007
6:30 pm
Where: Vance Academic Center RM 105
This is a chance to see REAL PEOPLE in Connecticut and REAL REASONS why universal health care is a good idea.
Bring your opinions and your appetites.
I wish I was able to make it. If anyone would like to post a comment about the event to let me know how it went, that would be great.

Judiciary Committee hearing on public safety.

The legislature's Judiciary Committee, of which I am a member, is holding a public hearing today - still going on now - on public safety concerns that have arisen from the horrific murders in Cheshire and other serious crimes.

With a great interest in taking action on this issue, the two chairpersons of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Mike Lawlor and Sen. Andrew McDonald, very wisely scheduled a public hearing and put out a request to legislators and state agencies to propose their ideas. Fourteen different items of legislation were proposed.

Even with the great emotion people feel for and against different proposals being offered, the refreshing thing about today's hearing is that there is a lot of common ground about what needs to be done. There are criminal laws that can be strengthened and there is a lot about the way the state does the job of protecting the public from crime that needs to be improved.

There are some disagreements, to be sure, but today's hearing has revealed that those differences are not really so great. I am very optimistic that the Committee will be able to produce strong legislation that can be overwhelmingly approved into law.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A salute to Tony Norris.

Last Sunday, Tony Norris, a community activist who worked for years to make the New Britain community, and the world, a better place, passed away. I consider myself lucky to have known him and learned from him. He was a good leader and a good friend. He will be missed.

He did so much to make our city a better place, that I am still learning about what he accomplished. From politics, to neighborhood organizing to farming, he was a strong and skillful leader who enriched our community his entire life. He was a true believer who never gave up the cause for justice, equality and a better life for everyone.

For my part, I have valued his advice and support over the years. I knew that that I could always count on his strong values, his experience and his wisdom.

My deepest condolences go to Tony's partner, Mike Kandefer, and to all of Tony's family.

And, by the way, if you have some memories of Tony you would like to share or stories of what he accomplished in his life, feel free to write them down as comments to this post.

Update, November 27, 2007:
NBPoliticus has a posting on the celebration of Tony Norris' life on December 9th.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Autism Forum in New Britain

The VNA of Central Connecticut hosted a forum this evening on autism. It was held at the New Britain Public Library.

Sen. DeFronzo gave some opening remarks, talking about the need for greater services for persons with autism and their families.

Kim Newgass, President of the Autism Society of Connecticut, gave the keynote speech. She talked about what autism is and what it is like to be the parent of a child with autism. I found her presentation very informative.

Also on the forum panel were Nancy Taylor, who is Educational Liaison for the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services (DDS), Jacqueline Kelleher, PhD., who is Education Consultant to the Connecticut Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education, Tabor Napiello of Systems of Care, Ruth Carvalho of the state Bureau of Rehabilitation Services and Eileen McMurrer and Dr. Ann Milanese of the state Birth to 3 System.

And, since I am writing on my own blog, it is worth mentioning that the Autism Society of Connecticut has a blog, too:

Community Meeting at McCullough Temple

On Monday, the New Britain legislative delegation held a community meeting at the McCullough Temple, which is located on the East Side of New Britain on Chapman Street. McCullough Pastor, Rev. Thomas Mills and Sen. DeFronzo organized the forum. In addition to Sen. DeFronzo and me, Rep. Geragosian and Rep. Tercyak were also there.

The meeting was an opportunity for the legislators to talk about issues coming up at the Capitol in the coming year, and to talk about the funding that we have succeeded in making available to fund local services and education and keep property taxes down.

More important, the forum was a chance for people to come out and discuss what they feel should be addressed. We heard concerns about creating good paying jobs, supporting education, addressing the mortgage crisis and ending abusive lending practices. I really appreciated hearing people's concerns - especially since these are issues I feel need to be addressed, too.

I thank the McCullough Temple congregation for hosting our community meeting, and I compliment McCullough on the active role it is taking, working proactively to build a stronger community.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Jury Duty

Genghis Conn of Connecticut Local Politics just posted a notice that I think is very relevant: He is off to jury duty.

Now, I have met few people who like jury duty. It interrupts lives, you have to do it, legally, it could cost you money and most people consider it just to be an all around pain. I agree, having had to do it, myself.

On the other hand, the jury system really is a critically important protection for us all. Government officials can accuse people of crimes, but regular people decide if the accusations are correct. And, in civil lawsuits decided by jury, it is average, everyday people who decide which side is right - an important way of helping ensure that everyone stands on equal footing, even when one side in the lawsuit is very powerful.

So, while jury duty is a hassle, the idea of not having the protections of the jury system would be far worse.

Of course, that said, as a state legislator, I continue to be approached by people raising questions about the system by which people are selected for jury duty. People, from time to time - usually after they just got another jury duty notice - tell me that they frequently get called for jury duty. Typically, they also point out people they know who hardly ever (or never) get called.

Now, you do not have to serve jury duty if you have already served in the past three years. But, you can, in fact, serve jury duty again, if you were just called. The law, statutes section 51-217a(a), says that
A person shall be excused from jury service during the jury year commencing September 1, 1999, and each jury year thereafter, upon request of that person, if during the next three preceding jury years such person appeared in a court for jury service and was not excused from such jury service.
So, on the one hand, there is not a problem.

But, let me pose what I think are two fair premises. First, most people would rather that they did not get a second jury duty notice if they just served. So I think few people would object if their recent service made it unlikely that they would be called for jury duty in the near future.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I think that the fairness of the system is best preserved if everyone who is eligible for jury duty eventually does have to serve. Then, it truly is something that we all have to do.

So, I am thinking about trying to get legislation brought up in the legislature's Judiciary Committee (of which I am a member) in the next regular legislative session to say that, in jury selection process, you cannot be called for jury duty if you already served and there are still eligible people who have not been called. Likewise, if you have been called twice, you should not be called again ahead of someone who has only been called once.

There might be some things that would have to be adjusted in this idea to ensure that the pool of people from which juries are drawn is representative of the state's population, but this seems like a sound, efficient, common sense thing to do.

For more information on how juries are selected, here is a report from the Office of Legislative Research that you might find informative.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A new playground at Lincoln School.

This morning, I was able to pitch-in a little at the installation of the new playground at the Lincoln Elementary School in New Britain. It is a really nifty playground, and I am sure the kids are going to really like it when it is done.

It has several rock-climbing elements, which I found interesting. Years ago, when I was in better shape, I did rock climbing, myself.

I helped place some things (best I can describe them) into the ground. They are twisted-shaped standing objects that kids will be able to climb on. My role, really, was helping to lift one of them, place them into the hole in the ground, and hold it while the concrete in the hole set. Then I helped a little with putting up one of the new basketball hoops.

I was just there for a little while. There were others that had been there for a while. It was really great to see so many people from the community volunteering their time for this mini construction project. It imagined that this must have been like, in ages past, when a whole town would turn out to put up a barn or a town schoolhouse.

For me, it was a good break from the intense local politics going on. I got into public service because I want to make a difference, and I believe very much in being honest with the people I represent about what is going on in politics and government. It saddens me very much to see any elected officials placing political spin and insider gain over the truth and honesty. It is too bad that New Britain's Republicans have mired themselves in that kind of politics.

I like being able talk to non-political people and participate in event like today's community construction work. It is a refreshing break, and reminds me what I believe so strongly - that people are basically good, and they are glad to work together to make things better for everyone.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

All Day Kindergarten in New Britain schools.

I am a participant in the local education blog in New Britain, "Supporting New Britain Schools," and I write on that blog from time to time.

I just wrote a post on Supporting New Britain Schools about the recent article in the New Britain Herald on the all day kindergarten program in New Britain. Here are some of the comments I made there:
It is a good thing that an all day kindergarten program has been implemented in New Britain. Getting this done is one of the reasons I have been working for increased education funding from the state. Of course, while we were able to win a very large increase in state education funding this year, this article points show that the even larger amounts I have been pressing for are truly needed.

There are some very real and tangible ways we know that we can increase kids' chances in life, like all day kindergarten. But the property tax system already imposes an unfair burden on New Britain taxpayers. So we are caught between denying kids what they need, on the one hand, and unfair, high property taxes on the other.

And these are the reasons why I feel so strongly that that it is high time that all state policy-makers step up to the plate and do the right thing for all of Connecticut's kids.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Public Auditors: accountability and efficiency, and could be more.

One of the least known offices in the legislature are the Auditors of Public Accounts. This is office that was created a long time ago. Its establishment was a very good idea, and still is.

The reason why the office has a plural name ("Auditors") is because it is run, on a co-equal basis, a Democratic Auditor and a Republican Auditor. The Republican is Robert G. Jaekle and the Democrat is Kevin P. Johnston. They work very well together, and the partisan balance helps people feel confident that the reviews they provide are based on the fact rather than politics.

When most people think of an "auditor", they consider the role of a corporate auditor - someone who reviews the finances of a corporation or agency and makes sure the accounting is done correctly. And the Connecticut Auditors of Public Accounts do that important function.

But that is only one part of the reviews that the Auditors provide. They dig far deeper into the way state agencies run than just whether their books balance. They provide thorough reviews of the way agencies operate and offer critique on how things could be more efficient. Typically, when the Auditors offer this critique, agencies will start making changes to fix the problems that were found even before the Auditors' report on it is published. In this way, the Auditors have a very good track record in saving taxpayer money.

Another, perhaps equally important service the Auditors provide is that they examine how state agencies are doing in following the state's laws. This is very important in our Constitutional system of government because, when state agencies feel that they can get away with ignoring the laws approved by the people's elected representatives, the Auditors call them on it. This improves the transparency and accountability of government agencies.

The Auditors are such an important and useful function at the state level of government that, when I was a member of the New Britain City Council, a local Republican activist and I created a proposal to establish an Auditor position for the city, modeled on the state Auditors of Public Accounts and other nonpartisan legislative offices. The idea was dismissed when I was on the Council, but a later Council took it up and approved it, and actually had an Auditor for a while - who did good work. She was, unfortunately, pushed out of City Hall by some ugly politics, but it would be a great idea for the taxpayers if the City Council would fill that position again.

I would also note that I think that the work of the state Auditors could be used much better by the main people they report to - the legislature.

The Auditors issue detailed reports on all state agencies on a regular basis, with a lot of good recommendations and even more details that would be helpful to decision-makers if they were fully utilized. The Auditors are not supposed to be an advocacy group. When they discover that something is awry, their only job is to write it down and send it in a report to the legislature. Anything more aggressive than this would compromise their professional separation from the intense politics of the legislature.

It is the legislature's job to take up anything that the Auditors discover, large or small. That is the part that could be done better. I think that the Auditors reports - which, by their nature, are pretty dry reading - should be routinely brought into the public discussions at the Capitol.

The legislature holds public hearings on many things, more and more. In the last couple of weeks, alone, three of the four committees on which I sit have held hearings and meetings on things ranging from federal grant funding, to the taxpayer data on the stolen state computer, to the Governor's new parole policies. Public hearings are a very good way to have an open an public discussion about important issues in our state.

So, my idea is that, whenever the Auditors issue one of their regular reports on a state agency, the legislative committee responsible for that agency should hold a public hearing on the report. This will give Mr. Jaekle and Mr. Johnston the ability to present the major points their staff have discovered and recommended. And, it will allow legislators to ask questions of both the Auditors and, of course, of the heads of the agencies being reviewed, to gain an even better understanding of what is happening, and not happening, in state government - and what can be done to make things run better. This knowledge, in turn, could then be used by legislators in crafting better legislation for the state and in the annual state budget process.

I have been trying to gain support for this idea, and I will bring it up again in this coming year's legislative session. I think it would help to save taxpayer money, improve public accountability, make government run better and help legislators to do a better job for the people.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Money for a food pantry.

Making sure that the basic needs of people are met is just the right thing to do. And what could be more basic than food?

There are many reasons why people find themselves down on their luck and in need of a helping hand. And people in New Britain have always shown their compassion in their willingness to help people less fortunate than themselves.

For my own part, the role that the Spanish Speaking Center of New Britain long had as one of the city's major food pantries was an important reason why I have been a supporter of the Center and why I joined its Board. I was very upset when the Center no longer had the funding to continue providing food pantry services.

Since then, people in New Britain have been working hard to get one or more food pantries up to the capacity to meet the need. The strongest effort has been by the Salvation Army on Franklin Square. They have a building in the back of their main building that they have been working to build-out as a food pantry. The Spanish Speaking Center has also opened a food pantry referral service, in which they refer people to various smaller pantries that have available food.

I have been working for two things in order to help the situation. I have been advocating for the state Department of Social Services to make funding available to run food pantry services - and for dedicated funding in the state budget. And the Department has, in fact, made some funding available.

I have also been working to get funding to do the physical construction work that is needed to get one or more food pantries up to strength. I introduced legislation to dedicate $150,000 for this purpose for New Britain. I originally proposed this as something that could be used for more than one site - and it still might. It has looked for a while like the Salvation Army would be able to make best use of the funding in the short run, and that would be find with me, if that is what is best to help people.

I was happy to succeed in winning approval of this $150,000 in the state bond act that was approved last week by the legislature. (Though it is listed as "property acquisition", it is really intended for renovations.) I would note the terrific support of Sen. Donald DeFronzo in securing this money.

However, there seems to be a snag. Gov. Rell has announced that she intends to veto the state bond act, including the food pantry funding. The New Britain Herald has covered this story in an article Monday and another yesterday. There are also a lot of other important things for New Britain that the Governor is saying she will veto, as well, like money for a new facility for the Pathways-Senderos Center (needed because they are forced to move), construction work at the Prudence Crandall Center, replacing Brooklawn Street bridge, downtown development, needed renovations at the Sloper Wesoly Polish cultural center and more.

The other New Britain legislators and I have been working hard to address real concerns in our community that have been brought to our attention by the hard-working people of our city. Sen. DeFronzo, especially, has done a great job in moving forward proposals for funding that is really needed. If the things that we approved in the bond act were not needed, we would never have proposed them.

And this is especially true of my $150,000 proposal to help the good-hearted people of New Britain get food to the hungry.

I really wish that the Governor would back away from her hard line and agree to approve these important projects. And the first step is for her to cool down her rhetoric and sign the bond act.

Monday, August 06, 2007

New Britain Legislative Update, July 10, 2007

Sorry it took a while to do the newest New Britain Legislative Update - and then to get it posted on the Internet - but here it is...

This has been running on Nutmeg TV (cable channel 21 in New Britain) for a couple of weeks, now. You can still see it Sundays at 5pm.

As always, I hope you find this interesting and helpful.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wrapping up 2006 and getting ready for 2007: How the legislative sessions are quietly growing together.

Every once in a while, someone asks me about work ahead in the 2007 legislative session. My response has been that we are actually still working on some things from the 2006 session.

And, of course, I am, indeed, already preparing for legislation that I will be working on in the 2007 session that starts next February. But, there are still issues from the legislative session this year that are still being hammered-out.

This is an increasing reality in Connecticut's legislature. Gone, it seems, are the days when nearly all of the work was limited to the legislature's two yearly regular sessions. To be sure, the regular sessions are the busiest time at the Capitol. But, by necessity, there is a lot of work that has to be done between the regular sessions.

An important reason for this is that, with all of the action moving legislation through the process while the legislature is actually in session, there is little time to spend doing the kind of detailed research and planning that legislators lament not having when they are actually in a position to make decisions during the regular session. Good ideas have failed because they have gotten bogged down by this. That is a reason that I am working to get as much planning an preparatory work done before February on the legislation I would like to see approved in 2007.

Another reason is that, with only one "regular" session each year, there is massive pressure to get all of the business that needs attending to in that limited time. The prospect of having to wait nearly a year to see action on an important issue just because it was not voted into law by the time the closing gavel falls has meant, even when many important things get done, many other important things do not.

So, as soon as that final gavel falls at midnight on the last day of the legislative session, legislators and others are already working to get things approved in special session. Many bills that went through the process, but were not acted on in the regular session, get tucked into what are called "implementer bills" - legislation that, theoretically, changes state law to conform with policy decisions made in the state budget. And these implementer bills are often approved, as they were this year, in a special session that happens after the regular session is over.

Even with the implementer bills approved this year, there are a number of other matters that appear likely to be acted on before the regular session next year, like the state bonding acts, which fund many important school and community capitol projects. Though the regular session ended in June, the legislature is still officially in session - a special session.

Special sessions were once, indeed, special. They were called for specific purposes and ended fairly quickly. But, with more and more demands on the state, Connecticut's way of reconciling our traditional (and constitutional) system of high-pressure annual regular sessions with the growing needs of a more complex state, is to have special sessions that continue through much of the year to allow the legislature to come back, as needed, to address the needs of the state.

Certainly, there are be better ways of doing things that Connecticut could consider.

One simple thing that could be done is a suggestion by Rep. David McCluskey of West Hartford that the legislature lift the requirement that a bill that has to go through the whole legislative process in the second year of a two year legislative term, if it has already been through that process in the first year.

We all know a lot of the long story of 'how a bill becomes a law'. There is a fairly long committee process that bills have to go through before the House and Senate can consider making them law. Bills must be subjected to public hearings, be drafted in official legal text, be reviewed by legislative researchers, be approved by their committee of origin and then be sent through a lengthly process in which they are reviewed by each committee with an expertise in each subject the legislation affects.

This is an important process to make sure, as best as possible, that the public has their voices heard and that legislation has as little unintended consequences as possible. But it is a lengthy process. And this means that, even though regular legislative sessions are months long, the practical reality is that, by the time bills make it through this lengthy process, there is only a very short time at the end of the session to approve all of the many bills into law.

What Rep. McCluskey suggests as one solution is, for example, that legislation that made it through this lengthy process in the 2006 legislative session does not have to be subjected to the same thing all over again in 2007. This would mean that, at least in the second year of each two-year legislative term, more of the regular session could be spent approving legislation in the full House and Senate rather than repeating the same process the same legislators followed on the same bills considered in the previous year.

But, I think that a more complete reform would be to break-up the high-pressure annual legislative sessions into a series of shorter regular sessions over the course of the year. So, for example, there could be four month (or six-week) long sessions a year - perhaps only three during an election year. In addition to opening up more possibilities for getting important things done, this would take away the massive rushed crush of legislative action at the end of Connecticut's regular sessions in which legislators are not able to keep track of what they are being asked to approve or reject amid the blizzard of bills sailing through as the annual deadline approaches.

These are ideas that should be considered seriously as Connecticut's increasing complex needs require moving away from an ancient legislative schedule designed when life in our state was much simpler.

In the meantime, though, I am working to build for the work ahead in 2007. I am working on plans to try again to win legislation to ensuring quality, affordable health care coverage for everyone and to reform our unfair property tax system. I am also working on other legislation that is important for the communities I represent.

I will write more details about my work on this as my planning on these starts to get more complete.

I wish everyone a peaceful summer.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My live blog at Connecticut Local Politics and notes of tax unfairness.

I would like to extend my thanks to CGG, Genghis Conn and Spazeboy for hosting my live-blog at Connecticut Local Politics, an online forum with people who have strong beliefs and are not afraid to express them. I appreciated the vigorous discussion, and I tried to type as fast as a could to keep up. Of course, I genuinely thank New Britain's Spazeboy for a very kind introduction.

Something that was discussed there after I left was about the unfairness of the state's tax system. My point that the state's overall tax system is regressive - meaning that people pay a higher burden the less they have - was questioned by someone who answered that the state's income tax is progressive.

This is a message that diverts attention from the unfairness of the whole tax system - a point alluded to by Gabe on the CTLP forum. The state income tax is very mildly progressive. But it is really the only progressive tax the state establishes. And, the income tax is not the largest tax. That would be the property tax - which does, overwhelmingly, hit people harder the less income they have. And, for the vast majority of people in the state, the largest tax they pay is the property tax. Add to that sales taxes and excise taxes, and our state's overall tax system is regressive - charging people a higher share of their income the less income they have.

The most comprehensive study of the burdens of taxes in Connecticut was done by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. You can see the study by clicking here (it is a pdf). This study looked at the combined and separate burdens of all the major state-established taxes that people pay: income taxes, sales and excise taxes and property taxes. (Even though this study was from 2002, the 2003 increase in the state income tax did not notably change this unfairness.)

While some people continually, inaccurately, assert that the wealthy have the highest taxes, the truth is that they have the lowest.

Middle class families paid around 10.1% of their incomes in combined property, sales, excise and income taxes, after federal offsets were considered, in 2002. And the poorest 20% of state residents had it worst of all. Their total tax burden was 10.2% of their incomes. But the wealthiest 1% only paid 4.4%, after federal offsets.

This is the big problem with the tax systems of our state. This burden is pushed down the income scale, with the middle class paying more than the wealthy and the poor paying the highest of all. That is why property tax reform is so very important - it is the biggest unfair tax that most people pay.

It is very unfair to people who are hurt by the unfairness of our state's tax system to completely ignore all of the unfair taxes, and then say that things are really fair, when they are not.

Friday, July 06, 2007

2007 Legislative Report to Citizens of New Britain

Sorry it has been so long since my last post. I have been working to catch-up with things outside of the legislature after the hectic days of the session - like my family.

There are still some loose ends the need to be completed, like the state bond act, but most of what will be approved this year is done.

Now, we are in the time between regular legislative sessions when we can start to build for the next session, which starts in February. I will go more into what issues I plan to work on in the future, but ensuring quality and affordable health care for everyone and property tax reform are certainly high priorities.

Anyway, I wanted to share a press release that was sent out yesterday on many of the accomplishments this year for New Britain...
City Delegation’s 2007 Legislative Report to Citizens of New Britain

The 2007 session of the General Assembly nears its conclusion with action on a two-year budget and many significant pieces of new legislation. Over the last few years, the New Britain legislative delegation has positioned itself on key committees to better secure state assistance for the people of New Britain, Berlin, Plainville, Newington, Bristol and Farmington, all communities we represent.

“I’m proud of the efforts of our delegation to secure significant state revenue increases for our two hospitals and five nursing homes, some of which are our largest employers and tax payers said Senator Donald DeFronzo. “In addition, state aid to the city equates to approximately 4 mills, which will go a long way to help the administration stabilize and reduce local property taxes.”

“There are many ways, big and small, that we were able to help New Britain—grants enabling the city to lower property taxes, support for education, health care, job training, local arts groups and more,” said Representative Tim O’Brien. “The New Britain delegation worked hard this year, and we are ready for more important work to come.”

“We worked hard to help our city and its agencies do the good work that they do,” said Representative John Geragosian. “Unfortunately the Democratic budget did not pass, which would have gone a long way toward tax relief. But the budget we did pass will be good for the city.”

“While so many of the total system changes that were initially introduced were not able to be made this year,” Representative Peter Tercyak said. “It made it extra important to help New Britain in one area after another. I’m very pleased with what we were able to bring home this year. This will make a vitally needed difference, especially for medical care, in New Britain.”

Among the actions approved in the biennial budget that will have a positive and significant effect on the City of New Britain are:

• A $6.5 million increase (the equivalent of 3.2 mils) in ECS educational funding.

• Restoration of approximately $1 million in state grants to New Britain to help limit property tax increases (the equivalent of one half mill).

• A 20 percent increase in hospital Medicaid reimbursements in 2007–2008 and another 10 percent increase in 2008–2009 budget year. This will allow the Hospital of Central Connecticut to stabilize operations, maintain and increase employment, and preserve and enhance the quality of patient care.

• An across- the-board 3 percent increase in Medicaid reimbursement to New Britain nursing homes including Monsignor Bojinowski Manor, Jerome Home, Walnut Hill, Brittany Farms and the Andrew House. These funds will allow these facilities to maintain a high level of patient care.

• A 4 percent across-the-board increase in Medicaid reimbursement to the Hospital for Special Care, providing for a sustained level of operations and quality patient care.

• $1 million in rate relief for emergency medical services providers in the state with high Medicaid caseloads, which includes New Britain Emergency Medical services.

• Important increases in preschool education programs, summer youth employment and after-school programs.

• Expansion of the HUSKY Health Care plan to include more working families, more pregnant women and improved dental services.

• A 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment for nonprofit provider agencies, such as daycare providers, CCARC, CMHA and many other agencies.

• $42 million more in higher education aid over the previous biennium for students who attend public and private in-state colleges.

• $5 million to secure and expand Dial-A-Ride Service for New Britain and area seniors.

• Special legislation to preserve the operation of the Boys and Girls Club summer drop-in recreation program.

• Legislative action to protect Guida’s Dairy from unfair taxation.

• $10 million to CCSU for repairs, alterations and additions to athletic fields and associated support facilities.

• Restoration of nearly $300,000 in Priority School District funding proposed for reduction by Governor M. Jodi Rell.

• Full funding of the access cost of special education when those costs are in excess of 4.5 times local per-pupil expenditure. This will result in an approximate 33 percent increase in funding in this category ($67 million to $125 million).

• A new state grant to offset half the cost of initial Fire Fighter Certification programs.

• A $100,000 grant to the New Britain Arts Alliance.

• A new $4 million competitive grant program in the Office of Culture, Tourism and Arts.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Budget approved in the early, early morning.

I am sitting in the House chamber at 5am. It looks like things are done for the night. I will write more about what was included in the budget approved tonight when I have a bit more time. But a few quick notes...

There were a lot of good things in the budget. But, of course, I was very disappointed that the Governor pressed for and got cuts in important grants to fund education and keep property taxes down. This is going to leave cities and towns having to fill a shortfall in their budgets.

And, of course, I am disappointed that the important tax reforms that I voted for and that Gov. Rell vetoed were not in the budget. The result of this is that most people in the state will pay higher taxes than they would have if the Democratic budget was approved.

I am headed home now. It's 5:05am.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

NAACP event honors hopes in a new generation.

Parking was tight yesterday morning at the Bethesda Apostolic Church in New Britain, where my wife, stepson and I attended a breakfast for the New Britain Branch of the NAACP. And, as we came into the basement hall, the event organizers were busy bringing out chairs for the overflow crowd.

More than a hundred people, by my estimate, packed the hall to honor graduating high school seniors. It was a wonderful event, and everyone was excited by the large turnout.

But, what really made the event was hearing the graduates, one by one, tell the audience about their plans for the future. They told us what colleges they are going to - like Tunxis Community College, Temple University, CCSU and the Naval Academy. And they told us what they wanted to do in life - doctor, social worker, teacher.

Parents and community were all so very proud of the young people's accomplishments - and their abilities and ambitions.

When I was asked to speak I decided to say to the graduates what I felt was the optimistic spirit in the room. Someone else had said that the young people's successes and opportunities were built on the work and sacrifices of others who came before them. I expanded on this, pointing out the great hopes that family, friends and community place in the new grads, and how we all want them all to succeed.

We all want young people to have a bright future. For parents, most of all, it is an expression of their caring for their children that they want so much for them to have happy, healthy and successful lives.

But, the great possibilities that exist for young adults are also opportunities for us all. Whether as families, as communities, as a state, a nation or the world, the possibilities, as individuals, of young adults are the possibilities for a better world. Nothing goes so far to build a better world than to empower the next generation.

And so, what I hoped I had conveyed to the graduates was how much so many people had invested in their success, how much our future depends on them succeeding and how much everyone wants them to fulfill their full potential.

It was a happy and hopeful event. I was very glad to have been there.

Thanks, graduates. And good luck!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Waiting for budget negotiations to finish.

I was getting out of my car today, on my way to the groundbreaking ceremony for important renovations at New Britain's Human Resources Agency, when a man sitting in front of his house across the street, seeing my legislative license plate, said, "We need a budget."

He did not seem satisfied by my assurance that work is underway on it, so I offered a more detailed response. "We're trying to get the Governor to say 'yes'." He wished me luck and I thanked him.

But, the truth of the matter is that, right now, I am waiting for the state budget, myself.

Currently, the state budget is not in the hands of the legislature - not the whole legislature, anyway. I, and most other legislators, are waiting for the conclusion of budget negotiations between the Governor and legislative leaders. Only after that process concludes will we will be able to see the finished product. Then, we will be able to decide whether we agree or disagree with this negotiated budget.

On the surface, this is an efficient way for elected officials from two different branches of government and two different parties to work out their differences and approve a budget for the state government. But doing our state budget this way comes at a cost to the public. And that cost is a loss of their input into the final product.

The problem is the practicality of this process. When the negotiated budget comes to back to the full legislature, it appears on legislators' desks as a take-or-leave it proposition. We have to decide whether we agree or disagree with the package, as a whole - specifically, whether we think that the good in the budget outweighs the bad.

And, legislators who have decided to support the budget as a whole must vote against all amendments proposed to change the budget deal - even amendments they agree with - because if any amendment are approved, the deal with the Governor would be undone. No budget would be approved, and the public frustration would grow.

I do not think this system serves the public well.

In my mind, a far better system would be for the legislature to approve a budget through the normal legislative process. The budget committees would offer their changes to the Governor's proposed budget. Then, the House of Representatives and Senate would consider the committees' recommendations. After hearing our constituents' concerns about the committee's recommendations, legislators would be free to offer amendments, which would be debated and voted up or down on their merits. And, when the House and Senate approve the budget, with the same amendments, the finished product would be sent to the Governor.

While the Governor would have the authority to veto the entire legislatively-approved budget, it would be much more practical for her, instead, to exercise her constitutional "line-item veto" power. This lets her approve the budget, as a whole, but reject parts of it. The legislature would then have to decide either to override the Governor's veto or approve a level of funding for the vetoed items that the Governor would find acceptable.

This process would allow the state to have a budget approved in timely manner, and yet still reflect the integrity of our system of checks and balances. More important, it would give the public much great opportunity to have their voices heard while the key budgetary decisions that affect them are being made.

The gentleman who spoke to me on the street today would then, not only have a budget approved by now, but he would also havemore say about what that budget would do for the state.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Phone call from the Governor on education.

I just received a very interesting phone call from Gov. Rell, herself.

She called because she said that she wanted to correct some of the comments that I made yesterday in the Hartford Courant and the New Britain Herald, that she has been advocating for to cut in half the $8.4 million in increased state aid she proposed for New Britain in her original budget back in February.

She assured me that this was not correct, and told me that she had not abandoned her budget proposal. She explained that she was actually advocating for more money in the second year of the two year budget than the Democrats had proposed. The Democratic budget called for $1.8 billion for Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) grants to cities and towns in the 2007-08 year, and then the same $1.8 billion in the 2008-09 year. (Democratic leaders have told me that they did this because it is important to deal with this coming year's budget this year, and they would take up the next year's increase next year. I told Gov. Rell that I would like an increase for next year, as well.)

I told her that I apologized if I was wrong, but I explained to her that what I had said was what I had heard that the Governor's own negotiators had put on the table. I would add that I have repeatedly heard the same thing from other legislators at the Capitol, and almost every Democratic legislator I have spoken to about this agrees that the Governor had given up advocating for her original budget - including her education funding plan. But, if I got some of the facts wrong, I do apologize.

Her word that she is committed to her original education plan is reassuring. At least if she is committed her proposal for the coming year, it would mean that the city budget just approved would be balanced.

But, is the Governor really committed to her whole original education plan? She has made a very public point of abandoning the revenue plan that she proposed back in February as essential to fund, not just this year's proposed education increases, but the second year's education funding, as well. This is just the opposite of her claim that she supports more education funding in the 2008-09 budget year. And it would certainly mean that she has no plans to fund the third, fourth and fifth year of this five-year education plan.

So, it is clear that she has abandoned what was a very good and bold plan to increase education funding for New Britain and the state, as a whole. This is unfortunate.

The fact, in very practical terms, is that Democrats' budget plan would increase New Britain's grants for education and mill rate relief for the coming year by about $10 million, compared with the Governor's proposal for $8.4 million. The best way for Gov. Rell to support New Britain in the state budget would be to agree to sign the Democrats' budget.

I appreciated the opportunity to talk with Gov. Rell about these issues. I can tell you that even state legislators do not get a call from the Governor every day. I thank her for taking the time to contact me about this.

Update, June 23, 2007:
It turns out, the Governor was not truthful with me when she told me that she was not negotiating against her own education funding proposal. In fact, as it turns out, the following, which I had removed from this post because I began to question my understanding of what she had told me, turned out to be exactly what the Governor was doing:
But the Governor then told me something that sounded very similar to the very thing that I had based my comment on: She suggested that her negotiators may have offered to spread some of the education funding around from the first year of the budget to allow the education funding to increase for the second year.
And this comment I made not only turned out to be true, but the concern I expressed, here, turned out to be very much what happened:
If she has proposed cutting from education this coming year to spend more on it the year after that, it still means that this year's budget would decrease. And that would, as I suggested, leave a hole in the City's budget. Even if it is not a $4 million hole, a $2 million hole would still be very harmful. [Except that it turned out to be a $600k hole.]
In fact, the Governor did, as I originally said, negotiate against her own education funding plan. And, as I said...
...based on the Governor's own comments, it sounds like my understanding of things was more or less accurate.
...I was correct. The Governor, as opposed to what she told me, was negotiating against her own budget proposal.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

After the regular session.

With the crush at the end of the legislation session, I have not been able to post anything these past few days. Now that it is over - at least the regular session - I will start to report on what happened, and what still needs to be done.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post highlighting the most important issues of the session and the possibilities that progress would be made on them. I cannot say that things went as well as I had hoped:

Property Tax Reform, fairer taxes and education funding:
Democrats proposed a very good budget that would relieve people's property tax burdens, make the state's taxes fairer and fund health care, education and community services. But the Governor's main priority in ongoing budget negotiations is keeping the present unfair system that benefits the wealthy at everyone else's expense.

While the Governor, back in February, proposed a bold, five-year education plan that would have greatly increased aid to New Britain, she has since abandoned this plan. Her priority to keep the wealthiest people's taxes low has trumped what had been a bold proposal that could have made a real difference if she had stuck with it.

The budget is still being negotiated right now, however. And, if the Governor is willing to agree to the Democratic budget, there would be even more funding for property tax relief and education than even her original proposal. The legislature will be coming back into special session when there is an agreement on the budget.

Health care:
Legislation was approved to expand access to the state's HUSKY health care system to more children and parents and to increase the number providers serving people with HUSKY coverage by raising their rates. This is good legislation, and I wish that the Governor would sign it. This is also, now, a part of the budget negotiations.

But this legislation would not come close to providing good quality health care coverage to everyone. And it does not help lower health insurance costs for businesses and workers. This is what really needs to be done.

Energy costs:
The people of the state have been asking for action to bring electric rates down, and I have been working hard to win legislation to do this. Unfortunately, however, the legislation that was approved on electric rates will not only not bring electric rates down, but will actually raise rates. This was very disappointing, and I voted against the bill that was ultimately signed by the Governor.

Also, to address rising gasoline prices, I voted to approve a $.25 per gallon cut in the gasoline tax. But the Governor vetoed this legislation, so this is another issue that is a part of the ongoing budget negotiations.

Not everything I hoped for.
Some of the important things that I had hoped to achieve are still, at least in part, possible, since how the budget negotiations will turn out is still in question.

But with other issues, the regular legislative session has ended without the progress I had hoped for.

With electric rates, I fear that the momentum that led to the public demand for action has been spent, and that we may end up stuck with a deregulated electric system that will cost consumers a lot for a long time. I will continue to work on this issue, though.

Health care is a different story. There is no question that what we were trying to achieve would be a major change for the better. But any major change is hard to achieve. So, I plan to begin working right away to build up for another major push for quality, affordable health care for everyone in the next regular session.

Politics rewards persistence rather than patience. So, the best thing to do with setbacks are to pick yourself up, look at what went wrong and try again.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

More information about the electricity legislation I opposed.

This evening, I received a summary from Rep. Vickie Nardello about the problems with the electricity legislation approved today in the State Senate.

Here is Rep. Nardello's summary analysis:
Problems in the Energy Bill
Efficiency Partnerships
-$60 million per year without accountability provisions like a limit on how much each partner can receive, an RFP process to choose which proposals to fund, a requirement that the person receiving the technology pay a portion of the cost and a licensure requirement instead of the more lax certification requirement
-“just voluntary” still costs $170 million b/c the system to support the meters is expensive
-customers can currently get on a voluntary basis time-of-use meters that are capable of doing on peak and off peak pricing, but the meters in the program are the “Cadillac” meters, which are capable of doing real-time pricing
-this moves customers toward real time pricing, which forces people to pay spot market prices, which are high and volatile – their costs will increase
Towns and Municipalities
-In 2005, EIA forced towns and school systems into expensive (mandatory time of use rates) and volatile (pricing changes monthly) standard of last resort service
-Towns and schools cannot shift their load because of the hours they operate
-the bill does not exempt towns and municipalities from supplier of last resort service or time of use rates
-the bill does not address the problems with the underlying wholesale market that are causing the standard service benchmark to be high
-the electric heat rate language only maintains the rate for 5 years and only applies to those already on this rate (i.e. no one new can get it)
-bilateral contracting language doesn’t work because it doesn’t create a framework for the DPUC to do this outside the RFP process
-doesn’t remove the full service generation requirement (means that we can’t buy baseload, intermediate and peaking separately, making bilateral contracts directly with generators impossible)
Cost of Service
-does not allow the DPUC to consider a variety of ownership options in its integrated resources plan
-does not require all plants going forward (that ratepayers pay to build) to agree to sell their power at cost of service plus a reasonable profit, not the highest cost possible they can charge in the market
-utilities are only allowed to generate if they are outside a regulated rate of return and bear all risk for cost overruns, which turns them into independent power producers and negates the entire purpose of utility owned generation
Retail Competition
-ratepayers subsidize retail competitive marketers
-aggressive retail referral program encourages people to move to competitive suppliers, which increases the migration risk in standard service and therefore raises the standard service price
-state is encouraged to pursue competitive suppliers
-consumer protections were not included
-does not include a cost effectiveness review for generation going forward to make sure the winning bids are in the best interest of ratepayers
-includes a number of programs with technology that is already funded elsewhere and is not cost effective ($30 million for renewables and combined heat and power in state buildings, $50 million for DG ($25 million earmarked for fuel cells) for businesses and state facilities)
-encourages use of a standard service portfolio manager, which creates a huge potential for market manipulation
Rep. Nardello also shared the following table summarizing the costs to consumers of the energy legislation.

The first two columns are pretty straightforward. They are the name for each part of the bill and the cost of each to consumers. The third column is the section number of the bill where is of these costs is created. The fourth column, labeled "7098" tells whether the cost was also in the House energy bill, HB7098.

Energy Bill Additional Costs
Program Cost Sec. 7098
Energy Efficiency Partnerships $60 million per year 94 no
Energy Excellence Plan unknown cost of the study 97 no
Advanced Metering System $170 million plus up to $125 million of stranded costs 98 no
Energy Efficiency Marketing Campaign $5 million 87, 111,127 no
Retail Competition Marketing Subsidy unknown cost of the referral program 92 no
Increased migration risk raises standard service price for all 92 no
Switching on and off SOLR (removal of anti-gaming language) Increased migration risk raises standard service price for all 49 no
SOLR - Quarterly or more often procurement Increased volatility for large and small businesses 49 no
Encourages state facilities to choose competitive suppliers Increased migration risk raises standard service price for all 101 no
Many towns have lost money through similar programs 101 no
CFL Fundraiser $125,000 61 no
Emergency Generation Pilot Program $10 million 103 no
Standard Service Portfolio Manager Study Increased costs through market manipulation 104 no
Mandatory option of real time pricing Aligns costs with spot market, likely to cause increased rates 99 no
Financial incentives for utilities to cut peak demand unknown -- study 106 no
Grants for DG and fuel cells $50 million in bonds($25 million-fuel cells) 108, 109 no
Renewables, Combined Heat and Power in State Buildings $30 million in bonds 121 no
Natural Gas and Fuel Oil Conservation Programs $10 million from gross receipts tax 115, 116 no (removed by FIN)
Decoupling would have cost $72 million last year based on revenue numbers 107 different
Municipal Renewable Energy Grants $50 million in bonds 90-91 yes
Furnace/boiler replacement program $5 million bonding 1,2 yes
AC replacement program ~$9.7 million from ECMB 3 yes
Sales tax exemption for ice storage, solar, geothermal $500,000 for 2008, $700,000 for 2009 68 yes
Sales tax exemption for weatherization products, including CFL $7.5 million in 2008, $7.5 million in 2009 69 yes
Sales tax exemption for Energy Star appliances $13 million in 2008 70 yes
Conservation in State Buildings $30 million in bonds 73 yes
Restores ECLM funds $95 million in bonds 79, 126 yes
Operation Fuel $5 million 128 yes
Low income energy assistance yes
CHIF low-interest loans yes
CHEFA grants for efficiency projects yes
CHIF low-interest loans yes

So the items marked "no" in the "7098" columns are charges that consumers will have to pay because the Senate version of the energy legislation, rather than that House version, was approved.

More details on the fairness of the Democrats' budget.

The budget that Democrats are working to win approval of would make the state's taxes fairer by lowering taxes charged to most people. The Democratic budget lowers income tax rates for most people, doubled the Property Tax Credit to $1000 and adds more funding for aid to cities and towns that would help to lower local property tax rates.

Below, are some of the details. The tables, below, show the changes that the Democratic budget would provide in state taxes.

To the left of the table are various income rates. Next to that are the what people at these incomes owe before the Property Tax Credit, how high their Property Tax Credit is likely to be and their final state income taxes after their Property Tax Credit.

The next three columns are what these numbers would be under the Democratic budget plan. As you can see, people whose incomes are in green would receive a tax cut under the Democratic plan. Even those whose incomes are too low to owe state income taxes would likely see a tax cut under the Democratic plan from the new state Earned Income Tax Credit, which gives people back money to compensate them for sales taxes, etc. that they pay.

The last two columns show amount of change in each income group's state income taxes, and their percentage change.

The first table are the numbers for married couples filing jointly.




Legislature Proposal May 17th Plan


Property Tax Final

Property Tax Final

CT AGI Liability (1) Credit (2) Liability (1)
Liability (1) Credit (2) Liability (1)

$25,000 $8 $8 $0
$8 $8 $0
$40,000 $312 $312 $0
$312 $312 $0
$50,000 $850 $500 $350
$833 $833 $0
$60,000 $1,800 $500 $1,300
$1,737 $1,000 $737
$75,000 $3,015 $500 $2,515
$2,891 $1,000 $1,891
$100,000 $4,508 $500 $4,008
$4,268 $1,000 $3,268
$120,000 $5,600 $400 $5,200
$5,400 $1,000 $4,400
$150,000 $7,100 $250 $6,850
$6,900 $1,000 $5,900
$200,000 $9,600 $0 $9,600
$9,400 $500 $8,900
$300,000 $14,600 $0 $14,600
$14,838 $0 $14,838
$600,000 $29,600 $0 $29,600
$33,088 $0 $33,088
$900,000 $44,600 $0 $44,600
$52,588 $0 $52,588
$1,500,000 $74,600 $0 $74,600
$91,588 $0 $91,588
$2,500,000 $124,600 $0 $124,600
$156,588 $0 $156,588

This second table is for single taxpayers.




Legislature Proposal May 17th Plan


Property Tax Final

Property Tax Final

CT AGI Liability (1) Credit (2) Liability (1)
Liability (1) Credit (2) Liability (1)

$15,000 $15 $15 $0
$15 $15 $0
$20,000 $137 $137 $0
$126 $126 $0
$25,000 $340 $340 $0
$336 $336 $0
$35,000 $1,215 $500 $715
$1,168 $1,000 $168
$50,000 $2,070 $500 $1,570
$1,980 $1,000 $980
$60,000 $2,800 $450 $2,350
$2,692 $1,000 $1,692
$75,000 $3,550 $400 $3,150
$3,442 $1,000 $2,442
$100,000 $4,800 $250 $4,550
$4,692 $800 $3,892
$120,000 $5,800 $150 $5,650
$5,692 $600 $5,092
$150,000 $7,300 $0 $7,300
$7,342 $300 $7,042
$200,000 $9,800 $0 $9,800
$10,280 $0 $10,280
$300,000 $14,800 $0 $14,800
$16,390 $0 $16,390
$600,000 $29,800 $0 $29,800
$35,870 $0 $35,870
$900,000 $44,800 $0 $44,800
$55,370 $0 $55,370
$1,500,000 $74,800 $0 $74,800
$94,370 $0 $94,370
$2,500,000 $124,800 $0 $124,800
$159,370 $0 $159,370

This budget would go a long way toward making the state's overall tax system fairer. Approving this budget would be the right thing to do. I hope that is what will happen.