Friday, December 18, 2009

Connecticut Jobs Now: Action to create jobs for Connecticut workers.

Our state needs strong action to create jobs. This is exactly what I have been advocating already, by pressing for proposals during the regular legislative session in 2009 ranging from green jobs to funding for construction jobs.

Since then, our economic slump has dragged on, with our state unemployment at 8.8% - the worst since the 1970s.  Action to create jobs is needed now.

That is why I joined with Sen. Donald DeFronzo today in announcing a "Connecticut Jobs Now" initiative (PDF):
State Representative Tim O’Brien (D-New Britain, Newington) today joined a coalition of lawmakers calling on Governor Rell’s administration to take action that would create more than 16,000 jobs by investing in Connecticut’s aging infrastructure.

“As I have gone door to door in our community, people have told me over and over that they need jobs,” Rep. O’Brien said. “The leadership of our state has a responsibility to get people to work earning paychecks and to get our economy moving again.”

“The Connecticut Jobs Now plan would create thousands of jobs and help many businesses - getting our economy moving again. It is the right thing to do and I hope the Governor agrees,” Rep. O’Brien said.

Rep. O’Brien credited Senator Donald DeFronzo (D- New Britain) for his work in creating and promoting the plan which can be fully implemented by the Governor’s administration without further legislative action.

The key to the Connecticut Jobs Now plan calls for $1 billion in state bonding on transportation infrastructure, housing, energy conservation, clean water and higher education projects.

The plan funds only those projects that were previously authorized which could be implemented within 90 to 120 days.

“This is a call for action,” Rep. O’Brien added, “More importantly, the plan creates jobs and puts people back to work.”
This is not a new concept. One of the best things public officials can do to help an ailing economy and create jobs is to support public construction. It is especially true now, since a quarter of our state's construction workers are unemployed.

By putting construction workers back on the job, they and their families will be able to pay bills and shop at stores - creating jobs and helping businesses in other parts of our state economy.

This makes good sense.  And we, in the legislature, have already provided the bond authorization to do it, so there should be no roadblocks to getting it done.

Connecticut Jobs Now can be the core of the recovery of our state's economy.  But action by the Governor is needed - now.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Busy morning speaks to important priorities, like health care and education.

This morning was one of those times, as a state legislator, when I had to try to be in three places at the same time.  This is pretty common, but this morning's events struck me in that they touch on some very important values – like health care and education – the support for which is in real question in the difficult budget debate underway right now.

One event was a visit to the Cedarcrest Hospital in Newington, which is a state mental health facility that Gov. Rell's administration is trying to shut down.  Many people have real concerns her decision to remove these important services will result in people with significant mental health needs falling through the cracks and into desperate situations without the help they need.

On top of this, Gov. Rell is proposing deep cuts to nursing homes and hospitals.  Nursing homes have already been reeling – closing down and reducing staff because of years of funding that has not kept up with rising costs.  Now, Gov. Rell proposes a devastating blow to them.

Meanwhile, hospitals, which are struggling because, in the bad economy, more people without health insurance need their services.  Gov. Rell's cuts would seriously damage hospitals at just a time when we really need them.

Another important event was a meeting at New Britain General Hospital between local early childhood education advocates and the Graustein Memorial Fund.  The Graustein Fund has made a very significant commitment of funds to the program that I wrote about earlier, directed at improving education, well-being and prospects in life for very young children.

The problem is that the funding from the Graustein Fund is matching funding and it depends on the state keeping its own funding commitment.  That is why it is so unfortunate that Gov. Rell's plans call for cutting this important matching funds.  Gov. Rell's plan would cut a good number of things that benefit children like the Children's Trust Fund, early childhood education services, pre-natal services, after school programming, libraries and more.

There is a lot of unfortunate rhetoric that has been thrown around in the budget debate.  For example, Democrats in the state legislature have made billions of dollars of cuts in the state budget – many difficult cuts – but Gov. Rell and fellow Republicans keep falsely saying that there have not been budget cuts.

Just as bad is rhetoric that talks about budget frugality in pithy political terms in  sound bites on the evening news, but ignores the importance of the services that, in the real world, that are being cut and the harm caused when they are gone or greatly reduced.

We need leadership in our state that rises above this and helps us to approve a budget that balances the budget, not just in dollars and cents, but in the values we all should share.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Hearing on Gov. Rell's budget proposal set for December 9th.

Since people have been asking me about having an opportunity to comment on Gov. Rell's plans for cuts in the state budget, I wanted to pass on the news that the legislature's Appropriations Committee will be holding a hearing on the proposal.

The hearing will be on Wednesday, December 9th at 2pm in hearing room 2C of the Legislative Office Building, next to the State Capitol in Hartford.  Click here to find directions to the State Capitol.

You can click here to see a summary of the Gov. Rell is proposing.  To see a more complete listing of her plan, including cuts she already made herself, click here.

The hearing will be chaired by New Britain's own Rep. John Geragosian, who also formerly represented Newington.  Rep. Geragosian is the State House Chair of the important Appropriations Committee.

If you are interested in testifying, I am told that you will need to sign-up the day before the hearing (Tuesday, December 8th).  The exact order that people will be able to speak will be decided at random.  I will add to this post if I hear any further information.

Update December 3, 2009, 10:53pm:
Here is some more complete information on how to testify at the hearing, which also corrects what I previously posted:  "If you are interested in testifying, you will have to sign-up to testify by appearing in person in room 2700 of the Legislative office Building and draw a lottery number to determine when you will speak. Sign-ups begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 12/8 and will conclude at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 12/9. if you cannot appear in person to sign-up, you may have a representative sign you up on your behalf. If you or a representative cannot sign-up by 10 a.m. on Wednesday, you can still testify by appearing in person, and your name will be added to the list."

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Local planning report shows change needed to improve opportunities for young children.

A well-done report showing the need to improve education for young children  in New Britain will be released tonight at the Vance Village School.

The Leadership Work Group, a project of the New Britain Discovery Collaborative is releasing the report, "Blueprint for Improving The Lives of New Britain’s Young Children Birth Through 3rd Grade".  This report is very thorough, and the parents and other community participants, especially Merrill Gay of the Discovery Collaborative, deserve thanks for their hard work in getting it done.

The report focuses on improving the education and well-being of children from birth to the third grade, based on evidence showing that children who fall behind by the third grade are more likely to have difficulty in many ways the rest of their lives.  It has been shown that maintaining a child's well-being and educational opportunity in every one of these first years of life is critical for a lifetime of successful learning and achievement.

The report show that the challenges facing New Britain's children are great.  Here are just a few troubling statistics (from the report):
  • 36% of third graders read at grade level, the 2nd lowest level in the state
  • 15-20% of children have insufficient language, literacy and numeracy skills when they arrive at kindergarten
  • Only 10% of children starting kindergarten in 2008 were rated fully ready by their teachers
  • 39% of children starting kindergarten in 2008 were perceived by their teachers to not be ready
  • 21% of children arrive at kindergarten with no preschool experience
And the report discusses how other factors, such as these, lead to poor academic opportunities for children:
  • poverty among New Britain children is great - 62.7% of children are eligible for free or reduced price meals at school
  • 300 children are on the waiting list for infant/toddler childcare
  • 9.8% of babies are born at less than 5.5 lbs., exceeding the state average of 8%
  • 16% of babies are born to teen mothers, more than double the state average of 6.5%
  • 37% of pregnant women do not receive adequate prenatal care
  • Obesity rates among young children are rapidly increasing: 19.4% of 4 year olds are obese, 18.1% of 3 year olds are obese
  • The 63% of children who rely on HUSKY face significant barriers in accessing any type of specialty care
  • Despite improvement in preventive dental care, access to restorative dental care remains very limited
The report breaks down the problem confronting New Britain children and families into a series of indicators for improvement...
A. Reducing the number of Low Birthweight Babies
B. Increasing the number of Mothers with a High School Diploma
C. Reducing the rate of Obesity in 3 and 4 year old Children
D. Increasing the number of Children Ready for Kindergarten
E. Increasing the number of Children Reading at Grade Level
...and then the report proposes concrete strategies to improve the quality of life and educational opportunities for kids in those key areas.

In certain important ways, the report is very timely.  Gov. Rell has just proposed a "Deficit Mitigation Plan" that proposes cuts to a number of important services that benefit the people of the state.  Some of those cuts would reduce exactly the things that this report shows need to be improved.

For example, the report cites how important it is to have state funded programs to reach out to expectant parents and link them with key services to ensure that they have healthy babies.  But Gov. Rell's newest budget proposal would cut funding for the Children's Trust Fund, which supports exactly those services in New Britain.  Gov. Rell's budget proposal would also cut funding for child day care and teen pregnancy prevention, two other things the report says need better state support in New Britain.

So this report shows why Gov. Rell's budget plans are unfair for the people of New Britain.  Clearly, we need a better plan than this so that the state budget is balanced, not just in dollars and cents, but balanced in the values we should uphold.

The report takes things a step further by clearly laying-out the reasons for some of the key things I have been fighting for at the state Capitol, for example,
  • Education funding.  I have been pressing for significant increases in state funding for our local schools - and I and the other New Britain legislators have won millions of dollars of increased education aid for New Britain.   But, there is much more that needs to be done.  For example, the report points out that kindergarten classrooms should have education paraprofessional - something held up by budget constraints. As I have been pointing out at the State Capitol, Gov. Rell's own education funding task force recommended that New Britain should receive an increase of $30 million a year in education aid (and similar increases for other big cities) to provide an equitable education for New Britain's kids.  Another group, CCJEF, produced a study that says that the increase for New Britain should actually be $88 million a year.  That is why, while we have won millions of dollars of increased state aid for our local schools, I continue to fight hard for more.
  • More pre-school classrooms.  I am proud that we won, in the State Legislature, significant increases in the number of early childhood education classrooms for New Britain kids in the past few years.  But, as the report points out, there are more than three hundred children who still need access to pre-school classrooms.  Completing this work is a high priority for me.
  • Pre-School teacher pay.  Increasing the number of early childhood classrooms in New Britain was a real achievement.  But today's blue-print report shows that a major obstacle for young children is the need for their pre-school teachers to be better trained.  The problem is that pre-school (day care) staff are generally so poorly paid that, to provide for their own families, they tend to quickly leave for better paying jobs.  This leaves little time for professional development to turn them into highly skilled pre-school teachers.  The solution is simple, but expensive - pre-school teachers need to be paid better - much better.  As helpful as Gov. Rell's administration has been in expanding early childhood education classrooms, she has not really addressed the pre-school teacher pay issue - which is nearly as critical as expanding pre-school classroom spaces.
Of course, the issue with all of these is finding money for them in the State Budget.  That is where the priorities of the person who holds the office of Governor need to change.

For being one of the wealthiest states, Connecticut has some of the most intense inequality in the nation and has one of the more frugal state governments (as a UConn study has shown).  The result of this is that there is little funding available as I and other legislators advocate for education and other services, like those the blue-print report calls for, and well as for reforms to lower unfair property taxes and similar inequalities.

As a legislator representing a district that includes middle class and poorer people and families, it is frustrating to watch the combination of a Governor  and state legislators, who are from wealthy communities, blocking efforts to make the budget priorities of the state fairer for the middle class and poor.

One of the reasons the "Blueprint for Improving The Lives of New Britain’s Young Children Birth Through 3rd Grade" is important and valuable is how clearly it lays out why certain funding priorities are important for the most important and vulnerable members of our community - the youngest.

Making the goals of this report a reality will take a lot of hard work.  I plan to use the good work that went into this report to continue my efforts to build a stronger community.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Spanish Speaking Center Food Pantry seeking donations.

This is Thanksgiving week and most of us are getting ready to enjoy the holiday with family - and to to enjoy a pleasant Thanksgiving Day meal.

But, especially with the economy in such a serious slump, there are many people and families who are struggling just to make ends meet.  That is why it is so important that are our local food pantries are able to provide people with the help that they need to put food on the table.

However, I have just been informed by Mary Sanders, Director of the Spanish Speaking Center in New Britain that the Center's food pantry is running short...
Our pantry is empty and we expect 100 people picking up food this Wednesday. ... [We] appreciate any help in getting the word out. Emergency Food Hotline 860-801-6344.
The Spanish Speaking Center is at 29 Cedar Street in New Britain and the main phone number at the Center is 860-224-2651.  Please feel free to donate.

Best wishes for a happy and peaceful Thanksgiving!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Two-Year Budget Plan Preserves Services, Protects Families

Recently, the legislature approved a two-year budget for our state.  Here is a statement from the New Britain legislative delegation about this:

New Britain Delegation Votes in Support of Two-Year Budget Plan That Preserves Services, Protects Families

September 1, 2009.  In votes cast late last night and early this morning, the New Britain Legislative Delegation supported a two-year budget for the state of Connecticut that protects vital services and the state’s safety net of programs without placing an undue burden on working families.

The $37.6 billion package — House Bill 6802, An Act Concerning Expenditures and Revenue for the Biennium Ending June 30, 2011 — was passed in a 103-to-45 vote of the House of Representatives and a 22-to-13 vote of the Senate.
“These are very difficult times,” said Senator Donald J. DeFronzo (D-6), “but these are the times when people need the services and programs that their government provides more than ever. This budget contains heavy cuts, but it saves those things that seniors, working parents, children, low-income families and the disabled need to survive, and it’s this support that will help to bring us out of this recession. This is a balanced approach, a compromise approach, and I hope that the governor approves this plan.”
“This budget represents a balance of cuts and revenues and it represents a shared sacrifice of everyone across the state of Connecticut while preserving vital service,” Representative John Geragosian (D-25), co-chair of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. “This budget represents the values of our state and protects our most vulnerable.”
“This budget stands up for average, everyday people by protecting things like property tax relief, Dial-A-Ride for seniors, nursing home funding, education and magnet school funding,” Representative Tim O’Brien (D-24). “This budget cuts spending and lowers taxes for middle class and poor families while preserving important public services. While I do not agree with everything this budget does, it is a reasonable compromise.”
“I am pleased this compromise budget protects important programs for New Britain area families like Head Start, after school programs and Dial-a-Ride,” said Representative Betty Boukus (D-22). “Also, our commitment to fully fund municipal aid and education funding will come as welcome news to property taxpayers who were on our mind as the budget was put together."
The budget bill cuts approximately $3 billion in state spending over the biennium and raises $1.25 billion in new revenue to help balance an $8.56 billion deficit over the next two years. The budget also:
  • Preserves the state matching grant program for Dial-a-Ride services that benefit seniors and the disabled;
  • Increases operating grants for area magnet schools to encourage increased enrollment;
  • Restores cuts to the state’s Family Resource Centers and Head Start programs;
  • Increases funding for adult daycare services;
  • Rejects the governor’s proposed cuts to nursing homes;
  • Rejects a proposed increase in bus fares;
  • Makes no changes to the ConnPACE prescription drug program for seniors and the disabled;
  • Preserves the state’s $500 property tax credit;
  • Provides full funding for the Care4Kids program;
  • Saves the New Britain Department of Motor Vehicles branch office; and
  • Protects municipal aid, including Town Aid Road and the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sustinet becomes law while Health Care Partnership blocked.

Health care reform scored a victory last week with approval of the Sustinet legislation.  The legislature overrode the veto of Gov. M. Jodi Rell to make this health care reform legislation law.

The Sustinet legislation provides for the creation of a comprehensive health care system in Connecticut to provide affordable quality health care.  The final health plan created under the Sustinet process will require final approval of the legislature, and the planning process created under the legislation will make Connecticut ready for the health care reform under debate in Congress.

This an important victory for the people of our state.  It is finally a great step toward toward affordable quality health care.

The state House of Representatives also overrode Gov. Rell's veto of the Health Care Partnership legislation, but the state Senate fell one vote short of the needed 24 votes to make the legislation law.  The Health Partnership would save municipalities and small businesses money by opening the state health pool to them.

The Health Care Partnership legislation could save New Britain taxpayers $900,000 a year.  And it would help small businesses to save money and create jobs.  All elected officials should be in support of this legislation to save taxpayers and small businesses money.

The people of our state won a good victory on affordable quality health care. But, between the implementation of Sustinet and the need to win on the Health Care Partnership, there is still more work to do to achieve affordable quality health care for all.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Meeting to Address Wal-Mart Closure.

This article was in the New Britain Herald yesterday:

Since that article I have spoken with state Labor Commissioner Patricia H. Mayfield, who is working on helping the workers as well.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Legislature approves state budget.

The State House of Representatives just approved the state budget that was approved by the State Senate yesterday.

With the economy in a slump and the state budget in great deficit, everyone knows that there are difficult choices that need to be made.  There are many difficult choices made in the budget approved today, and there are things about this budget that I do not like.

But, overall, I think that Rep. John Geragosian, chair of the legislature's Appropriations Committee, did a good job of creating a budget that makes fair decisions from the difficult choices.  This budget cuts the state budget by over $2 billion, by making tough choices to cut back on state spending.

Yet this budget makes the fair decision to preserve important things, like:

  • support for our local schools
  • health care
  • Dial-A-Ride for senior citizens
  • ConnPACE
  • libraries
  • nursing homes
  • Head Start
  • family resource centers
  • technical schools
  • services for seniors and people with disabilities
  • funding for the arts - including the New Britain Arts Alliance.

This budget makes the choice to be fair by asking the wealthiest people in the state - those with incomes over $500,000 a year - to contribute just a little more to be able to meet the important needs of our state.

I voted in support of this budget.  Now it is important that Gov. Rell sign this budget so that the state will have a budget by the start of the budget year on July 1st.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Percent for the Arts in New Britain

From May of 2009:
I was very interested in two recent newspaper articles reporting the unveiling of a new sculpture at New Britain High School under the city's Percent for the Arts program.  As the Hartford Courant reported,
An 18-foot aluminum statue that is the city's first effort in a program that funds public art has been installed at New Britain High School. The statue was erected on Wednesday in front of the school's main entrance.
This article goes on to say,
The project ... is funded through the city's Percent for Art, in which one percent of the funds for certain public construction projects is set aside for a public art project.
This got my attention because I wrote New Britain's Percent for the Arts ordinance when I was on the City Council, before I was elected to the state legislature.  That ordinance also created the city Commission on the Arts.  I worked with Barbara Scully, who was a Republican Council member, in the creation of this ordinance.  The Arts Commission was Ald. Scully's idea and the 1% for the Arts was an idea I proposed, based on a similar state policy.  We merged our ideas and worked together to win its approval.

I believed then and now that public art adds to the quality of life of a community.  As New Britain artist Craig Frederick said in the New Britain Herald article,
“Public art opens eyes, minds and hearts to the limitless possibilities of the human imagination,”
I believe that public art is important because it is shared and accessible to everyone.  It makes public spaces we all share more enjoyable places to be, and it inspires the imagination and creativity.

And so, in that spirit, I cannot think of a better place for this ordinance to have created public art than where students can enjoy it every school day at New Britain High School.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Britain High School class visit to the Capitol.

This week, I was honored to be able to greet New Britain High School students, teacher Basia Maselek's 9th grade American Government class, at the State Capitol.  They were on a field trip, visiting the Capitol and the state Supreme Court on a field trip to see how government works.

I believe it is important to show young people how their government functions by being able to see it themselves.  That is why I try to speak with students who visit the Capitol on field trips whenever I can.

When I met Ms. Maselek's class, the legislature's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee was meeting to debate legislation referred from the House and Senate floor, so I was able to bring the class into the committee meeting room to watch the committee's deliberations.  I hope that they enjoyed watching the legislature in action.

The photo here is outside the committee room, where I was able to speak with the class.  I let the class know some of how the decision-making at the Capitol works, and the students asked some very thoughtful questions.

Sen. Donald DeFronzo and Rep. Peter Tercyak also spoke with the class.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Legislation to lower electric prices.

Connecticut's electric deregulation system has been a disaster for home electricity customers in Connecticut.  It has pushed our electric rates to the highest in the nation and it has been widely discredited nationwide.

Today's New Britain Herald reported on legislation that I voted to approve last week in the state House of Representatives that would roll back the failed electric deregulation system for residential customers:
“The people I represent want lower electric rates,” [Rep. Peter] Tercyak said. “For over 90 percent of customers, deregulation hasn’t worked. It’s led to the highest electricity rates in the nation.”
O’Brien, who has advocated repeal of electric deregulation since first elected in 2002, said the end of deregulation would be a victory for consumers who have watched rates climb over the years.
“The people of our state have been waiting a long time for this,” O’Brien said.
With the old, "regulated" electric market, utility companies had to keep their prices down based on how much it actually cost them to generate electricity and deliver it to us.  The system was never perfect, but compared to the current problems with electric rates, it kept prices lower.

The reason deregulation was approved by legislators before I was elected was because the people of our state were told, incorrectly, that electric rates would go down because deregulating the electric market would allow people to choose who generates their electricity.  The idea is that the old electric utility companies - for New Britain and Newington, CL&P - would continue maintain the power lines taking electricity to our homes, but each household would be allowed to choose which company makes the power they, individually, would use.

So you and your neighbor could be buying electricity from different companies, even though it would come through the same wires.  If that sounds like it does not make much sense, you are correct.  The system was designed to make it look like there was a real market in which you can choose the best price for electricity like you choose the best price for a dozen eggs but, in truth, it is complicated mess that allows companies that own power plants and Wall Street traders to make great profits at customers' expense.

That is why, it seems from the moment it became law, the promise of lower electric rates disappeared.  By the time I took office, even the advocates for keeping electric deregulation had to confess that deregulation was never going to lower electric rates.  In fact, they actually made the argument that electric rates would have to go up even more than they already had to attract more electric generation companies to the Connecticut electric market.  Most people I talk to do not care about choosing which company "makes" their electricity if it costs more to have that "choice".  They just want lower electric rates.

That is why have worked to undo the failed electric deregulation system.  Two years ago, I thought that we were close to accomplishing just that.  But the legislation that would have done it was defeated.  In its place, legislation arguably made things worse was approved.

That is why it is so good that, two years later, we won approval the state House of Representatives for rollback of electric deregulation by a 103-39 vote.

I hope that this legislation, combined with another bill that would create an organized and publicly accountable system for providing electricity in our state will become law this year.

In truth, however, both bills face an uncertain fate in the State Senate.  Hopefully, the Senate and Governor will approve this important legislation.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bysiewicz and state delegation advocate for health care.

Members of the New Britain legislative delegation and Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz met at the New Britain YMCA with business and non-profit organizations to advocate for increased health care access. As reported on Bristol Today:
State Representatives John Geragosian (D-New Britain), Peter Tercyak (D-New Britain), Tim O’Brien (D-New Britain) andBetty Boukus (D-Plainville, New Britain)  joined Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz Tuesday at a regional roundtable with area small business owners an non-profits to discuss business-friendly health care policies that will help New Britain area companies thrive. 
The General Assembly is currently debating legislation to save small businesses thousands of dollars annually in employee health care costs. The plan would open the state employee health insurance plan to small businesses, municipal employees and non-profits. 
Rep. Geragosian said, “You save money when you buy in bulk.  That is the simple principle behind the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership.  If you were able to join the huge state employee health care pool, your costs would drop dramatically.”
There are currently more than 200,000 people in the state insurance pool. 
New Britain residents Amy Gladysz and her husband John, owners of Orbitech Satellite Services in Plainville, have seen their premiums multiply over the last several years.
“We pay thousands of dollars a year for our insurance policy, but the prescription limits are so low, that we spend thousands of dollars more for the medication we need to stay healthy” Amy Gladysz said, “If our business had access to the state plan, we would save substantially on out of pocket expenses.”
Rep. Tercyak said, “Between co-pays and yearly benefit maximums too many folks are finding that their insurance isn't adequate.  One local business owner has insurance, she told me, but she's developed diabetes and now she learns that she her yearly maximum only covers three months of meds and testing supplies.  Three months.  We can do better than that for her and for other business people.  I say they deserve the choice.  I'm sure a lot of them will find the state employees' insurance options are comprehensive, attractive choices.”   
“The implementation of health care pooling will provide an opportunity for thousands of our fellow citizens to be able to obtain quality health care protection at an affordable cost," Rep. O'Brien said. “Municipalities, small businesses and non-profits will be able to participate and that participation will be voluntary, not mandatory. This is a landmark first step to that needs to be taken now.”
Rep. Boukus said, “Health care costs are making it difficult for businesses to grow and provide jobs in our communities. Government must improve the business climate and lowering health care costs is a good place to start.”
Thomas Morrow, Executive Director of Bristol Community Organization, said that like many small businesses and non-profits, BCO has seen its healthcare costs skyrocket over the last several years. In order to continue offering health benefits, the agency was forced to increase the employee-paid share, by switching to health savings accounts (HSAs).
“My employees complained that health savings accounts were too onerous to navigate and the out-of-pocket costs were too high. The following year, we offered a traditional plan in addition to HSAs and every employee opted into the traditional plan, even though the premiums were higher,” Morrow said. “Having access to the state plan would bring our costs down, while enabling us to offer our staff the quality health benefits they deserve.”
The lawmakers met with businesses owners Tuesday at the New Britain YMCA.

State health readiness concerning swine flu.

Some people have asked me about the steps the state is taking to be ready for and respond to the swine flu. Here is information I have received from the state Department of Public Health:
Below please find the link to the Department of Public Health website .  As you will see, we continue to update this website as information becomes available.  We know that you will be getting calls from constituents, physicians and those linked to the schools and thought this information would be helpful to you. 
DPH is currently conducting daily conference calls with CT Hospitals and Community Health Centers and local health directors, as well as our sister agencies.  We are working with DSS, CT State Medical Society and other partners to distribute the information that pertains to physicians.  We have also worked with the State Department of Education to distribute the school guidelines to CT schools.
If you have any questions you would like to ask about this or concerns you would like me to address, certainly feel free to ask me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Economic stimulus and aid to municipalities.

The state legislature's Finance Committee approved a plan to stimulate job creation and help New Britain, Newington and other local governments provide local services.  As the New Britain Herald reported today:
A bond package passed out of committee last week promises increased financial aid to New Britain and surrounding communities...
I would like to thank Senator DeFronzo for his hard work on this plan.  In this article, I discussed what this plan would mean for New Britain and Newington:
O’Brien said New Britain would receive $2.3 million in Capital Block Grants, with Berlin and Newington getting $501,000 and $724,000, respectively.
In addition, under this legislation, five local road and bridge projects totaling $4.3 million in value were reauthorized in New Britain along with one project in Berlin estimated at $1 million and one project in Newington estimated at $586,000.  With this, added to the total for New Britain, as I said in the Herald,
...New Britain will receive more than $6.6 million under the legislation if approved by Rell.
As I said in the Herald,
“With this funding, the legislature is actively working to create jobs and help our local communities,” O’Brien said. “At a time when budgets are tight all around, I am proud to be joining our federal leaders by adding state aid to grow the economy and assist our local government.”
I hope that the Governor and full legislature will approve this funding.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Looking backward a bit to find economic solutions for the future.

As we look to solutions to our current economic crisis, we need to understand what has caused the mess we are in.  We cannot reverse the mistakes unless we understand what the mistakes were.

In early 2008, Kevin Phillips came out his book, Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, in which he pointed out (in the preface of his book on the web) that:
Without much publicity, the financial services sector—banks, broker-dealers, consumer finance, insurance, and mortgage finance— muscled past manufacturing in the 1990s to become the largest sector of the U.S. private economy.  By 2004–6, financial services represented 20 to 21 percent of gross domestic product, manufacturing just 12 to 13 percent. And finance enjoyed an even bigger share of corporate profits.
He also pointed out an important cause of this:
...elements of the U.S. government decided, back in the late 1980s, that finance, not manufacturing or even high technology, had to be the sector on which Washington would place its strategic chips—would 'pick as a winner' in the parlance of that era. Farms and factories were expendable, but certain banks and other financial institutions could not be allowed to fail.
I do not agree with much other of his commentary, but this description of the cause of our problems as the national decision to shift away from manufacturing and toward the financial sector is dead-on.  (Except that I think these bad decisions actually go back further than the 1980s.)  Of course, if you are in New Britain, Connecticut, you have felt the brunt of these kind of decisions directly.  The fact that large-employment, high-wage factories have left in New Britain and similar communities across the U.S. is because these bad decisions.

In "The Quiet Coup," an article in the The Atlantic, the author, Simon Johnson, demonstrated results of these bad decisions:
From 1973 to 1985, the financial sector never earned more than 16 percent of domestic corporate profits. In 1986, that figure reached 19 percent. In the 1990s, it oscillated between 21 percent and 30 percent, higher than it had ever been in the postwar period. This decade, it reached 41 percent. Pay rose just as dramatically. From 1948 to 1982, average compensation in the financial sector ranged between 99 percent and 108 percent of the average for all domestic private industries. From 1983, it shot upward, reaching 181 percent in 2007.
Johnson's article is a stunning indictment of the way our national economy has been run into the ground.  He compared the political problems that lead to this crisis with his observations of the cause of similar problems in poorer countries.  Here is what he says about what is happening in the U.S. right now:
...elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.
Mr. Johnson's harsh criticism is especially weighty given the point of view he comes from.  That is, his old employer was actually an important part of the problem.  He was chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and, in this article, (among other things with which I disagree) he seems blind to the fact that policies of the IMF have been in service of the very 'oligarchy' (his word) in the U.S. who he now rightly criticizes.

IMF policies have been notorious for driving poor countries into more desperate poverty and forcing them to adopt export-oriented economic structures.  The countries with export-oriented policies and with a workforce driven to poverty wages have been used by the financial oligarchy of the world (including those of the U.S.) to undercut the wages of U.S. workers, producing cheaply in poorer countries and selling expensively to people in the U.S.  Hence, the massive profits these wealthy interests have been making.

People in the U.S. have been sold on the idea that all of this was just fine - the "maturing" of our economy into a "knowledge" economy in which manufacturing is replaced by office work.  But that was always a fiction.  The real, ugly truth is that the U.S. standard of living and our ability to continue buying imports has been propped-up despite the loss of so many manufacturing jobs because the U.S. economy has been floated by a massive bubble of debt and make-believe Wall Street securities.

This fiction could not be carried on forever and, of course, in 2008, the bubble burst.  Now, we are left to deal with the aftermath.

So, the core problem is that the U.S. gave up far too much of our high-employment, high-wage manufacturing jobs.  That was a big mistake.  So the solution is obvious.  We need real solutions that rebuild our high-employment, high-wage manufacturing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why do the middle class and poor pay more than the wealthiest?

Since this is April 15th, I thought I would share a message I received today that talks about the unfairness of the tax system in Connecticut.  Here is from the e-mail I received:
Attached is a new report from Connecticut Voices for Children that finds that Connecticut’s wealthiest residents pay much less of their income in state and local taxes than do the state’s middle-income and poor families.  After federal income tax deductions for state income and property taxes, the wealthiest 1% of Connecticut’s families (with average income in 2007 of $4.2 million) paid only 4.5% of their income in state and local taxes.  This was less than half the share of income paid in these taxes by the state’s middle-income families (9.3% of their average income of $55,000) and the poorest 20% of families (12.1% of their average income of $12,200).
Low- and middle-income families pay a relatively larger share of their income in sales and property taxes, while higher income families pay a larger share of their income in income tax.  In total, however, the state’s wealthiest families pay a much smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than do its middle and lower income families.  . . .
Michael Sullivan
Director of Communications
Connecticut Voices for Children
Here is the most important part of the report this message talks about (click on the photos to see the larger size):

Middle class families pay twice the tax rate of the wealthiest 1% in our state, and the poor pay even higher.  Why should the middle class and poor pay more so that the wealthiest can enjoy these large breaks?  It is just not fair.

That is why property tax reform is so important.  Had the major reform approved by the legislature two years ago, now, been signed into law we would be on our way to a fairer system, with lower taxes for people in cities like New Britain.  The state would have also been in a much better position to weather the current economic storm.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Book sale to benefit Friends of New Britain Public Library.

I have been asked to help publicize a book sale benefiting Friends of New Britain Public Library .  Here are the details:

The Friends of New Britain Public Library

Book Sale

W/Art & Music corners

Friday, April 17, 2009

      11 a.m. - 4 p.m.

      Saturday, April 18, 2009

      9 a.m. - 2 p.m.

      Free admission 
Preview: Thursday, April 16, 2009

3 p.m. – 6 p.m. $5.00 per person admission

(Members of the Friends of NBPL free)

Community Room, New Britain Public Library, 20 High Street,

New Britain, CT 

Hard cover and paperback fiction and non-fiction books, videos, vinyl records, CDs, DVDs, cassettes, specially priced books, texts, children’s, books in other languages & much more!  Spotlighted is an Art Corner with books & framed and unframed prints for sale.  A special Music (classical to contemporary) section features books, scores and sheet music. 

Venta De Libros. Tenemos libros en Espanol.

Wyprzedaz Ksiazek. Mamy ksiazki po Polsku.

All proceeds benefit the New Britain Public Library

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Renewable Energy and Conservation for New Britain in federal stimulus legislation.

Yesterday, I found out that New Britain is set to receive $653,500 in funding under the Federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program (EECBG) for the state of Connecticut. The funding is available for direct distribution to municipalities with populations of 35,000 or more.

This funding provides grants to states and local governments for projects that improve energy efficiency, reduce fossil-fuel emissions and reduce total energy use.

I am very pleased with this priority.  President Obama’s energy priorities are forward thinking.

Rep. John Geragosian is also pleased with this program.  He said, “These are difficult economic times for many people and the energy funding, used wisely, will help people with escalating energy costs.”

Rep. Peter Tercyak added that,“This is good news for New Britain.  Energy efficiency makes good sense and this money comes at a time when people are hurting and need a helping hand.”

Senator Donald DeFronzo noted that, “This is a good expenditure that creates jobs now and makes us less energy dependent in the future.”

Local governments decide how this funding will be allocated.  It would be best for the city to use this funding in a way that helps residents save money on their electric and heating costs, while at the same time, creating good jobs.

This funding can be used for:
  • Development of an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy and Technical Consultant Services to assist in the development of such a strategy.
  • Residential and Commercial Building Energy Audits.
  • Financial Incentive Programs and Mechanisms for energy efficiency improvements such as energy savings performance contracting, on-bill financing, and revolving loan funds.
  • Grants to nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies for the purpose of performing Energy Efficiency Retrofits.
  • Energy Efficiency and Conservation Programs for Buildings and Facilities.
  • Development and Implementation of Transportation Programs to conserve energy.
  • Building Codes and Inspections to promote building energy efficiency.
  • Energy Distribution Technologies that significantly increase energy efficiency, including distributed resources, combined heat and power, and district heating and cooling systems.
  • Material Conservation Programs including source reduction, recycling, and recycled content procurement programs that lead to increases in energy efficiency.
  • Reduction and Capture of Methane and Greenhouse Gases generated by landfills or similar waste-related sources.
  • Energy efficient Traffic Signals and Street Lighting.
  • Renewable Energy Technologies on Government Buildings.
  • Any Other Appropriate Activity that meets the purposes of the program and is approved by DOE.
On behalf of New Britain, I offer my thanks to President Obama and our member of Congress, Chris Murphy.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Time to build middle class jobs again.

In the wake of the economic troubles facing our country, certain politicians and pundits have been turning to an old standby of their rhetoric... They are blaming you - average, everyday people - for the state of the economy.  For example, I saw a television talk show recently on which George Will said that the reason for the current economic problems is that all Americans have been on a spending spree, buying more than they can afford.

But that kind of accusation is grossly unfair.  It is true that American consumer debt has been increasing, but the reason for that is far from Mr. Will's accusation.  The truth is that bad trade policies and other damaging federal policies have been slowly undermining the standard of living of the American middle class for decades, now.  And the result is clear:
Jared Bernstein, [President Barack Obama's task force on middle-class issues] executive director, said middle-class incomes have fallen by about $2,000 in real terms since the start of the decade. (MSNBC) 
Americans have been struggling to keep themselves in (or get themselves into) the middle class, with bad federal trade policies continually undermining their hard work.

This video on MSNBC shows both the problem (and possibilities for hope).  It talks about industrial jobs lost when federal trade policies allowed a corporation to move jobs to a lower-wage country.  This is a story we know very well in Connecticut, and especially in New Britain.

But this video also shows the industrial opportunities that exist to start manufacturing renewable energy products.  This is the kind of manufacturing that Connecticut's - and New Britain's - high tech industry and highly skilled workforce are well-prepared to start - or do a lot more of.  And good policies designed to get us there can help to alleviate the harm done by decades of poor economic decisions by the federal government - and help set us on a path to a prosperous future.

The Green Jobs legislation other legislators and I are working on right now can start accomplishing exactly this.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bi-Partisan deficit mitigation plan.

The House of Representatives is presently approving a plan to address the deficit in the current year's state budget.  It is a plan that closes $1.2 billion of deficit in the state budget.

With the budget problems we face in our state, there are a lot of things in this plan that I wish were not occurring.  On the other hand, this plan protects many things that would have been cut under the Governor's plans, like ConnPACE benefits for seniors and people with disabilities and important clean energy and conservation programs.  It also prevents cuts in education funding that were being considered.

And this plan is being approved with both Democratic and Republican support - a great achievement for Speaker of the House Chris Donovan and New Britain's own John Geragosian, Chair of the Appropriations Committee.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Finally bringing industrial employment back through green jobs.

We in Connecticut have a unique opportunity to both rebuild our high-employment, good-paying industry and make ourselves leaders in the worldwide movement for an environmentally-friendly economy.  This is a moment in history when there is clearly a need for and an opportunity for both, and we can show the leadership to get it done - right here.

The people in New Britain have known for decades now what the rest of the country is just realizing: you cannot have a successful economy with fewer good-paying industrial jobs.  People in New Britain could tell any Wall Street economist who had been advocating for damaging international trade policy that you are just asking for trouble if you try to offshore most of the high-employment industries.  At a certain point, there will not be enough people with the income to buy the things we are importing.

That reality came home to roost in a big way in the form of the disastrous economic crash of 2008.

The question is what we do now.  For certain, we have to rebuild our high-employment, good-paying industry.  But we cannot look back thirty years to re-create the kind of things we were manufacturing back then.  Technology has changed and you can only grow an economy by being ahead of the curve.

That is why the leadership of President Barack Obama has been so important.  Even before he was elected, he was talking about re-charging our industrial economy by manufacturing the things that will enable us to produce and conserve energy.  The math on this makes so much sense.  Presently, we send massive amounts of our income overseas to buy energy - mostly oil.  This is a huge drain on our economy.  So, the more energy we produce here at home - and the less we waste - the less of an economic drain energy becomes.

And that is just for starters.  If we save money on energy costs by investing money to produce the things that make renewable energy - like solar panels and windmills - we can create a large number of industrial jobs.  Plus, then there are many jobs created to do installation of things like solar panels and, of course, to do the weatherization that saves money by making homes and other buildings more energy efficient.

We have reached the point when these things are not science fiction, anymore.  They are now the wave of the future.  We can either act to be at the lead of the next big thing or later wish that we had.

That is why I introduced House Bill 6000, An Act Creating Green Jobs.  This legislation would...
...establish a program to create jobs and promote green energy and conservation by establishing (1) a comprehensive program for public investment in clean energy, conservation, public transit and transit-oriented development, (2) a comprehensive program to create the manufacturing capability in Connecticut, primarily in the central cities, to supply this clean energy, conservation, public transit and transit-oriented development, and (3) a plan for state investment in this manufacturing.
The idea would be to greatly expand the state's clean energy and conservation programs and use them to carry out a plan to upgrade all homes, and possibly businesses, with renewable energy - probably solar panels - and energy conservation.

The next step is the crucial one.  The solar panels (or whatever renewable energy is used) and the supplies to weatherize homes and businesses, as much as possible, would be purchased from manufacturers here in Connecticut.  The state would redirect some of its existing investment money to investments in the expansion and creation of this manufacturing and installation industry - retrofitting current factories, expanding small businesses and growing new ones.

Of course, I would want a large amount of this manufacturing to be located in and employing the people of New Britain.  And many people in New Britain can be employed in the installation and weatherization work that would need to be done.

It is a solid plan that would work.  And it would push Connecticut to the lead in both green manufacturing and renewable energy and conservation.

As tough as things are right now, it is now that we have the need and responsibility to chart a new path for our country, state and communities.  We now know that it was a big mistake to give up our high-employment, good paying manufacturing economy.  Fortunately, Connecticut, with our highly skilled workforce and high-technology infrastructure is well positioned to take the lead into the new era of high-employment, high wage industry.

If we take action to make it happen.

If you are reading this and you are not my constituent, you can help by asking your State Representatives and State Senators to co-sponsor and support HB6000, An Act Creating Green Jobs.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Rell budget freezes education and harms property tax relief.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell's budget freezes education funding for cities and towns and cuts PILOT property tax relief funding to New Britain by about $2 million.

A freeze in the Education Cost Sharing Grant funding is better than a cut, but I am deeply concerned that Gov. Rell's budget would result in higher property taxes and less local services - such as larger class sizes for kids in our local schools.

It is not a complete budget, either, leaving a state deficit of $2.7 billion over two years.  I do not know why it is that the Governor would submit a budget so far out of balance.

I will say that the Governor's job creation program, bringing back the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps is a good idea.  It is an idea that I have been talking about as a good way to help people in these tough times with what they want - jobs.

But the fact that it is so far out of balance and leaves many, many important needs unmet makes this budget proposal very problematic.  I had hoped for better and I am disappointed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Census taker jobs.

I just wanted to share some information from the U.S. Census Bureau that was brought to my attention:

The 2010 Census – A Great Way to Earn Extra Money

The U.S. Census Bureau is recruiting temporary part-time census takers for the 2010 Census. The pay is good, the hours are flexible, and the work is close to home.
Census taker jobs are excellent for retirees, college students, persons who want to work part-time, persons who are between jobs, or just about anyone who wants to earn extra money while performing an important service for their community.
To hear more about working for the 2010 Census, short video clips are available for viewing online.
Your community is counting on you
Every 10 years, we conduct a census of our population. The results help determine your representation in government, as well as how federal funds are spent in your community on things like roads, parks, housing, schools, and public safety. As a census taker, you'll play a vital role in making sure that everyone is included.
Thousands are needed for temporary jobs
Conducting the census is a huge undertaking. Thousands of census takers are needed to update address lists and conduct interviews with community residents. Most positions require a valid driver's license and use of a vehicle. However, public transportation may be authorized in certain areas.
Earn good pay
Census takers receive competitive pay on a weekly basis. In addition, you will be reimbursed for authorized mileage and related expenses.
Bilingual speakers are encouraged to apply!
All census takers must be able to speak English, but bilingual skills in English and other languages are needed in communities that have a large number of residents who speak a language other than English. If you have such skills, we encourage you to apply.
Get more than just a paycheck
Besides good pay, you'll have flexible hours, paid training, and the chance to work within your own community. You'll earn a place in history, as well as work experience you can add to your resume.
Apply today by contacting your Local Census Office or by calling 1-866-861-2010!
You can read more about this on their website at

I hope this information is helpful.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Honoring Rep. Faith McMahon, who grew up in New Britain.

I was sad to learn today about the loss of a friend and colleague, Rep. Faith McMahon .

Rep. McMahon and I were both elected in 2002, so we served during the same moments in history for our state.  I have a lot of respect for Faith as a legislator and as a person.  She brought great experience and intelligence to her work at the Capital and worked hard as a legislator to help people.

On a personal level, I cannot say enough how much Faith was deeply kind and caring.  She always took a genuine interest in what was important for other people and was thinking about ways that she could be encouraging.

Faith and I spoke about many things, but one of the things she told me that especially interested me is that she grew up in New Britain.  In fact, her childhood home is on Bassett Street, right across from the old High School.  I really enjoyed hearing her tell stories about growing up in New Britain.

My deepest condolences to Rep. McMahon's family.  I know I will miss her.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun

We have many challenges before us and much work to do.

But this day, with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, we should remind ourselves of the hope for a better future that our nation made possible this past November.  Today, we embark on a new direction.  And we should remind ourselves the momentousness of the corner we have turned - a moment that was made possible by the hopeful optimism that was carried over generations in our country...

Lift every voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won.

"Lift Every Voice and Sing"
by James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson
sung by the Soul Children of Chicago.

I am so proud of our country.

And now on to building a better future!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rep. John Geragosian ascends to important budget position.

Here in New Britain, we have long known the admirable qualities of State Representative John Geragosian (D-25). He has been one of our state legislators since 1995 and is well known in our community for his generosity, kindness, intelligence and conscience. He is respected among many circles in our community and he has been a strong advocate for our city for a long time. He is now the "dean" of the New Britain delegation, the longest serving of the city legislators.

Now the rest of the state gets to find out what a skillful and principled leader John Geragosian is because he has just been appointed Chair of the state legislature's Appropriations Committee by Chris Donovan, the new Speaker of the state House of Representatives.

News about legislative leadership assignments is not often followed closely outside the walls of the State Capitol, so it might not be widely known just what a big deal this is. The Appropriation Committee deals with the state budget on behalf of the legislature, and the chairs of that committee have an important role in the creation of the final state budget. The position to which John has been appointed is among the most influential and important in the state. It is a real honor for our community to have Rep. Geragosian as Appropriations Chair.

This is not the first time a legislator from New Britain has held this important position. As John McNamara has pointed out , former State Senator Joseph Harper was the Chair of the Appropriations Committee for the State Senate. (The Connecticut state legislature has a system of joint House-Senate committees in which each committee has both a House Chair and a Senate Chair.) And, from 1999 to 2002, one of my predecessors, State Representative David Pudlin, was the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives. Rep. Geragosian now becomes the next of the important state leaders to have been from our city.

If you know John Geragosian's family, you know where he got his great qualities from. John is a realtor, taking after his mother, Harriet. Harriet, owner of Unique Reality, is one of the kindest, gentlest people you are likely to meet. Yet she has firm political values for fairness and equality, for which she strongly advocates.

John's father, Harold Geragosian, is a longtime local attorney. Harold is very respected as a strong and skillful advocate and as a man of great principle. He is still remembered as the attorney who, decades ago, advocated for New Britain's Puerto Rican Society when it was being formed and in its early years.

John has taken all of the admirable qualities from both of his parents into his own life's work. He is cheerful and friendly and liked by just about everyone, and yet he is a strong figure helping people. He worked hard as a City Council member from 1989 to 1993. As a state legislator, he has advocated for workers' rights on the job, affordable quality health care coverage, justice and equality and property tax reform. He has an uncanny ability to push aside the hubris of politics and challenge powerful figures on behalf of average, everyday people.

It is that quality that I suspect made him the choice of incoming Speaker Donovan for the powerful Appropriations Chair. With the state facing both a massive deficit and an even worse economic predicament, we will need strong leaders like John to make sure that the state government does not stick its head in the sand just when our state's people need its help the most. Getting through the problems we face will take a person with strong principles, an agile mind, a tough spirit and a really good sense of humor.

This is exactly the combination of talent and demeanor for which our own John Geragosian is known. He did not seek out this position, not being one to put himself in the spotlight. But, here in New Britain, we can be proud to know that he is just the right person for this important challenge.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Budget hearing at the Capitol.

Today, the legislature's Finance Committee is holding a hearing on the state budget.  I am a member of this committee.  And sitting in on the hearing today is the new House Appropriations Chair, Rep. John Geragosian.

The hearing is actually on the Governor's latest deficit mitigation plan, but it is the first opportunity of the legislative session for an open discussion on the serious budget problems that the state faces.  So the discussion has delved into some areas that the state budget deliberations are likely to take this year.

There are a lot of ideas being considered for how to solve the state's budget crisis and we are starting to see what different elected and appointed officials are thinking.  The discussion is very cordial, though it is clear that this year's budget process will be a challenge to the values of our state.

For example, some of the Governor's proposals involving taking important funding out of dedicated funds that are designed, for example, to do things like promote clean energy.  But, taking the good example from President-Elect Barack Obama's emphasis on promoting clean energy, not just for the environment, but also to create new jobs, we need to be investing much more, not less, in clean energy and conservation.

The Governor is also proposing removing funding that is dedicated to the Citizen Election Program - which we just created to remove the influence of special interests from state government.  This money would do little to solve the state's budget problems, but removing it could do grievous harm to the important protections that preserve democracy in our state.

There are difficult choices that will have to be made this year, to be sure.  But if all things are being put on the table, we need to also be taking a tough look at the state policies that benefit those in our state who have the most already, and not just at things that benefit job creation, democracy and the environment, or, for that matter, things like education, health care and property tax relief.  These are things that should be at the top of the priorities to be preserved.

There is a lot of rhetoric that all things should be on the table.  But we need to bring all things onto the table so that we, as a state, can look at all of the difficult choices so that we can really choose to keep the things that we value the most.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Opening Day at the Legislature - facing the economic crisis.

Today, I was sworn-in for a new term at the legislature.  I am very grateful to the people of New Britain and Newington for the honor to serve them.  Thank you.

This is Opening Day at the State Capitol.  It is a day of pomp and ceremony.  But it is also a  day for very serious work - especially this year.  We are facing a serious economic and budget crisis and the people of the state will need the state government to show leadership.  The last thing the people of our state need is a state government that sticks its head in the sand and ignores the need for real solutions.

The current economic crisis did not happen overnight.  And it is not a short term problem.  The crisis began because of the poor economic choices made on Wall Street and in Washington DC that destroyed the once great industrial economy of New Britain and so many places like New Britain.  Those bad decisions undercut our core industrial economy and created a make-believe economy built on borrowing.  It was a bubble that was going to burst at some point.  And that point was 2008.

There will be a great temptation among many politicians to think that we are faced with temporary problems and that all that is needed is to balance budgets in short run.  But that would be shortsighted.  That would be sticking our heads in the sand.

We need real solutions that will rebuild our economy and create jobs.  We need public policies that truly meet the needs of our state's people for job creation, health care, education, transportation, stable communities and so much more.  And, with so many families and senior citizens struggling in these tough times because of unfair policies - especially property taxes - now is exactly the time when we need to correct these unfairnesses.

Connecticut is known as the "land of steady habits", in no small part because change comes slowly when people who benefit from keeping unfairnesses from being reformed keep our state on its steady habits.

There will be tough budget choices in state government this year, to be sure.  But the real tough decision that will be needed from the Governor on down will be the choice to provide the real leadership to move our state forward - for a real economy with more, better paying jobs for average, everyday people and for a future where the unfairnesses of the present are swept away.

And that is something to look forward to on this Opening Day.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Herald, Newington Town Crier and Bristol Press Saved!

It looks like our efforts to make sure that we do not lose our hometown daily newspapers has paid off:

With less than two weeks before staff at The Herald and The Bristol Press were scheduled to cover their keyboards and lock the doors for the final time, a last-minute buyer has appeared to save the newspapers.
Publisher Edward Gunderson announced Tuesday that Michael E. Schroeder, owner of Central Connecticut Communications, has entered into a letter of intent to buy the two daily papers. The sale, which should be complete within two weeks, includes three area weeklies: the Wethersfield Post, the Newington Town Crier and the Rocky Hill Post.  (New Britain Herald) 

There is also a report about this on BristolToday.

The loss of the New Britain Herald would have left the New Britain community without a hometown daily newspaper.  This would have been the last month, ever, that the Herald would publish.  That would have represented a real blow to New Britain. So I am very pleased that this has worked out.

I am also pleased that Mr. Schroeder has purchased the Newington Town Crier and other weekly newspapers.  There was a lot of concern that the weekly newspapers would not be purchased, even if the dailies - the Herald and Press - were.

As we work to build a strong future for New Britain, it is essential that our city remain a regional center.  And an important part of that is having a daily newspaper of record.  We almost lost ours.  And I have proud to have been in a position to help keep it.