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.