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.