Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lower electric rates, new jobs & renewable energy blocked by Rell veto.

Electric deregulation in Connecticut was a major mistake that drove up the cost of both electricity and natural gas. The deregulated electric market makes power plant owners and Wall Street elites wealthy at electric customers' expense.

I have been fighting, since I was elected to the legislature, to reform this costly system. Industry special interests have continued to block reform of the deregulation system, but I am continuing my work - pressing for a clean energy economy that saves money for electric customers and builds new jobs for the future instead of making Wall Street richer.

This year, I am proud to have won approval in the legislature of major reform that, if it was not vetoed by Gov. Rell, would have helped our state with:

Lower electric rates:

Connecticut's failed experiment with "electric deregulation" forces us to pay the highest electric rates in the nation. This not only hurts household budgets, it also costs jobs because our high electric rates make Connecticut a high-cost place for businesses to be. Change to this failed system is important. After years of fighting to reform this failed system, I am very pleased that the legislature voted to approve legislation that would lower electric rates. This legislation:
  • Requires the Department of Public Utility Control to follow a new process that could result in cutting electric rates by as much as 15%
  • Requires the Department to create a new discount in electric rates for households of modest income by 2011.
  • Creates new consumer protections for people against abusive marketing practices by competitive electric suppliers, such as allowing time for customers to see their contract for service and cancel the contract after they have read it.
Green Jobs & Clean Energy:

And this legislation advances another important priority I have been strongly advocating for: growing our economy by investing in clean energy. This legislation:
  • Creates greatly expanded solar and clean energy investments in the state - creating new opportunities for economic development and jobs installing solar and other clean energy equipment.
  • To encourage new high-tech manufacturing in New Britain, the legislation includes a provision that I proposed that creates an extra incentive for solar equipment manufactured or assembled in distressed municipalities.
  • Allows municipalities to set-up their own programs to assist homeowners in converting to renewable energy and making their homes more energy efficient.
Important progress being blocked:

This important legislation would represent a major victory for the people of our state. Unfortunately, its benefits - lower electric rates, renewable energy and good-paying jobs - are being blocked because Gov. Rell vetoed this important legislation.

Gov. Rell's decision to veto this important legislation is harmful to the environment, hurts job creation and forces Connecticut residents and businesses to pay the highest electric rates in the nation. Her veto was shortsighted and unfortunate decision.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Creating Jobs: Bold Action for the Future.

Our state economy is suffering from decades of policies that sent good paying industrial jobs overseas to enrich millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street. We need to turn things around.

That's why I have been pressing for legislation to build our state's economy for the future - create new industrial jobs in Connecticut by investing in a clean energy economy, public transportation and the manufacturing to supply these new investments. Of course, I also pressed for legislation to help people through the recession. While there is more that I will keep working to get done done, I am pleased to have approved sweeping jobs and economic development legislation:

Creating jobs by helping local businesses grow:

I pushed for legislation to create jobs for people now. That is why I am pleased to have approved legislation to:
  • Provide business tax credits for small businesses (fewer than 50 employees in Connecticut) creating new full-time jobs - three-year credits, maximum credit is $ 200 per month for new employee, for small businesses that create new, full-time jobs filled by new employees who reside in Connecticut.
  • Provide the similar business tax credits for businesses hiring Connecticut residents with disabilities.
One of the big things that I pressed for, in this time of tight credit, is action to make credit and capital available for businesses to grow in our state. That is why I was pleased to enact legislation to:
  • Establish a $15 million revolving loan program for small businesses and nonprofit organizations to provide up to $500,000 loans and lines of credit to businesses and nonprofit organizations employing fewer than 50 people.
  • Provide capital and support services to local businesses developing new concepts - authorizing $5 million in bonds available for businesses principally located in Connecticut and at least 75% of its employees work here.
  • Create personal income tax credits for "angel investors" - people who invest at least $ 100,000 in Connecticut start-up businesses in certain sectors.
  • Replace the Insurance Reinvestment Tax Credit Program to better ensure that the investments go to growing our state economy.
  • Authorize $500,000 in bonds for a pilot program to help manufacturers convert their facilities into green operations or implement energy efficiency measures by using lean manufacturing strategies.
Here are some other important ways that the legislation helps businesses to create jobs:
  • Requiring the Department of Economic and Community Development to take more steps to promote exports and manufacturing by assigning enough available staff to (1) provide technical assistance to businesses regarding exporting and manufacturing, (2) help groups of businesses in the same industry implement policies designed to improve their overall competitiveness.
  • Allowing the use of Manufacturing Assistance Act funds to promote exporting, including sponsoring export support programs, helping companies access U. S. Department of Commerce export assistance services, and providing export-related marketing materials and website improvements.
  • Exempting from the sales and use tax items sold, stored, used or consumed in the renewable and clean energy technology industries.
  • Establishing a 12-member task force to determine how state agencies and departments can reduce or eliminate duplicative procedures and paper usage.The task force must determine how technology can help agencies and departments achieve these goals.
Helping workers and working families:

At the same time as we work to help businesses to create new jobs, it is important to help working people and their families weather the recession and prepare for the future. That is why I was pleased to approve legislation that:

  • Allows certain laid off workers an extension in the state COBRA health coverage from 18 to 30 months.
  • Requires the Community-Technical Colleges to develop programs providing job-related skills and workforce credentials for the training needs of unemployed Connecticut residents.
  • Reimburses people for student loans and training grants for Connecticut residents with educational backgrounds and jobs related to green technology, life science, or health information technology and holding jobs related to these fields.
  • Allows qualified E-1 and E-2 electricians to be paid for work under the solar photovoltaic rebate program.
  • Creates a new mortgage crisis job training program providing job training and job placement assistance to borrowers who are unemployed, underemployed, or in need of a second job.

Plus, I was especially pleased to have approved legislation to require the state to invest in the budget and facility needs of the Vocational-Technical high schools. For far too long, these important schools have been left behind by state bureaucrats.

Investment in a high-tech future:

The legislation recently approved to enhance the UConn Health Center will ensure good paying jobs for New Britain and Newington residents who work at that facility. But this legislation does much more than this for New Britain:
  • It requires $5 million investment in the creation of a cutting-edge cancer treatment facility in the City of New Britain.
  • It creates a new Enterprise Zone in the New Britain to encourage the growth of biotech and other high-technology manufacturing in the city.
In addition, I approved legislation that creates a Chemical Innovations Institute at the UConn Health Center to help make our area a center for high-tech research and development and encourage business growth in our new Enterprise Zone.

More work to do:

Even with this important legislation, there is still much to do to build our state economy for the future and ensure the kind of good paying jobs the people of our state need. I will continue to advocate for ever bolder job-creating policies.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The State House should not have voted to legalize unlimited corporate campaign spending.

The State House of Representatives should not have voted to legalize, under the laws of our state, unlimited, direct corporate spending to influence elections.

Unfortunately that is exactly what it did on Saturday evening.

At issue was state legislation designed to be the state's response a recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.  In a previous post, I described why this Supreme Court decision was so wrong...
...the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that grants large corporations - including corporations from foreign countries - a nearly unlimited ability to use massive amounts of money to directly control our election process - handing massive power to the very corporate special interests that caused the economic meltdown that we are struggling to lift our nation out of today.
Most of the bill approved by the State House was sound - requiring disclosure in corporate and union independent campaign expenditures of what corporation or union did the spending and requiring CEOs to openly approve the ads for which their corporations pay. These requirements are not very strong, in that it will be easy for corporate attorneys to find ways to use shell corporations and clever accounting to hide what corporations are really doing the spending on political ads.  However, these rules are better than nothing.

The part of the legislation that is the real problem is in sections 7 and 8 of the bill.  For example, section 7 says:
Sec. 7. Section 9-613 of the general statutes is amended by adding subsection (g) as follows (Effective from passage):
(NEW) (g) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, a corporation, cooperative association, limited partnership, professional association, limited liability company or limited liability partnership, whether formed in this state or any other, acting alone, may make independent expenditures.
This overtly makes the laws of the State of Connecticut agree with the Supreme Court's decision to legalize unlimited corporate spending to buy control of elections.  Doing this is just, plain wrong.

In the face of such an affront to democracy as this Supreme Court decision, I strongly believe that our state must do whatever is possible to expose this decision as wrong and press for its immediate reversal.  Keeping the ban on direct corporate and union spending on election campaigns in the laws of our state is essential to maintaining that stand against the Supreme Court's decision.

It is not possible to underestimate just how bad this Supreme Court decision is - not just the decision, itself, but the fact that it sets forth the policy of the Supreme Court to strike down laws that protect democracy and free speech for average, everyday Americans in favor of a distorted alternative that corrupts our democracy by letting powerful interests literally buy control of government.

I had hoped to persuade for changes in this legislation before it was brought before the full House of Representatives.  When that did not happen, I attempted to offer an amendment to the bill to remove sections 7 and 8.  This would have made the legislation stronger - requiring minimal disclosure of corporate political spending, but maintaining our state's statutory ban on this corporate control of elections.  Unfortunately, I was barred from bringing my amendment to the floor of the House of Representatives.

While this is truly disappointing, I am heartened that most Americans - Democrats, independents and Republicans - agree that this Supreme Court decision is wrong for our nation (from the Washington Post):
Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court's Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent "strongly" opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.
The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).
Hopefully, the people of our great nation will press for the change needed to turn back the terrible affront to democracy that this Supreme Court decision is, and restore the value that democracy belongs to the people.