Monthly Archives: April 2010

Legislators to investigate Norton dismissal

State lawmakers plan to investigate the recent dismissal of Southern Connecticut State University president Cheryl Norton and the disclosure that Norton will remain on the payroll along with her interim replacement. The co-chairmen of the legislature’s Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee said they will schedule a hearing where they also will ask about a policy allowing the university chancellor to dismiss presidents without a vote of the system’s Board of Trustees. Only weeks after that policy was adopted last fall, Connecticut State University System Chancellor David G. Carter notified Norton that she would be dismissed. The CSU system announced her departure as a “retirement,” but documents obtained by The Mirror indicated that Norton, 61, had been forced out and had negotiated a settlement with the CSU system. Last month, Carter named Stanley Battle, former president of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, as SCSU’s interim president. Continue Reading →

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Senate votes to cancel projects slated for future borrowing

The Senate voted unanimously Friday to tighten the limit on state government’s credit card as lawmakers adopted a bill to cancel or reduce planned borrowing for dozens of community and regional projects in their home districts. The measure, which now heads to the House of Representatives, also reduces bond authorizations for tourism programs, open space preservation and park improvements, energy efficiency projects, renovations to prisons and other state buildings and a host of economic development programs.
“We are all compelled to advocate for projects in our districts and we shouldn’t apologize for that,” said Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo, D-New Britain, who as co-chairman of the legislature’s bonding subpanel, tackled the unpopular task of asking his colleagues to cancel many projects they already had touted back home. “But over time they accumulate.” The reductions and cancellations would bring state government nearly $180 million under its borrowing limit for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, said DeFronzo, who cut funds for projects tied to his community’s Polish American Foundation and YWCA. The bill was developed in response to sluggish state tax revenues which only recently have begun to rebound for the first time in two years. Continue Reading →

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‘Jobs bill’ clears Senate, unclear on future in the House

A Democratic “jobs” bill that taxes large bonuses paid by companies that got federal bailouts to pay for a small-business tax break passed the Senate Friday mostly along party lines. The bill eliminates the annual $250 business registration fee for small businesses, taxes bonuses over $500,000 from companies bailed out by the federal government and creates a $20 million low-interest loan pool for small businesses struggling to get loans. Republican Senators were quick to criticize the bill saying taxing “excessive” bonuses over $500,000 of workers is hardly sending the message Connecticut is business- and jobs-friendly. Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said the bill is “anti-job, anti-employee, anti-residents, anti-business. This counters the underlying goal of the bill which is job creation.”
The legislature non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis said they are unsure just how much the 3 percent tax would generate. Continue Reading →

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Broad education reform bill passed by Senate, sent to House

The state Senate voted Friday for a sweeping overhaul of Connecticut’s public schools, approving a bill designed to help the state qualify for millions of dollars in federal school reform funds. Among other things, the bill calls for tougher graduation standards, a fast-track training program for principals, an expansion of charter schools and a system that draws a more direct link between teacher evaluations and student performance. The proposals would lead to some of the most sweeping changes in the state’s public schools in decades as the state tries to strengthen its chances for up to $175 million under Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion incentive program to spur education reforms.
“This is really an historical moment,” state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Branford, said during a lengthy debate on the Senate floor. “Ten years ago you would never have seen a bill like this.” State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, left, and Sen. Thomas Gaffey, co-chairs of the Education Committee, confer as the Senate debates reform bill. Continue Reading →

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Senate agrees to tighten the state’s credit card

In a rare move of bipartisan frugality, the state Senate unanimously adopted a bill this afternoon that cancels $422 million in planned borrowing to keep state government’s credit card under its statutory limit. The measure, which now heads to the House of Representatives, cancels dozens of community and regional projects in legislators’ home districts and tens of millions of economic development dollars under Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s jurisdiction. It also merged and reduced by about 15 percent preliminary bond authorizations for projects in the state’s three largest cities. In its place were bonding pools for Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven that total $58.6 million, and local officials in each city would determine how funding would be distributed among the projects. The legislation also approved $40 million in new borrowing for municipal sewage treatment plant upgrades. Continue Reading →

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Seat belts for school buses passes House

The House overwhelmingly voted in favor of providing tax incentives to school systems that use buses with 3-point seat belts, paid for by increasing the fines to reinstate suspended licenses. Seat belts on school buses got a fresh impetus following the death of a student from Rocky Hill in bus crash earlier this year. The Transportation Committee heard testimony earlier this year that the student’s death could have been prevented had the student been wearing a seat belt.
But support for requiring seat belts on all new school buses faded following a $106 million cost estimate for school systems by the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and no proposal on how to pay for that. That didn’t deter Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the committee. He took that and crafted a way to pay for the costs of the belts. Continue Reading →

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Defeated: Extension of statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims

The statue of limitations for civil actions in child sex abuse cases will not be extended this year, as state lawmakers conceded today they cannot pass the bill this legislative session. “You’re running a marathon, not a sprint,” said Sen.Mary Ann Handley, D-Manchester, recognizing that time was not on their side with the legislature having just six days left this session. The impetus for this bill was an effort to allow dozens of victims of Dr. George Reardon to sue even though their case is too old under state law. Rep. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, was in tears during a press conference at the legislative office building today, reflecting on the phone call she had to make last night to one of Reardon’s victims to tell him this would not be the year the statue would be lifted. House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero, R-Norwalk, opposes the bill, saying he has “grave concerns” because it would only apply to the Reardon case. Continue Reading →

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What’s your assessment of the 2010 legislature?

The Connecticut Mirror is beginning its new commentary section, CTCommons, just as the 2010 session of the General Assembly is drawing to a close-and we invite you to mark both occasions with your thoughts on the legislature’s work. What went right? What went wrong? How will the events of the last three months at the Capitol shape Connecticut’s future? And what lies ahead for the new governor and General Assembly when they take office next January? Continue Reading →

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State revenue outlook is a little brighter

State revenues were projected to increase without the help of a tax hike for the first time in 2 ½ years in a new report released late Thursday by Executive and Legislative branch analysts. But don’t break out the champagne just yet. The nearly $406 million in annual extra revenues Connecticut can expect by 2011-12 represents just 10 percent of the $3.9 billion budget deficit projected for 14 months down the road. That still leaves a gap equal to almost 19 percent of the current state budget, and 53 percent of the entire $6.56 billion the state income tax will rake in this year. And nearly half of the revenue growth in the new report from the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and from Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, comes from projected hikes in federal aid. Continue Reading →

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Bill seeks disclosure of advocacy spending

Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision opening the door for corporations and organizations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political speech, state lawmakers are proposing a measure to require that such spending be disclosed. “We banned this type of spending in Connecticut for a reason, but now that’s unconstitutional,” said Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex, co-chairman of the legislature’s election committee. “If they are allowed to spend an unlimited amount of money, we should at least regulate it.” The Supreme Court’s decision did not directly address Connecticut’s law banning direct spending by corporations and unions to advocate for or against a candidate or party, but Spallone and Alpert P. Lenge, executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said the decision makes it clear laws like Connecticut’s are now unconstitutional. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 24 states currently prohibit or restrict corporate or union spending. Continue Reading →

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As session winds down, plans for a sweeping energy overhaul emerge

A thaw in one of the General Assembly’s chilliest relationships has produced a sweeping, 11th-hour proposal to overhaul Connecticut’s electric regulatory structure and subsidize solar energy. Setting aside three years of conflict, Sen. John W. Fonfara, D-Hartford, and Rep. Vickie O. Nardello, D-Prospect, are collaborating on what could be the biggest energy bill since deregulation in 1998. The two co-chairs of the Energy and Technology Committee circulated drafts of their legislation this week, setting off a scramble by industry and environmental groups. “It’s getting everyone in this building in a frenzy,” said Sen. Kevin D. Witkos, R-Canton, the ranking Republican on the committee. “This is huge, and it never had a public hearing.” Continue Reading →

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Legislators likely to drop ‘Amazon Law’

The chances of survival for a controversial bill to force collection of sales taxes on Internet transactions have become very slim as the regular legislative session nears its May 5 deadline, key lawmakers said Thursday. The problem, according to leaders of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, is that many legislators fear businesses could be harmed regardless of whether action is taken. On one hand, traditional book stores and other businesses without a major Internet presence have argued increasingly in recent years that their profits are being undercut by online retailers who don’t collect the 6 percent Connecticut sales tax. But the nation’s largest on-line retailer, Amazon.com, threatened last month to sever its ties with thousands of Connecticut businesses that receive commissions by directing shoppers to the Amazon site if the state tries to tax Internet sales. “I think people really are sensitive to all of these small businessmen and women,” Rep. Cameron C. Staples, D-New Haven, co-chairman of the finance panel, said, adding lawmakers’ uncertainties were not helped by Amazon.com’s threat. Continue Reading →

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Russo drops out, endorses Debicella for Congress

Former state Sen. Robert Russo of Bridgeport notified supporters by email today that he is ending his campaign for the Republican nomination for Congress in the 4th District. Russo immediately endorsed state Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, who still faces competition from Easton First Selectman Tom Herrmann. “I have had the pleasure of knowing Dan and serving with him in the State Senate,” Russo wrote. “I know Dan possesses the command of the issues and the politics that will make him a successful Congressman. We have a long fight ahead of us and we need to help Dan Debicella bring the fight to Jim Himes right now. Continue Reading →

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Merchandise return fees targeted by House

The House passed a bill today that forbids businesses from charging customers when they return defective merchandise. Proponents say the law is needed because businesses are allowed to charge an unlimited amount when customers return a product. Several House members shared their personal stories of returning a product and being charged the fee before the 121-16 vote. “I was left with a hefty restocking fee and left with nothing,” said Rep. Patricia M. Widlitz, D-Guilford, frustrated the fee was never mentioned before she recently purchased dinning room chairs. Cell phone companies are against the bill, calling their restocking fees “reasonable” to cover the costs to make the products suitable to resell. Continue Reading →

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Rell, unions clash over early retirement

State employee unions have rejected Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s call to offer the second worker retirement incentive program in two years, according to a statement released late Wednesday night by the administration. But the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition responded that it didn’t reject anything. Rather, it said, it insisted that Rell assess how a second program would affect state services and the fiscal health of the pension fund – and that the administration refused. The breakdown of the first negotiating session since mid-March between the Rell’s office and the unions left hanging not only the retirement incentive issue but also some legal, political and budgetary questions. “The Governor is extremely disappointed that SEBAC – the coalition of state employee unions -tonight summarily rejected any consideration of an early retirement plan to save $65 million in state budget costs,” the statement from Rell’s office read. Continue Reading →

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