Monthly Archives: November 2010

After 30 years, Dodd delivers his final message

WASHINGTON–In an emotional farewell speech to the Senate Tuesday, Chris Dodd made a passionate plea for restoring political civility and preserving the chamber’s traditions, as he also sought to put the finishing touches on his own career as Connecticut’s longest-serving senator. Dodd opened his final “valedictory” remarks by evoking the image of himself as a 14-year-old boy, sitting in the Senate gallery as his father, Thomas J. Dodd, was sworn in 1959. More than five decades later, Dodd said the institution in which both he and his father served is at risk–a victim of the 24/7 news cycle, a political climate that favors conflict over compromise, and the endless need for politicians to raise campaign cash. “Intense partisan polarization has raised the stakes in every debate and on every vote, making it difficult to lose with grace and nearly impossible to compromise without cost,” Dodd said. “Our political system at the federal level is completely dysfunctional.” Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Supreme Court justice to head troubled child welfare agency

Governor-elect Dan Malloy today turned to Justice Joette Katz of the Connecticut Supreme Court to lead the Department of Children and Families, a troubled agency that has been under court supervision since 1991.Katz, 57, is giving up a seat on the state’s highest court to take over an agency that has frustrated efforts by three gubernatorial administrations to escape the oversight of the U.S. District Court.The choice announced today during a press conference in Hartford was a political blockbuster by a governor-elect who has enjoyed offering surprising choices to populate his new administration.Joette Katz Katz brings to the job a reputation for a first-rate intellect, but no experience in running a major bureaucracy. Prior to going on the bench, she was the chief of legal services for the Office of the Public Defender.Malloy said Katz, who also serves as the administrative judge for the appellate courts, has significant management experience in the judicial system, but he made clear he was most interested in bringing a keen mind and an outsider’s perspective to a difficult job.”Quite frankly, I’m hiring a pretty smart person right now,” Malloy said.Katz called her new appointment, which is subject to confirmation by the General Assembly, “my most important challenge.”She said Connecticut should be grateful to the advocates who first filed suit during the administration of Gov. William A. O’Neill to demand improvements in DCF, which has been subject to court oversight since the administration of O’Neill’s successor, Lowell P. Weicker Jr.”The DCF today is not the same DCF that it was,” Katz said. “Having said that, however, it is clear to me that it is not the DCF that it can be.”Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Christopher Droney refused a request by the administration of Gov. M. Jodi Rell to end court oversight, the latest reminder of the difficulties of bringing the child-welfare agency up to national standards.In response to a reporter’s question, Katz dryly acknowledged she was giving up a “monastic” life on the court for the rough and tumble life of running an agency that often invites the harsh glare of the media.”You mean, have I seen my psychiatrist this morning?”  she said, smiling.She was appointed to the Superior Court by O’Neill in 1989 and became the state’s youngest justice at age 39 in 1992 with her appointment by Weicker to the Supreme Court. She was reappointed by Gov. John G. Rowland and Rell.Once justices are confirmed for an initial eight-term term, by tradition they are reappointed every eight years until retirement, an effective lifetime appointment. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Can Congress pass a long-term Medicare rate cure?

WASHINGTON–Can Congress come up with a real cure for the maladies of the Medicare physician payment system? Lawmakers have proven themselves adept at applying Band-Aid solutions, passing repeated short-term fixes to stave off steep payment cuts to doctors who treat Medicare patients. But physicians in Connecticut and across the country have said these temporary steps, no matter how certain, are no longer enough to keep them from abandoning the seniors’ health care program. So what’s the likelihood that lawmakers in Washington will solve this $300 billion problem? And how might Congress find that kind of money in these tight fiscal times? Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Long after it’s over, Bridgeport vote gets a second look

BRIDGEPORT–Almost a month past Election Day, long after Tom Foley conceded and Gov.-elect Dan Malloy began assembling his administration, volunteers gathered at long plastic tables here Monday to figure out how, exactly, the city voted. They hunched over piles of ballots, scrutinizing them one-by-one, trying to unravel an electoral mess that kept Connecticut in suspense for days after voting ended. “The counting will just keep going until we finish,” said Luther Weeks, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Election Audit Coalition, the group overseeing the process. “This recount should help whomever’s interested in election integrity,” Weeks said. “And at the least, we’ll have an accurate count.” Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Survey: Doctors might limit Medicare participation, even without payment cuts

Congress has voted to temporarily avert a 23 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors that was scheduled to take effect this week, postponing the cut for another month. But that might not be enough to keep Connecticut doctors from limiting the number of Medicare patients they see, according to a new survey by the Connecticut State Medical Society. Fifty-five percent of doctors responding to the online survey earlier this month said they would limit the number of Medicare patients they accept or stop participating in the program altogether if Congress delayed the cut but did not enact a permanent solution to the formula behind it. Dr. David S. Katz
Doctors have faced potential cuts in Medicare payments for much of the past decade, but this year, the threats of cuts – and Congressional action to stop them – have become more frequent. “It becomes something that just wears you down and it erodes your confidence in the system,” said Dr. David S. Katz, the medical society president and a Milford general surgeon. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Lieberman hits airwaves to talk up DADT report

Sen. Joe Lieberman won’t be hard to find on Wednesday. He’ll be on Fox News, then MSNBC, first thing in the morning. And then both again at lunch. His reason for blanketing the airwaves? Touting the newly released Pentagon report on the impact (minimal, the study says) of repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. armed forces. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Lieberman, Shays on ‘civility’ crusade

Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Rep. Chris Shays are expected to take part in the launch next month of a new national group dedicated to restoring civility in politics, Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman reports. The message of the group, called “No Labels,” is is that the nation is facing a “crisis of governance.” “We are not labels, we are people,” the group’s “Declaration” says. “We believe hyper-partisanship is destroying our politics and paralyzing our ability to govern… We may disagree on issues, but we do so with civility and mutual respect.” Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Top Republican gives Dodd’s farewell speech rave review

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, had some unusually effusive praise for Sen. Chris Dodd’s farewell Senate speech on Tuesday. McConnell called Dodd’s remarks “one of the most important speeches in the history of the Senate.” He added that no one else has “so cogently” laid out why the uniqueness of the Senate, with its arcane rules, is so important to protect. McConnell even said that he would offer it up as recommended reading for everyone serving in the body. Why such gushing words from McConnell, a fierce partisan not known for warm relations with the opposing party? Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Malloy on his way back to D.C.

Governor-elect Dan Malloy is flying back to Washington D.C. this afternoon for a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association and one social engagement — a farewell reception for U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd. Malloy, who dropped a bombshell earlier in the day by naming Justice Joette Katz of the Connecticut Supreme Court as his choice to run the Department of Children and Families, is not scheduled to return before late Thursday. It is his second trip to Washington as governor-elect. Dodd was to make his farewell speech on the Senate floor at 4 p.m.
  Continue Reading →

Filed under:

State panel targets big savings in health care, but avoids worker concession debate

The legislative panel charged with improving state government efficiency tentatively endorsed more than $250 million in new cost-cutting measures Monday, particularly targeting state health care services for the poor and elderly. The Commission on Enhancing Agency Outcomes, whose final report is expected Dec. 15, also issued recommendations regarding state contract awards, energy costs, agency consolidations and tax enforcement. But the panel steered clear of one of the largest and most controversial state budget components, opting not to recommend specific wage or benefit reductions for unionized state employees. “I think we’ve got a very significant and very serious set of recommendations,” Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, co-chairwoman of the commission, said after the panel backed proposals estimated to save $153 million this fiscal year, and an additional $101.7 million starting in 2011-12. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Rell backs off proposal to cut rail service to fund heating assistance

Gov. M. Jodi Rell reversed herself Monday, pledging to oppose any cuts to Metro-North branch line rail service–less than one week after her budget office suggested such reductions to help close a shortfall in the state’s winter heating assistance program. “I can understand the confusion and questions that people have so let me be quite clear: I do not and will not support cuts to the Metro-North branch lines–Danbury, Waterbury or New Canaan,” Rell wrote in a statement released by her press office. “In fact, no one has made more of a commitment to commuter rail than I have and I will continue to forcefully advocate for rail until I leave office in January.” The governor’s budget agency, the Office of Policy and Management, submitted a list of potential cuts totaling more than $38 million to the legislature’s Appropriations Committee last week. Included in that list was $5.5 million to be saved by eliminating commuter rail service to Danbury, New Canaan and Waterbury and by canceling expanded service on the Shoreline East line. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Debt commission proposals already stirring controversy

WASHINGTON–Lawmakers will tiptoe into a political minefield this week when President Barack Obama’s bipartisan debt commission releases detailed recommendations for tax increases, spending cuts, and other painful steps that could put the nation on firmer fiscal ground. And within Connecticut’s congressional delegation, the fault lines already are emerging. Liberals, including Reps. Rosa DeLauro and John Larson, say the preliminary recommendations from the commission’s co-chairs, such as a proposal to cut Social Security benefits, are ill-advised and “non-starters.” But some moderate Democrats, such as Rep. Jim Himes, say it’s vital to consider every possible option when determining how to tackle the growing national debt. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Spent surpluses loom large against state’s budget deficit

State officials ordered as much surplus spending over the past 12 years as the entire deficit looming over the next fiscal year, according to a new report from nonpartisan legislative analysts. Past and present governors and legislators spent $2.76 billion from surpluses as soon as they were available, and took another $696 million left over from annual budgets and allocated it to future budgets a year or two out. Rep. Vincent Candelora: ‘A bit shocking’
 
Those two allocations combined approach $3.5 billion, or 59 percent of the cumulative surpluses recorded since 1999, according to the annual Fiscal Accountability Report delivered last week by the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis to the legislature’s Appropriations and Finance, Revenue & Bonding committees. Legislative analysts project that the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, faces a built-in shortfall of $3.67 billion, while the Executive Branch’s chief fiscal arm, the Office of Policy and Management, pegs it at $3.37 billion. The average, $3.52 billion, represents 18.5 percent of current spending. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

Colleges tackle remedial education problem

Manchester Community College student Tina Gilbert plans to get a degree someday, possibly as early as next year, but she still faces one obstacle that stops many college students in their tracks: remedial math. “I struggle with math–the fractions,” said Gilbert, who graduated from Windsor High School more than two decades ago and is one of thousands of students enrolled in remedial math or English courses in colleges across the state. Professor Kim Ward helps a student in a remedial math class at Eastern Connecticut State University. If Gilbert succeeds, she will defy the odds for students in remedial classes, who are far more likely than other students to struggle in college, become discouraged and quit, educators say. Now, schools such as Manchester Community College are redesigning remedial courses and taking a new look at an issue that is raising concern at colleges and universities in Connecticut and elsewhere. Continue Reading →

Filed under:

DeLauro hopes to keep powerful committee perch

Rep. Rosa DeLauro will vie to keep her top post on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, her spokeswoman said Monday. The 3rd District congresswoman currently serves as co-chair of the steering committee thanks to an appointment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the aftermath of the elections, Democrats voted to curb Pelosi’s power to tap her top allies for those positions, making them elected instead of appointed jobs. The steering panel exercises considerable behind-the-scenes power, doling out coveted committee assignments to House Democrats. Before the Thanksgiving break, DeLauro said she wasn’t sure if she’d run for election in the wake of the rules change. Continue Reading →

Filed under: