Monthly Archives: June 2011

Lawmakers send labor a stern warning with bargaining rights bill

State legislators gave unionized employees an early taste Thursday of what labor negotiations could be like at the Capitol if major wage and benefit concessions aren’t granted to help balance the new budget. After the Senate voted 30 to 6 to adopt a measure curtailing collective bargaining rights tied to pensions and longevity pay, the House of Representatives effectively tabled the matter, but only after its leaders warned it could be considered later this summer. And while lawmakers made it clear their hope is that unions will use the grace period to reconsider a concession package voted down earlier this month – or adopt something similar – a union spokesman said Thursday that the message was received. “We want them to come to agreement,” House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, said. “I would think that the state employees would take notice that the bill is alive and on our calendar.” Continue Reading →

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Cities and towns win, state employees lose in budget deal

The House Democratic majority and the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy agreed Thursday to spare municipalities from proposed cuts in state aid, a change that will come at the expense of additional layoffs of state employees if a failed concession deal is not salvaged. The Democratic majority in the House refused to grant Malloy’s request for authority to cut municipal aid by 2 percent, so Malloy instead says he will impose as many as 1,000 layoffs above the 5,500 previously announced. But the legislators are gambling that SEBAC, the coalition of state employee unions, can deliver on its promise to salvage concessions voted down last week in voting by individual unions. SEBAC’s board has delayed indefinitely what was expected to be a pro forma acceptance of those votes. “Our hope is that we don’t do any of these cuts, and that the state employees eventually ratify the agreement and avert all layoffs and avert all cuts. Continue Reading →

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Malloy would trim tax break for poor–but not to balance the budget

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has asked state legislators to scale back a new tax credit for the working poor–but not to help close the $700 million shortfall in the next state budget. The administration proposal to reduce the maximum new state earned income tax credit by one-sixth instead would boost projected reserves for the next two annual budgets by $18 million each. Malloy already has proposed $704 million in savings to re-balance the budget through a combination of layoffs, municipal aid reductions and other spending cuts–more than enough to offset the $700 million savings originally projected to come from concessions next fiscal year. And the administration couldn’t spend the new revenue obtained by reducing the earned income tax credit in the coming fiscal year without exceeding the constitutional spending cap–something it has said it will not do. Malloy’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, said the reduction is fair given other sacrifices state government would have to impose now that state employee unions have rejected a concessions package. Continue Reading →

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On eve of higher ed merger, Meotti named interim president

Higher Education Commissioner Michael P. Meotti has been named interim president of the new Board of Regents that will comprise his agency, the state’s community and online colleges, and the Connecticut State University System. “In absence of someone at the helm, the governor has asked Commissioner Meotti to step in,” said Mark Ojakian, who is overseeing the higher education reorganization for the Office of Policy and Management. The merger officially takes effect Friday. Meotti, the commissioner of the DHE for the last three years and previously a state senator, emerged as the Malloy’s administration’s point man on the consolidation of higher education shortly after the plan was announced. “The bottom line is this proposal focuses on results. Continue Reading →

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Malloy’s proposed labor changes facing resistance in House

The General Assembly is poised today to grant Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s request for additional budget-cutting authority in response to a failed labor concession deal, but his proposal to curb some collective-bargaining rights for state employees faces resistance in the House. The budget cutting authority will come with strings: The legislature intends to retain the right to review Malloy’s additional budget cuts, which would take effect automatically after a review period if lawmakers do not return for a second vote. Rep. Toni E. Walker, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said there is a strong consensus for the legislature to retain the ability to shape the budget revisions after a review by her committee. In an outline given to House Democrats, Malloy’s rescission authority would increase from 5 percent to 10 percent of agency budgets, and he could cut municipal aid by 2 percent. The Appropriations Committee would have from July 15 to Aug. Continue Reading →

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Bad news at the beach: Pollution is up in state, nation

Not the kind of news you really want to hear going into one of the biggest beach weekends of the summer: The water at Connecticut’s ocean beaches was a lot more polluted last year than it’s been in awhile. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s annual report on the nation’s marine beaches showed there were 143 beach closings among Connecticut’s 66 public beaches along Long Island Sound, an increase of 32 percent from the 108 days they were closed in 2009. What makes it worse, said Leah Schmalz of Save the Sound, a program of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, was that the whole nation had a lousy summer at the beach: On average, closings were up 29 percent. Most of Connecticut’s closings (66 percent) were the result of stormwater runoff – and in particular, in a summer that was otherwise very hot and dry – one brutally rainy week in August that accounted for about one-third of the closings. While disappointed, Schmalz said the state has been headed in the right direction in terms of providing funds to address runoff issues. Continue Reading →

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Malloy endorses Segarra in Hartford mayoral race

As the House and Senate met for a special session Thursday to tackle the remaining whole in the state budget, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took time for Hartford city politics by endorsing Pedro Segarra for Mayor. Mayor Pedro Segarra (left) and Shawn Wooden (right)
Segarra’s opponent, Democrat Shawn Wooden, dropped out of the race and threw his support behind Segarra Thursday afternoon. Segarra thanked Malloy for his support and committment to the city of Hartford. “The governor has already shown that he knows how to bring this city to the next level,” Segarra said. Malloy joked that he supports Segarra, although Segarra didn’t support him in the race for governor. Continue Reading →

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Federal website shows most, least expensive colleges

High school students and parents planning some college tours this summer might want to check out a new federal website that lists the most and least expensive colleges and universities in several categories. It was created by the U.S. Department of Education under the Higher Education Opportunity Act, and this home page also includes links to the College Navigator site and every parent’s favorite, FAFSA. The new site covers 4- 2- and less-than-2-year institutions, public, private and for-profit. It identifies the most and least expensive two ways: by mandatory tuition and fees, and by net cost–tuition, fees, books, typical room and board and other costs, minus average grants and scholarships. You also can see which schools have had the greatest increases recently. Continue Reading →

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New report highlights hurdles for small medical practices in adopting electronic records

Connecticut doctors have been slow to adopt electronic medical records, in part because a majority of the state’s physicians work in groups with four doctors or fewer. That means they don’t have a big institution, with deep resources, to help make some of the large technological investments needed to switch over to an electronic system. A new study suggest that networks of small medical practices-called “independent practice associations”-is one possible resource for doctors in small practices to overcome hurdles in adopting and using electronic health records. The study, conducted by the Center for Studying Health System Change, concludes that independent practice associations, first formed in the 1970s, “can serve as model in how to provide coordinated assistance with [health IT] activities to otherwise independent and relatively small physician practices.” Connecticut has at least one large IPA, established as a physician network in the 1990s. Continue Reading →

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Larson blasts Colombia trade deal

Rep. John Larson said Thursday that he would “actively oppose” a free-trade deal with Colombia negotiated by the White House. Larson said the deal would be bad for workers in the U.S. and in Colombia, because Republican had blocked the inclusion of provisions aimed at improving labor rights in the deal. Here’s Larson’s full statement:
“I am extremely disappointed that Congressional Republicans have prevented any meaningful reference to the Action Plan Related to Labor Rights in the Colombia Free Trade Agreement implementing legislation that we’re being asked to consider. “Over the last several months, the Administration has worked diligently with the Colombian government to create a path forward for badly needed improvements in workers’ rights in Colombia.  While I believe that the “Action Plan” did not go far enough to address the harsh conditions faced by Colombian workers, it does have the potential – if properly implemented – to strengthen basic workers rights on the ground in Colombia. “Improving Colombian workers’ rights is not only the right thing to do morally, it’s the right thing to do economically too.  The more the people of Colombia improve their lot, the more demand there will be for American goods and services.   It would be irresponsible for the United States to now backpedal and move forward without inclusion of the Action Plan in the implementing language. Continue Reading →

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Congressional budget cuts threaten nutrition safety net

As Congress crafts a budget that addresses our nation’s long-term fiscal challenges, Foodshare and our partner agencies – more than 350 food pantries, meal sites, shelters, senior centers and after-school programs — are urging our elected officials to safeguard nutrition assistance and other safety net programs. The number of families struggling to make ends meet increased significantly during the recession. With unemployment still hovering near 10 percent in greater Hartford, the need for food assistance remains high and Foodshare, along with other social service agencies, is already hard-pressed to meet the need in our communities. Congress is now proposing cuts that would eliminate federal food assistance for hundreds of thousands of low-income seniors, women, infants, and children, pushing more people to local charities for food assistance. At the same time, Congress would reduce support for local emergency food providers, like Foodshare. Not only will we be hard pressed to meet the increased demand for food assistance if these cuts to nutrition programs go through, we will likely have to reduce current levels of support for existing clients. Continue Reading →

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Privatization could challenge social services nonprofits

As the Malloy administration prepares to cut spending in social service agencies–part of the plan the governor released Tuesday and wants the legislature to approve today–the nonprofits that provide many safety net services for low-income and disabled residents are wondering what the changes could mean for them and their clients. People who work with nonprofits say they could take over some state services, particularly group homes and local mental health authorities, which provide theraputic and crisis intervention programs. Private providers already operate some of both. But some cautioned that the nonprofits themselves are in precarious financial positions and would need more state funding to take on additional responsibilities. And nonprofit leaders worry that the budget cuts could instead mean cuts in the rates private providers are paid by the state. Terry Edelstein, president and CEO of the Connecticut Community Providers Association, said there is “unlimited capacity” among nonprofits to absorb state services–as long as there is funding for it. Continue Reading →

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Malloy wants to suspend operations of privatization watchdog

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will ask legislators today to suspend a linchpin of the state’s “clean contracting” law as he seeks to privatize state services in the face of nearly 5,500 recommended state employee layoffs. As part of a proposal to fill the $1.6 billion two-year budget gap created when state employee unions rejected a concession deal, Malloy is seeking to suspend for two years the state contracting standards board, which was created in response to the scandals that drove Gov. John G. Rowland from office. The law that governs the board is based on the presumption that a “core governmental function should not be privatized.” Malloy’s senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, said Wednesday that “the rationale is that these are unusually challenging times,” adding that removing the privatization rules would allow the administration to move quickly if opportunities to save money arise. “This is not the path the governor wanted to go down.” Continue Reading →

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Senators examine high court record on cases against business

WASHINGTON–The Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Wal-Mart v. Dukes sex discrimination lawsuit was re-litigated on Wednesday–in the political arena, with the debate focused on the court’s approach to corporate cases. The Wal-Mart case was Exhibit A at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing probing whether the nation’s highest court has tilted too much toward big business, restricting access to the legal system through a series of recent opinions. “You get the unfortunate feeling that many of the Justices view plaintiffs as a mere nuisance to corporations,” Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said in his opening remarks. He said the legal rights of average citizens are “being eroded by what appears to be the most business-friendly court in the last 75 years.” Leahy’s view was sharply rebuffed by the top Republican on the panel, as well as several conservative witnesses, who argued that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decisions tracked legal precedent and did not favor corporate America. Continue Reading →

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Malloy seeking legislation to reduce employee benefits

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said today he intends to ask the General Assembly to pass legislation changing the way state employee pensions are calculated, reducing their sick days and freezing longevity payments–relatively modest first steps in narrowing collective bargaining for union workers. In a conference call with editorial writers, Malloy said he is submitting legislation for tomorrow’s special session that would exclude longevity payments, overtime and other income beyond wages in pension calculations. The changes would become law now, but would not affect pensions until after the state’s collective bargaining agreement on health and retirement benefits expires in 2017. The changes to sick time and longevity payments would take effect as various unions’ current contracts expire, with most ending next year. His proposals come in reaction to the rejection of a concession deal necessary to balance the new budget and make longer-term savings. Continue Reading →

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