Monthly Archives: April 2013

Projected revenues plunge nearly $500M

 Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s efforts to avoid more state tax increases took a hit Tuesday as fiscal analysts concluded revenues to fund the next two-year budget will be almost $500 million less than anticipated.The governor’s budget staff and the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis issued their latest consensus revenue report. It reduces revenue expectations by $259 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and by another $229 million in 2014-15.And while revenues did grow in the current budget, which expires June 30, the governor has said he wants the projected surplus of $150 million-$160 million to remain in the bank.”These are conservative projections,” Malloy’s budget chief, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, wrote in a statement late Tuesday afternoon. “OFA and OPM are in agreement that we should not expect the revenues realized this past month to continue based on the underlying national economy. This presents Connecticut with some real challenges in finalizing a budget, but I am confident that we will work with the legislature to come to a responsible and balanced budget plan.”The state’s single-largest source of revenue, the personal income tax, posed the biggest problems Tuesday for the next budget.Analysts said the income tax would yield $144 million less next year and almost $70 million less in 2014-15 than the forecast used when Malloy prepared his budget last winter.Sales tax receipts also should be weaker than anticipated, down $75 million from the last forecast for 2013-14, and down $105 million for 2014-15.Tax receipts for the current fiscal year went in a different direction, but the positive news doesn’t appear to be the start of an ongoing trend.Projected tax receipts jumped $288 million over the level analysts had been projecting back in January, a surge caused almost entirely by the state’s gift tax.Expected to yield $196 million, the gift tax now is projected to more than double and bring in $429 million before June 30, a jump of $232 million.Malloy had been predicting that some of the current year’s tax receipts would surge this spring as wealthier residents sold stock or gave gifts in late 2012 to avoid paying the higher federal tax rates that were restored in 2013.Some of this year’s revenue growth already had been factored into a recent administration projection of a nearly $3 million surplus.The governor’s budget office now is projecting that state government will finish $150.1 million in the black. Legislative analysts are projecting a similar surplus of just over $160 million.But the governor said last week that this surge can’t be expected to recur year after year, meaning legislators can’t spend any surplus dollars on ongoing programs.”We have to recognize the reality of the situation,” Malloy said.The state’s chief municipal lobby, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, wrote to legislative leaders last week asking that any last-minute surge in revenues be used to enhance aid to cities and towns in the next state budget.Advocates of Connecticut’s 29 acute-care hospitals also have been pressing to reverse at least a portion of the $550 million cut in hospital funding Malloy has proposed over the next two fiscal years combined.But if this year’s surplus isn’t used to help pay for the next state budget, Malloy could have a difficult time achieving another goal: avoiding tax hikes.Two years ago gthe governor and Legislature raised taxes by $1.5 billion to help close a record-setting $3.7 billion deficit left behind by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the 2010 General Assembly.Malloy’s new plan would raise about $162 million in new tax dollars next year, and Republican legislative leaders say that despite the Democratic governor’s arguments to the contrary, he has, in fact, proposed tax hikes.The governor would extend tax increases that otherwise would have expired in the next fiscal year, including:A 20 percent surcharge on the corporation tax would be extended through the next biennial budget, raising an extra $44 million in 2013-14 and $74 million in 2014-15.A cap on an insurance premium tax credit within the corporation tax system would be maintained in the new budget, raising an extra $27 million in each fiscal year.And a levy on power plants that would raise $70 million next year.In addition, Malloy’s budget also would reduce the new state Earned Income Tax Credit from 30 to 25 percent of the Federal EITC. Continue Reading →

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2,500 Hartford students to have chance to attend different school

Having run out of time to comply with a court order to desegregate Hartford’s schools, the state has entered into a new agreement that will expand school choice opportunities for 2,523 more students. The new order — agreed to Tuesday by the Connecticut Attorney General and the plaintiffs in the state’s landmark Sheff vs. O’Neill supreme court decision — requires the state to pay to open four new magnet schools, offer more Hartford students seats in vocational-technical high schools and send more children to suburban schools. “For all the children that have benefited, this is terrific,” Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger said before signing off on the one-year agreement. The state has spent billions to open integrated schools since the state Supreme Court ordered the state nearly 20 years ago to eliminate the inequities caused by segregating students. Continue Reading →

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Jackson Lab trial to test Hartford patients’ tumors in mice

The Jackson Laboratory will team up with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and Hartford Hospital for a clinical trial of “cancer avatars,” growing tumors from human patients in mice as a way to determine the best therapies for each patient’s disease.Hartford Hospital President and CEO Jeffrey A. Flaks offered a glimpse at one of the goals of the work: “We’re going to have patients who come to us, and we’ll be able to treat them in a way that says, ‘For you, for your particular tumor, for your cancer diagnosis, we can perfect with extraordinary precision the exact medications, the exact treatment regimens that provide you with the best care possible.'”Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined Jackson Lab and hospital leaders to announce the trial Tuesday, touting it as evidence that the state’s massive investment in bioscience — including nearly $300 million to help Maine-based Jackson build a new institute at the UConn Health Center in Farmington — was paying off.The trial will be small at first, testing the capabilities of a new approach, and will be focused on patients with a high risk of recurrence. Dr. Edison Liu, Jackson’s president and CEO, cautioned that although he and others have hope for the concept, he didn’t want to overhype the idea.”There’s going to be a lot of hard work,” Liu said.Here’s how it will work: Once a patient is identified as meeting the trial’s criteria and agrees to participate, his or her tumor will be extracted and split.Part of the tumor will go to Jackson’s Connecticut institute, where researchers will analyze it.Another part will go to a Jackson facility in California, where scientists will attempt to grow it in a specially engineered type of mouse with a suppressed immune system, allowing the foreign tumor to take hold.Once the tumor grows in the mice — it can take four months to a year — researchers can try different treatments to see which are effective in combating the patient’s tumor.And a team of clinicians, pathologists, scientists and computer analysts at the two hospitals in Hartford will review all the information generated to determine what it means for treating the patient.Liu said he jokingly refers to the work as rocket science. Sending a man to the moon didn’t break new conceptual ground, he said, but represented a massive coordination of technologies and infrastructure. “It’s the same thing here. Perhaps not as grand, but still it’s the same principle,” he said.The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, the lab’s Connecticut institute, is aimed at making advances in “personalized medicine,” and the cancer avatar concept, if it works, is one form of it. Continue Reading →

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UConn students (and parents) may be asked to foot bill for new athletic center

Storrs — When the University of Connecticut built a new indoor practice facility for the varsity football team nearly seven years ago, it had the state pick up $31 million of the cost.Since then, enrollment at the state’s main campus has steadily risen, and the 60-year-old rec center, used by all other students, has been struggling to accommodate them. What’s more, varsity teams use the older center’s courts and fields daily, so between 2 and 6 p.m., non-varsity students are kicked off those courts.Many students — sick of waiting in line to use equipment and the courts — are calling for UConn to build them a new facility.”We have to race students to the courts,” Julia Quattrini, a senior studying nutritional sciences, told the university’s governing board last week. “This is embarrassing.”UConn’s executive director for recreational services, Cynthia Costanzo, said for the size of the university, the 2,500 students who show up daily should easily be double.But the money the state provided to the school — intended to build “intramural, recreational and intercollegiate facilities” — all went to the football team’s practice gym seven years ago.The solution, state and university officials say, could be to raise all student fees up to $500 a year.Officials to students: You want it, you pay for itAs UConn President Susan Herbst and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy push to increase enrollment at the school’s main campus by another 30 percent over the next decade, they say the costs of a new recreation center will not be picked up by the state and taxpayers.”We’ve given pretty heavily, maybe they should figure this one out,” Malloy told reporters Friday.”We will absolutely not put this on taxpayers… There is just no way,” Herbst said after the last UConn Board of Trustees meeting.Herbst also said that with the university’s foundation struggling to raise $63 million each year for other projects, philanthropy is not an option.”This can’t take a dime away from the academic side,” she said.Over the last two decades, the state has given UConn nearly $2 billion to rennovate and build new facilities. However, the $31 million provided for recreation facilities went entirely to build the $49 million Burton Family Football Complex. Continue Reading →

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Mission of Mercy free dental clinic in Bridgeport this year

The annual Connecticut Mission of Mercy free dental clinic will be held at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport on Friday, June 7 and Saturday, June 8, and is expected to serve more than 2,000 people.This year’s clinic will include more than 110 dental chairs and 1,500 volunteers, according to Dr. Bruce Tandy, co-chairman of the clinic.The clinic will open at 6 a.m. each day. It typically draws long lines of people who wait overnight for free dental services, which include screenings, x-rays, cleanings, fillings, extractions, oral surgery and prosthetics. Continue Reading →

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Lembo’s new site offers ‘build your own’ state tax plan

Think you could do a better job than the legislature does when it comes to setting taxes?Just how much would a top income tax rate similar to New Jersey’s cost Connecticut’s millionaires?Does it really save much money to shave a few points off the sales tax?With final negotiations on a state budget set to begin this week, Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo has launched a new “Do-It-Yourself Tax Calculator” website that allows viewers to test their own revenue proposals.”As state lawmakers are in the height of debate and deliberations on the state budget, this …  puts tax changes in broad perspective for everyone, whether you’re an academic, journalist or a dinner-table debater on tax policy,” the comptroller said. “What might happen if we tweaked the rate for citizens on the low or high ends of the income bracket? If the state eliminates a tax credit or exemption, how far will it move the financial needle?For example, Connecticut’s top marginal rate on the income tax stands at 6.7 percent, and applies to earnings above $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for couples.Some advocates for a more progressive income tax have argued that Connecticut’s top rate should be closer to the 8.97 percent rate New Jersey charges its wealthiest households.According to the tax calculator, this would yield an extra $875 million per year for Connecticut — enough to close more than two-thirds of the $1.2 billion shortfall projected in the fiscal year that begins July 1.The calculator site displays rates in the state’s major tax categories — income, sales, corporate income, gasoline and other fuels — as well as various credits and exemptions.It also displays the annual revenue each of these tax policies currently raises.Viewers can change rates and eliminate credits or exemptions and see displayed the corresponding revenue change.The goal, Lembo said, is not to mobilize public support for any particular tax hike or reduction.”It’s consistent with the work I’ve been doing around trying to produce greater transparency around the state’s finances,” the comptroller said. “This is a piece, obviously, of that larger transparency effort.”The General Assembly currently is considering a measure Lembo crafted that would enhance disclosure rules around the various business tax and other financial incentives state government uses to encourage economic development.Lembo added that while he hopes this site can provide the public with greater insight into the state’s revenue system, the connection with tax rates and dollars raised is just one piece of a much larger puzzle.”It’s not a tool that any of us should use, exclusively, to set public policy,” he said. Continue Reading →

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More turnover at the Board of Regents

Two top officials at the state’s largest public college system have resigned.Bill Bowes, the budget chief for the 100,000-student Board of Regents system, plans to leave May 16 for a new position at the University of Arkansas’ medical school.Wendy Chang, the leader of the system’s information technology, will be leaving at the end of June to move back to her home state of Ohio to spend time with family.The departure of Chang and Bowes follows a tumultuous merger of the state’s bachelor-degree granting universities with the community colleges, major cuts in funding from the state and a string of controversies that led to the resignations of the system’s president and vice president.In a letter to staff, Phil Austin, the system’s interim president, announced Bowes’ departure.”Bill has taken on the challenging job of managing the very different budget processes and finances of the [colleges and universities]. Bill and his staff have made great progress over the past year and we thank them for their efforts,” Austin wrote.Three community college presidents have also resigned recently.A new president for the 17-college system is expected to be named by the system’s governing board in the next two weeks. Continue Reading →

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State wants data on car crashes

With nearly 300 car crashes reported every day in Connecticut, state officials are working to identify trouble spots.Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Monday morning that the University of Connecticut is planning to launch a one-stop-shop for police officers to report car crashes. The university in turn will analyze the data and provide the state Department of Transportation with areas of concern.”It gives us an instantaneous response of how to prioritize our work,” said Transportation Commissioner James Redeker.Do drivers keep crashing into the same tree? Does one part of town have a higher rate of drunken drivers crashing? Do bicyclists traveling on Main Street keep getting hit at the same spot?State officials hope to help local officials answer questions like this, and make changes to improve safety.”This is important stuff. This is about safety,” Malloy said.The data will also be available for the public to view online, officials said Monday during a news conference at the State Capitol.The cost for the first year to open this information clearinghouse is $600,000, provided by federal funding. Continue Reading →

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Malloy on undocumented immigrants and driving licenses

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday that he supports giving illegal immigrants the ability to get a driver’s license.”I want every driver in the state of Connecticut to prove that they are a safe driver, regardless of where they came from. You are visiting from Australia for an extended amount of time, you should get a license,” Malloy told reporters at the state Capitol. “Why even ask where someone is coming from? I don’t feel obligated to do that… What difference does it make? Continue Reading →

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Malloy, Sharkey endorse minimum wage increase

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said today he will back Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s call for increasing the $8.25 minimum wage to $9 over the next two years. “I think I am in line with where the governor is, frankly. It is always a balancing act to recognize the needs of workers, while also trying to stimulate an economy,” Sharkey said. “I think the governor’s approach strikes the right balance.” After expressing support last month for raising the federal minimum wage to $9, Malloy is ready to endorse bringing the state minimum to that mark. Continue Reading →

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Malloy: State must put any budget surplus this year in bank

State government may close the fiscal year with a small surplus, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made it clear Friday that lawmakers should make no plans to spend what’s left over.The administration notified the legislature this week that it wants any surplus dollars deposited into the emergency reserve, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund.After forecasting deficits for most of this fiscal year, the governor’s budget office on April 20 issued a razor-thin surplus projection of $2.8 million. That represents about 1/60th of 1 percent of the state’s annual operating budget.The state’s chief municipal lobby, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, wrote to legislative leaders earlier this week asking that any last-minute surge in revenues be used to enhance aid to cities and towns in the next state budget.Advocates of Connecticut’s 29 acute-care hospitals also have been pressing to reverse at least a portion of the $550 million cut in hospital funding Malloy has proposed over the next two fiscal years combined.But the governor, whose budget chief wrote lawmakers this week to convey the administration’s stand, said any surplus has to go into the bank.”The answer is ‘No. Don’t go out and spend that,'” Malloy told Capitol reporters following Friday’s regular meeting of the State Bond Commission in the Legislative Office Building.But the governor said Friday that this surge can’t be expected to recur year after year, meaning legislators can’t spend any surplus dollars on ongoing programs.”We have to recognize the reality of the situation,” Malloy said.Both the administration and nonpartisan legislative analysts have projected a large shortfall — about $1.2 billion, or 6 percent of annual operating costs — in the next state budget based on current spending and revenue trends.Malloy is seeking to close that gap with a combination of spending cuts, borrowing and the extension of soon-to-expire tax hikes on businesses and power plants. Continue Reading →

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Hospitals working together to reduce surgical complications

Connecticut hospitals traditionally considered competitors have been quietly teaming up to share techniques to reduce surgical infections and complications.The idea is to improve patient care and efficiency in a landscape of skyrocketing health care costs and pressure from the federal Affordable Care Act to improve performance.On Friday, surgeons, hospitals, health plan providers, physicians and politicians gathered at the state Capitol for a symposium to raise public awareness of hospitals’ efforts to contain costs and to discuss challenges that lie ahead in health care reform.The Connecticut Surgical Quality Collaborative, a group of 20 acute-care hospitals, has been meeting monthly to share data openly, communicate and identify top-performing hospitals in certain areas of post-surgical infection.After pinpointing the hospitals that are doing the best job reducing post-surgical infections and preventing other complications such as pneumonia and kidney failure, the group shares the most effective techniques to improve quality at all other hospitals.”We’re putting aside the competitive nature you hear about out on the market and use collaboration and data so all patients have better outcomes,” said Scott J. Ellner, director of surgical quality at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center and chairman of the collaborative.Besides the most obvious benefit of healthier patients, the collaboration can also add up to big savings because infections can be costly. For example, the average cost of a urinary tract infection caused by leaving a catheter in too long after surgery is about $12,000, including a hospital stay, a CT scan, IVs and antibiotics, Ellner said.And that’s not even a worst-case scenario. A serious urinary tract infection that requires treatment in an intensive care unit can cost $58,000, Ellner said.The group pays the American College of Surgeons to provide improvement program guidelines and crunch the data from the participating hospitals. The ACS estimates that each participating hospital can eliminate 250 to 500 complications in a single year, saving an estimated $2.9 million to $5.8 million a year through the program.Nationwide, if participation in the effort expands to 4,500 hospitals, potential savings over one year could total $13 billion to $26 billion, according to the ACS.And health care reform has given hospitals an extra incentive to stay infection-free. Continue Reading →

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As spotlight shifts to immigration, senators hope to renew gun debate

 As the congressional spotlight turns to immigration reform following the Senate’s rejection of increased gun control measures, Connecticut’s senators are trying to draw out any remaining momentum for changes to gun laws.”If we stand still and do nothing, there is going to be another massacre. Someone else is going to walk into a crowded building with an AR-15,” said Sen. Chris Murphy.While Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both Democrats, remain hopelessly optimistic that they will be able to rally the five votes needed before the end of the year, the lawmakers acknowledge that they have not yet gotten any of their Senate colleagues to change their vote.The senators said they are counting on a public lambasting of those who voted against the bill in order to pick up the votes for the bills that were defeated last week.”This political pressure will ratchet up to cause senators to change their mind,” Murphy told reporters at the state Capitol Friday. “We are seeing a growing groundswell — a backlash” toward the senators who voted against the bill.Blumenthal said the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre will continue to lobby for changes.”They were in the hall of Congress changing minds and votes. Their effect — and the Connecticut effect — are alive and well,” he said.The senator’s call for another vote on the bill before the end of the year comes as congressional leadership and President Obama have turned the debate to immigration reform.”Gun control is not the only pressing issue in this country,” said Murphy.”They need a little bit of time, too. [Senators] can’t just come back and say, ‘Oh well, last week I voted one way and now I am going to vote differently. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers aim to blend charter and public school test scores

Hartford Public Schools — one of the state’s lowest-performing districts — has spent millions in recent years sending money to a nearby charter school, and in exchange the district officials get to use Achievement First’s high test scores when reporting their students’ progress.”We are basically buying their test scores,” said Robert Cotto Jr., a member of the Hartford school board. “Our scores have gone up to the roof.”While it’s unclear just how much this technique has boosted Hartford’s test scores, a bill that has already cleared the state House of Representatives will allow the nine other low-performing school districts with charter schools to count their scores in exchange for support.”All parties benefit,” said Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, the co-chairman of the Education Committee. “I don’t see that absent legislation like this, the parties working together… Struggling districts were at war with charters before this.”For cities like New Haven or Bridgeport — where about 8 percent of students attend charter schools — this bill could possibly have a significant impact on test scores if officials decide to take advantage of it. Other districts that this bill could affect include Hamden, Manchester, New London, Norwalk, Norwich, Stamford and Winchester.”I cannot express enough how thrilled I would be to work with the district in this manner. Continue Reading →

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