Monthly Archives: September 2013

CT’s reaction: Dems shout, GOP shrugs

The debate over the looming federal government shutdown Monday was one-sided in Connecticut as Democrats aggressively tried to brand Republicans as irresponsible, while the GOP had no coordinated response.U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy each held press events reinforcing the message and strategy of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, who opposed making concessions on Obamacare as the price of resolving the fiscal stalemate.Blumenthal said the crisis was the fault of “a small fringe group of extremists in the House of Representatives” who are willing to hold the U.S. government hostage until the Obama administration agrees to dismantle or delay the Affordable Care Act. “We can debate and consider improvements to the Affordable Care Act, but they should not be done as a condition of continuing the vital work of government,” Blumenthal said at a Glastonbury manufacturer.“At some point, we have to draw a line in the stand that this is no way to run a railroad,” Murphy told reporters in a conference call. He referred to the GOP’s stance in Washington as “a temper tantrum.”From the White House to the Senate majority to state Democrats, the Democratic message was consistent: The GOP is willing to imperil the fragile U.S. economy with a government shutdown over its opposition to the health-care law.The absence of a coordinated Republican response was a measure of the party’s struggle at times to compete on message in Connecticut, where the GOP holds no statewide office or seat in Congress. “Absolutely, no question about it. We need to do a much better job of messaging about what we stand for in Washington,” said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican who is exploring a run for governor in 2014.Jerry Labriola, the GOP state chairman, said no one should be surprised that Democrats were more aggressive in Connecticut on the shutdown.“They control all the federal offices in Connecticut, so their voices are going to be a little louder,” Labriola said.Chris Healy, who preceded Labriola as the GOP chairman, said, “It’s an inside baseball issue now. The Democrats have a short-term advantage, because they can speak with one voice.”Richard Foley, a former state chairman who is a consultant to the congressional campaign of Mark Greenberg in the 5th Congressional District, said the Democrats are working strenuously to frame an issue that may fizzle.“It reminds me of Y2K,” he said. Continue Reading →

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Connecticut’s poor most likely to feel shutdown impact first

Washington – Connecticut’s poorest and neediest citizens are likely to feel the sting of a federal government shutdown before most of the rest of the state’s population.Connecticut receives more than $1 billion each year for federal nutrition programs (from food stamps to school breakfasts), more than $2.5 billion from Washington to run Medicaid, the government-run health program for the poor, and more than $500 million for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the official name for the state’s welfare program. Millions of dollars more are provided from the federal government for home heating assistance, nutrition programs for seniors, Head Start pre-school education and grants to health clinics that serve the uninsured.If Congress does not find a way to continue to fund the federal government after the end of the federal fiscal year –- midnight on Monday -– states will stop receiving funds for these poverty programs.And with Congress at an apparent stalemate, expectations the government would shut down grew steadily Monday with the ticking of the clock. Just hours before the likely shutdown, however, Connecticut officials did not know how much the state has in leftover funds to run all programs that are funded in wholly or in part by the federal government.“We’re in the process of trying to figure that out,” said Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary for legislative affairs for Connecticut’s Office of Policy and Management. “We know the agencies have some carryover funds, but we don’t know how much.”Casa said Gov. Dannel Malloy planned to meet with state officials Monday afternoon to discuss fiscal affairs.  In addition, all state agencies have been asked to come up with contingency plans by Tuesday.After the state determines how much federal money it has for dozens of poverty programs it administers, the big question becomes the length of a shutdown and whether the available funds be enough to carry the state in the crisis is resolved. “The duration of the shutdown will have a big impact [on program operations] ,” Casa said.Connecticut may have received an advanced appropriation for Medicaid. But one state Head Start program will start feeling money pinch Tuesday.The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, serves about 58,000 Connecticut residents and is funded entirely from Washington.The Connecticut Department of Public Health expects to have an assesment of teh impact of a shutdown on that program in the next few days. The agency also has a contingency plan which included referring WIC clients to community based programs and services, including food pantries.“The uncertainty of the situation makes it difficult for everyone,“ said Lucy Nolan, “It certainly is confusing to those who want benefits but don’t know if they can get them. Continue Reading →

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Prolonged federal shutdown could damage Connecticut’s fragile economic recovery

As the federal government stood at the brink of a shutdown, state and business leaders were most wary Monday of a prolonged stoppage.Though many of the 9,000 federal employees residing in Connecticut could be furloughed shortly after the new fiscal year begins Tuesday, a potential lag in billions in federal dollars earmarked for the Nutmeg State poses the biggest threat to state government.And should a shutdown linger for several weeks, or more than a month, both furloughs and a bottleneck in federal aid could undo much of Connecticut’s already sluggish recovery from the last recession.‘This recovery is very much in jeopardy’“The spectre of uncertainty would be key” if a shutdown of a month or more were to develop, said Don Klepper-Smith, a senior economist with DataCore Partners in New Haven. “It would mean less hiring, less job creation, less economic growth. Then this recovery is very much in jeopardy.”Despite its reputation as a wealthy state that therefore receives little federal funding, Connecticut actually does relatively well in this regard.A report last year from the state legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee showed Connecticut received $56 billion of the $3.3 trillion in federal funding distributed on a statewide basis in 2010, placing the Nutmeg State fourth-highest on a per capita basis. This involves not only the roughly $8 billion sent to state government, public colleges and universities and to cities and towns, but also funds distributed to non-profits and to private institutions.Besides furloughed federal workers, some military personnel remaining on active duty also won’t receive a paycheck until a budget agreement is reached. Military and civilian contractors also could see funding stalled — a consistent theme tied to the shutdown.Connecticut’s businesses already are wary of a state economy that has regained just half of the 121,000 jobs it lost in the last recession, Klepper-Smith said.If consumer confidence, weakened by furloughs and delayed federal payments, remains shaky for several weeks or a month, Connecticut could lose roughly half of the economic growth projected for the fourth quarter of 2013, he added.“A lot of companies won’t see any effects [of the shutdown] at all, so I think that type of scenario takes time,” said Peter Gioia, chief economist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. Continue Reading →

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Malloy wants to end Metro-North’s use of single power lines

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Monday called for an investigation into whether the Metro-North rail line should ever rely on one power line to service the trains responsible for transporting thousands of commuters. “Since we now know what a catastrophic event looks like based on what’s happened in New York, I don’t want to see that happen anywhere else on the line and certainly don’t want to see it happen in Connecticut,” Malloy told reporters during a Monday morning press conference at the State Armory in Hartford. Continue Reading →

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Congress moves closer to shutdown

Washington — Congress moved closer toward a government shutdown Saturday as House Republicans planned to vote on a temporary spending bill that would postpone implementation of the Affordable Care Act for a year, something neither the Senate nor the White House will accept.In the latest chapter of the partisan standoff, the Republican-led House rejected a continuing resolution from the Senate that would prevent a government shutdown at midnight on Monday because it did not contain a measure that would scuttle the health care law popularly called “Obamacare.”The House was expected to vote on its alternative late Saturday. Besides postponing Obamacare for a year, the continuing resolution would eliminate a new tax on medical devices that is in the ACA and require the federal government to pay military personnel if there is a government shutdown.If the House bill is approved, it would go back to the Senate, which returns to work Monday afternoon.But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will reject both the one-year delay of the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of the medical device tax.“After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one,” Reid said. “Republicans must decide whether to pass the Senate’s clean CR, or force a Republican government shutdown.” Continue Reading →

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Climate change report blames humans — a conversation with Gary Yohe

Friday’s release of the latest international assessment of climate change has more firmly than ever placed its cause at the feet of humans. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment stated: “Human influence on the climate system is clear.“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes,” the report said.Gary Yohe, the Huffington Foundation professor of economics and environmental studies at Wesleyan University, has been involved with the IPCC since the early 1990s, though not with the group that produced this document. Since 2011 he has also served as vice chair of the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee.“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, throughout its history,” has actually been very conservative in the conclusions that it draws,” Yohe said noting the significance of the report’s finding that the evidence of human influence has grown since the last report a half-dozen years ago.The certainty climate change is caused by humans is now between 95 and 100 percent, the report said, stating: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”In warning of increasing levels of greenhouse gases, the report stated: “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”It also recommended a limit on how much carbon dioxide would be too much.This was only the summary (the full report will be released next week) from one of four working groups within the IPCC – working group 1, which evaluates scientific evidence. Working group 2, of which Yohe is a member, will look at impacts of climate change; its fifth assessment is due in March. What follows is an edited transcript of a conversation with Yohe after the Friday report was released.What would you consider the most important points to come out of this summary from the first working group? The first one is that the scientific confidence on conclusions that have been building over the last decade or two is going up and up. And so this is a strengthening, like Sec. Continue Reading →

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Bond panel OK’s financing for Bridgeport development

The State Bond Commission approved $31 million in financing Friday to allow leading sporting goods retailer to locate in the long-planned commercial development on Steel Point in Bridgeport. And though the commission unanimously approved the financing for Bass Pro Shops, that endorsement came amidst an ongoing partisan debate over Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s handling of the state’s credit card for capital programs. Bass Pro has announced plans to open a 140,000-square-foot facility at the harbor, with total development and financing costs expected to fall just under $70 million.Besides the $31 million approved Friday, the state also is expected to provide $9 million in future assistance with the developer providing the remaining $38.5 million.“It’s important to get this operation up and running,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said after the meeting, predicting the retail facility, which will sell hunting, fishing, boating and other recreational items, will become “a regional attraction.”State analysts project that at least $22 million of the financing for Bass Pro Shops effectively will be repaid with by the additional sales tax revenue generated by the retail operation. “I did take a very close look at it and I am highly confident that they will generate enough sales tax to cover it,” said Sen. L. Scott Frantz R-Greenwich, who serves on the bond commission.But despite the agreement over the Bass Pro Shops project, there was continued partisan friction over the state’s credit card.Frantz noted that the state now has approved $1.79 billion in “general obligation” bonding this calendar year. That effectively matches the $1.8 billion limit the administration set for itself this year in reports both to the legislature and to Wall Street credit rating agencies. And the bond commission still has two more meetings scheduled for later this year.“General obligation” bonds primarily are repaid with tax dollars from the state budget’s general fund, which collects receipts from income, sales and corporation taxes, as well as from most other minor taxes.“Debt is something, when you are in a low-interest environment, that is very tempting,” Frantz told Malloy.“Let me thank you for that excellent advice,” the Democratic governor responded.Malloy quickly added that’s why he never borrowed $1 billion in controversial financing approved by his Republican predecessor, M. Jodi Rell. She and the 2010 legislature endorsed billions of dollars in short-term gimmicks to avoid raising taxes or imposing deep budget cuts just before Malloy took office.The governor added Friday that he would re-evaluate the $1.8 billion limit he set for 2013, but announced no final decision about whether he would seek more borrowing.The governor chairs the 10-member bond panel and his budget office has sole authority to set the group’s agenda.Besides complaining about the amount of borrowing in the works, Republicans also said the administration needs to get projects underway more quickly once financing has been approved.Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, noted that as of July, nearly $6.2 billion in financing approved by the bond commission has yet to be actually borrowed — presumably because state agencies aren’t ready to spend the money yet. That is more than double the $3.06 billion backlog that existed when Malloy took office in January 2011.“We need to try to get that number down to zero,” Candelora said.Between 16,000 and 28,000 new jobs could be added in two years if even half of the $6.2 billion bonding backlog is eliminated, a report from the University of Connecticut asserted earlier this month.But that could mean spending more money on debt service, or on staff in agencies that oversee major capital projects — such as the Department of Transportation.Malloy, who inherited a nearly 20 percent deficit in the state’s annual operating budget when he took office in January 2011, told reporters afterward that while he would look to see even more capital projects go forward, he has to weigh that objective against other priorities while keeping the budget in balance. Continue Reading →

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Connecticut prison population starts to drop after summertime spike

An unexpected spike in the state’s prison population this summer has leveled off, and the population seems to have returned to its overall five-year decline.The number inmates in Connecticut prisons rose steadily every month since April, but dropped slightly for the first time in September and now stands at 17,134, Michael P. Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s chief criminal justice policy adviser, said at a Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission meeting.Lawlor attributed the increase this summer to a slowdown in the parole system and the length of time unsentenced offenders were being held on bail.This summer, the parole board began using stricter guidelines for determining parole as a result of the deadly 2007 home invasion in Cheshire. In that case, one of the two killers, Joshua Komisarjevsky, had been released on parole.Along other reforms, the parole system now must use a new risk assessment tool and a more structured decision-making process to determine eligibility, changes that had temporarily slowed the process.Also contributing to the slowdown was a sluggish pre-sentencing process this summer. Offenders were being held on bail for three to six weeks rather than the usual one-to-three week wait, Lawlor said. As a result, the number of offenders being held on bail has increased by 330 since April.Lawlor said he thinks the population trend has gotten back on track and will continue its downward trajectory because fewer people are being sent to prison.“Crime is down, arrests are down, and the number of people going to prison is down,” he said. Continue Reading →

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UConn board to vote on student fee increase for new recreation center

The University of Connecticut’s governing board is expected to vote in November to further raise the cost of attending the state’s flagship university in order to pay for a new recreation center.Students are already slated to pay $1,112 more by 2016 than they are paying this year to cover the cost of hiring dozens more faculty, but a spokeswoman for the university said this week that the Board of Trustees is expected to vote in November to raise the cost by another $488. If approved, students will begin paying the new fee when the recreation center is slated to open, which is projected to be in 2016.These increases mean students attending the Storrs campus will be required to pay $1,600 more a year to attend UConn — a 13.3 percent, two-year increase. The state had provided $31 million for “recreational” purposes in an omnibus construction plan for UConn nearly a decade ago. But university officials back then chose to use that money to pay for an indoor practice facility for the varsity football team.Given that earlier decision, and given that there’s nothing left of that allocation, UConn’s new president, Susan Herbst, has said she would not ask the state to pick up the cost of a new rec center.”We will absolutely not put this on taxpayers… There is just no way,” she said in the spring.After spending the summer studying rec centers at universities in several states, administration officials envision a facility that would feature:A weights and fitness area;A large-scale gymnasium with three to five basketball courts and, possibly, an elevated track;A swimming pool;Several multipurpose rooms to accommodate the more than 1,200 UConn students involved in club sports; Other courts for sports such as field hockey and indoor soccer.Herbst’s staff says that a 203,000-square-foot center is preferred, but they also outlined an option for 160,000- square-foot facility.The larger facility was estimated to cost $101 million to build and $10.1 million a year to operate. The projected increase in yearly activity fees was $488 for undergraduates and $361 for graduate students, faculty and other staff. The smaller option was priced at $83.2 million to build with an annual operating cost of $8.5 million. Continue Reading →

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Computer snags, other problems may dog health exchanges

Washington – Less than a week before the opening of state insurance exchanges nationwide, no one is sure how this key element of the Affordable Care Act is going to roll out.The Obama administration is hoping for a seamless debut. But even Obamacare’s biggest boosters predict there will be problems, though there’s debate as to how serious those problems will be.“I am confident there will be glitches,” said Kevin Counihan, CEO of Access Health CT, Connecticut’s health exchange.The biggest problem the Affordable Care Act faces next week may be technical.The Affordable Care Act is supported by a matrix of computer technology in Washington that provides the state exchanges with a flood of information about each insurance applicant, including his or her income.This “data hub “  also is supposed to allow states to check with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that applicants are citizens or legal residents. It also is to tap an employer database to make sure that applicants are not already being offered affordable coverage by their employers.The hub is also expected to determine whether an applicant is eligible for a tax break to help pay for an insurance policy.But the hub providing all of this information may not be operational by Oct. 1, the day the exchanges open.To prepare for that possibility, the federal government has waived for one year the requirement that states verify the income of those applying for health insurance subsidies.The exchanges are meant to help people who are uninsured or underinsured. If Americans have adequate and affordable health benefits through an employer or coverage from a government health plan like Medicare or Medicaid, they may not shop in the exchange.Obamacare defines “affordable coverage” as  9.5 percent of a person’s income or less.In Connecticut, Counihan said he is ready with an alternative if the federal computer system lets him down. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers press Northeast Utilities to address rumors of job cuts

More than a dozen state legislators are pressing New England’s largest utility to detail immediately any plans to reduce staff as part of an ongoing merger.House Majority Leader Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, also insisted that Northeast Utilities respond to rumors that some information technology work would be outsourced to other countries.But NU responded Thursday that it continues to explore staffing and technology issues related to the merger and, once decisions are made, would share them with Connecticut officials.“Shipping these good-paying jobs away will not just hurt Connecticut’s economy, but it could also pose a serious security threat,” Aresimowicz said during a mid-morning press conference at the state Capitol complex.The majority leader, who was joined by 12 democratic state representatives and one republican representative, said they all have heard rumors from constituents that between 300 and 400 jobs would be eliminated, reclassified under an affiliated company name in the Northeast, or outsourced to another region or country. “Northeast Utilities and I have had a great working relationship in the past,” he said, adding that that the company nonetheless has been “very vague and very secretive” about his recent requests for details. Aresimowicz, who met twice with NU officials over the last month, added the Attorney General George C. Jepsen and state Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz have written to Connecticut’s Public Utility Regulatory Authority, asking it to investigate rumors of layoffs and job outsourcing.Berlin-based NU merged in April with Boston-based NSTAR, uniting six electric and natural gas utilities that together serve 3.5 million customers in the NortheastWhen utility regulators in Connecticut and Massachusetts approved the merger, company officials pledged that any staff reductions would be made through attrition or retirement incentive programs, said Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Energy and Technology Committee.That agreement also called for the state to receive 30 days notice before any major staffing changes were imposed.Based upon the volumes of rumors spreading among Connecticut legislators’ constituents, Reed said she’s convinced the company has violated the spirit of that agreement, if not the letter.“They’re not giving us clear facts, telling us what the real story is,” she said. “This has been very, very sloppy at best.”In a statement issued Thursday morning, NU wrote that “We understand Representative Aresimowicz’s point of view and have met with him to discuss his concerns.  As we have stated, as a result of our merger we are in the process of evaluating opportunities to streamline and improve IT functions so that we can deliver a high level of service to our customers at the least cost.  While we work to accomplish this, we will share any decisions that we make with our regulators and employees when the time comes.” Continue Reading →

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Task force looks into banning Connecticut pet shops from selling commercially bred puppies

A new legislative task force on puppy mills decided Wednesday it will research and hold public hearings around the state on whether to ban the sale of commercially bred puppies in Connecticut pet shops.During an organizational hearing at the state Capitol, the task force announced it would send a report by January in time for a legislative hearing on a bill in the coming session.If the bill passes, Connecticut would be the first state to ban the sale of these dogs and cats in pet stores, though some cities, including Los Angeles, have passed similar bans.Task force chairwoman Rep. Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, proposed similar legislation in the last session, an amendment that would have required pet shops to sell only dogs and cats obtained from public shelters or incorporated rescues by January 2016. But the bill was never raised and eventually was amended to create the task force instead. Kupchick said she has done extensive research on the commercial breeders ever since she had a bad experience with a pet shop beagle with a genetic disorder that required $16,000 in veterinary bills.She says out-of-state commercial breeders keep 900 to 1,000 puppies penned in 2-by-4 feet cages without taking them out for exercise.“They are treating domestic animals worse than livestock,” she said.She said the Animal Welfare Act requires the USDA to inspect these breeders every year, but says that doesn’t always happen.Kupchick said she would prefer that people buy their puppies from family breeders or rescue or shelter organizations instead of the 18 pet shops in Connecticut that sell dogs and cats.Steve Primus, who owns Statewide Pets in Orange, said after the meeting that pet shop owners are the only ones who are licensed, regulated and inspected. He said that adoption agencies, despite their name, actually end up selling dogs for as much as $400, and should follow the same rules.“It’s just un-American,” he said. “Why should a small section of the legislature decide what everybody should be able to buy or own.”Task force member Charlie Sewell, a lobbyist for the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, said if the purpose of the task force is to deal with substandard breeders, he fully supports the goal. But he said he was leery of any attempt to interfere with legitimate breeders.“We have lots of legitimate businesses, lots of happy customers and lots of happy pets,” Sewell said. Continue Reading →

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