Things to Watch in Malloy’s Budget Proposal – Municipal Aid

Governor Dannel Malloy recently signaled that he plans to cut $2 billion dollars from Connecticut’s next state budget.

State Aid (courtesy of CT Mirror)

At the same time, he and his Administration have also pledged to do their best to refrain from dumping the state’s problems onto the cities and towns – signaling to the towns that they will not be the target of major reductions in municipal aid.

During the gubernatorial campaign Malloy even promised not to cut the Educational Cost Sharing Formula – the state’s primary mechanism for providing towns with funds to support local educational expenses.

Behind and underneath the debate about what Connecticut can “afford” to transfer to its cities and towns is the even more complex issue of how the formulas that distribute those funds are constructed.

Over the past twenty years, some of Connecticut’s most important funding formulas have been so corrupted (aka modified) by political maneuvering that they no longer reflect the underling goals for which they were created.

As discussed in earlier commentary pieces, the $1.9 billion ECS formula is a case study about how a formula can change over time to address political rather than policy goals.

With Republican Governors and increasing numbers of Democrats representing wealthier Fairfield County communities, the ECS grant has been changed significantly since it was first adopted about twenty five years ago. 

Over the past decade, Greenwich’s ECS grant has increased by 1,002 percent (from $310,000 to $3.4 million) while the grant for New London has gone up by 20.1 percent ($19 million to $23 million).

A similar pattern true across the state; 

Hartford’s ECS grant has risen by 19 percent and Windham’s is up by 25 percent

Yet Darien’s received a1,532 percent increase in the ECS grant over the past 10 years, Westport’s a1,320 percent increase, Weston’s is 858 percent higher and Wilton’s is up 3,212.

Connecticut’s poor communities still get the vast majority of state funds but wealthier towns have done a good job in ensuring that the rate of growth has favored them.

The original goal of the ECS formula was to target state aid to poorer communities so that they had the funds necessary to provide their children with a quality education (a policy that is constitutionally mandated in Connecticut). 

The amount towns received was driven by a formula that took into consideration the town’s wealth and the level of student need (as defined by the level of poverty, standardized test results and the need for English as a second language).

Widely recognized as a “national model” when it was created, Connecticut’s public officials have adopted various changed to the formula in almost every legislative session since.

The changes that were made in the late 1990s and early 2000s were “institutionalized” in 2005 when the Legislature started determining a town’s ECS grant allocation by simply adopting a set annual increase over the grant the town received in the previous year.  By applying an across the board percentage increase for each town’s grant year after year there is no longer any on-going consideration of the underlying issues that were supposed to be addressed by the formula.

Some public officials, perhaps none more than Nancy Wyman, have recognized and articulated the need to return to the fundamental issues that the ECS formula was intended to address.

Considering state government lacks sufficient state resources to maintain the present – albeit broken – educational funding system, let’s hope that the Malloy Administration uses this extraordinary opportunity to actually restructure and redirect scarce resources to where they are most needed. 

Simply capping the level of municipal aid – and maintaining the present distribution formula – disproportionately hurts the very towns that need the aid the most while protecting the towns that have the least proportional need.

When it comes to ensuring a good educational system, Connecticut’s constitution is one of the most clear and direct in the nation.  State government MUST help towns provide each child with a quality education.

As Governor Malloy tackles the state’s fiscal crisis, he has the moral and legal obligation to adopt a budget that is fair and equitable and that means going beyond simply addressing the level of municipal aid but addressing the funding formulas that distribute those funds.

Walk the Plank!

Last week, the Malloy Administration dismissed three more of the former Rell staffers who were quietly shifted out to “safer” state agency positions during the closing weeks and months of Rell’s tenure.

These most recent firings bring the total number of Rell staff that has been shown the door to five and this latest action raises even more questions about the criteria the Malloy Administration is using to decide which Rell people to keep and which dump.

Unlike the first two, who were simply not qualified for their new positions according to the Malloy Administration, this time Malloy people reported that these former Rell staff were simply the latest to go in an on-going effort to eliminate unnecessary positions.

While a number of key Rell staff remains in place, the Department of Transportation fired Philip Smith (who had served in Rell’s Office of Policy Management), David Gasior (who had served directly as an assistant in Rell’s office) and Nora Duncan who had been given the position of “legislative program manager” for the Department of Public Works after serving for two years as a  Policy and Legislative Affairs advisor in Rell’s Office.

Unlike the others who had gotten their original jobs due to their Republican campaign work and connections, Nora Duncan has a long and impressive record of advocating on behalf of essential social and human services.  Before joining the Rell administration, Nora served as Public Policy Director for the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits and Project Director for the Connecticut Nonprofit Human Services Cabinet.  In that capacity she was one of the most visible and effective voices for those who need and deserve community based services.

So the question is – why target her for dismissal.  Hardly a classic Republican, a quick check of the 2008 and 2010 Federal and State campaign contribution databases reveal that Nora Duncan did give $150 to Republican Gubernatorial and Lt. Gubernatorial candidates Fedele and Boughton but she also donated to Democrat Chris Murphy.

Dan Malloy has long articulated strong support for Connecticut’s nonprofits providers and the essential services they provide.  In fact, when he was gearing up to run for Governor he even served as the keynote speaker at the Connecticut Association of Nonprofit’s annual convention, the very group Duncan worked for.   At the time he pledged to create a cabinet level position in order to elevate support for Connecticut’s nonprofit, a promise he fulfilled when he nominated Deb Henreich to that position earlier this month.

It would certainly seem that Nora Duncan’s expertise with Connecticut’s nonprofits would be particularly valuable to the new Administration.

As discussed in earlier blog posts, it is not surprising that the new Malloy Administration is looking to divest itself of Rell political appointees but the decision to fire Nora Duncan seems out of place when compared to other Rell allies who remain in their posts.

All this raises the question, who exactly is making the decisions when it comes to these relatively high ranking political and policy jobs.

A fair question is whether Dan Malloy or Nancy Wyman approved these dismissals.  I haven’t seen the question asked yet but hopefully it will be soon.

Connecticut’s state pension fund in its worst shape since the state began saving for pension obligations in the mid-1980s.

There are times when a news article is so good, so complete that nothing more needs to be said, no analysis is needed.  This article by Keith Phaneuf is exactly that.  I’ve been writing and yelping about this subject a lot over the last few years.  This article really nails the problem. 

This is definitely a must read story.

http://ctmirror.org/story/11341/wall-street-taking-closer-look-connecticuts-ailing-pension-fund

Connecticut has about $9.4 billion in its pension fund and $21.1 billion in obligations

This translates to a “funded ratio” of 44%.  (80 percent is considered fiscally healthy).”

The ratio was 52% percent in the 2008,  but has plunged as  a result of the drop in the stock market and investments, the decision by the Governor, state unions and legislature to defer $214 million in required pension payments and the increase in the number of retirees due to the unending use of early retirement incentives to “reduce the state payroll”.

One of the most critical issues is that “Further complicating matters, state employee unions agreed in 1995  with then-Gov. John G. Rowland to shift the pension contribution system from a level-funded 30 year schedule to a back loaded system that will force dramatic increases over the next few decades.”  In essence the Rowland, the Legislature and the state and unions decided to go with a massive balloon payment system that allowed smaller payments in the short term in return for much more massive payments ‘down the road’. 

Later has now arrived. 

The required annual contribution is on pace to grow by 50 percent by 2017, double by 2026 and triple by 2038.  Needless to say it is impossible to imagine a scenario in which Connecticut could make those payments without undermining the rest of the budget.

This year, as Governor Malloy is suggesting the need for record budget cuts, the state will need to dramatically increase its state pension payments just to keep the pension disaster from getting even worse.

This article should be mandatory reading for every single person associated or interested in budget, tax and policy issues.

Senators offer Malloy more power to cut budget…

Last week Brian Lockhart of the Stamford Advocate identified a 2011 proposed bill that deserves more attention – followed by a quick defeat.  

Proposed Bill No. 187, sponsored by Senators Bob Duff (Norwalk), Joan Hartley (Waterbury) and Gayle Slossberg (Milford) is called An Act Granting Power to the Governor to Balance the Budget

It is a vehicle for giving the Governor more “budget authority” by allowing him to make even deeper cuts to the state budget without legislative approval.

Our (well-meaning) elected officials would do well to remember the important words of Thomas Jefferson when considering giving the Executive Branch powers that rightfully belong to the Legislative Branch. 

 “If the three powers maintain their mutual independence on each other our Government may last long, but not so if either can assume the authorities of the others.” – Thomas Jefferson

Concepts like the line item veto or granting the governor greater ability to refuse to follow a budget that has been passed and duly signed into law is a bad idea – regardless of who serves as Governor (or President). 

I remember strongly opposing the concept when Bill Clinton asked for and received line item veto authority in 1996.  After watching the Bush years in Washington and the Rowland/Rell years in Connecticut, I’m more convinced than ever that instead of trying to duck the issue of fiscal responsibility, we do better to simply hold legislators accountable if they fail to do their job and fulfill their duties.

I’m very glad to see Governor Malloy is quoted as saying that this legislation is not needed.  The fact is, it is simply not appropriate for the Legislative Branch of Government to grant the Executive Branch this additional authority.

Brain Lockhart’s blog can be found here: http://blog.ctnews.com/politicalcapitol/2011/01/28/senators-offer-malloy-more-power-to-cut-budget/#comment-8044

This proposal mirrors the debate in Washington….where President Obama has actually asked Congress to pass a modified and more extensive line-item veto law.

Here are some other interesting thoughts about the Legislative Branch abdicating its authority by giving the Executive Branch more power (such as through the line item veto or greater rescission authority).

“…[T]he line-item veto is a convenient distraction. The vast bulk of the deficit is not the result of self-aggrandizing line items, infuriating as they are. The deficits [have been] primarily caused by unwillingness to make hard choices on benefit programs or to levy the taxes to pay for the true costs of government.”  USA Today, March 23, 2006

 “Such tools, however, cannot establish fiscal discipline unless there is a political consensus to do so…. In the absence of that consensus, the proposed changes to the rescission process …are unlikely to greatly affect the budget’s bottom line.  –Former CBO Director Donald Marron, Testimony before Congress’s House Rules Committee

 [The line item veto] “would aggravate an imbalance in our constitutional system that has been growing for seven decades: the expansion of executive power at the expense of the legislature.” – George Will, The Washington Post 3/16/06

FYI – Two-Thirds of the cost of the Burton Family Football Complex and Shenkman Training Center came from Connecticut taxpayers.

Over the past week or so a lot of attention has been given to Robert Burton’s request that UConn return his $2.5 million donation and that they take his name off the building that honors him for that contribution.

Yesterday Chris Keating of the Hartford Courant went a long way in setting the record straight with his blog post – http://blogs.courant.com/capitol_watch/2011/01/burton-family-football-complex.html

Along with what the Courant laid out, here are the facts:

In May 2002, UConn announced that Robert G. Burton was making a contribution of $2.5 million to the University of Connecticut and his donation would “be used to build the Burton Family Football Complex on the Storrs campus.”  A naming ceremony for the Burton Family Football Complex was then held May 7 at UConn.

(Burton has already donated about $1 million to established the Robert G. Burton Endowed Scholarship Fund at UConn and the Michael G. Burton Scholarship Fund (named for his son who was captain of the Husky football team in 1999) Both are given to football student-athlete in the School of Business).

In February 2004, UConn announced that “Preliminary designs have been completed for The Burton Family Football Complex and the Indoor Facility on the Storrs campus.”  The projected cost of the project at the time was about $40 million.

In August 2005, the UConn Board of Trustees approved a “Final” project budget of $45.5 million with $31 million coming from UConn 2000, $10 million from gifts and $5 million from Athletic Department Accounts (the bulk of which is comes via the general UConn student fee).

In September 2006, the UConn Trustees approved a “Revised Final” project budget.  The total cost rose to $48.8 million of which UConn now reported $31 million from UConn 2000, $15 million from gifts and $2.5 million from Athletic Department funds.

In its April 2007 semi-annual report to the Governor and Legislature, UConn wrote that “The Intramural, Recreational & Intercollegiate Facilities Project is complete, operational and occupied. This facility houses the football program including offices, training rooms, locker rooms, dining facilities, lounge, strength and conditioning room and an indoor practice field.  When not used by athletic teams, the indoor field is used by the recreational programs.

In fact, as we learned during the UConn 2000 investigation, UConn students have very limited access to the facility.  Hartford Courant investigative reports discovered that while UConn students lined up to use exercise equipment in the old Field House, they were not allowed to use the top of the line exercise equipment in the Burton Complex that is reserved for year around use by the football team.

Most recently UConn has been moving forward on implementing a new recreation fee for students to generate enough funds to actually build a new recreational facility for students.

Oh….wait! You actually thought helping cities and towns was a priority? The incredible story of Connecticut and its casino revenue.

Or “We are from the (State) Government and we are here to help”;

In the fall of 1992, discussions between Governor Lowell Weicker and Pequot Tribal Chairman Skip Hayward led to a landmark agreement in which the Pequot Tribe would share 25% of its annual slots revenue with the state of Connecticut in return for the exclusive rights to have slots within Connecticut’s borders.

The agreement, which was expanded to include the Mohegan Tribe when it opened the Mohegan Sun, was the most generous revenue sharing agreement in the country.  For Weicker the deal was especially beneficial since it provided the state with a major new revenue stream and gave him a new and effective weapon in his on-going effort to stop other casino operators from coming to Connecticut.

Having been in and around those negotiations and discussions, I can attest to the fact that political players recognized that the “icing on the cake” was that the new funds would be distributed to Connecticut’s hard-pressed cities and towns to help support local services and provide property tax relief for Connecticut’s overburdened middle-income families.

Initially ALL OF THE MONEY was to be used for municipal aid, but even as the program was introduced the state needed to skim off about $30 million or so to help balance the FY1994 budget.  That said, Connecticut’s elected officials proclaimed that a new day had arrived, that they were (in fact) serious about property tax relief and from that day forward 85% of the slots revenue would be passed on to the municipalities via the newly created Pequot Slots Fund.

Since then, the Pequot and Mohegan tribes have more than fulfilled the state’s wildest dreams and transferred more than $5.3 billion to the state’s general fund.

However, each year, as slot revenues grew, Connecticut Governors and legislators determined that it was necessary to keep more and more of the incoming revenue at the state level rather than pass it along as promised.  The unspoken rationale was that since the state needed additional revenue to pay for existing and expanded programs it was better to utilize the slot funds rather than increase taxes – even if the net impact was that local property taxes would need to go up even more sharply.

Whereas 85% of the slot funds were passed on to the cities and towns in 1994, that percentage has tumbled year after year after year.

This year, the budget approved by the Democratic legislature and allowed to go into law by Rell allocates a paltry $61 million of the tribal slots revenue to Connecticut’s cities (An amount that equates to 16% of this year’s slot revenues).

So when politicians (of both political parties) talk about their deep commitment to municipal aid and reducing the pressure on local property tax payers, it would behoove everyone to remember that of the $5 billion that has come in via the Pequot/Mohegan Fund over the past 18 years, less than $1.5 billion actually made it to the promised destination – Connecticut’s cities and towns.

The story will remind the old timers among us of Ella Grasso’s famous promise that the Lottery revenue would go for education.

Or in other words – never forget that old adage – “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.

But no really, providing sufficient municipal aid will be a TOP priority for Connecticut State Government.  I know because I heard them say it would be.

More on the issues underling Connecticut’s State Employee Pension System

Here is the problem:  Connecticut’s State Employee Pension fund is significantly underfunded. 

 

Back in 2000 Connecticut had put enough money aside to meet more than 63% of its state pension obligations. 

 

However, repeated decisions by Governors Rowland and Rell with help and support from the Connecticut General Assembly and SEBAC (the state employee bargaining coalition) not to make necessary pension payments or reduce the level of pension payments that were made (along with early retirement incentives that pushed more people into the pension fund) reduced Connecticut’s funded pension ratio down to 44%.

 

Today, the State’s unfunded pension obligation is over $11.7 billion. (Or roughly a debt equal to $3,333 for every Connecticut resident).  Connecticut owes that money.  It will have to pay that money and it has not put aside the funds necessary to make those payments.

 

Connecticut’s system is one of them of the most underfunded systems in the nation. 

 

Despite this situation, much of what we hear about Connecticut’s state employee retirement system is so laced with partisan rhetoric and false statements that makes it almost impossible to have a meaningful debate about the problem and it’s vital that the state engage in an honest discussion about the pension system and its problems based on the facts and not the hype…

The real facts are these.

Connecticut has 57,825 state employees enrolled in the state’s employee retirement system.  Within that system are four separate pension program.  The old Tier 1 state employee pension program, which was closed to new enrollees in 1984.  Next the state adopted the Tier 2 program that began in 1985 and was then replaced by the revised Tier 2A program.  Finally, the Alternative Retirement Program provides a retirement system for faculty and selected staff at Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.  Instead of a pension these state employees receive what is in essence a 401(k) contribution that they can then take with them as their careers take them to other universities around the country.  Members of the Alternative Retirement Program do not receive a Connecticut state pension.

Of Connecticut’s active employees, the distribution of retirement plans is as follows;

 

Tier 1       4,569

Tier 2     19,298

Tier 2A   26,345

ARP         9,613 

 

Meanwhile there are 48,127 state retirees that receive some sort of pension and/or health benefits that they earned by fulfilling their legal requirements when they served as active state employees.  The following breakdown lists retirees by the retirement program the participate in;

 

Tier 1      29,888

Tier 2     10,986

Tier 2A       862 

ARP            391

 

As I reported in an earlier blog post, it is fair to say that the old Tier 1 pension program was pretty generous.  It is also vital to understand that of the 34,457 people participating in the Tier 1 system, 87% of them have already retired.  Only 13% or 4,569 active state employees remain in the Tier 1 system.

The average annual pension for Tier 1 employees is $34,917. 

However, since the benefit is calculated on the total number of years worked multiplied by the employees’ highest three years of income, some employees have managed to acquire large pensions either because they actually had high salaries or they used over-time to push up their salaries prior to retiring.  There are a total of 1,780 retirees with state pensions of $75,000 or more and 365 enjoy pensions of over $100,000.

Of the total 30, 284 people who are in the Tier 2 retirement program, 64% have retired and 36% remain in active service.   The average annual pension for Tier 2 retirees is $21,335.  The way Tier 2 pension is calculated it is more difficult for artificially pushes up one’s pension.  As result, there are 76 Tier 2 retirees with pensions of $75,000 or more and 15 with pensions of over $100,000.

The Tier 2A, the present retirement program for new state employees includes an even more limited pension program.  As of now, only 3% of the 27,207 Tier 2A employees have retired and the annual pension for these 862 individuals is only $11,289.  Of the Tier 2A retires one has a pension of over $75,000 and none have a pension of 100,000.

The bottom line is that new state employees and the vast majority of present state employees will not be receiving so-called “excessive” pensions when they retire. 

And while the state may want to explore creating yet another – Tier 3 – pension category, the real issue facing Connecticut IS NOT “reforming” the level of pension benefits for incoming state employees but how to deal with the obligation the state created under its older and now closed pension categories.

On a related front, there are some who want to explore the possibility of Connecticut reneging on its legal obligations by retroactively changing pension benefits or somehow defaulting on future payments. 

However, it is highly unlikely that the federal courts would allow a state to do that. Legal rulings to date are pretty clear.  While a private company can use bankruptcy to modify or avoid debts, states, with their taxing powers, do not have the ability to do that. (Although some states like California are or may seek ways to put that question to the test). 

Putting aside the moral question, the reality is that Connecticut will not be able to modify pension levels for those who have already retired and so we return to the fundamental problem of the fact that Connecticut obligated itself to future pension payments and then failed to set aside the funds to meet those obligations.

Furthermore, even if the state and unions could agree on legally allowable changes for present employees (and that is something the new Governor and the bargaining process can definitely explore) the bulk of the future obligations for retirees and future retirees are already in place. 

The failure of Connecticut state government to put aside the necessary funds simply can’t be undone.  The pennywise and pound foolish decisions of our elected officials have come to haunt us and separate of any discussions on “reforming the system”, the State must act by dramatically ramping up the level of funds it sets aside for obligations that are and will continue to come due.

When it comes to blame, there is certainly enough blame to go around but the burden now rests on Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly to respond to those mistakes and set things right.

Never underestimate the value of a good lawyer (just ask Lisa Moody and Jodi Rell)

On October 13, 2009 – more than fifteen months ago – an extremely serious complaint against Governor M. Jodi Rell, his senior staff and her campaign committee was filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission alleging that they knowingly violated Connecticut’s campaign laws by receiving illegal campaign contributions and that her campaign illegally used public resources for political purposes. http://www.scribd.com/doc/21009985/seec-complaint-101309

The day after tomorrow – on Wednesday of this week – the SEEC is finally scheduled to take action on that complaint I filed 15 months ago;

In the Matter of a Complaint by Jonathan Pelto, Storrs File No. 2009-104

Proposed Findings and Conclusions, Proposed Consent Agreement and Order

 The controversy received widespread media coverage in the fall of 2009 after Ted Mann of the Day broke the story in series of investigative reports.  The Courant, JI and other papers also revealed key facts about the issue and a number of editorial boards weighed in against the Governor’s apparently illegal activities.

The allegations that a public official broke the law and used public resources for political purposes are among the most serious charges that can be raised against a sitting Governor.  State employees have lost their jobs for such action.  If true, Governor Rell would have become only the 2nd Governor in history to be forced to pay a fine for violating the Connecticut law. (Rowland’s earlier use of basketball tickets and other items earned him that honor).

In addition to the SEEC investigation, parallel investigations were begun by the Office of State Auditors, the Attorney General’s Office and the University of Connecticut.  It was never quite clear if the Ethics Commission was also involved or if they have been waiting for the other agencies to act.

 One would reasonably think that responding to charges such as these would be a top priority – but the wheels of justice move slowly – at least for some.

The record seems to indicate that the investigation phase moved forward fairly quickly, but official action was “delayed” for months.  According to their minutes, the Elections Enforcement Commission did take up what appeared to be a final report in executive session last fall but a final vote was delayed. 

Now, with Jodi Rell no longer Governor and her staff no longer working in the Governor’s Office File No. 2009-104 (my complaint) is on the agenda for a final vote this coming Wednesday.

The issues behind the complaint are certainly very interesting, but the fact that official action (thanks at least in part to the work of her attorney) was delayed until after she left office seems particularly noteworthy.

I know from previous experience that agencies like the SEEC prefer to go the route of a “Consent Agreement” when dealing with major complaints because it prevents the need for going to court since it includes an acceptance by the accused party that some type of violation took place.  Consent Agreements both resolve the situation and make good “case law” for future cases.

The problem with consent agreements is that it requires both sides to agree and you know how it is – the wording of a particular paragraph can take months to negotiate and work out.

Of course, maybe it is just a coincidence that the consent agreement wasn’t ready for action until Rell left office. 

Oh, and who represented Governor Rell and her campaign before the State Elections Enforcement Commission?

It was none other than Ross Garber, who readers will remember as the person Governor-elect Malloy selected to serve on his Transition Committee reviewing the names and resumes of potential appointees. 

[Funny side note, I never did hear back from the Transition Committee or its Personnel Committee when I sent in my cover letter and resume.  Maybe they are still reviewing my materials].

For those who are really interested in the issue and the charges, below are some of the highlights and links to more detail.

“Democrat accuses Rell, committee of ‘significant violations – A Democratic political consultant filed an elections complaint Tuesday against Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her political committee, charging “serious and significant violations” of state campaign financing laws in relation to Rell’s use of a University of Connecticut pollster to help craft her budget and political messaging.” (The Day Oct 14, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21053052/Democrat-Accuses-Rell-Committee-of-%E2%80%98significant-Violations%E2%80%99

 “Complaint Claims Rell Broke Election Laws – Rell and her administration have been under fire since last week, when news broke in the Day of New London that Dautrich’s $220,000, taxpayer-funded contract with Rell’s budget office – for a government efficiency study – has produced controversial political research and advice for how Rell should tailor her stances to please voters.” (Courant, Oct 13, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051752/Complaint-Claims-Rell-Broke-Election-Laws-in-Prof%E2%80%99s-Study

 “Paying for Rell Message –At best the use of state money by the governor’s office to help frame a political strategy for managing the budget crisis shows a lack of leadership. At worst it could be a violation of law.” (The Day October 9, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051781/Paying-for-Rell-Message

“Our view: Top Rell aide must step down – Gov. M. Jodi Rell should instruct her gubernatorial exploratory committee to immediately reimburse the state for any expenses related to the political research conducted — with taxpayers’ money.” (Norwich Bulletin Oct 9, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051767/Norwich-Bulletin

“Taxpayers Paid $220,000 For This?  – COSTLY CONSULTANT  – Taxpayers will pony up for UConn professor’s partisan political advice to the governor …Consultants’ bills for such advice are usually paid by candidate committees out of voluntary contributions, not by taxpayers. The state treasury shouldn’t lay the groundwork for a re-election campaign if Mrs. Rell decides to bid for a second full term.” (Courant Editorial, Oct 9, 2009). http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051772/COSTLY-CONSULTANT-Taxpayers-Will-Pony-Up-for-UConn-Professor%E2%80%99s-Partisan

“Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s account of when her administration abandoned a plan to use public funds to poll voters on budget issues is directly contradicted by correspondence between officials at the University of Connecticut. “(The Day Oct 13, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21051745/Documents-Disprove-Rell%E2%80%99s-Timeline-on-Polling

“Gov. M. Jodi Rell has insisted that her staff rejected an adviser’s suggestion to use public funds to conduct a poll of voters on budgetary issues soon after the suggestion was made, and that the issue was ever discussed after the administration conducted a focus group instead in December 2008. But e-mail correspondence between University of Connecticut officials indicates that the proposal was still alive as late as Jan. 21, 2009, long after Rell has said the issue was discarded for good.” (The Day Oct 14, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21053055/E-Mails-Contradict-Governor%E2%80%99s-Contention-That-Survey-on-State-Budget-Never

“Questions continue to surround the governor’s hiring of a University of Connecticut professor who is working to streamline government but also provided the administration with possibly inappropriate political advice during the budget battle.” (Stamford Advocate Oct 17 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21759303/The-Advocate

“Rell’s UConn Consulting Project Worth Investigating The highly secret project — unearthed through open-records requests — turns out to be, in part, partisan political research that could help her re-election bid if she decides to run for a second full term.” (Courant Editorial Oct 18, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21759294/Rell%E2%80%99s-UConn-Consulting-Project-Worth-Investigating

“Rell has insisted that only a single focus group was held last December to help her craft her budget message and weigh the public’s opinion of various strategies to close a looming state deficit. But the existence of two additional efforts to test the public’s opinion on taxes and budgeting will likely raise more questions for Rell, who faces inquiries from state elections officials, state auditors and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal about the scope and purpose of Dautrich’s research, which was publicly funded but included substantial advice on how to best position the governor politically and give her leverage over Democratic opponents in the legislature.” (The Day Oct 22, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21759283/More-Questions-for-Rell-Likely-Over-Budget-poll-Focus-Groups

“Moody message indicates governor approved survey Hartford – University of Connecticut professor Kenneth Dautrich conducted a $6,000 poll this spring on the orders of Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s chief of staff aimed at weighing voters’ attitudes toward tax increases, borrowing and service cuts as Rell struggled to gain an upper hand over legislative Democrats in a brewing standoff over the state budget.” (The Day, Oct.. 28, 2009) http://www.scribd.com/doc/21759272/E-Mails-Cast-Doubt-on-Rell-in-Flap-Over-Budget-Poll

Wait, What? Connecticut has more public employees than most states?

A reasonable and “grown-up” discussion about Connecticut’s fiscal crisis requires that politicians use data in an honest and appropriate fashion and not seek to mislead the public.

Yesterday New York media outlets were reporting that newly inaugurated Governor Andrew Cuomo is “getting ready to announce layoffs of 10,000 to 15,000 employees.”

Meanwhile, here in Connecticut, the CTMirror ran a story two days ago entitled “For the first time, Malloy talks of cutting rank-and-file workforce”.   The CTMirror was covering a conference in which Governor Malloy reinforced his commitment to reduce the number of state managers but then went on to imply that he may be proposing deeper cuts that would reduce the number of non-manager employees. 

At that same conference, Republican legislative leaders once again made the claim that when it comes to the number of state employees, Connecticut is bloated and way out of line compared to other states.  

The Republicans have been making the same claim during the last few legislative sessions and especially during last year’s legislative and gubernatorial campaigns.

The fact is – their statements are simply not true.

That is not to say we shouldn’t demand and expect greater efficiency, but to suggest that Connecticut’s state government is especially bloated or that we have more public employees than most states is a lie.

The U.S. Census Bureau compiles a wide variety of data including information on the number of federal, state, and local government employees.  The most recent data available is for payrolls as of March 2009.

According to that information, Connecticut  had 57,117 full time employees and 24,139 part time employees for a total of about 66,500 full-time equivalent (FTE) public employees. 

This number translates to approximately 19 state employees per 1,000 population.  Of this number 28% work for Connecticut’s colleges and universities and are thus primarily funded from student tuition and fees.

As observers know, the problem about comparing information state by state is that different states utilize different models to provide government services.  Many states use county governments and regional entities, as well as state and municipal governments to provide public services whereas Connecticut only utilizes two vehicles – state government and municipal government.

To get a sense of the real number of state employees involved in providing government services it is more useful to look at state, regional and local spending.  This data provides a more honest assessment of where Connecticut stands compared to other states.

Using the most recent Census data, Connecticut has a total public employee workforce of about 187,000 FTE positions at the state and local level or about 54 public employees per 1,000 population.

Compare that number to New York which has 64 public employees per 1,000 population, New Jersey with 58 public employees per 1,000 and Massachusetts with 49 public employees per 1,000 population.

While the political rhetoric would lead us to believe that Connecticut is especially bloated when it comes to public service workers that fact is we rank in the middle to lower half of the states.

More honesty and less rhetoric is what is needed going forward.

You can access the public employees information at : http://www.census.gov/govs/apes/

FOOTNOTE:  The key problem with comparing states is that here in Connecticut we don’t have county governments — so we “appear” to have a larger state because most states provide some “state-like” services at the county level – that’s why one really has to look at a combination of state and local units. 

A prime example is public safety – Connecticut would appear to have a lot more state police because we don’t have county sheriff departments like NY, etc.

Another example is correctional officers.  CT has 7,931 FTE correctional officers or about 2.3 per 1,000 citizens.  Compare that to NY who have 33,739 FTE state correctional officers (1.73 per 1,000) but you then have to add in the county/local correctional officers to get the picture of how many correctional officers are needed to run their prison systems.  In this case there are another 24,929 FTEs at the County/Local level so in total NY has 59,000 FTEs correctional officers 3.0 per 1,000.  If you did just the state calculation you’d say CT had way too many but we actually have significantly fewer.  

Interestingly if you do the same calculation or MA and NJ they come out with fewer total correctional officers MA is 1.4 per 1,000 and NJ is 2.0 per 1,000.

Connecticut Charter Schools: The Unwritten Story of Greater Racial and Ethnic Isolation – Funded, in no small part, by Connecticut Taxpayers.

This blog post is intended to shed light and promote discussion and debate about a vital education policy issue facing public education.

Once considered outside of the mainstream, charter schools have become a major player in the national debate about education reform.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, has already donated more than $450 million to support charter schools around the country and Gates himself has called charter schools “the only schools that have the full opportunity to innovate”.

In 1992, Minnesota and California were the first states to pass charter school laws.  By 1995, 19 states had adopted laws allowing the creation of charter schools and by 2003 a total of 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia had all joined the effort to support the creation of charter schools

Connecticut, home of the largest achievement gap in the nation, has also witnessed the rise of charter schools as an appropriate educational model (along with magnet schools and “Open Choice programs” that allow some students to move within the public education system).

Connecticut joined the Charter School band-wagon in 1996 when legislation was adopted promoting the creation of charter schools.  According to a recent report from the State Department of Education, it was felt that “charter schools could serve as a catalyst for innovation in the state’s public schools. It was also anticipated that charters could serve as another effective vehicle to reduce the racial and economic isolation of Connecticut’s public school students.”

Backed by evidence that charter schools were successfully improving standardized test scores advocates were able to persuade Connecticut policy makers to dramatically increase state support for charter schools.  Through the state’s Charter School Grant, Connecticut has poured over $300 million into its emerging charter schools.  Over the past decade, direct state support for charters has skyrocketed from $14 million a year in 2001 to $53 million this year.

State Support for Charter Schools by Fiscal Year (in millions):

FY 00-01                                 $14

FY 01-02                                 $15

FY 02-03                                 $16

FY 03-04                                 $16

FY 04-05                                 $20

FY 05-06                                 $22

FY 06-07                                 $30

FY 07-08                                 $35

FY 08-09                                 $41

FY 09-10                                 $48

FY 10-11                                 $53

In addition to the belief that charter schools were generating better academic results, support for the charter school model grew because the schools and their proponents (including Achievement First, a major charter school operator in New York and Connecticut) repeatedly told state leaders that charter schools were a vital piece in the ongoing effort to address the racial and ethnic segregation that plagues the Connecticut’s public school system.

However, what has gone unreported is that a review of the data reveals that Connecticut’s charter schools are even more racially and ethnically isolated than the districts the schools are recruiting from.  In fact, faced with court rulings requiring Connecticut to confront its segregated schools systems, charter schools are taking Connecticut in exactly the wrong direction.

When the facts are examined, not only have charter schools failed in their promise to address segregation but as a result of the effective lobbying efforts of the charter schools, scarce public resources are now being used to undermine the state’s own policy goals on racial and ethnic isolation.

The data could not be clearer, Connecticut’s urban school systems are predominantly minority.

Bridgeport Public Schools: 

91.2% Minority                                

47.3% Latino

40.1% of the students come from non-English speaking homes

 

Hartford Public Schools:                             

93.3% Minority

52.3% Latino

43.5% of the students come from non-English speaking homes

 

New Haven Public Schools:

 87.7% Minority

36.6% Latino

28.9% of the students come from non-English speaking homes

Recognizing the reality of these extraordinary demographics, the state turned to charter schools and other alternative education models to create educational settings that were more diverse.

However, as noted, the State Department of Education’s School Profile Reports reveal that virtually all of Connecticut’s charter schools are providing an educational environment that is even more racially and ethnically isolated.

In Bridgeport, where 91.2% of the students are minority; the percentage of minority students in the city’s charter schools are actually higher than in the city as a whole.

School     (Percent Minority)

Achievement First – Bridgeport Academy’s     (98.7%)

The Bridge Academy     (99.5%)

New Beginnings     (98.3%)

Park City Prep     (98.2%)

The same situation is true in Hartford where 93.3% of the students are minority but the population of minority students in the city’s charter schools is 100%

School     (Percent Minority)

Achievement First – Harford     (100%)

Jumoke     (100%)

And in New Haven, where 87.7% of the students are minority only 1 out of the 4 area charter schools seem able to attract non-minority students.

School (Percent Minority)

Achievement First – Amistad     (98.1%)

Achievement First – Elm City College Prep     (99.0%)

Common Ground School     (83.2%)

Highville Charter     (98.3%)

When it comes to serving Latino students, the failure of Connecticut’s charter schools is even more appalling.

Although 47.3% of Bridgeport students are Latino,  the percentage of Latino students in Achievement First’s Bridgeport Academy is Charter Schools is 38.8% Latino, The Bridge Academy has a Latino population of 29.4% , New Beginnings Latino percent is 13.7% and Park City Prep’s Latino population is 31.1%

An even more stark situation exists in Hartford where 52.3% of the students are Latino, but only 10.7% of the students at Achievement First – Hartford are Latino while Jumoke Charter’s Latino population is only 3.2%

New Haven’s charter schools have done a bit better serving the Latino community, but the charter schools there are still falling short.  With a Latino student population of 36.6% in New Haven’s public schools, Achievement First – Amistad has a Latino population of 31.5% , Achievement First – Elm City has 20.2% Latino students, the Common Ground School is 30.7% Latino and  Highville Charter has a Latino Population of 7%.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is the fact that despite Connecticut’s urban areas having significant numbers of students coming from non-English speaking homes, charter schools have somehow managed to create learning environments in which virtually NONE OF THE STUDENTS who come from non-English speaking households end up in their schools.

As educators and policy makers know, one of the most significant challenges to educational achievement is language barriers particularly a problem when students take their homework (which is written in English) home to non-English speaking households.  Greater parental engagement in their children’s education is hard enough, but when the students are learning in a language that is not spoken at home it makes it virtually impossible to generate significant parental involvement.

In Bridgeport 40% of the students go home to a non-English speaking home.  That percentage increases to 44.7% in Hartford and in New Haven the percent of students coming from non-English speaking homes is 28.6%

In Connecticut, charter schools are required to ensure equal access to their schools.  Efforts must be made to recruit students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds and admission tests can’t be used.  In fact, entrance decisions must include a blind lottery system.  So that said, compare the percentage of students from non-English speaking homes with the numbers the charter school have reported to the State Department of Education:

School     (% students from non-English speaking homes)

Bridgeport Public Schools     (40%)

Achievement First – Bridgeport Academy     (0.6%)

The Bridge Academy     (14.9%)

New Beginnings     (0%)

Park City Prep     (0%)

HartfordPublic Schools     (44.7% )

Achievement First – Hartford     (0%)

Jumoke     (0%)

New HavenPublic Schools     (28.6%)

Achievement First – Amistad     (0%)

Achievement First – Elm City Prep     (0%)

Common Ground School     (4.6%)

Highville Charter     (0%)

The data is certainly unsettling.  If Connecticut’s publically funded charter schools are supposed to be equally accessible to all and up to 4 in 10 students from those areas come from non-English speaking households then it is pretty unbelievable and completely unconscionable that almost no charter school students come from non-English speaking households.

There is no question that the concept of charter schools is politically very attractive, but the data raises very serious questions about Connecticut’s charter schools and Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly would do well to call a “time out” when it comes to on-going support for these schools and determine how to proceed considering these schools are creating greater racial isolation while failing to service the breadth of our city’s ethnic communities.