Wait, What? A Tax Plan That Would Make a Republican Governor Proud?

The CTMirror has posted a copy of Malloy’s tax plan: http://ctmirror.org/sites/default/files/documents/tax%20proposal.pdf and a corresponding story http://ctmirror.org/story/11505/malloy

More analysis to come in the coming days – but if you go outside – you’ll probably hear Connecticut’s wealthy popping the champagne bottles and toasting this tax proposal.

An new income tax rate of only 6.7% for those making over a $1 million while eliminating the all important property tax credit  — which is probably the single most important tax policy for middle-income families?

I suppose the good news is that since the top income tax rate will remain so much lower than New York and New Jersey – let alone – New York City that we can rest assured that our super wealthy won’t be selling their homes, pulling their kids out of school and heading to safe havens…

While the Administration will argue that the plan builds some “progressivity” into the income tax, it is limited at best and because it removes the all important property tax credit from the income tax it is a major hit to Connecticut’s middle income taxpayers.

Even in the worst of the previous two recessions the property tax credit was never reduced below $300 – now he is proposing eliminating it – a shocking hit to every middle class homeowner.

The plan also raises the gas tax – which disproportionately hurts middle class, working families who have no choice but to use their cars to get to work and meet the challenges of daily life. It also increases the sales tax rate and taxes clothing and non-prescription drugs…

But his does not broaden the sales tax to a variety of business services such as advertising.

We’ll know more in the coming days – but as of now – the wealthy in Connecticut pay about 5% of their income in state and local taxes while the rest of us pay about 10% of our income in state and local taxes. This plan does little (if anything) to balance Connecticut’s tax burden on middle income families.

At first blush – at least – it is a plan that would make a Republican governor proud!

SustiNet – Connecticut’s Health Care Reform Law – It’s a Big Fricking Deal

[Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point – http://www.newhavenadvocate.com/peltos-point/default]

The Connecticut legislature will be holding a major public hearing today on the legislative proposal to further implement Connecticut’s landmark healthcare reform program called SustiNet.

SustiNet was adopted in 2009 by the Connecticut General Assembly. The law put in place a process to ensure that Connecticut was ready to implement the Federal healthcare reforms that were making their way through Congress. With a major implementation plan developed, phase I of the law is now complete and it is now up to the legislature to authorize or reject moving forward with the full plan.

Healthcare reform has become the issue of our time, both in Washington and here in Connecticut. In our politically polarized country few if any issues generate as much rhetoric and political debate. As observers across the political spectrum have come to know, it is the duty of Republicans, conservatives and tea-baggers to refer to national health care reform as Obamacare and socialism. Meanwhile, Democrats, liberals and those on the left are quick to point out that opponents of healthcare reform refuse to recognize that Americans have a fundamental right to health care and that like Scrooge, these right- wing nuts will not satisfied until the so called surplus population (aka the poor and uninsured) are dying in the streets.

Interestingly, both sides have managed to put God and country on their side while openly suggesting that the other side is following in the footsteps of Hitler and the Nazis. Meanwhile, the laws that require hospitals to treat anyone who walks in the door remain intact and virtually all economists recognize America’s existing healthcare system is bankrupting the country, our economy and countless hard-working Americans.

So with that as a backdrop, Connecticut s state government will spend a good deal of time and energy in the coming months debating whether to move forward with the SustiNet, a law that is designed to make sure that Connecticut is at the forefront of the effort to create a higher quality, more affordable healthcare system that will also provide healthcare coverage to the state’s uninsured residents.

One of the most important elements of the SustiNet law was the requirement that, regardless of what eventually happens with the Federal reform effort, insurers in Connecticut will be prohibited from discriminating against people with preexisting conditions. In addition, the SustiNet law includes a series of steps to improve quality while slowing the increasing costs of healthcare in Connecticut.

By bringing together state employees and retirees as well as state funded Medicaid and HUSKY beneficiaries, the law begins by using the state’s buying power to force health insurers to enhance coverage while charging more reasonable premiums.

Second, this new SustiNet health coverage option will give Connecticut cities and towns the opportunity to buy into what will be better, more affordable health insurance policies thereby reducing the pressure on local property taxes.

Third, SustiNet will then offer commercial-style insurance to small employers and non-profits, allowing employers and non-profit organizations to provide their employees with more, and hopefully less expensive, healthcare coverage.

When fully implemented, municipalities, employers and consumers will all be able to buy into the larger, more efficient SustiNet health insurance pool if they determine that is their best course of action for getting high quality, affordable coverage.

The SustiNet system will also maximize the amount of federal funds Connecticut receives. By getting its full share of federal funds, these enhancements and improvements will be much more affordable.

Further, the SustiNet law raises the required level of patient care including state-of-the-art programs like patient-centered medical homes, emphasis on preventative care and evidence-based medicine. It also creates fairer, more accurate reimbursement methods and encourages investment in technology such as electronic medical records that reduce medical errors and duplication of services.

Finally, rather than leave the development and management of this program in the hands of various state departments and agencies, the law seeks to improve coordination and oversight through a quasi-public SustiNet Authority.

Are there major costs associated with implementing this piece of legislation – yes of course – but there are even greater costs by not implementing it.  People who need care and don’t get it end up seeking treatment in far more expensive places like emergency rooms.  Meanwhile without affordable health insurance more and more companies will find themselves unable to maintain their present work force let alone expand it.  And cities, town and nonprofit companies all need to find ways to provide quality benefits at more affordable rates.

Opponents miss the key point – SustiNet is a piece of legislation that will lead to a better Connecticut – economically and healthwise.

(The full implementation recommendations of the SustiNet Board can be found at: www.ct.gov/SustiNet)

For an excellent opposing view on this story, check out Heath Fahle’s new blog  http://www.heathwfahle.com/blog/.

The real definition of entitlement: “The belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges”

Mark Bertolini, CEO Aetna

(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at www.newhavenadvocate.com)

Of course, when it comes to the term entitlement many Americans think of government entitlement programs like Medicare or Medicaid. Entitlements are those government services or benefits that people receive when they meet the necessary legal criteria in order to receive such services or benefits.

However, here in Connecticut (in the year 2011), the notion of entitlement seems to be taking on a new and far more ominous meaning.

First Robert Burton wanted his $3 million dollars back from UConn and his name removed from the $48 million dollar Burton Family Football Training Complex because he was left out of the loop on the selection of a new football coach.

Now, Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna announces at a recent Middlesex Chamber of Commerce meeting that whether his company will add or eliminate jobs in Connecticut will depend in part on how the state resolves its budget crisis.

See the Hartford Courant story – http://www.courant.com/business/hc-aetna-bertolini-0212-20110211,0,659887.story

Bertolini reports that “we’ve done the analysis, and, quite frankly, Connecticut falls very, very low on the list as an environment to locate employees . . . in large part because of the tax structure, the cost of living, which is now approaching, all in, the cost of locating an employee in New York City,”

That is quite a threat from Aetna – A Connecticut creation that has called our state home for 158 years.

This comes from the CEO of Aetna, whose 2010 operating earnings were $1.6 billion, up 43% from 2009.

Aetna – a major multinational corporation that proudly declares that it does business in 160 countries around the world.

Aetna – whose 2010 pre-tax operating margin was up to 8% and their post-tax margin as up to 5.2% – an increase of 1.5%.

Aetna – whose stock closed yesterday at 37.65, up from about 29 a year ago.

This past year, Mark Bertolini’s Annual Cash Compensation was $1.5 million, plus short term compensation of $932 thousand plus long term compensation of $7.2 million.  His total 2010 compensation package was worth $12.6 million

Although Bertolini fails to make clear what his specific demands are we can safely assume that his worry relates to increased taxes for his company or himself.  Does he mean that ANY TAX INCREASE will send his company fleeing?  (Has he taken into consideration the huge windfall that he and his executive team received thanks to the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts)?

Is Bertolini saying he’ll lay off his 7,000 experienced workers if Connecticut raises taxes?

Is he saying he’ll sell the company’s huge property holdings here in Connecticut?

Is he saying that he and his senior management team will pull their kids out of school, sell their homes and move out of state because Connecticut tries to balance its budget by asking those among us who can pay a bit more to pay their fair share and help ensure Connecticut remains a great place to live and raise a family.

There is something truly shocking about the arrogance that flows from comments like his.

As we face the greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression, it is amazing that this “corporate leader” uses his prestige and privilege to tell us that as our elected officials finally work to put Connecticut back on track, their actions might very well lead Aetna to turn its back on its own state..

It is comments like Bertolini’s that make me worry about the very future of our Nation.

Shared Sacrifice? What about the unshared sacrifice to date?

UConn Storrs (photo by uconnruf)

Are Connecticut’s public colleges and universities in the cross-hairs again?

Yeah…yeah… we’ve heard all it all before…“A well educated workforce is the key to economic growth and prosperity” and “The percentage of college educated workers is one of the single most important factors to a state’s economic health.”

However, when it comes to adequate state support for our public colleges and universities, Connecticut has a long and sad record of failure.

Twenty years ago, when we already ranked at the bottom of the nation, about half of UConn’s budget came from state funds.

This year, the state of Connecticut will cover less than a third of the University’s total operating expenses.

A similar story holds true at Connecticut State University and Connecticut’s Community and Technical College System.

Without enough state funds to fulfill their missions, Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education have been forced to become increasingly reliant on students and their parents to pick up the costs associated with running high quality educational programs.

Whether at UConn, CSU or the Community/Technical Colleges, tuition and fees are now paying for the lion’s share of the total operating cost.

Adding to the problem, at UConn, not only have there been record tuition increases but the University has dramatically increased the number of students as a way to raise additional revenue. Their rationale is simple – more students mean more tuition and fees, even if the end result is larger class sizes, fewer course offerings and the need to take more than 4 years to complete a basic bachelor’s degree.

Since the UConn 2000 infrastructure program began in 1995, the number of students at UConn has jumped from 14,500 to 21,500.  However, in a stunning tribute to the notion of “pay more, get less”, while the number of students has increased by 48 percent, the number of full-time faculty is up barely 15%.

As Governor Rell and the Legislature grappled for ways to “balance” this year’s budget without having to deal with any political ramifications they did something that had never, ever been done before.  Rather than “cut” the budget for Connecticut’s public institutions of higher education, they actually reached into the school’s internal operating fund and transferred more than $30 million in student tuition and fees over to the state’s General Fund.

Not only did the gimmick mean students and parents paid more in tuition only to see the money go to the state’s non-higher education costs but this maneuver amounted to the deepest percentage cuts to Connecticut’s public colleges in state history.

In recent weeks, the Malloy Administration has made it clear that they will be calling for shared sacrifice as they look for record budget cuts.  The problem is that that Connecticut families seeking a college degree have already sacrificed far more than their fair share.

Further complicating the notion of shared sacrifice is that fact that the new Administration and the Legislature fully understands that there are significant areas of the state budget where cuts are simply not possible – either because there is a consensus that the services are just to vital to cut or there isn’t the political will to make those cuts. 

For example, State government can’t cut its debt services payments; we’ve already learned the disaster associated with failing to make pension payments; Malloy has promised not to cut local education funding and every dollar cut from Medicaid (health programs) means an immediate loss of 50 cent in federal reimbursement.

So the notion of across the board cuts is absurd.

Certain areas will be cut deeper than others and Connecticut’s history is to cut our public colleges and universities knowing that if the schools really need the funds they can get them by increasing tuition.

While the Malloy Administration would not be alone in targeting cuts to higher education, California’s new governor has proposed nearly $2 billion in cuts to their colleges, it is important to note that not all states are undermining the work of their universities.

Gov. Robert M. McDonnell, Virginia’s Republican Governor recently proposed adding $50 million to their higher education budget.  It would be part his longer term plan to create a more educated workforce

Meanwhile, Sam Brownback, the new ultra-conservative Republican governor of Kansas has actually proposed a three-year, $105-million plan to enhance their university programs that educate students for high-paying jobs in areas such as aviation, cancer research, and engineering.

And not to be outdone, this year, North Carolina actually increased their higher education budget this year by 6%.

Of the 50 states, the average percentage of the state budget devoted to public higher education is 9%. 

Virginia already devotes 14% of its state budget to its public colleges, North Carolina 16% and Minnesota 23%. 

Connecticut is at 7.3% and dropping.

Cutting our colleges is bad for our economy, bad for middle class families and bad for our society.

Next Wednesday, budget day, will tell us a lot about what “shared sacrifice” really means

Just Freeze Spending – How Hard Can That Be?

 [This post was originally posted to Pelto’s Point – my blog at the New Haven Advocate] 

A common refrain we all hearing these days across Connecticut is that the state has a “spending problem – not a tax problem” and the solution is simply to freeze or cut spending.

Connecticut has a “spending problem” makes excellent rhetoric.

The governor and legislature could simply step up, make the cuts and Connecticut would be back on track.

Not to duck the issue, for there is no doubt that Connecticut’s state government can be far more effective and efficient with its scarce resources. However, having worked with Connecticut’s budget for nearly three decades AS A WHAT?, I can say significant cuts can only be achieved by significantly reducing or eliminating actual programs which, in turn, will mean some vital services disappear, local property taxes skyrocket and many more families face the desperation associated with job loss and economic distress.

To date, there has not been a single responsible proposal that has laid out how to cut $500 million or more from Connecticut’s state budget.

So it was particularly noteworthy when Gov. Malloy announced that he’ll be cutting $2 billion from Connecticut’s current service budget before he looks at increasing revenue.

To put the debate into perspective, Connecticut’s current service budget (that is doing next year exactly what we are doing this year – including inflation) would require almost $4 billion in additional revenue.

Malloy seems to be suggesting that his plan is to simply split this problem in half – cutting about $2 billion in spending and finding about $2 billion in additional revenues.

Malloy’s suggestion goes well beyond “freezing” spending – he is implying that he will be proposing record breaking cuts in Connecticut’s budget.

The underlying issue is that Connecticut’s $19 billion dollar budget is very labor- and service-intensive and there are some significant portions of the budget will be going to go up – no matter what.

Because some expenses will have to be increased (like debt service and pension payments), this debate is not about “freezing programs in place” but identifying areas of the budget where cuts can be so deep so as to allow for the growth that must take place in the areas that can’t be cut.

Before cuts can be made, there must be an understanding about those programs or items that will be pushing up next year’s budget. Those items include:

Increased debt service (must be added): $248 million

Wage increases (would require union approval to eliminate): $160 million

Fringe benefits (including pension payments): $525 million  (There is a limited ability to reduce this increase. Pension payments must be made this year, since they were deferred in each of the last two years. Health care changes for existing retirees can’t be made, while changes for existing employees would require union approval).

27th payroll (Occurs every 11th year due to 2 week pay schedule): $119 million

 Increased Medicaid (due to increased usage/50% reimbursed from Feds): $359 million

Statutory increases in formula grants to towns: $145 million

Other statewide costs: $185 million

All other changes: $127 million

  • Total increase needed to meet current services requirements: $1.87 million

Realistically, an agreement with the state employee unions that includes no wage increases, a number of furlough days and greater health care concessions could save the state about $250 million in new spending.

Such an agreement would reduce the growth in next year’s budget from about $1.87 million to about $1.62 million.

The state could simply decide not to give the towns more money which would save another $145 million (although that action will certainly lead to higher local property taxes).

Finally, even if the state hacked away all the other basic inflationary costs – which in essence means cutting agencies existing programs – the total amount of additional spending next year will be over well over $1.2 billion dollars.

So when Governor Malloy says he wants to cut $2 billion from the budget – he is not saying he plans to “freeze spending” he is talking about proposing massive and historic cuts to programs and services.

And by next week at this time, we’ll know exactly which programs and services he is targeting.

Killing the Golden Goose: Connecticut’s Non-Profit Providers and the sad legacy of undermining what works

Another key area to watch as Governor Malloy rolls out his FY 2012 proposed budget is how he handles funding for nonprofit providers.

As a growing number of people recognize, in Connecticut, the vast majority of essential human and social services are provided by a network of nonprofit, community-based providers.

Every day thousands of people turn to these nonprofit agencies to get the help they need and deserve – services that is not only making life better for those individuals and their families – but also better and safer for Connecticut.

Being nonprofit and community based, nonprofits, these agencies are able to provide high quality critical services in a very efficient and effective manner.  If these nonprofit agencies and the services they provide were not available, the cost to Connecticut and its taxpayers would be much higher as residents were forced to seek services in far more expensive venues such as emergency rooms or other state programs.

So how has state government being dealing with its non-profit providers? 

Faced with rising demand (as a result of this Great Recession), the state of Connecticut has totally and completely failed to provide any cost of living increases over the last three years –  after an even longer period of perennial underfunding. 

The reality is, despite skyrocketing costs associated with energy, insurance and medical related costs (among other factors), nonprofits have gotten no adjustment, no increase, no support despite the obvious benefits they provide and the growing need for their services. 

Although unreported, the impact of Connecticut’s failure to properly support its nonprofit, as revealed in a recent survey of providers, has been dramatic;

40% of Connecticut’s nonprofits have delayed or refused admission for new clients

63% have been forced to reduce the level of direct services to residents

65% have reduced employee benefits

68% have further increased employee contributions for health care

80% have eliminated positions

80% have delayed hiring and kept vacancies open.

Democrats and Republicans alike continue to claim that they support vital human and social services, yet their actions speak louder than words. 

The legacy of inadequate state funding means many nonprofit providers have been forced to reduce services, expand waiting lists and cut staff and hours.  Few, if any, have been able to address the growing demand as more and more individuals and families find themselves in trouble – or even crisis – due to this bad economy

So now the question is what will happen next?

Governor Malloy pledged during the campaign to protect the state’s “safety-net” and yet his recent pronouncement that he will cut $2 billion dollars from the current services budget portends that Connecticut’s non-profits are about to get shafted again,. 

This despite the fact that we have learned from the last three state budgets  that no cost of living adjustment for nonprofit providers is nothing short of a decision to reduce the level of available services for the most vulnerable citizens among us.

The Governor says he will preserve the State’s safety-net, a goal that simply can’t be achieved if the next budget has the effect of reducing essential humans services yet again?

Time to Make People Pay Their Fair Share (in addition to Balancing the Budget)

Make Taxation Fairer Now: 

Today I begin my 2nd Blog (thanks to the New Haven Advocate). http://www.newhavenadvocate.com/peltos-point.  I’m honored to be given the space to discuss some of the policy and political challenges that face Connecticut. Some posts will be cross-posted here at Wait, What… while others will be exclusive to the Advocate.  Please take a moment today to check out my site over there and sign up for updates there too.

While Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly grapple with the record budget shortfall for next year, there is a second and perhaps, in the long run, an even more important issue – and that is using this moment to reform Connecticut’s tax structure.

True, Connecticut is facing an extraordinary fiscal crisis. It will require tough decisions about cutting programs and raising taxes. But now is the time to ensure Connecticut residents are paying their fair share and thereby reducing the overall burden on middle class families.

Understanding the overall tax burden (and who is actually burdened) is critically important.

Over the past decade or so the overall tax burden from state and local taxes has gone up slightly.

As measured by the percent of personal income that goes to pay state and local taxes, the average percent has gone from 15.6 to 15.9 percent. However, in Connecticut the average percent of income that goes to pay state and local taxes has actually declined from 14.7 percent in 1997 down to 13.9 percent in 2008.

If Connecticut residents are feeling squeezed by increasing taxes (and many are feeling that pressure) the reason IS NOT the overall growth of government, but the way the state’s tax system squeezes many middle income families while letting many wealthy taxpayers get away without paying their fair share.

The imbalance in the way Connecticut collects its income tax dates by to 1991 when the Legislature adopted a 4.5% state income tax.  With an Independent/Republican Governor and Republican votes needed to pass the legislation, the state adopted a flat rather than a progressive income tax rate.  While a change was recently made for incomes over $1 million dollars, Connecticut’s overall state and local tax system has remained the same for 20 years – a system that ends up allowing the wealthiest to pay a much smaller share of their income than middle and lower income taxpayers.

In Connecticut, the wealthiest 1 percent pays less than half what the other 99 percent of taxpayers pay on their state and local taxes.

–Connecticut’s wealthiest residents pay on average 4.9% of their income in state and local taxes.

–Middle income resident pays 10% of their income in state and local taxes.

–Lower-income residents pay 12% of their income in state and lower taxes.

When it comes to the relative burden on lower income residents, Connecticut is one of the 10 worst states in the country.

And there are a lot of those super-rich who are getting away without paying their fair share. In 2008 there were about 10,000 Connecticut taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $1 million or more.

For example, if the governor and legislature merely reformed Connecticut’s income tax system to mirror the source model used by New Jersey, Connecticut would have collected more than $500 million more in 2008

Bottom line: Connecticut’s income tax is more regressive than other states.

One problem is that the income tax rates on the wealthiest taxpayers mean that those people simply aren’t paying their fair share.

Another problem is that the lack of appropriate tax rate tiers means that Connecticut families who make $30,000 per year are taxed at the same rate as those making $900,000. This means middle and lower income families are disproportionately burdened.

 Conservatives and anti-government activists claim the problem is that government is too big. Reasonable people can disagree on that one, but all but the advocates for the super-rich should at least come together and make Connecticut’s tax system fairer.

It would not only help the immediate budget crisis but could provide some relief to Connecticut’s middle-income families.

To add insult to injury, last year’s deal on the state estate tax between Governor Rell and the Democratic legislators, actually made Connecticut’s tax system more regressive by further lowering the tax burden on the state’s wealthiest residents.

Connecticut Voices has a produced a number of great reports on this issue – the latest can be found at: http://www.ctkidslink.org/publications/bud11realitycheck.pdf

Malloy Administration Make More Walk the Plank (according to sources)

The news late today is that  the Malloy Administration has sent another two former Rell people packing.

The latest two are Jeff Litke and Louis Fulinello, both of whom were employees of the Department of Economic Development.  Previously Litke worked as Executive Assistant to Lisa Moody while Fulinello was a staff assistant in Rell’s Office. This brings the total of Rell staffers to be fired to at least 7.

In a post yesterday I raised questions about why the new Administration had fired Nora Duncan.  Duncan, who did work for Rell’s legislative office for two years, is much better known as a leading voice for Connecticut’s nonprofit providers of community services.

In yesterday’s post I questioned who was making these employment decisions and if Malloy or Wyman has authorized Duncan’s firing considering both have been such strong supporters of Connecticut’s nonprofits.

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.