Hey Connecticut – Nothing to worry about as the ‘Catastrophic Structural Failure’ crisis grows

Today’s CT Newsjunkie headline reads – 2016 Budget Is Back In The Red – $141.1M

In his monthly letter to state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, [Malloy’s budget chief Ben] Barnes said the state’s revenues have slipped again and the budget is experiencing a $141.1 million shortfall. That’s just three weeks after the General Assembly closed a $220 million budget gap.

The additional $141 million deficit that the Malloy administration is now admitting to comes on top of the $220 million deficit that was announced a couple of months ago, which came on top of the approximately $600 million in deficits that had been previously announced since July 1, 2015.

The appalling truth is that with about 70 days left in the fiscal year, the state budget approved by the Connecticut General and signed into law by Governor Dannel Malloy, last spring, was out of balance by over $1 billion.

Should it come as a surprise that the state budget that Malloy signed and deemed to be balanced was actually underfunded?

Hardly….

Last June, on the day the Connecticut General Assembly adopted this year’s state budget, the Wait, What? post read The Train Wreck of the Democrats’ State Budget and a few weeks later came an update entitled, CT’s Legislative Democrats set to make a bad budget worse.

Yet, speaking about the glory of the newly adopted state budget, the President of the Connecticut State Senate called it, “one of the best in his 35 years in the general assembly.”

And from Dannel “No New Taxes” Malloy came what may have been the quote of the year as Malloy exclaimed,

“A brighter tomorrow will start with this budget today. This agreement will help Connecticut now and in the long-run — it helps transform our transportation infrastructure as we aim for a best-in-class system. It supports our schools, supports the middle class, and supports vital programs for those who need it most. Most importantly, it helps us build a Connecticut for the long-term, making our state an even greater place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Yet despite those bizarre pronouncements, Malloy and his political operatives continue to pretend that it is Malloy, himself, who is the voice of fiscal responsibility.

Note that along with today’s announcement about the growing deficit, Malloy issued a statement saying;

“The question is no longer whether we’re in a new economic reality, it’s what we’re going to do about it.”

Wait, What?

Malloy is actually claiming that he is the one prepared to deal with the “new economic reality” in a responsible manner?

It was only 11 weeks ago when the February 3, 2016 Wait, What? headline reported, Malloy presents a state budget plan that would make hip hop artist B.o.B. proud.

Flanked by Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, his “policy-partner,” Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy lectured a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly today about the importance of being fiscally responsible.

It was a grand theatrical performance that would make hip hop artist B.o.B. proud.

Less than two weeks ago, singer and music producer B.o.B informed the world that despite what we have been told, the World is Flat!

Like Governor Dannel Malloy, the “all-knowing” musician laid down the “truth” about the flatness of the Earth explaining;

“No matter how high in elevation you are… the horizon is always eye level … sorry cadets… I didn’t wanna believe it either.”

“A lot of people are turned off by the phrase ‘flat earth’ … but there’s no way u can see all the evidence and not know… grow up.”

“I question the international laws that prevent you from exploring Antarctica and the North Pole… what’s there to hide? …I’m going up against the greatest liars in history … you’ve been tremendously deceived.”

[…]

Earlier today, doing his best to channel B.o.B. into the historic chamber of the Connecticut House of Representatives, Governor Malloy took off on a fantastic ride of revisionist history in which he blamed everyone but himself for the fiscal disaster that is dragging Connecticut into the muck.

[…]

Malloy’s rhetoric about honest budgeting was only eclipsed in today’s speech by his comments regarding his record when it comes to Connecticut’s long term debt obligations.

Unconstrained by the truth or his own record in dealing with Connecticut’s failure to properly fund its pension and post-employment benefit programs, Malloy pontificated;

“Now, it has fallen upon us to fix it. After decades of neglect, we are finally paying our pension obligations every year. I think we all know that must continue.”

This from a guy who just a few months ago proposed kicking the can so far down the road that we’d shift more than $8 billion in pension liabilities onto the backs of Connecticut’s children and grandchildren.

And lest we forget, it is Malloy who has gone crazy with the state’s credit card, borrowing money to pay for various pet projects including his massive corporate welfare program.

As for his immediate commitment to making even deeper cuts to state programs, Malloy’s approach is probably best reflected by his proposal to cut funding for dental care for poor children and his plan to save $1 million by “reducing the burial benefit for indigent people from$1,400 to $1.000.”  That last one was actually something Malloy proposed last year, but legislators reviewed the issue and trashed the plan.

Here is the reality.

What we are witnessing is a “Catastrophic Structural Failure” of leadership and as Connecticut’s fiscal house burns to the ground, Malloy, Wyman and their team continue to function as if the whole situation is nothing more than a political game in which the contest is to see who can come up with the best sounding rhetoric and political soundbites.

To them it may all be a game – a joke – but the damage from their actions is raining down on the people of Connecticut who are suffering and will continue to suffer under state leaders who have completely lost their ability to decipher reality, let alone act on it.

If Malloy’s determination to coddle the rich and deny the fact that additional tax revenue will be needed to ensure a fair, balanced and appropriate state budget, is not challenged and reversed, Connecticut will continue its parachute-less plunge toward destruction.

Malloy Budget Plan – Coddle the rich while cutting vital state services

On Wednesday, February 3, 2016, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy, flanked by Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman and the rest of his administration will submit his latest budget plan to a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

Malloy’s approach, one that borrows directly from the disgraced trickle-down economic strategies of the Neo-Conservative/Neo Liberal philosophy, will be to balance Connecticut’s state budget by continuing to coddle Connecticut’s wealthiest citizens while cutting critically important health, human service and education programs for those who are struggling the most in today’s troubled economy.

The sad reality is that Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens will be those who suffer most from Malloy’s proposals.

Governor “There Is No Budget Deficit – I Will Not Raise Taxes” Malloy will also propose shifting more of the burden for paying for government services onto Connecticut’s local property taxpayers, despite the fact that Connecticut’s property tax system is regressive and unfairly burdens middle-income and working families in Connecticut.

Finally, yet again, as if to reiterate that Malloy has to have it have it his way or no way, Governor Malloy will be proposing a dangerous and unprecedented power grab that would transfer significant budget control and oversight away from the Legislative Branch of government to the Executive Branch, giving him and his budget chief unparalleled authority over how appropriated state funds are actually spent.

Malloy Policy #1 – Coddle the Rich

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a national non-partisan research organization that works on federal, state, and local tax policy issues,

Connecticut’s wealthiest pay 5.3 percent of their income in state and local taxes.  Connecticut’s middle income households pay 10.7 percent and Connecticut’s poorest pay 10.5 percent on state and local taxes.

Connecticut’s tax system is unfair, but rather than address this situation, Malloy has consistently refused to require that Connecticut’s wealthiest pay their fair share in taxes.

As in the past, Malloy is promising “not to raise taxes,” although that pledge does not include his upcoming proposal to raise the gas tax and re-institute tolls to pay for his transportation initiative after having diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from the Transportation Fund, over the past five years, to cover costs in the General Fund.

Malloy Policy #2 – Cut vital programs including those for Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents.

As reported by the CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf last Friday, Malloy promises ‘very austere’ state budget next week; Connecticut’s Governor will seek to balance the upcoming state budget on the backs of those who rely the most on state services.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy warned Friday that the spending plan he will offer state legislators next week will be a “very austere” budget with no tax hikes.

The Democratic governor, who needs to close a deficit projection topping $500 million in the preliminary budget for 2016-17, also all but ruled out use of the state’s modest emergency reserve.

“It’s an austere budget. I think everybody knows that,” the governor told reporters after the State Bond Commission meeting in the Legislative Office Building.

[…]

And while Malloy offered few hints on where he would cut, he did offer one big clue.

When asked whether the emergency cuts he ordered in September to close a shortfall in the current fiscal year might offer a blueprint of where he would look for savings in 2016-17, the governor responded: “It’s a start.”

Those emergency cuts fell most heavily on social services, hospitals, and public colleges and universities, though they touched most discretionary areas of spending, excluding municipal aid.

Malloy Policy #3 – Shift tax burden to the unfair local property tax

While details are scarce about where some of Malloy’s budget cuts will fall, one area that is definitely on the chopping block will be municipal aid.

Despite repeated promises not to cut aid to cities and towns, Malloy has done exactly that in recent years.  While cuts in municipal grants “reduce” the state budget, the costs are simply shifted onto local property taxpayers.  It is a  strategy that is even more unfair to middle and lower-income families in Connecticut.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s latest report also reveals that while Connecticut’s tax system is regressive, its property tax system is even more unfair.

Connecticut’s wealthiest pay 1.2 percent of their income in property taxes, the Middle Class 5.0 percent and the poor pay 5.3 percent of their money in local property taxes.

Malloy has already proposed cuts to the state property tax exemption for middle-income homeowners and additional cuts in municipal aid will further shift the overall tax burden onto the backs of working families in Connecticut.

Malloy Policy #4 – Seek greater executive branch control over budget

Finally, in what may be one of his most outrageous and irresponsible proposals yet, the power-hungry Governor is proposing to destroy critically important legislative oversight and control of the state budget.

As Phaneuf reports in today’s CT Mirror entitled, Malloy to seek greater executive branch control over budget

Sources familiar with the governor’s 2016-17 budget proposal say it won’t assign agency funding to many specific programs, moving instead toward the block-grant system used for state colleges and universities.

A block-grant system could tilt the balance of power away from the legislature, since lawmakers often use line items in the budget to shape executive agencies and programs and set priorities.

[…]

But the proposal still is likely to spark a battle between the branches of government over control of line-item appropriations and a debate over whether block grants would mask funding cuts for programs before a new budget is implemented…

[…].…Several sources familiar with that said it would give the Executive Branch broad new discretion to decide how budgeted funds are spent within each agency.

The legislature often directs agencies to operate programs “within available appropriations.” In other words, run the program as well as possible with the funding the legislature assigns.

But what if specific line items for programs don’t exist anymore? If a department is given one large block grant — and the authority to divvy up the funding as it sees fit — then administrators, and not the legislature, would decide which programs must get by with less.

The General Assembly’s modern role in molding state government and its policies through budgeting was shaped by a dramatic confrontation in 1969 with another Democratic governor, John N. Dempsey, and the legendary Democratic state chairman, John M. Bailey.

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly voted unanimously to defy Bailey, who then played a major role in setting the legislative agenda, and override Dempsey’s veto of the Legislative Management Act, a reform measure reflecting a desire by lawmakers to be, if not a truly equal branch of government, then at least a more assertive partner.

It led to the hiring of non-partisan professional researchers and financial analysts, who allowed legislators for the first time to make budget and policy decisions independent of the executive branch.  In 1970, a constitutional amendment further strengthened the General Assembly by authorizing it to meet annually, beginning in 1971.

Malloy’s budget plan will be made public on Wednesday.  At that point, the only thing that will stand in the way of more fiscal and political disaster will be the members of the Connecticut General Assembly…meaning that Connecticut citizens have good reason to be concerned.

CT Leaders propose cutting funding for public schools while protecting charter school increases

In the face of yet another budget deficit, Governor Dannel Malloy and leaders in the Connecticut General Assembly have been laying out competing plans to cut the state budget.  All plans include cuts in state aid for public schools while protecting Malloy’s initiative to expand funding for charter schools in Connecticut.  Some of the proposed cuts to public education would simply shift the burden onto local property taxpayers, while others would reduce the level of services some public school students receive.

In this guest post, public school advocate and retired Connecticut educator explores the reasons why Governor Malloy and legislators are cutting funding for Connecticut’s public school children while still increasing support for charter schools.

BEYOND OUTRAGE!!!  By John Bestor

Wondering why charter school allocations have remained sacrosanct despite the serious budget issues facing our legislators and the citizens of our State?

In addition to the lucrative New Market Tax Credit that is available to investors who – in their philanthropic largess – receive “tax credits” that will enable them to double their philanthropic investment in seven years, there are other reasons why monies for charter school expansion remain an untouchable budget item.

CONSIDER THIS:

In 2010, Steve Adamowski, then the Superintendent of the Hartford Public Schools and ever-since Governor Malloy’s “go-to” education disruptor, signed an agreement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “to expand access to a high quality education to advance college readiness” with the “goal to support communities in significantly boosting the number of students enrolled in high performing schools”.  The grant terms called for

  • Joint professional development for teachers in charter and district schools
  • Implementing CCSS with aligned instructional tools and supports for teachers
  • Creating personalized learning experiences for students
  • Universal enrollment system for all public schools, and
  • Common metrics to help families evaluate all schools on consistent criteria.

A signing bonus of $100,000 was paid to the signatory enabling Hartford to join 12 other cities in seeking further competitive grants under a District-Charter Collaboration Compact.

The Compact, as it is commonly referred to, has provided nearly $5 million for the express purpose of encouraging and creating more charter schools in our State.

According to a 2013 Interim Report published by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a monitoring arm of the Gates Foundation (www.crpe.org), the Hartford Public Schools have received the largest allocation of grant dollars of any of the other competing urban districts.

Quoting directly from their 47-page report (with Appendix VII specifically detailing the Hartford P.S. Involvement), the authors of the 2013 CRPE Interim Report found that:

“Mayoral control of a school board appears to have made the signing of a Compact more likely.” (p.6)

“The Gates Foundation required that Compacts be signed by key district and charter leaders and include agreements about specific collaborations.”  (p.7)

“Leaders in every Compact city were motivated to improve access to and the quality of special education services in schools.” (p.8)

“In places with a history of some portfolio management and collaboration, like Hartford and Denver, there was plenty of support for signing the Compact.” (p.9)

“Interviews with education leaders in Compact cities revealed that changing the tone of the conversation between school districts and charter schools and tackling a few mutually beneficial projects has been extremely important, especially in cities starting from scratch.” (p.10)

“A dedicated “Compact manager” oversees the committee [steering committees and subcommittees] and helps push the Compact agreements forward.”  (p.10)

“In Hartford, the Achievement First charter management organization trains residents for district school leadership positions through residencies in charter schools and district partner schools, intense individual coaching from the program director, and weekly professional development seminars.”  (p.13)

“In Hartford, new superintendent Christina Kishimoto has the same strong commitment to the Compact that her predecessor, Steven Adamowski, had when he signed, and the city has made progress in several areas since the transition.”  (p.14)

“Finally, in four cities – Denver, Hartford, New Orleans, and New York – both district and charter leaders came to the table with a deep understanding of what could be gained from collaboration and saw a long-term commitment pay off.  These ‘mature collaborations’, as we call them, signed Compacts in environments where districts had supported charter schools for many years and believed that the district’s job is not to run all schools directly but to instead manage a portfolio of public schools for the city’s students. For example, Denver Public Schools has been aggressively recruiting new charter schools for five years, and the Hartford Public Schools had been voluntarily sharing revenue with charter schools for six years.”  (p.18)

“As Compacts were signed across the country, there was generous media coverage and excitement.” (p.19)  [The Press Release by the Hartford Public Schools on 12.5.12 is available online and identifies Noah Wepman as Gates Foundation’s Portfolio Manager for College Ready Programs, Gov. Dannel Malloy, the disgraced Dr. Michael Sharpe, the ever-present Dacia Toll from Achievement First, and Matthew Poland, chairman of Hartford BOE, as present for this release.]

“CRPE will continue to monitor and help support the next phase of Compact Implementation.  As described above, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has recently provided a significant infusion of financial as well as programmatic support to seven Compact cities – Boston, Denver, Hartford, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and Spring Branch – to expand and deepen their collaborative efforts.” (p. 21)

Your guess is as good as mine as to who reported out to these report writers on the progress that the Hartford Public Schools had made prior to release of the Interim Report.

BACK TO WHY CHARTERS ARE UNTOUCHABLE:

It seems quite obvious that to renege on charter school expansion plans would be contrary to the terms of the Compact and would undoubtedly put in jeopardy any unspent or future dollars under this philanthropic entity.

It leads one to wonder how the signing bonus was disbursed.  Where the grant monies reside? In what account and maintained to who?  With regulatory irregularities associated with charter school oversight well known, just how have these grant monies been spent?  On what and to what purpose?  Who benefits and who profits?  Are Senator Sharkey and Representative Looney aware of this commitment during their “inside” budget negotiation sessions with the Governor’s men?  Are rank-and-file democratic legislators also aware that charter cuts must be left off the table?  Maybe someone should ask them and force them to go on the record before they continue cutting essential services to vulnerable citizens.  Does it extend to minority legislators as well?  Promises made, promises kept, governing corrupt, citizens kept “in the dark”.

Further investigation into the CT charter school scandal was quietly released in 1/2015 (conveniently the day after New Year’s) as Attorney Frederick Dorsey revealed fiscal mismanagement without oversight, nepotism, and questionable real estate shenanigans in his scathing report that had been called for by former Education Commissioner Pryor at the height of the scandal.  Dorsey’s investigation was requested just before a more extensive FBI investigation took over; though the FBI investigation is probably far from finished, a progress report in the The Progressive (8/2015) pointed out that charter school finances nationwide were ripe for graft and corruption.  As reported: “The troubled Hartford charter school operator FUSE was dealt another blow Friday when FBI agents served it subpoenas to a grand jury that is examining the group’s operations. When two Courant reporters arrived at FUSE offices on Asylum Hill on Friday morning, minutes after the FBI’s visit, they saw a woman feeding sheaves of documents into a shredder. The Hartford Courant, 7.18.14.”

Diane Ravitch called it an “Outrage!” in her recent blog (11.09.15) on the prospective Boston school closings, but it is truly BEYOND OUTRAGE!!! and impacts under-resourced urban school systems across this country: a veritable “Who’s Who?” of struggling school communities which have either lost local control of its school board or are at risk of losing local control.  At the same time, local school boards are simply unwilling to exert their authority and ask the important questions while complying with directives of the State Department of Education while CABE, CAPSS, CAS, CBIA, CCER, and ConnCAN – working in collusion as Big Six Partners follow a roadmap designed by The Common Core Funder’s Working Group in the Fall 2012 – continue to work behind scenes and in the media to lobby for “corporate education reform” with its top-down imposed Common Core State Standards and their unproven destructive test protocols.

REFERENCES:

Press Release: Gates Foundation Invests Nearly $25 Million in Seven Cities Dedicated to Bold Collaboration Between Public Charter and Traditional Schools  www.gatesfoundation.org

2013 CPRE Interim Report by Sarah Yatsko, Elizabeth Cooley Nelson, & Robin Lake www.cpre.org

Press Release: Hartford Public Schools to Expand Partnerships with Charter Schools www.hartfordschools.org

CT Post article (1.02.15): “State report details problems with FUSE management” by Linda Conner Lambeck. www.ctpost.com

Diane Ravitch – “Connecticut: state investigation finds rampant nepotism and lack of oversight at charter chain.”  www.dianeravitch.net

The Hartford Courant (1.02.14) “Probe of Charter School Group Blasts ‘Suspect’ Conduct, ‘Rampant Nepotism’.” by Matthew Kauffman, Vanessa de la Torre, & Jon Lender.

The Progressive (8/20/14). “FBI Tracks Charter Groups.”

Even more students lose as the “cost” of the Common Core Testing grows

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test of a test means more testing and less learning.

The Common Core test will cost Connecticut’s students and teachers hundreds of hours of lost instructional time.

The Common Core test will cost schools and taxpayers tens of millions in computer and internet upgrades so that students can take the inappropriate computer-based test.

And reports are coming in from around the state that another major problem is undermining our students, teachers and public schools.

As schools divert their computers and internet to the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Test of a test, students who take computer related courses are being pushed aside, unable to even complete the courses that require access to those computers.

As everyone but the proponents of the Common Core Smarter Assessment Field Test scheme understand, there are literally dozens of courses that require access to computers.

In addition to classes that teach an array of computer skills, there are a wide variety of business and art classes that require daily access to the computer.

But in the name of getting students “college and career ready,” Connecticut’s school systems are being forced to commandeer the schools’ computers for the Common Core testing; leaving students without the equipment they literally need to become “college and career ready.”

Business teachers, art teachers, and computer teachers have all written to say that access to their computers has been restricted for weeks at a time.  Teachers are being prevented from teaching course content and students are being prevented from completing their coursework.

Teachers report that as computer labs and classrooms with computers have been converted to testing factories, students taking courses that require access to those computers have been sent to the library, cafeteria or hallways to wait for the testing periods to come to an end.

As the end of the school year comes into sight, one school reports that rather than having fifteen class periods to work on their semester projects and prepare for their required presentations, students will have less than half that number.

Another school is reporting that as result of the Common Core testing frenzy, business and graphic art students have been prohibited from using their classroom computers for more than a month during the spring Common Core testing period.

As a result of the massive standardized testing program, students are losing out.

College and career skills are NOT being developed, knowledge is NOT being acquired, and precious opportunities ARE being lost.

The Common Core testing debacle is truly undermining our public schools and the students they serve.

It leaves parents, teachers and taxpayers asking… Why won’t Governor Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, or the General Assembly stand up, step forward and put an end to this travesty.

A real public hearing on the Common Core and Common Core testing fiasco?

Many parents, teachers, public school advocates and taxpayers are asking whether the Connecticut General Assembly will hold a real public hearing on  the Common Core , the Common Core testing fiasco, and the flawed teacher evaluation system?

The answer is …  yeah, sort of, maybe… it depends on what you call a real public hearing.

When Governor Malloy introduced the most anti-teacher, anti-union, pro-charter school ,corporate education reform industry bill of any Democratic governor in the nation, the Connecticut General Assembly blindly jumped on the train.

With Malloy’s signature, Senate Bill 458 became Public Act 12-116 and Malloy, his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, and their allies were off and running in their effort to undermine public education in Connecticut.

Malloy’s “education reform” bill is the driving force behind the Common Core testing scheme and the unfair and inappropriate teacher evaluation system — a legislative package that  passed the Connecticut House of Representatives 149-0.  

Not a single legislator, Democratic or Republican was willing to stand up for the students, parents, teachers or public schools in Connecticut.

The vote in the State Senate was 28-7.  Of the 13 Republicans who voted, seven voted with the Governor and the Democrats and six voted against the bill.

For two years, teachers and public school advocates have been warning elected and appointed officials about the impending disaster that will be caused by the rollout of the Common Core, the Common Core testing scheme and the teacher evaluation program.

But Connecticut’s “see no evil, hear no evil” elected officials remained silent.

That was until this year when, thanks to the outcry from teachers and parents, elected officials starting waking up.

The strategy being displayed by the Malloy administration and Democratic legislative leaders remained one dedicated to staying the course.

On the other hand, Republicans realized they had a great political opportunity on their hands and despite the fact that most of them voted for Malloy’s “education reforms,” they called for a public hearing on the Common Core and introduced bills to slow the process down.

Led by House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, the Republicans used a petitioning process to force the Democrats to hold a public hearing on the Common Core, the outrageous testing and the unfair teacher evaluation system.

As the Connecticut Newsjunkie story reported on February 26, 2014 in an article entitled, “GOP Use Parliamentary Rule To Get Public Hearing On Common Core,” the Connecticut General Assembly’s House Republicans used a rarely utilized technique to force a public hearing on some bills related to the implementation of the Common Core.

The CT Newsjunkie wrote,

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero appeared behind the podium and made his own announcement. Cafero said House Republicans had used a legislative petition process to force the Education Committee to hold a public hearing on two bills, including one to impose a moratorium on the implementation of Common Core.

Cafero said the chairs of the Education Committee had indicated they did not plan to hold any public hearings this year on bills pertaining to the Common Core and instead had opted to have an informational hearing on the subject. He said Republicans collected enough signatures from lawmakers to force a public hearing on the bills under legislative rules.

“We have circulated a petition which has been signed by 51 House Republican members which was filed moments ago with the House Clerk office which will force a public hearing on the two bills in question,” he said.

Cafero said lawmakers “have heard horror story after horror story about the inability for boards of education, teachers to prepare themselves” for the Common Core implementation. The other bill would codify changes made by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration last month to delay the implementation of elements of the state’s teacher guidelines.

“Those two bills now, by Joint Rule 11, will be having a public hearing. The scheduling of that hearing will be up to the chairs, but the issue as to whether or not there will be a public hearing is no longer an issue,” he said.

Cafero said it was “unacceptable” to have no public hearing on an issue impacting parents, students, and teachers.

The legislative rule that Cafero used is called the “PETITION FOR PREPARATION OF BILLS OR RESOLUTIONS.”

According to the rule, if a petition is signed by at least fifty-one members of the House or at least twelve members of the Senate, a committee “shall hold a public hearing on the bill.”

But the chairs of the committee still have the power to schedule the timing of that public hearing.

In this case that means that the Democratic leaders could hold the public hearing during the day when most parents and teachers would be unable to attend.

If the Democrats were serious about providing Connecticut citizens with the right to be heard on this critical issue they would hold a hearing in the late afternoon and evening.

To date, the Democrats have yet to announce their plans about the public hearing that the Republicans have forced to be held.

In some ways,  equally important is the reality that all the petition process requires is a public hearing.

The Education Committee doesn’t even have to discuss or vote on the bill following the public hearing.    In fact, Democrats on the committee could prevent a vote from even being taken on the Republican bills..

There is a petition process for forcing the committee to vote, but that requires a full majority in the House or Senate to sign yet another petition.

Considering Malloy and his corporate education reform advocates don’t want the Common Core testing and teacher evaluation issues to even be discussed in public, it will take a lot to convince Democratic rank and file legislators that they should put their constituents ahead of Malloy’s politics.

School Bus Seat Belt Fund: A prime example of Connecticut’s budget gimmickry

According to Governor Malloy and his administration, the State of Connecticut is on target to end this Fiscal Year (FY14) with a $506.1 million surplus.

Malloy administration officials are so excited about the notion of a budget surplus that they are talking about proposing a targeted election year tax cut to win over middle-class voters even though the state faces a projected $3.2 billion combined deficit over the three fiscal years following this year’s election.

Governor Malloy would have the public believe that this year’s developing surplus is a result of his good management of Connecticut’s state budget.

However, the way Governor Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly played with State Account 35416 is a prime example of the type of budget gimmicks that were used to help create this year’s projected “surplus.”

Here is how it played out:

Just a month after the 2012 general election, the Governor called the outgoing members of the Connecticut General Assembly into a special session to address a projected budget deficit in the Fiscal Year 2013 State Budget.

With the passage of “AN ACT CONCERNING DEFICIT MITIGATION FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDING JUNE 30, 2013,” the General Assembly passed Malloy’s Deficit Reduction Plan.  The bill passed the State Senate 31-3 and passed the State House of Representatives 140-3.  Democrats and Republicans joined together to overwhelming pass the bill.

As part of Malloy’s lengthy bill was the following language;

“Notwithstanding the provisions of section 14-50b of the general statutes, the sum of $ 4,700,000 shall be transferred from the school bus seat belt account established in said section 14-50b and credited to the resources of the General Fund for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.”

The money shifted $4.7 million from the School Bus Seat Belt Account to the General Fund.  (More on this fund in a moment).

As result of the deficit mitigation bill and some improved revenue, Fiscal Year 13 didn’t end with a deficit, it ended with a $398.79 million surplus.  Of that amount nearly $200 million was “re-defined” as “future revenue” and shows up in this year’s budget…helping to ensure a budget surplus.

Even though Fiscal Year 2013 ended with a surplus, the $4.7 million was never returned to the School Bus Seat Belt Account (#35416).  As of now, that fund has only about $1 million in it.

So what is the School Bus Seat Belt Account (#35416)?

Long time Wait, What? readers may remember a post when Malloy’s deficit mitigation bill passed in December 2012.  It was entitled, “Remember when school bus seatbelts were a big priority?

The December 20, 2012 Wait, What? post read something like this:

Remember when school bus seatbelts were a big priority?

Aka:  No that was then, this is now…

Following the January 2010 tragic school bus accident on Route 84 in Hartford that killed a Rocky Hill student who was attending one of the CREC magnet schools, the legislature kicked into action.

On May 1 of that year the General Assembly passed what was to become Public Act 10-83.

The law created the Connecticut School Bus Seat Belt account, “a separate non-lapsing account in the General Fund” and required that the funds be used to help school districts pay for the cost of equipping school buses with lap/shoulder (3-point) seat belts.

To pay for the program, the Legislature increased the cost associated with restoring a suspended driver’s license from $125 to $ 175.  The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the higher fee would raise about $2.1 million a year.

Fast forward two and a half years…and the fund now contains $4.7 million.

Yesterday, as part of the deficit mitigation bill, the Governor and General Assembly passed language overriding the previous law and transferring the $4,700,000 from the School Bus Seat Belt account into the General Fund…

Gone is the money for school seat belts.

That tragedy was yesterday’s news.

And besides, who would remember that the account in question grew out of the concern that elected officials had for the safety of our children.

The tale of how the government raided the fund that was supposed to be used to install seat belts on school buses is a sad and shocking reminder that while it may be true that state of Connecticut presently “enjoys” a surplus, things are not always what they seem.