Republicans propose right-wing education bills in Connecticut

The American Legislative Exchange Council is the right-wing, Koch Brothers funded advocacy group that is behind many of the ultra-conservative proposals that have been sweeping state legislatures across the nation.

Here in Connecticut, at least two new ALEC bills have been introduced this session.

One has been introduced by Republican State Representative Candelora (R-86th District) who was one of only two Connecticut state legislators to sign a recent letter in support of Secretary of Education designate Betsy DeVos.

Candelora is pushing an ALEC bill to set up virtual on-line schools in Connecticut despite the overwhelming evidence that on-line virtual schools have been an unmitigated disaster in every state that has adopted the concept.  See https://www.cga.ct.gov/2017/TOB/h/2017HB-06794-R00-HB.htm).

Meanwhile, another Republican legislator, State Representative Rosa Rebimbas  (R-70th District) is pushing another ALEC concept, School Vouchers, which are designed to shift scarce public funds away from public schools and give the dollars to private and parochial schools.  The legislation, House Bill 6814 would set up a system of Education Savings Accounts, a form of school vouchers. See https://www.cga.ct.gov/2017/TOB/h/2017HB-06814-R00-HB.htm

As for ALEC, the Center for Media and Democracy has been tracking their activities for years. They report,

More than a quarter of all the state legislators in the country belong to ALEC, although the secretive group does not disclose its list of more than 2000 legislative members. ALEC gets 98 percent of its funding from corporations and sources like the Koch family foundations, and it acts as a conduit for special interest influence in state legislatures. ALEC convenes legislators, corporate lobbyists, and right-wing think tanks to vote as equals, behind closed doors, on “model bills” that benefit ALEC’s corporate members, industry funders, and right-wing allies. These bills are then introduced, often word for word, in state legislatures around the country.

ALEC’s long-term agenda is reflected in the current crop of bills now being filed in state houses. They undermine action on climate change and environmental protections; promote school privatization; defund unions and stop progressive wage and benefits policies; and, among other things, call for a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution to restrict the federal budget.

ALEC is also the force behind the increased use of “preemption” laws designed to strip local governments of their power to ban fracking, pass minimum wage hikes, and enact earned sick day laws. ALEC is pushing bills to stop cities from banning plastic bags, made from derivatives of oil refining. ALEC is funded by some of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world, like Koch.

Over the last three years, 109 corporations–from Ford to Google–have dumped ALEC after the public learned more about this shadowy group, particularly its role pushing national model bills like the “Stand Your Ground” law cited for exonerating Trayvon Martin’s killer, along with bills that make it harder for Americans to vote and peddling extreme climate change denial.

It is more than a little disturbing that there are Connecticut legislators pushing ALEC’s ultra-right wing agenda here in the Constitution State.

Another victory for government secrecy in Connecticut?

The CT Mirror headline reads; Fate of legislature’s investigative arm hangs on budget battle.

As background, in 1992 I served as the House Chairman of the Connecticut General Assembly Program Review and Investigation Committee.  In many respects it is one of the most important committees in the legislative branch of government.  The bi-partisan committee and its professional staff are tasked with providing the legislature with the ability to review and investigate administrative agencies, programs and policies and the committee serves as a unique mechanism to counter the power of the Governor and his control over all state activities.

But as a result of their disastrous budget agreement, Malloy and Democratic leaders took a major step toward undermining, even destroying, this important vehicle of transparency.

As the CT Mirror explains;

The fate of the legislature’s chief investigative arm probably will be determined in the next few weeks as top leaders decide whether to impose a cut that would chop the nonpartisan agency in half.

Meanwhile, the House’s longest-serving current member, Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, insists House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey’s office assured her the planned reduction to the Program Review and Investigation Committee staff would be significantly muted — in exchange for her support for the new state budget.

But the speaker, who is retiring after this year, said last week his office never made that pledge. And while he said he would try, nonetheless, to ease the fiscal pain, it is doubtful that several of the 12 positions in the investigative office won’t be eliminated.

In the short term, undermining the Program Review and Investigation Committee would derail important legislative reviews including studies into the State’s school desegregation programs; long-term care services; substance abuse prevention services and the state’s handling of discrimination complaints.

But the far more serious issue is that by decimating the Program Review Committee’s staffing and mission, the legislature would be taking another giant leap backwards in its duty to monitor and investigate the actions of the administrative branch of government.

But less executive branch oversight and less independence for the state’s clean government agencies appears to be one of Governor Dannel Malloy’s prime objectives. Unfortunately Democratic leaders have done little to subdue Malloy’s unprecedented attack on open and honest government.

As for the Program Review and Investigations Committee, according to the CT Mirror’s latest coverage,

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature struggled to eliminate a nearly $1 billion hole in the 2016-17 fiscal year without raising taxes. And the $19.76 billion budget they enacted funds most departments and agencies below the level originally promised for that fiscal year.

When Sharkey and Looney announced a tentative budget agreement with the Malloy administration during the waning hours of the regular legislative session in early May, one of the cuts they announced was $750,000 to be achieved by eliminating half of the program review office’s 12 jobs.

Both Sharkey and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said they highly value program review’s work.

But they also felt the legislative branch’s portion of the budget — albeit a small one — should sacrifice in the same way the rest of state government was.

However, rather than cut out more of the top heavy political operation within the House and Senate Democratic and Republican caucuses, the legislative leaders, apparently with Republican leadership support, are seeking to preserve the money spent of guaranteeing the power of incumbency and achieving the savings incorporated in the new state budget by going after the Program Review and Investigations Committee.

You can read the complete CT Mirror article at: http://ctmirror.org/2016/07/11/fate-of-legislatures-investigative-arm-hangs-on-budget-battle/

Denying reality, Malloy blames legislature for cuts to Tourism and Arts in recent “Democratic budget bill”

In a stunning attempt at revisionist history, Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy took to WNPR radio to blame the Connecticut General Assembly for the recent cuts to the state’s tourism and arts programs when, in fact, it was the legislature that had reduced – by a significant amount – the cuts that Malloy has repeatedly has wanted to those programs.

However, the truth didn’t stop the Democratic Governor from throwing the legislature, and especially his Democratic colleagues, under the bus.

Here are the facts:

At the beginning of this year, Governor Dannel Malloy proposed a state budget that reduced Connecticut’s “Still Revolutionary” Tourism Marketing Program from $12 million to $10 million dollars.

At the same time, Malloy proposed about $5.9 million in cuts to Connecticut’s various museums, cultural and arts programs.

During the budget process, the Connecticut legislature rejected the vast majority of cuts to the cultural and arts programs but did reduce funding for the State Tourism Marketing Program by an additional $500,000, bringing this year’s State Tourism Marketing Program to a total of $9.5 million.

This fall, faced with a growing state budget deficit, despite having claimed he had signed a balanced budget 90 days earlier, Governor Malloy called for bi-partisan budget negotiations to develop a new budget deficit mitigation plan to balance the budget.

As part of that process, on November 10, 2015, Malloy issued a proposed list of budget cuts that included an additional $1 million cut to the State’s Tourism Programs ($500,000 for the State Tourism Marketing Campaign and $500,000 to the State Tourism Districts.)  Malloy also proposed an additional $4.5 million in cuts to the state’s museums, cultural and arts programs.

When the Democrats in the General Assembly passed the “Democratic Budget Deal” last week, it included a $1 million reduction to the State Tourism Marketing Program, but again rejected Malloy’s attack on Connecticut’s culture and art programs.

But rather than tell WNPR Connecticut Public Radio’s Ray Hardman the truth during a recent news segment about the budget cuts to the State’s tourism and arts programs, Malloy straight out lied about his role in the entire process.

First, in a politically blatant maneuver to mislead the public, Malloy tried to suggest that the decision to reduce state funding for tourism and arts was the result of a bi-partisan agreement, which of course, is completely false.   While the budget negotiations began with the Republican legislative leaders at the table, no bi-partisan agreement could be reached and the package was eventually passed with only Democrats voting in favor of the bill.

Second, in an even more politically embarrassing move – considering Malloy isn’t up for re-election in 2016, but Democratic legislators will be facing voters next November –  Malloy decided to throw his fellow Democrats under the bus for suggesting that it was the legislators who were the ones focused on cutting tourism and the arts.

As WNPR’s story explained;

Tourism and the arts took a hit in the budget adjustment agreed on by Governor Dannel Malloy and the legislature in special session earlier this week. The adjustment was needed to fill a $350 million hole in the state budget.

The biggest hit to culture and tourism was a $1 million cut to the state’s “Still Revolutionary” tourism marketing campaign. That’s despite strong tourism numbers this summer, showing increases in both hotel occupancy and out of state visitors. Regional tourism offices were also affected.

“It’s not something I advocated for,” said Malloy of the cuts in an editorial meeting with WNPR. “But in a bipartisan process, you have to make compromises. Members of the legislature are not as supportive as I am, and this is an ongoing and fairly constant battle.”

That Malloy would duck his role in cutting state funding for tourism and arts programs by suggesting that the Republicans supported his budget proposal is bad enough, but considering that as a Democrat, Malloy is supposed to be supporting his fellow Democratic elected officials, it is particularly troubling that the Governor would twist the truth in an effort to blame Democratic legislators when they were the ones who were actually working to reduce the damaging cuts that Malloy was trying to push through.

Of course, more cuts to tourism and the arts are coming since the Democrats in the General Assembly did give Malloy the authority to cut an additional $93 million from this year’s state budget, cuts that he will make without the legislators review or approval.

When WNPR asked about that next round of cuts, Malloy said that culture, arts and tourism would be far down on his list of possible new cuts…

Yeah and I have a nice bridge for sale….

The Decline of the Great American Middle Class

Whether driven by benign-neglect or outright disdain, the “advanced capitalist system,” along with the nation’s two-party, “incumbency” form of government continues to undermine the country’s Middle Class and hold down those without the resources to live full and fulfilling lives.

As Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, a professor of Economics at Columbia, recently noted,

“The world’s quintessential middle class society is on the way to becoming its first former middle class society.”

According to a new Pew Research Center report,

“In early 2015, 120.8 million adults were in middle-income households, compared with 121.3 million in lower- and upper-income households combined…marking the first time in the center’s four decades of tracking this data that the size of the latter groups has transcended that of the first.

[…]

Fully 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29% in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43% in 2014, down substantially from 62% in 1970.

[…]

And middle-income Americans have fallen further behind financially in the new century. In 2014, the median income of these households was 4% less than in 2000. Moreover, because of the housing market crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-09, their median wealth (assets minus debts) fell by 28% from 2001 to 2013.

[…]

Meanwhile, the far edges of the income spectrum have shown the most growth. In 2015, 20% of American adults were in the lowest-income tier, up from 16% in 1971. On the opposite side, 9% are in the highest-income tier, more than double the 4% share in 1971.

[…]

The hollowing of the American middle class has proceeded steadily for more than four decades. Since 1971, each decade has ended with a smaller share of adults living in middle-income households than at the beginning of the decade.

Previous observations about the decline of the middle class and growing chasm between the super wealthy and everyone else, on this blog and elsewhere, has generated complaints about the inappropriateness of discussing what they claim to be a call for “class warfare.”

But it is long past time for the nation to drop that defense and for our elected officials to recognize that if we continue to refuse to discuss inequality, equity and fairness, we most certainly will be talking about class warfare, but we will be talking about it in the context of the very real frustration, anger and violence that will continue to grow and spill into the streets of the cities and towns across the United States.

Call it class warfare or use some other euphemism, but talk about it we must.

And that discussion needs to begin with the prompt adoption of a tax system that is fairer and more just, in which the wealthy are required to pay their fair share.

As Wait, What? readers know, in Connecticut the wealthiest pay about 5-6% of their income in state and local taxes, the middle class about 10-11% and the poor in excess of 12%.

Connecticut’s legislators could make a profound impact by ending the budget games and empty political rhetoric and actually changing the tax structure to reduce the burden on the Middle Class and all of those who are striving to make ends meet.

Connecticut Public Financing Program “Safe”, For Now … But…

As CT Newsjunkie reported late yesterday,

“By the end of the day Thursday, both House and Senate Democrats who proposed suspending Connecticut’s landmark public financing system in 2016, had withdrawn their proposals.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, made the announcement early Thursday afternoon and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey and Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz agreed to find the money elsewhere later Thursday afternoon. The news of the reversal came part way through a press conference held by ConnPIRG, Common Cause, lawmakers and other defenders of the clean election system.”

As reported in yesterday’s Wait, What? post entitled, Connecticut’s Democratic Legislative Leaders call for suspending elections to save money…,

The Democratic leaders of the Connecticut General Assembly proposed suspending Connecticut’s public financing system, thereby allowing legislators to transfer about $11 million toward the $254 million budget deficit in this year’s state budget.

Their plan would roll back the campaign finance system that Connecticut adopted after former Governor John Rowland resigned in disgrace and was sent to prison.

Instead of keeping Connecticut’s Clean Election Program in place, Democratic leaders would return the state to the “Wild West” campaign fundraising system that favored incumbents and ensured that campaigns for the legislature were primarily financed by political action committees, lobbyists and those who benefit financially from state contracts.”

Former Governor Jodi Rell joined in condemning the Democratic leader’s move to end the Clean Elections Program but correctly noted that Governor Malloy and the General Assembly had already undermined some of the most important aspects of the historic effort to keep dirty money out of Connecticut politics.

In a statement Rell observed,

“The Democrats have effectively eviscerated the spirit of the law since 2011 and now they are looking to overturn the actual letter of the law altogether.”

Meanwhile, faced with a state budget deficit in excess of $254 million, the Senate Democrats issued their own proposal yesterday. (See CT Newsjunkie’s The Democratic Divide and CT Mirror’s Senate Dems break with House, go own way on deficit.)

As the CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf explains,

Senate Democrats issued their own deficit-mitigation plan Thursday, pressing for a retirement incentive plan opposed by House Democrats and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as damaging to the state’s overburdened pension system.

The retirement incentives were offered in place of suspending the state’s public financing of campaigns, a measure included in a list of spending cuts they jointly proposed Monday with House Democrats.

[…]

An estimated $163 million would be saved over this fiscal year and next, Senate Democrats say, by paying incentives to encourage senior state employees to retire.

Of course Connecticut has learned the hard way that while retirement incentives “reduce” the state payroll by persuading state employees to retire early, it does that by moving employees from the state payroll over to the pension fund, which is already extraordinarily underfunded.

In addition, since some state employee positions must be refilled in order to maintain some of the most critical state services, early retirement programs never save as much money as initially proposed.

For Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens, early retirement incentive programs disrupt the level and quality of vital services they receive.

In addition, while the budget cutting plans issued by Governor Malloy, the House Democrats, the Senate Democrats and legislative Republicans differ in various ways, all target the University of Connecticut, Connecticut’s State Universities and the state’s Community Colleges for even more devastating cuts ranging in size from a low of $12 million to Governor Malloy’s high of $28 million.

Malloy has already dealt Connecticut’s public colleges and universities with the biggest budget cuts in Connecticut history, which in turn have led to massive tuition increases and reduced educational opportunities and programs.