Governor Malloy Administration’s Gag Order is nothing short of Putinesque

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For even to the most cynical, the recent CT Mirror’s story entitled, “Is it a gag order or the Malloy administration speaking with one voice?” is utterly shocking and should make Connecticut residents extremely uncomfortable and very queasy.

The CTMirror article reiterates the reality that Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy is not the Dan Malloy who asked voters to make him Connecticut’s governor in the 2010 election.

Dan Malloy, the candidate, ran on a platform that he would be the “most transparent governor in history.”  He claimed that he supported Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance reform law, that he wanted stronger, not weaker, state ethics laws and that he believed that an honest, just and open government required strong Freedom of Information laws.

But since being sworn in as governor in January 2011, Dannel Malloy has become the least transparent governor in modern history, has consistently undermined and destroyed Connecticut’s campaign finance laws, made a mockery of the state’s ethics laws and has engaged in an unprecedented assault on the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

But his most anti-open government maneuver may very well be the news that Governor Malloy has allowed a directive to go out that prohibits his commissioners and other public employees from talking to legislators (or anyone else) about Malloy’s fraudulent state budget proposal.

As the CT Mirror reports;

Key legislators say a directive restricting what agency heads can tell legislators about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal is hindering lawmakers in doing their jobs and will push more of the budget-writing process behind closed doors.

“Our job is to negotiate and evaluate and build the best budget possible for the 3.5 million people of Connecticut,” said Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, House chair of the Appropriations Committee. “Denying us the ability to do that is denying us our responsibility and our authority as the legislature.”

“I think this is a politically correct gag order,” said Rep. Melissa Ziobron of East Haddam, ranking House Republican on the committee. “If we can’t get full answers to our questions, we can’t serve our residents and the state of Connecticut well.”

At issue is a memo Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget chief, sent last month to Executive Branch agency heads.”

In a stunningly inappropriate, unethical, immoral and arrogant demand, Malloy’s budget director writes, “Requests for new ideas, alternative reduction proposals, or for the agency’s priorities in restoring or cutting funds should be referred to OPM…Agencies are expected to support the Governor’s budget rather than providing alternatives to that budget.”

While there has always long been an unwritten guideline that political appointees try to defend their boss’ proposals, the notion that Malloy, through  his budget director, would direct public servants, who are paid with public dollars, whose statutory duty is to run a state agency and provide public services,  not to speak with legislators or others about, “new ideas, alternative reduction proposals, or for the agency’s priorities in restoring or cutting funds” is nothing short of Putinesque.

As for reaction from legislators, the CT Mirror adds,

“Referring to Barnes’ memo, Bye told The Mirror this week that she’s not surprised, “in tough fiscal times, that a chief executive wants to keep as much control as he can.”

But Bye added that the administration must appreciate that the legislature has its own constitutional charge to adopt a budget, and it must have more than just facts and data.

For example, if the Appropriations Committee is considering restoring two programs cut in the governor’s plan, but ultimately decides Connecticut only can afford one, members normally would ask officials in the affected agency which program might provide the most public benefit.

“If we are trying to choose between funding programs, it would be better if commissioners could offer us their thoughts on those alternatives,” Bye said. “I think it would make for a better process.”

While State Senator Beth Bye’s conclusion that it would “be better if commissioners could offer us their thoughts on those alternatives” is absolutely true, her comment that is a forgone conclusion that “a chief executive wants to keep as much control,” provides cover for Malloy’s reprehensible action.

Wanting to “control the dialogue” is a long way from interfering with the Constitutionally mandated role of the Connecticut General Assembly.

The CTMirror article concludes;

“Barnes wrote Tuesday in a statement to The Mirror that, “We work together, as one administration, with all our commissioners and agency heads. This is a budget filled with tough choices, but they are the best ones to keep Connecticut on a path towards a brighter future. The Governor, through his office and through OPM, remains willing to discuss his budget proposals, or any other specific proposals legislators make, at any time. Executive branch employees are professionals who can’t be expected to publicly advocate for positions at odds with the Governor as a part of their job.”

Barnes statement is a bizarre and weak excuse for a policy approach that promotes secrecy and violates the most basic tenets of an open and transparent government.

The Democratic majority in the Connecticut House of Representatives should put down their budget pens, set aside their budget calculators and tell a governor and an administration that has gone amok that no further action will be taken on Malloy’s proposed budget until this outrageous memo is rescinded and Connecticut’s state commissioners and agency heads are instructed to be open and honest with all of the members of the legislative branch of government whose obligation is to review, revise a governor’s proposed budget and eventually adopt a budget that carries the weight of law.

Malloy, Budget Deficits and the failure to follow State Law

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In the real world, a budget deficit occurs when a government’s expenditures exceed the revenue that it generates.

According to Connecticut state law, if the State Comptroller projects that the budget deficit exceeds 1 percent of the state budget ($174.6 million), the Governor MUST immediately develop a Budget Mitigation Plan and submit it to the Connecticut General Assembly for review and approval.

As Wait, What? readers will recall the one true constant during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign was Governor Dannel Malloy’s claim that there was no state budget deficit this year, nor would there be one.  Period, end of story.

State law also requires the Office of Policy and Management to provide the State Comptroller, on the 20th of each month, a letter outlining any projected revenue shortfalls or areas where the executive branch is spending more than what was budgeted for a given line-item or program.

During the entire campaign, Malloy repeatedly said that there was no state budget deficit and ten days before Election Day, Malloy’s Budget Director, Ben Barnes, made the incredulous claim that the Malloy administration was not overspending on a single line- item or program.  Barnes reiterated that the State of Connecticut did not have, nor would it have a budget deficit.

At the time, a CT Mirror story written by Connecticut’s leading budget reporter, Keith Phaneuf, led with the headline, “Malloy boldly projects perfection in last budget update before election.”

As Phaneuf reported at the time,

It’s came as no surprise this week when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration reported the state budget was in balance.

What was far more surprising, though, was the added assertion there are no signs of cost overruns in any of the dozens of agencies supported by this year’s $19 billion budget.

For the first time in at least nine years, an administration reported no “deficiencies” that need to be tracked thus far into the fiscal year – a claim that Malloy’s critics attacked as extreme political spin in the final days of the campaign.

Within days, Connecticut’s independent, non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis identified a series of areas where the state was overspending, but with the Democrat’s Get-Out-The-Vote operation already underway, the Malloy administration dismissed the information and continued to claim that there was no state budget deficit.

Then, just ten days after Election Day, the state deficit “began to appear.”

However, the Malloy administration continued to downplay the situation in an effort to persuade the State Comptroller to say that the projected state deficit did not exceed the 1 percent trigger, which would have required Governor Malloy to develop and submit a comprehensive Deficit Mitigation Plan.

Now, ninety days after Election Day, the information provided by the independent, non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis reveals that the real State Budget deficit was more than $225 million, well in excess of the $174.6 million Deficit Mitigation Level.

And yet Governor Malloy and his administration never submitted a Deficit Mitigation Plan because the State Comptroller never determined that the trigger level had been met.

The scheme allowed the Malloy administration to continue their ongoing effort to mislead the General Assembly, the citizens of Connecticut and the media.

How did this happen?

Over the last three months, the Office of Policy and Management submitted their legally required letter to the State Comptroller on the state of Connecticut’s financial situation, but each month the Malloy administration provided misleading or false information.

Despite reports issued on November 20, 2014, December 20, 2014 and January 20, 2015, Malloy’s budget directer refused to come clean and properly identify where spending had exceeded budgeted levels.

And this week, the fiscal and political situation surrounding Connecticut’s growing budget crisis went from bad to worse.

In an article this past Monday entitled, Lembo backs Malloy’s assessment of smaller CT deficit, the CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf reported;

State Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo gave Gov. Dannel P. Malloy a big vote of fiscal confidence Monday, agreeing that Connecticut’s budget deficit is well below the emergency level.

The $89.4 million shortfall Lembo reported not only represents roughly half the amount that would compel Malloy to issue a deficit-mitigation plan, but also falls at least $80 million below the deficit projection of the legislature’s nonpartisan analysts.

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo based his decision on the belief that the Malloy administration could achieve the full savings from the first two rounds of emergency recessions (budget cuts) that had already been announced, but as Phaneuf noted in his article, the Malloy administration’s track record on actually achieving savings during the appropriate fiscal year is dismal.

Of even greater concern is the fact that the Malloy administration is still failing to admit that there are key budget areas where the state is dramatically overspending the amount that was actually budgeted for those activities.

As Phaneuf fully explains in his piece,

“the prospect of a deficit-mitigation plan loomed larger one week ago when the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis pegged this year’s shortfall much larger, at $202.5 million.

Even after applying the full effects of the governor’s emergency cuts, the deficit – according to OFA – would have stood at just under $171 million.”

But Governor Malloy was, once again, allowed to duck his legal responsibility to develop a Deficit Mitigation Plan for Connecticut when the State Comptroller decided to accept the Malloy administration’s inaccurate reports about overspending, while disregarding the Office of Fiscal Analysis’ observation that Malloy would not be able to achieve all of the savings that he claimed from the first two rounds of emergency cuts.

In particular, as Phaneuf noted, “According to nonpartisan analysts, cost-overruns involving Medicaid and magnet schools are worse than the administration estimates. And a potential surplus in the debt service account is not as large as Malloy’s staff projects.”

Although Lembo’s latest action saves Malloy from having to develop a comprehensive Deficit Mitigation Plan, Lembo used his most recent report to observe that, “No one should see this as an all-clear sign…We need to continue to watch spending, to continue to watch revenue as it comes in.”

However, those remarks were hardly enough to keep Republican legislators from charging that the Democrats had circled the wagons in order to protect Malloy’s political strategy of refusing to tell the truth about Connecticut’s fiscal problems.

In a follow up story in yesterday’s CT Mirror entitled, “GOP says Lembo ignored deficit to shield Malloy,” Keith Phaneuf reported that,

“Republican legislators were surprised Monday when Lembo not only accepted the administration’s $121 million deficit projection, but also assumed the $31.6 million in emergency cuts would involve no duplication.

Lembo, who reported a deficit projection of $89.4 million, did not reject the concerns raised by legislative analysts, but noted that the administration has a strong track record of meeting savings targets built into past budgets.

But legislative analysts, who finished their review of the governor’s latest cuts, concluded they only effectively saved the state about $20 million.

More importantly, OFA said the deficit actually stands at $182.3 million. That’s $7.7 million above the level that triggers a formal gubernatorial plan to balance the books, and $92 million worse than Lembo’s estimate.”

While Malloy, Lembo and the Republicans spar over the particular numbers, one thing is absolutely clear.

In the days leading up to Election Day, Governor Malloy and his budget director consistently claimed that there was not budget deficit, that there would be no budget deficit and that the Malloy administration was not overspending on a single line-item in a nearly $18 billion General Fund Budget.

Three months later, we now know that they knew, or should have known, that the real state budget deficit had exceeded $225 million and Connecticut’s state government was careening toward a budget deficit of more than a quarter of a billion dollars….

Along with a projected budget deficit for next year in excess of $1.4 billion.

And despite this undeniable truth, Governor Malloy managed to duck his legal obligation to provide the Connecticut General Assembly and the people of Connecticut with a comprehensive Deficit Mitigation plan.

For more background on these latest issues go to Keith Phaneuf’s most recent articles at Lembo backs Malloy’s assessment of smaller CT deficit and GOP says Lembo ignored deficit to shield Malloy

Malloy administration selects Lisa Grasso Egan to oversee state employee negotiations

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Lisa Grasso Egan will be the Malloy administration’s new labor lawyer, according to an announcement released late last week.

Attorney Egan’s on-line professional biography brags,

“Ms. Egan has successfully defended employers in numerous litigation matters brought by discharged employees whose claims have included wrongful termination, First Amendment retaliation, and discrimination.”

Malloy’s Budget Director and Secretary of the Office Policy and Management announced Egan’s appointment saying,

“Lisa’s long experience representing government entities makes her the right person to take on the task of reorganizing this critical function at OPM.”

The CT Mirror reported the news last Friday.  Apparently the Malloy administration remains committed to releasing any controversial news on Fridays in order to minimize media coverage.

According to the CT Mirror,

“Lisa Grasso Egan, a labor lawyer with a history of representing municipalities and government agencies, was named Friday as the state’s undersecretary for labor relations.

Egan succeeds Linda Yelmini, a longtime state employee who was forced out of the job.”

Although Attorney Egan is now a senior partner for the law firm of Berchem, Moses & Devlin, her political connection to the Malloy administration appears to be through New Haven, where she had previously worked as director of labor relations for the city of New Haven and was a major, $5,000 donor, to former mayor DeStefano’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2006.

According to her on-line biographies, “she represented the City [of New Haven] in all aspects of collective bargaining, including the negotiation of subcontracted municipal operations. She also managed the City’s Labor Relations, Personnel, Affirmative Action and Civil Service divisions.”

Outside of her work in New Haven, Egan has taken on numerous labor law cases for a number of municipal housing authorities and boards of education around the state, including the Bridgeport Board of Education.

In a relatively more recent controversial case, Egan and her fellow attorneys convinced the Connecticut Supreme Court to reverse a 2008 trial verdict in the case of Perez-Dickson v. City of Bridgeport.

The trial granted Perez-Dickson $2,003,000, later reduced to $1,003,000, for alleged retaliation, racial discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to Egan’s law firm, the case was noteworthy because, “the Supreme Court found that the Plaintiff’s statements to the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) were not protected speech under the First Amendment.”

“Additionally, the Supreme Court vacated the decision under C.G.S. § 17a-101e, holding that an individual may not bring a private cause of action for retaliation in reporting alleged child abuse.

In a summary posted on the Berchem, Moses & Devlin website,

“The decision’s precedential impact will be far reaching. It was cited several times in another opinion: Schumann v. Dianon Systems. In Schumann, the Court vacated an award of over 10 million dollars that was brought under C.G.S. § 31-51q by a private employee, who made statements voicing disapproval of a new urinalysis test and was subsequently terminated, because “the contentious nature of the plaintiff’s dispute…did not render his speech constitutionally protected…because when an employee has spoken in furtherance of his duties, the fact that he persists in such speech after a supervisor has told him to stop does not, without more, transform his speech into protected speech.”

The Malloy administration’s decision to select Attorney Egan to replace veteran civil servant Linda Yelmini sends an interesting message to Connecticut’s state employees, especially when it comes to the issue of their First Amendment Rights while working for the State of Connecticut.

The Malloy Leadership Model – Raises for political appointees – Secrecy whenever possible

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It was the night before the night before Christmas and with the vast majority of Connecticut citizens focused on the short work week and the upcoming holidays, the Malloy administration quietly announced that they were handing out major salary increases to approximately 200 of the governor’s political appointees.  In fact, although some of these individuals already made more than the Governor, Malloy gave a number of his top aides no less than 12 percent pay raises, skyrocketing those salaries even higher.

As explained in a Wait, What? post last month entitled, “Malloy political appointees score big with “Christmas” salary increases,” although Malloy spent the 2014 gubernatorial campaign claiming there was no state deficit, nor would there be one next year, a $100 million hole in the budget “appeared” in the week following Election Day and the non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis has consistently warned that the State of Connecticut will be facing a $1.3 billion budget shortfall in next year’s budget.

But as incredible as the news was that Malloy handed out large pay raises back on December 23, 2104, the Hartford Courant’s investigative reporter, Jon Lender, has now reported that Malloy’s extreme generosity toward his political appointees pales by comparison to what Malloy actually did on that day that he ordered the pay raises.

As Lender explained in his recent weekend story, “Political Appointees’ Christmas Raises Came With Unannounced Gift: A Provision For Future Pay Hikes,” the pay raise directive that Malloy signed not only granted his aides those lucrative raises but he also changed the entire payment arrangement for top political appointees (who are coded as Labor Unit 01 in the state payroll system).

Through the years, the decision about whether to increase the pay of Labor Unit 01 (political appointees) required direct gubernatorial action, ensuring the public, via the media, would know when a governor decided to give his or her aides raises.

But on December 23, 2014, Malloy not only signed the required executive directive granting his aides up to 12 percent raises, but he added language that reads,

“Note – Effective January 1, 2106, employees in Labor Unit 01 shall receive cost of living adjustments and annual increments granted to managerial and confidential employees in the MP pay plan in Labor Unites 02 and 03.  The EX [Executive Pay Plan] pay plan shall be adjusted accordingly.”

As Lender reports, Malloy’s action means that going forward a governor’s top political appointees will automatically get the same salary increase that Connecticut non-union, non-political, 3,000 classified employees will get.

The move not only means Malloy’s political appointees will get automatic get pay increases each year he is in office, but that unless the edict is directly repealed, the political appointees of future governors will also reap the benefits of Malloy’s decision to provide an unprecedented level of special treatment for political appointees.

Lender adds that the, “provision calling for those raises in future years was quietly tacked onto the end of the official Dec. 23 order that authorized the raises – which was signed by Malloy, his budget director Ben Barnes, and Commissioner Donald DeFronzo of the Department of Administrative Services (DAS).”

Barnes also serves as Malloy’s budget director and was one of the political aides that got a 12 percent pay raise in December.  Malloy’s Chief-of-Staff also pulled in a 12 percent pay raise at the time.

As an indication of the Malloy administration’s never-ending strategy of secrecy, Lender notes, “But this provision wasn’t mentioned in the press release that a Barnes deputy issued as darkness fell at 4:32 p.m. on the day before Christmas Eve.”

Lender and the Hartford Courant provide a link to the pay raise memo which can be found at: http://das.ct.gov/HRDocs/EItem/2147-E.pdf

Lender’s piece adds that, “Both Barnes and the Democratic governor have defended the raises by saying most of the political appointees hadn’t gotten raises during the governor’s first four years in office – or had not come close to keeping up with unionized employees and non-unionized managers. As Barnes put it, the state needs to ‘attract and retain top-notch talent.’”

When Lender asked OPM Secretary Barnes why the larger change in policy wasn’t reported in the press release, Barnes claimed that the Malloy administration wasn’t attempting to withhold the information, but, “It didn’t seem that it was as relevant as the fact of the raises.”

So Malloy’s position is that he needed to give his political appointees up to 12 percent raises in order to “attract and retain top-notch talent,” and that he decided it wasn’t necessary to tell the public about the maneuver to that automatically grants raises to political appointees in the future because it, “wasn’t relevant.”

It would appear that Governor Malloy and UConn’s Board of Trustees, who approved a massive boost in salary and benefits for President Susan Herbst between Christmas and New Year’s went to the same school of public relations.

You can read more about this issues at Wait, What? –Malloy political appointees score big with “Christmas” salary increases  and at the Hartford Courant: http://www.courant.com/politics/hc-lender-appointees-raises-0111-20150109-column.html

Malloy political appointees score big with “Christmas” salary increases

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On the day after Christmas about 200 of Governor Dan Malloy’s top political appointees will receive salary increases that will boost their income by as much as 12%.

The raises come despite the fact that the this year’s existing budget deficit is pegged at about $50 million and will probably grow to well over $100 million in the next couple of months.  Of course, this year’s budget deficit is nothing compared to the projected $1.4 billion shortfall in next year’s budget.

But to the victor goes the spoils, so not only are Malloy’s top aides getting big raises but the Malloy team held off releasing the news of the taxpayer funded gifts to ensure it didn’t become a news story until Christmas Eve, thereby significantly reducing the number of Connecticut residents who will learn where their tax dollars are going.

Some readers may remember that as a candidate for re-election, Malloy spent the fall claiming that there was no state deficit, nor would there be any deficits if he was re-elected.

Then, about a month ago, Malloy announced “emergency cuts” to reduce a projected $100 million state deficit that appeared the week after Election Day.  Malloy’s cuts only resolved about half the deficit problem that existed at the time.  The rest of the financial problem has gone unaddressed, and as noted above, will likely grow considering the Malloy administration appears to be intentionally hiding areas where it is overspending.

When Malloy announced last month’s budget cuts, a significant portion of them were aimed at the Department of Children and Families, where Malloy intentionally limited DCF’s ability to place children who are in crisis, and unable to live at home, into group homes.

Malloy also reduced funding for occupational therapy and day services for those with developmental disabilities.

And although Malloy had already made historic cuts to Connecticut’s public colleges and universities, he went even further, cutting Connecticut’s institutions of higher education even more which further ensures that students and their parents will end up paying more and getting less.

But as the CT Mirror reported late yesterday, “The holidays will be a little merrier for about 200 appointees of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other constitutional officers: They are getting raises ranging from three percent to 12 percent at an annual cost of $1.4 million.”

Leading the list of happy campers is Malloy’s budget director, Ben Barnes, whose salary will increase on Thursday to over $209,000 a year, a 12 percent increase.  Malloy’s Chief of Staff, Mark Ojakian also received a 12 percent raise pushing his salary to nearly $190,000.

Perhaps even more telling than the extra $1.4 million Malloy is giving out to his political appointees is the way in which the news was released.

As the CT Mirror’s Mark Pazniokas explained,

“The raises were announced on the night before the night before Christmas, when hardly a creature was stirring, either in the House, the Senate or the Capitol press room.

A press release went out at 4:34 p.m. under the name of Gian-Carl Casa, the undersecretary of policy and management.

At the time, he was sitting on an airplane in Baltimore, connecting on a vacation flight to Florida. Reached by cell phone on the tarmac, he did arrange for the full list of raises to be forwarded to The Mirror.”

Explaining away Malloy’s decision to hand out major salary increases to his political appointees while tens of thousands of Connecticut families continue to face economic distresses, Malloy’s budget chief provided what may be one of the greatest quotes of 2014.

Barnes explained in the emailed statement;

 “For the last four years, most appointed officials have not seen their salary change as they have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Connecticut families…Because of their hard work, we are seeing the results in many areas, such as a steadily improving economy that’s added over 75,000 jobs since 2011.”

The list of Malloy’s commissioners who are getting double-digit salary increases include;

Commissioner Catherine Smith (Economic Development) Now at $190,400

Commissioner Jewel Mullen (Public Health) $190,400

Commissioner Kevin Sullivan (Revenue Services) $190,400

Commissioner Roderick Bremby (Social Services) $190,400

Commissioner Thaddeus Martin (Military Department) $182,132

Commissioner Joette Katz (Children and Families) $172,291

Commissioner Patricia Rehmer (Mental Health and Addiction Services) $165,535

Commissioner Melody Curry (Motor Vehicles) $145,600

Commissioner Steven Reviczy (Agriculture) $132,160

You can read the CT Mirror story at: http://ctmirror.org/early-christmas-malloy-appointees-get-raises-of-up-to-12/.  The CT Newsjunkie story is here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/malloy_appointees_get_pay_increase/ and the Courant is here: http://www.courant.com/politics/hc-administration-raises-20141223-story.html

Malloy administration dumps the State’s best/toughest labor negotiator

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In a stunning move that surprised people across the political spectrum, Governor Malloy’s administration has laid off the individual who is widely acknowledged as the best and toughest labor negotiator the State of Connecticut has ever had.

Linda Yelmini has worked as a classified state employee since 1987, serving as a key labor negotiator and personnel manager for Connecticut’s Democrat and Republican governors, as well as for Independent Governor Lowell Weicker.

Those of us who have been involved in projects on the same side and opposing sides of Yelmini can attest to her extraordinary understanding of the law and her dedication to the state and its taxpayers.

Over the years, her reputation as a tough negotiator and manager has led many to observe that one definitely doesn’t want to be on the wrong side of an issue that she is working on and there are certainly active, retired and fired state employees who’d even call her ruthless.

That said, there are others who would argue that while she is tough, she has constantly strived to ensure that work rules have been applied consistently…which may just be the problem the Malloy administration has with her.  I’m sure they found it harder to make some political hires when the state’s chief labor negotiator tells them such a move would violate state labor laws and contracts.

While the Malloy administration’s decision to remove Yelmini and throw away her decades of experience is extremely odd, the way they went about it and their effort to spin their story is even stranger.

When interviewed about the news, Yelmini told reporters that the announcement to remove her from her career position had come as a “shock” and that she was told that her position would be replaced by a “political appointee.”

At the same time, in what could only be called laughable, Malloy told reporters that he had nothing to do with the decision, claiming that his budget director, Ben Barnes, was solely responsible for the action.”

CT Newsjunkie quoted Malloy as saying, “Ben’s going to continue in the position as secretary and he’s designing what he wants I guess.”

The notion that the governor’s budget director would lay off the state’s chief negotiator and replace that person with a “political appointee” without the approval of the governor is beyond absurd.

Unless, of course, Malloy is telling the truth in which case it is an extremely sad commentary about Malloy’s lack of managerial focus and his lack of commitment to his role as Connecticut’s Chief Executive Officer.

The CT Newsjunkie story went on to report that, “Malloy said he leaves these types of personnel decisions up to his department heads…’Within these departments, I give a lot of leeway to the people who are hired to do the job,’ Malloy said.”

So let’s get this straight…

Malloy is saying that despite that fact that the state is facing a projected $1.4 billion budget deficit next year, in which the Governor, himself, has consistently said he won’t raise taxes, won’t cut aid to towns, won’t cut vital services and won’t need to sit down with state employee unions to talk about concessions, he allowed an underling to fire the state’s chief labor negotiator and replace her with a political appointee…and he wasn’t even involved in the decision?

Yeah, and I got a bridge to sell if anyone wants to buy it.

You can read more about this strange development at:  Malloy Administration Personnel Changes Are Under Way.

Jon Lender has more details at the Courant in a piece entitled State Labor Relations Chief Facing Layoff

Budget Gimmicks and Declining Revenue catch up to Malloy

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As the CT Mirror is reporting, Governor Malloy’s extraordinary budget gimmicks and Connecticut’s lagging economy have caught up with the politician’s wild re-election promises.

The CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf reports,

“Citing declining state revenue projections, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy gave up Monday on two of his biggest re-election year budget initiatives: a $55-per-person rebate and a supplemental payment into the state employees’ pension fund.

“We do not anticipate enough revenue to provide a tax refund or to make a supplemental pension payment, as we had hoped in January,” Benjamin Barnes, who oversees the budget as secretary of policy and management, wrote in a letter sent Monday morning to legislators.

While the Governor and his budget chief sort of skipped over the ugly details, the underlying problem is that Malloy’s rosy economic forecasts failed to materialize.

Last week the General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis reported that Connecticut Income Tax revenues were going to be $330 million short of what has been predicted.

This shortfall in revenue not only opens a huge problem for Malloy’s budget proposal for the fiscal year starting on July 1, 2014 but increases the projected budget shortfall for the following year’s budget to over $1.2 billion dollars.

Malloy, who has pledged not to increase taxes if re-elected is nowlooking at budget deficits of over $1 billion for each of the next four years if he is re-elected.

Claiming that he was sitting on a $500 million surplus this year and even more money next year, Malloy promised a series of election year tax-cuts including a $55 rebate to all individuals earning less than $200,000, and a $110 rebate to all couples earning less than $400,000.

Malloy also promised that he would pay an additional $100 million into the state employees’ pension fund, a fund that is approximately $11 billion underfunded.

But as the CT Mirror explains, income tax revenue has not come in as projected and the excessive use of one-time revenue and borrowing for ongoing expenses means Connecticut will continue to face extremely serious fiscal problems over the next few years.

You can read the entire CT Mirror story here:  http://ctmirror.org/malloy-gives-up-on-tax-rebate-citing-declining-revenues/

The CT Newsjunkie’s article on this breaking story can be found here: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/malloy_scraps_55_rebate/, while the Courant’s article is here: http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-malloy-tax-rebates-20140428,0,4875051.story.

Mass Insight contract “magically extended” on its last day. Cost to taxpayers: $800,000

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Mass Insight Contract “magically extended” on its last day.  Cost to taxpayers: $800,000

The cornerstone of Governor Malloy’s corporate education reform industry initiative is the concept of “turnaround schools” and the creation of the “Commissioner’s Network.”  Both strategies are part of Malloy’s broader effort to allow private entities to run public schools.

The task of implementing those outrageous policies rests with Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and two members of his personal staff, Adam Goldfarb (Chief of Staff) and Morgan Barth (Director of the Office of School Turnaround).

Morgan Barth is the former Achievement First employee who illegally taught and worked in Achievement First schools for six years.

Last year, as part of their ongoing effort to undermine local control and privatize public education in Connecticut, Commissioner Pryor let go or re-assigned the extremely experienced team of State Department of Education experts who had been helping towns work through the challenges of educating students in Connecticut’s largest and poorest districts.

Pryor let go the four Leaders in Residence and three superintendents, each of whom had direct experience working with administrators and teachers in urban classrooms and school districts where the majority of students face the challenges of poverty, language barriers or special education needs.

Pryor also re-assigned the State Department of Education’s experts on bullying and improving school climates, multi-cultural education and bilingual and English language learning programs.

Instead of utilizing Connecticut experts, Pryor retained an out-of-state, politically-connected company called Mass Insight for nearly $1 million. 

To service the contract with Pryor, Mass Insight sent in a handful of inexperienced, out-of-state consultants.  In the first four months of the contract, Mass Insight replaced nearly every one of these out-of-state consultants with another inexperienced, out-of-state consultant.  In some cases the consultants lasted no more than a few weeks in the job. 

But as a group, Mass Insight’s consultants, with Morgan Barth at the helm, managed to alienate superintendents, principals and local boards of education in many of Connecticut’s thirty Alliance Districts.

The contract with Mass Insight was scheduled to end on January 31, 2014.

But with no public notice and no public participation, Stefan Pryor and the State Department of Education, along with the help of Malloy’s Budget Director and Attorney General George Jepsen’s Office quietly approved an $800,000 contract extension that is said to have gone into effect on JANUARY 31, 2014.

The last-minute $800,000 contract extension will allow Stefan Pryor, Morgan Barth and Mass Insight to continue to wreak havoc on Connecticut’s poorest public schools.

Hidden from public view, Stefan Pryor requested and obtained approval from Malloy’s Budget Chief and the Office of Policy and Management to extend Mass Insight’s contract and pay the out-of-state company the extra $800,000 on January 24, 2014.

According to documents related to the matter, the Mass Insight contract extension was finalized and sent to the company on January 30, 2014.

Under state law, as a check and balance on excessive agency actions, contract extensions of this nature require a sign off from the Office of the Attorney General.   

In this case, the Mass Insight contract was apparently forwarded to the Attorney General’s office on January 31, 2014. 

While it is unclear exactly when the Attorney General’s Office acted, it did approve the contract and Commissioner Pryor and the State Department of Education reported that they planned to have the contract amendment “fully executed by the end of business January 31, 2014.”

While it is beyond insulting to see the Malloy administration dump experienced Connecticut residents so it can out-source jobs to out-of-state consultants, it is even more absurd that Commissioner Pryor would seek to extend this contract and further undermine Connecticut’s poorest school districts. 

Governor Malloy’s fake Connecticut Budget “Surplus”

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If you’ve listened to Governor Malloy lately or checked out some of the media reports recently you’d think Connecticut was on the road to economic recovery, that the state had a budget surplus and it was “Morning in Connecticut.”

Putting aside the continued high unemployment rates, Governor Malloy’s failed economic development strategies and the growing amount of poverty in Connecticut, there is a much more immediate problem with Malloy’s claim that Connecticut’s fiscal health is back on track.

Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes recently released his monthly report to the State Comptroller on the status of Connecticut’s State Budget.  Barnes wrote, “This month’s estimate reflects a positive $273.3 million balance from operations, an increase of $137.4 million from last month’s letter.”

If taken at his word, it would appear that Connecticut has a $273.4 million budget surplus so far this year.

But when it comes to Malloy, Barnes and their budgeting strategies, things aren’t exactly as they appear.

Any reasonable person would assume that you determine the health of a state budget by comparing the level of tax revenues to the level of government expenditures.  If they are equal you have a balanced budget.  If expenses are greater than revenues you have a budget deficit and if revenues are greater than expenses you have a budget surplus.

But looking back at some of the gimmicks used by the Malloy administration this year corrupts the entire notion of what a balanced budget actually is…let alone what is should be called a budget surplus.

When examining how the Malloy administration put this year’s budget together one need only look at the following fiscal gimmicks.

And these are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the way revenue and expenditures were defined to make it appear that Connecticut is on stronger fiscal footing.

Here are a just a few of the ways in which this year’s Connecticut State Budget was “balanced.”  This year’s state budget:

  • Diverts $190.8 million from last year’s surplus to pay costs this year to make this year’s budget look more balanced and diverts another $30 million to do the same thing in next year’s budget. 
  • Diverts $115,000 for the Stem Cell Research Fund (SCRF) to pay for regular costs at Department of Health. 
  • Although the budget provided the DCF-funded private residential treatment centers with $11.5 million in maintain services, budget takes those funds away. 
  • Rather than use the $20.2 million in surplus from collective bargaining costs in last year’s budget as required to increase the raining day fund or reduce debt, Malloy’s budget dumped the money into the General Fund and Transportation Fund make the budget look more balanced. 
  • Diverts $1.4 million from the Tobacco and Health Trust Fund (THTF) to pay for expenses at the UConn Health Center. 
  • Diverts $1.1 million from the Tobacco and Health Trust Fund (THTF) to pay for expenses at the Department of Public Health. 
  • Diverts $3.4 million from Tobacco and Health Trust Fund (THTF) to pay for expenses at the Department of Public Health and Department of Social Services. 
  • Diverts $1.3 million from Tobacco and Health Trust Fund (THTF) to pay for expenses at the Department of Developmental Services and the Public Health. 
  • Further underfunds the Teachers Retirement Retiree Health Services Program by $22 million by reducing the reducing the state’s share costs to 25% and municipal health subsidy to 25%. 
  • Diverts $2.2 from the Pre-Trial Alcohol Substance Abuse Program to fund expenses in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (Regional Action Councils). 
  • Diverts $1 million from Pre-Trial Alcohol Substance Abuse Program to fund expenses in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (Governor’s Partnership to Protect CT’s Workforce). 
  • Diverts $500,000 in UConn funding to pay for CT Center for Advanced Technology Inc. 
  • Diverts $875,000 from the Student Protection Account to pay for expenses at the Office of Higher Education.  The Student Protection Account is supposed to be used to refund tuition when for-trade schools go of business. 
  • Diverts $1 million from the Systems Benefit Account to Operation Fuel and allows up $100,000 of that money to be used for administrative costs. 
  • Diverts over $2 million from various accounts within the Office of Policy and Management and transfers these funds to the Litigation/Settlement account in FY 14 to fund ongoing “litigation expenses.” 
  • Diverts $10 million from last year’s Transportation “Pay-As-You-Go” account to expenses this year including Rail Operations ($4. 2 million); Personal Services ($1. 5 million), Transit Improvement Program ($200,000), and Pay-As-You-Go ($4. 1 million). 
  • Directs the Office of Policy and Management to cut $10 million to municipal aid but the cut would not be announced until next fiscal year. 
  • Diverts $2.8 million in Magnet School fun from last fiscal year to pay $2.3 million for this year’s Sheff programming, $330,000 for the Sound School $160,000 for the Neighborhood Youth Centers for the New Haven YMCA. (Remember Appropriations Chair Toni Harp was planning to run the mayor of New Haven this year.  She did…and won). 
  • Diverts any balance of the Probate Court Administration Fund in excess of 15% of the total expenditures authorized to the fund to the State’s General Fund. 

These are just a few of literally dozens and dozens of examples of budget gimmicks that were used to make this year’s budget look “balanced.”

So when you hear that Connecticut has a “budget surplus” just remember that the so-called “surplus” is built upon a fiscal house of cards that will eventually collapse and Connecticut’s taxpayers and those who need and deserve vital state services will be the ones asked to pay the real cost for this political folly.

The Malloy administration’s approach to financial planning in 2013

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“Aware that the city school board was prepared Monday to pass a resolution demanding the funds, Barnes said he felt the time was right to make the deal.”  – CT Post 11/26/13

You heard him right… “The time was right to make the deal.”

The deal being that the City of Bridgeport would get a giant pass on having to allocate the legally required minimum funding that Connecticut towns must make in order to get state education funds.

The deal being between Governor Malloy and Mayor Bill Finch – WITHOUT THE INVOLVEMENT OF THE BRIDGEPORT BOARD OF EDUCATION – the elected officials who are legally responsible for running Bridgeport’s School and who had already adopted a budget based on getting the additional $3.3 million that the City of Bridgeport won’t have to provide.

Just last year, when Bridgeport was facing a $3.5 million budget deficit in its school budget, Malloy, with the approval of the Connecticut General Assembly, gave Bridgeport a $3.5 million “forgivable loan.”

As a condition for getting the money, Bridgeport had to agree to allow Malloy’s Commissioner of Education to approve any replacement for Paul Vallas, who was serving as Bridgeport’s Acting Superintendent at the time.

Now one year later another deal pops up, this time allowing Bridgeport to renege on its legal responsibility to provide its local schools with the minimum budget allocation of local taxpayer funds.

In what will certainly go down as one of the more absurd political statements of the year, the Connecticut Post reported today that “Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management, who helped broker a budget deal reached over the weekend, said he doesn’t want this to be an annual bailout program for Bridgeport, and is looking for assurances the city will finally fully fund its Minimum Budget Requirement going forward.”

According to the Connecticut Post article, Mayor Bill Finch and the City of Bridgeport’s local contribution for their schools should be $3.3 million higher than what it has actually allocated for this year.

Rather than require that Bridgeport fulfill its legal responsibility, as all other towns must do, Governor Malloy is proposing a deal to “rectify the problem” by allowing about $1.2 million worth of in-kind services to the school board, allow the city to shave $1.1 million off the school board’s workers’ compensation contribution and have the state make an additional $1.2 million contribution to the city by the end of the fiscal year.

While neither the Malloy administration nor Mayor Finch consulted with the Bridgeport Board of Education, their “deal” will actually create an immediate budget deficit in this year’s Bridgeport school budget, a budget deficit that require mid-year cuts to school programs.

As reported in the Connecticut Post, at last night’s Bridgeport Board of Education meeting, the Bridgeport Board of Education adopted a resolution, on a vote of 6 -1, to demand the city come into full compliance with the Minimum Budget Requirement law.

But the fact is that the Malloy/Finch deal with leave the Bridgeport Board of Education twisting slowly in the wind.

And as to the long-held notion that it is the Legislative Branch of Government that approves the state budget and only the Legislative Branch that can allocate additional funding for Bridgeport, Ben Barnes, who served as Bridgeport’s interim director of finance before he became Malloy’s Budget Chief, told the Connecticut Post that “he had some contact with the Legislature’s appropriations committee chairs over the matter, but believes the administration has broad authority within existing education reform dollars to make the additional payment to Bridgeport…“

Media requests from Wait,What? to the Governor’s Office, the Education Commissioner’s Office and the Office of Policy and Management asking for what statutory authority Barnes believes gives him the ability to give Bridgeport another $1.2 million in education funding without legislative approval have gone unanswered.

As if the Malloy/Finch deal wasn’t already difficult enough for the dozens of other Connecticut communities that are also suffering from inadequate funding to hear about, the Malloy administration managed to rub additional salt in the wound via a letter Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education sent to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch.

Pryor calls the Malloy/Finch deal less than ideal but adds that it is “sufficient to allow all parties to turn their attention from past conflicts to our aspirations for the future.”

Hello?

Commissioner Pryor?

Will allow all parties to turn their attention from past conflicts to our aspirations for the future?

By allocating state money without legislative approval, leaving the Bridgeport Board of Education with a new deficit for this school year and blowing off the financial problems faced by Connecticut’s other communities.

Yup, file this one under:  The Malloy administration’s approach to financial planning in 2013

You can read the full Connecticut Post article here:  http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/City-has-a-deal-but-board-not-satisfied-5011160.php

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