Malloy, legislature continue to water-down Connecticut’s “landmark” campaign finance laws

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Following the Rowland scandal, the Connecticut General Assembly passed and Governor Rell signed into law the most comprehensive state-level campaign finance reform initiative in the country.

Since then, incumbents have been chipping away at the law.

This year, Governor Malloy and the Democrats in the legislature made their most dramatic and audacious effort, to date, to undermine the law.

And they succeeded…with Malloy signing the new bill into law yesterday.

At a time when the public understands that campaign money plays too much of a role in American politics, Malloy and the Democrats took significant steps to reverse earlier limitations on campaign donations and spending.

As a result of the new law, significantly more money will be spilling into Connecticut campaigns.

Among other things, the law doubles the amount campaign donors may contribute to political parties and actually removes the cap on how much political parties can spend on publicly-financed candidates.

The most incredible new development is that the law now allows a candidate to help raise money for a political action committee that will later spend that money to support the very candidate who helped raise it.

As reported here at Wait, What? and elsewhere, Governor Malloy has held at least 15 fundraisers for a political action committee called Prosperity for Connecticut.  Under the old law, there were severe limitations on how that committee could spend its money, ensuring that its primary purpose was not to support any affiliated candidates.

The new law changes that system completely.

Malloy can now help a Super PAC raise unlimited amounts of money and that PAC can then spend that money to support Malloy.

The effort to water-down Connecticut’s campaign finance law even brought former Governor Jodi Rell back to the public arena.  In a written statement, the former governor said, “After a dark period in our state’s history, Connecticut became a role model for the nation with … our campaign finance reform…How sad that the Democrat governor, Democrat legislators and the Democrat Party are so greedy for campaign cash that they would willingly destroy what we so proudly enacted just a few short years ago.”

Malloy and legislators are quick to point out that Connecticut’s new law also includes a provision that requires groups making independent expenditures to disclose their campaign donors.  This is certainly a worthy requirement, but they could have easily stopped there without using that positive development to cover up their ongoing effort to remove limits on their own fundraising and spending.

As usual, Governor Malloy explained away his actions yesterday with a slew of half-truths and deceptions saying, “The bill I’m signing today requires a level of disclosure that few if any other states require. No bill is perfect, but this bill makes Connecticut a national leader in requiring disclosure and transparency.”

Now that is an Orwellian description of a piece of legislation if there ever was one.

You can read more about the successful effort to undermine Connecticut’s public financing system on the following links;    http://www.courant.com/news/breaking/hc-campaign-finance-changes-20130611,0,7166515.story and http://www.ctmirror.org/story/malloy-signs-campaign-finance-law-loosens-restrictions.

Connecticut: The Republic of Debt

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The 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly ended with the adoption of record amounts of additional state borrowing. 

They adopted $750 million in state bonds to pay a portion of the cost associated with moving Connecticut to Generally Acceptable Accounting Principles (GAAP).  Then there was the $1.6 billion for Malloy’s UConn initiative “to overhaul the state’s flagship university over the next decade,” this coming after the state’s $2.3 billion UConn 2000 program.  And then, of course there are hundreds of millions more in bonding for programs and services that should be funded out of the State’s General Fund rather than state borrowing, such as Malloy’s massive corporate welfare program and the state’s Stem Cell Research Program.

The fact is that the FY14-FY15 state budget relies heavily on record borrowing.

And this is occurring in a state that already has record amounts of debt.

Even before this latest bonding spree, the balance on Connecticut’s state credit card was more than $19.3 billion.

Referred to as “bonded indebtedness,” it is the amount of outstanding debt that Connecticut’s taxpayers must pay back, with interest, over the next 20 years.

This amount does not include the taxpayer funds that must also be paid to fund the state’s various unfunded liabilities such as the state and teachers’ pensions, health and other post-employment benefits.  That amount adds another $40 billion plus to the state’s fiscal ledger.

The $19.3 billion is only the existing bonds that must be paid…

When it comes to the level of state debt, no other state in the nation comes close to the level of official indebtedness facing Connecticut and its citizens.

The average per capita debt burden among the 50 states is $1,408.  That is, every man, woman and child in the average state is “on the hook” for $1,408.

In Connecticut, the per capita debt burden is $5,096.

But that’s not all.                                                                               

When it comes to facing the ramifications of the growing debt, Connecticut’s elected officials actually took a giant step backwards this year.

Not only did Malloy and the legislature add record amounts of debt, they ducked debt payments that were supposed to be made during this upcoming budget cycle, thereby pushing the burden until after the next gubernatorial election.

Back in Fiscal Year 2009, Governor Rell and the Democratic-controlled legislature addressed a massive state deficit by approving a series of special, short-term bonds called Economic Recovery Notes.  Each year the state is supposed to be paying off a portion of those notes. 

However, the two year budget just passed by the General Assembly delayed $196 million in Economic Recovery Note payments next year and the year after.  The additional interest cost to Connecticut taxpayers for this “restructuring” will be about $45 million

Ironically, when you strip away all the political spin, that amount is about what Malloy and his administration added to education spending in Connecticut…and the gall to claim it was a “historic” investment in education.

During the last gubernatorial campaign candidate Dan Malloy called these types of budget gimmicks, “kicking the can down the road,” and promised never to do it.

Now Governor Dannel Malloy is making these gimmicks a regular approach to his budget plans.

No new taxes and other fairytales

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Late word is that Governor Malloy and Legislative Democrats have reached a budget “deal,” as the 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly heads toward its closing date next week.

Putting aside the controversy surrounding Connecticut’s faulty spending cap, the one claim that is being spun, above and beyond all others, is that the budget contains no new taxes.

Or, as Governor Malloy put it yesterday,

“The bottom line is we will not increase taxes or create any new taxes. The budget will be in balance and will be GAAP-compliant.”

Of course, none of that is true

Connecticut’s state budget is far from GAAP-complaint and some of the revenue estimates are so optimistic that few believe the budget will be balanced when we come to the end of Fiscal Year 2015 or Fiscal Year 2016.

As for the notion that there are “no new taxes,” Malloy himself was forced to add, that it was “entirely possible” that the budget for FY15-FY16 would “extend taxes that were scheduled to expire like the tax on electric generators.”

In fact, even that statement skips over the fact that the budget deal between Malloy and the Democrats includes the largest gas tax increase in history, a tax increase that will go into effect on July 1.

It also appears that the legislature will continue the wholesale tax on energy production, which pushes up Connecticut’s electricity prices by more than $152 million.

Meanwhile, at last check, the hands of the lobbyists were clearly visible, in that the budget plan appears to exempt yachts from the luxury tax (a loss of $140,000 in state revenue) and exempts short-term boat storage from the sales tax (a loss of $4 million in state revenue).

The apparent deal between Malloy and the legislative Democrats also includes a number of other controversial or dubious proposals including;

• Extending the “temporary” 20% surcharge on the corporation business tax which will bring in $118.4 million in revenue.

• Reducing the state’s earned income tax credit (EITC) from 30% to 25% which will cost Connecticut’s lowest paid working families $32.1 million.

• Transferring a one-time $30 million from the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority.

• Cutting the famed Stem Cell Research Program by $28 million.

• Continuing Malloy’s plan to auction off the right to offer electric ratepayers lower standard offer pricing.

• And extending the temporary cap on tax credits against the insurance premiums tax, but the legislature now predicts doing so will generate $54 million, rather than $38 million.

Of course, overarching the entire debate is the fact that while taxes continue to climb for middle-class families, those making over $1 million a year are still benefiting from the reality that they – and they alone – faced no increases in their income tax rates in Malloy’s $1.5 billion tax increase in 2011.

The most significant statistic remains the same.  While lower-income families pay about 12% of their income in state and local taxes and middle-income families pay about 10% of their income in state and local taxes, the highest income earners pay about 6% of their income in state and local taxes.

You can read the latest coverage at: http://www.ctmirror.org/story/malloy-defends-budget-deal-jabs-gop and http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/malloy_defends_spending_cap_changes_draft_budget_agreement/ and http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-budget-deal-0529-20130528,0,6889217.story

Education Reform Update: One Step Forward – A Half Step Backwards – While Connecticut’s future hangs in the balance

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In the coming days we’ll learn more about the changes that the Democratic members of the Education Committee have made to Malloy’s “Education Reform” bill.

Watching the Governor’s reaction to this latest proposal is a clear-cut reminder that these legislators deserve credit for even contemplating the notion that they have an obligation to do the right thing and do what is best for their constituents and the children of their districts.

That said, there are still provisions here that remind me of the hit and run driver who returns to the scene of the horrible accident, gets out to help the severely injured and then wants an award for their heroism.

Meanwhile, there is no longer any doubt that the Governor and his circle of advisors have, once and for all, squandered the opportunity to be called Democrats.  There is not a Democratic Governor in the country that has proposed legislation that is as anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-union and anti-Democratic values than what this governor has done – first with his budget cuts and middle-income tax increases, then with the state employees and now with teachers and our education system.

Perhaps it is the allure of hanging with the super-rich or maybe it is some sense that his actions will endear him to some national audience of anti-government and anti-community voters, but the result of his actions are clear, concise and devastating.  Over the last 14 months this Governor has managed to belittle, dismiss and backstab every single constituency who stood up and worked hard to see that he was elected as Governor.

Hundreds of thousands of people voted for Dan Malloy and Nancy Wyman because they truly believed that the two of them would lead the fight for a fairer, more transparent, more honest and more dedicated state government.

His “Education Reform” proposal and his pedantic reactions to the reasonable efforts to address the proposal’s shortcoming is a sad reminder of how far he has strayed from the promises he made.

Note:  At least the Committee removed that outrageous and immoral provision that Malloy had inserted into the bill that would have granted an expanded state funded pension to the guy who helped write this plan but who refused to follow the rules that 45,000 teachers and 9,000 school administrators had followed.  Although I’d be surprised if we didn’t see the change in law surface again before this is all over.

The Task Is Nearly Done: Democrats Destroy Connecticut’s Landmark Campaign Public Finance Law

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Seven years ago, the Connecticut General Assembly adopted the Citizens Election Program.  As a result of that monumental action,Connecticut put in place a campaign finance system that would ensure our citizens enjoyed the fairest, cleanest and most honest campaigns in the nation.

With a national election and campaign finance system spiraling out of control and increasingly under the control of special interests,Connecticut actually stood up and took an action that would serve as the national model for what can and should be done to promote true democracy.

And yet, over the past year Connecticut’s Democratic elected officials have done more damage to this extraordinary law than the Republicans have been able to do over the past seven years.

What we have witnessed is nothing short of a dishonest effort to destroy Connecticut’s best-in-the-nation public financing program and to do it in a way that our state’s Democratic leaders could attempt to defend themselves by saying don’t blame me, I’m not the one who put the knife through the program’s heart.

Think the Ides of March in the year 44 B.C.

While only one well-placed stab would have done the job, by including many in the attack it would allow the participants to deny that it was their knife that served as the deadly blow.  So upon entering the Senate, the 60 conspirators surrounded Caesar, his trusted friend Brutus among them.  Out came the swords and with at least twenty-three stab wounds, Caesar fell dead, leaving behind those famous words and that today reflect that  notion of ultimate betrayal.  “Et tu, Brute?”

In Connecticut, the destruction of the state’s campaign finance system succumbed to not one but two assassination attempts.  Long live the notion that if you don’t at first succeed, try, try again.

The first assault was straight on.   Despite Governor Malloy’s original proposal to merge the State Election Enforcement Commission and the Public Finance Program into a new Office of Government Accountability, the state budget that came out of the Appropriations Committee in April of last year simply eliminated the Elections Enforcement Commission.

A portion of the Citizens’ Election Program would have moved to the Secretary of the State’s Office, the audit and investigations operation to monitor the tens of millions of public grants would have been housed in the Office of State Auditors and the professionally-trained staff that has been brought together to administer this nationally renowned program would be eliminated

Each legislator associated with this portion of the state budget not only denied writing the language aimed at destroying Connecticut’s campaign finance law, they said they had never even seen it.

The Senate Chairperson of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, Gayle Slossberg, called the language “a disaster,” adding “It makes no sense. I do not support it…This came out of the blue, from behind closed doors.”

The House Chair of the same committee, Russell Morin said he was “shocked” by the language.

A similar response came from the House Chair of the Appropriations Committee, Toni Walker, who when asked where the language came from said bluntly “That was not mine.”

Truth-be-told, there are many who know exactly where the language “came from” and if they were put under oath and actually told the truth we’d learn that Senate President Don Williams’ staff, furious at the State Elections Enforcement Commission for doing their job and catching two Democratic State Senators engaged in illegal campaign activities, wrote and inserted the language that would destroy the program.

But the budget was not yet completed and so action was put off on voting for a new state budget and the underlying language concerning Connecticut’s campaign finance law.

A month later, at the end of May 2011, Governor Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders announced that a budget agreement was in place.  When it came to the future of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, the assault shifted from a frontal attack to a less obvious, but equally effective tactic.

The State Election Enforcement Commission wasn’t eliminated but it was folded into the new state agency symbolically and ironically called the Office of Governmental Accountability.

And then, with no public hearing, no opportunity for public input, no information provided to the media or advocates or citizens to find out what was happening, the General Assembly hit the Elections Enforcement and Campaign Finance operation with the deepest cuts of any state agency in the budget.

Forty percent of the elections enforcement staff have been laid off and as vacancies have occurred the Governor’s budget office has dragged their feet or has simply refused to allow critical positions to be filled.  Today the number of campaign finance auditors has dropped from 10 to 4, while virtually the entire management team is gone.  The sad truth is that there is absolutely no way that an operation that has been decimated as much as this one has can fulfill its legal and moral responsibilities.

The Legislature also added language preventing the Elections Commission from auditing more than half the legislative races each year.  Tens of millions of public dollars are being handed to legislators and other candidates who are seeking public office and there is now a new law that actually prevents the people responsible for ensuring honesty in the program from looking at all the campaigns.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the legislature took the incredible and unprecedented step of shortening the length of time citizens may serve on the Elections Enforcement Commission.  By shortening the length of time a citizen commissioner can serve from five years to three and adding an unheard of prohibition on allowing commissioners to be re-appointed, the legislature can now be assured that  no commissioner will be around long enough to provide any historical context to the Commission’s actions and decisions.

This type of change wasn’t made to any of the other citizen oversight commissions found throughout state government. Only the commission that is responsible for making sure legislators and their challengers are using state public finance grants appropriately were hit with legislative changes so obviously designed to undermine the integrity of the election process.

Legislators were given the choice.  Vote for the budget with the devastating language or vote against the budget and plunge Connecticut into fiscal chaos.

Legislative leadership worked to create the impression that the changes to the Campaign Finance Program were not only limited, but overwhelmingly positive.

The House Chair of the Government and Elections Committee called it a “good compromise.” While Speaker of the House Chris Donovan applauded the effort to limit commissioners’ terms by claiming that it would bring “new blood” to the process (leaving aside the fact that they chose not to make similar changes to any other commission in state government).

The Governor Malloy’s Office also attempted to rationalize the “un-rationalizable” when the governor’s chief advisor, Roy Occhiogrosso claimed that the changes will make government “more efficient and cost effective.”

Since Connecticut first acted to protect our citizens and our government from the effects of the undue influence of money in politics, Democrats have been holding the state’s program as one of their greatest accomplishments.

In each subsequent campaign, Democratic candidates, especially Democratic leaders, have been asking the voters for their support based on their claim that Democrats had the courage to return Connecticut government and elections back to the people by pushing special interest money out of campaigns.  Then, literally in the dark of night, these same people joined together, like Caesar’s assassins, to destroy Connecticut’s vital Public Finance System, believing they were doing it in a way that not one of them would be blamed for the destruction they have caused.

Ask them even now and they will say they stand by their strong support of what was Connecticut’s best-in-the-nation public campaign finance system.

Governor Malloy, who as a candidate, commented on a poll that 79-percent of Connecticut voters supported public financing and the Citizens’ Elections Program that it was “proof of just how strongly Connecticut voters feel about campaign finance reform, and as a warning for those candidates who think they can brush aside the Citizens’ Election Program…”

Or the Democratic Speaker of the House, Chris Donovan, now a candidate for Congress in Connecticut’s Fifth Congressional District who once said “…the founding fathers took a huge risk when they signed the Declaration of Independence and set the wheels in motion for the world’s greatest democracy. Today, this historic campaign finance reform legislation reaffirms that this is a government for the people, not special interests. This campaign finance reform bill is our declaration of independence…”

Or Democratic State Senate President Pro Tempore, Don Williams, whose official biography still reads that “Senator Williams has been a leading advocate for cleaning up government. He authored legislation to reform the State Ethics Commission and supported sweeping changes to the campaign finance system and the state contracting process. With the creation of a publicly funded campaign finance system in 2005, Connecticut now has the strongest reform laws in the nation.”

And meanwhile there is virtual silence from all the other Democratic legislators who praised this program time and time again.

The 2012 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly will convene next Wednesday.  Should they wish to save Connecticut’s Campaign Finance System they will need to act immediately.

But don’t hold your breath. As the landmark program lies dying on the ground, there are so many who plunged their knives in that they will continue to believe that not one of them will be held accountable for their actions.

Malloy’s Extraordinary Executive Authority: 5% to 10% to $700 Million with no Limit by Account

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When it comes to the power of government, this may be the single most important story since Governor Malloy became Connecticut’s Governor.

During the General Assembly’s Regular Session the Malloy Administration proposed increasing the amount a governor can cut without legislative approval from 5% to 10%.

The Legislature said NO.

During the General Assembly’s June Special the Malloy Administration proposed increasing the amount a governor can cut without legislative approval from 5% to 10%.

The Legislature said NO.

In the end, on July 1, 2011 the Legislature adopted a bill and gave Governor Malloy TEMPORARY authority to cut up to 10% (but excluded municipal aid from that cut).

House Bill 6701, Section 6 provided that from July 1, 2011 until September 30, 2011 the Governor’s emergency authority to cut the budget was increased.  The language read “No Modification of an allotment requisition or an allotment in force made by the Governor pursuant to this section shall result in a reduction of more than ten per cent of the total appropriation from any fund or more than ten per cent of any specific appropriation.”

These are extraordinary times and Governor Malloy was given extraordinary authority to cut the budget up to 10% of any given line item.

But late last week we learned that Governor Malloy had targeted the “good government agencies” for 15 percent cuts and when asked by a reporter how they had the legal standing to make such a cut, the Malloy Administration pointed to Section 8 of House Bill 6701.

Section 8 reads “The Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management shall recommend to the Governor reductions in expenditures for the executive branch for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2012, and June 30, 2013, and shall, upon approval of the Governor, reduce such expenditures by the amount of the executive branch budget savings and employee reduction…”  [The $700 million in concessions for this year and the $900 for next year].

The Malloy Administration claims that this section gives the Governor the authority to cut up to $700 million – WITH NO LIMIT BY ACCOUNT.

Putting aside why Governor Malloy would target the state’s ethics program, the state’s Freedom of Information program and the clean campaign program for disproportionate cuts is a separate and serious question.

But how did the Governor get such extraordinary authority when the entire debate revolved around whether he should be given TEMPORARY authority to cut up to 10 percent of an individual program?

The transcript from the House and Senate debate makes it clear that state legislators were told they were voting on a bill that gave the Governor temporary authority to cut 10 percent.  There is no mention of that the bill might be giving the Governor the power to make unlimited cuts to agencies.

So when and how did Connecticut get to a place where a sitting governor has the power to make cuts that no governor in history has ever had or ever asked for?

It would appear that the Chairs of the Appropriations Committee – the legislators who explained the bill on the floor of the Senate and House were not aware that this provision would be used in this way.

So, were legislators mislead before the vote and if so, by whom?

Did Speaker of the House Chris Donovan know about this unprecedented power grab before the vote?

Did President Pro-Tempore Don Williams know about the unprecedented power grab before the vote?

If legislators were completely mislead – it is inconceivable that the Malloy Administration did not tell key legislators after the vote that there were going to use this statute to violate the intent and spirit of the law.

So,

Did Governor Malloy tell Speaker Donovan that he was going to use this statute to grab this power?

Did Governor Malloy tell President Williams that we was going to use this statute to grab this power?

And knowing that rank and file legislators believed they voted for one thing and got something else why didn’t leadership tell the legislators what was going down?

This isn’t just some interesting academic exercise.

I am absolutely sure that if a Republican governor tried to grab power in this way, the Democratic Legislature would be moving to repeal the section or sue the Governor from implementing this cuts.

Agree or disagree with the need for cuts, this move is the single most extraordinary maneuver or gimmick that any governor has used and it is vital that Connecticut’s legislators and media determine who know what, when…

For the original article about this issue see: http://ctmirror.org/story/13559/larger-dispute-looms-over-concession-vote

An illegal Power Grab or an Immoral Delegation of Duty…

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(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

Malloy Moves Connecticut Toward A One Branch System of Government

Up until six weeks ago a Connecticut Governor had the authority to cut (rescind) up to 5 percent of any budget line item without legislative review.  It was an extremely powerful tool to deal with budget deficits.

Six weeks ago, when the Malloy/SEBAC concession package failed to get sufficient votes to become law, Governor Malloy called the Connecticut General Assembly into special session and requested that the Legislative grant him super authority to cut up to 10 percent of any given budget line item without Legislative approval.

Following negotiations between the Malloy Administration and Democratic leaders, a bill granting Malloy the 10 percent authority but limiting that number when it came to municipal aid was adopted and signed into law.

Now the Malloy Administration claims that the Legislature not only gave him the 10 percent rescission authority he requested but ALSO gave him the authority to cut $700 million from the budget regardless of where those cuts come from.

Sometimes there are stories that are so incredible that it takes a few days for the concept to even sink in.  Keith Phaneuf’s story in yesterday’s CTMirror is just such an example.

Here is what happened;

When Governor Malloy’s Plan B Budget Plan was released on July 15, the new Office of Governmental Accountability received a 17 percent cut and the Office of Policy and Management ordered the staffs at the Freedom of Information Commission, Ethics and Elections Enforcement divisions to reduce their budgets by 15 percent.

When Keith Phaneuf asked about the unprecedented and unauthorized magnitude of the cuts to the watch-dog agencies, Gian-Carl Casa, OPM’s Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs told him “We believe that the statute does give the authority to make the necessary reductions…”

Casa went on to say that a section of the new law (Section Eight) allows OPM, with the governor’s approval, to reduce expenditures “by the amount of the Executive Branch budget savings” that would  have occurred from the concession deal.  In this case the amount to cut would be $700 million.

However, in another part of the new law (Section Six) the Legislature updated the existing state statute that grants the governor that authority to make budget cuts.  They expanded it from 5 percent to 10 percent of an appropriation but then went on to limit that expanded authority by removing municipal aid from the 10 percent threshold.

When the new law was adopted the meaning seemed pretty clear.

In fact, when State Senator Toni Harp, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, introduced the bill on the Senate floor she said that the 10 percent rescission authority and the layoffs were needed to balance the budget in response to the failure of the Malloy/SEBAC concession deal.

Now, however, the Malloy Administration is saying that because Section Eight does not contain the 10 percent limit the two sections work independently and the Legislature gave the Governor the authority to cut what ever he deems appropriate when it comes to reducing the budget by the $700 million needed to deal with the failure of the alloy/SEBAC agreement.

In this case, the Malloy Administration claims it was the authority to hit the watch-dog agencies especially hard.

While the focus of CTMirror article is the fate of the watch-dog agencies – with legislators coming to their defense saying that if a concession agreement is reached Governor Malloy should immediately restore funding to these good government programs – the underlying issue is even greater and a far more serious threat to how Connecticut state government functions.

Senator Toni Harp told the CTMirror that the legislature’s intent was clear.  Governor Malloy  DOES NOT have the authority to cut an agency budget by more than 10 percent.

The Office of Policy and Management disagrees and not only claims that it does have the authority but is actually implementing that authority.  In fact, the OPM undersecretary goes on to tell Phaneuf that they are not prepared to say what will happens if the agreement is approved.

His actual quote was “Right now we’re dealing with the reality of not having an agreement…We will revisit the budget in light of vacancies, retirements and other things if that has changed.”

That leaves us with two critical questions.

(1)  Are the Malloy Administration’s actions an illegal powers grab or was it an immoral delegation of duty by the General Assembly?

And knowing how government works in Connecticut it seems highly unlikely that the Malloy Administration discovered their new power and utilized it without telling anyone, so

(2) Did the Democratic leaders know the bill they were voting on gave Malloy this incredible power away and they didn’t tell their fellow legislators or did the Malloy Administration inform the leaders after the fact that they were interpreting the new law in this absurd and arguably illegal way and the Democratic Leaders remained silent in the face of that power grab.

Read Keith Phaneuf’s story here: http://ctmirror.org/story/13559/larger-dispute-looms-over-concession-vote

Update on Respite Care Centers: Another essential service “saved” as Malloy steps back

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(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

CTnewsjunkie has a must read article today – Respite Center Employees Get Reprieve http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/respite_center_employees_get_reprieve/

Last month Governor Malloy’s Administration sent layoff notices to all the employees who staff Connecticut’s eight respite care centers as part of his Plan B budget.

These centers provide respite care for developmentally disabled children and adults.

They are some of the most vital and essential support services that Connecticut state government funds.

Now the Malloy Administration has announced that those layoffs have been put on indefinite hold.

Although they claim that the delay is not related to the ongoing second union vote, the delay does allow these vital services to continue – for the time being.

Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Ben Barnes told CTNewsjunkie that while he didn’t know the details behind the decision to delay the respite care layoffs, he did say that the Malloy Administration was delaying a number of cuts and layoffs pending the outcome of the second union vote.

Over the last couple of weeks the Malloy Administration has announced that it would delay closing DMV regional offices, would not be ending the vo-tech high school athletic programs and would also hold off laying off the staff that runs the ferry boats that cross back and forth on the Connecticut River.

The underlying problem is that the Governor and Legislature had the moral and legal obligation to pass a balanced budget.

However, instead of hold off passing a budget until AFTER the state employee agreement was reached and approved, Malloy and the Democrats adopted and signed a budget into law that contained an unachievable $2 billion dollar concession package.

When the original SEBAC/Malloy proposed agreement failed to get the required 80 percent, instead of returning to the bargaining table and developing an agreement that could pass, the Governor decided to move forward with his Plan B budget.

Weeks later it still isn’t clear whether the Malloy Administration took this action because it wanted to “scare” the state employees or whether they actually thought Plan B was an acceptable alternative.

With the Administration delaying some of the cuts and the unions voting on a revised agreement there is a growing sense of hope that a reasonable conclusion can be achieved.

But then, just when there is some light at the end of the tunnel, OPM Secretary Ben Barns tells the CTNewsjunkie “We’re not backing down. We are fully prepared in the event that it’s not ratified to go through with the entirety of our plan.”

Go through with your entire Plan B budget?

Really?

Hasn’t this process taught you anything?

Shredding the safety net and cutting services to some of the most vulnerable people in our state is not an acceptable approach to governance.

Closing the respite centers was not only an inhumane proposal, but if even 10% of the families who utilize those services throw in the towel and move their loved ones into publicly funded group homes, the cost to taxpayers will be far greater.

The fact is – NO Democrat – especially the first Democrat to hold the Governor’s Office in 20 years should ever – ever – have proposed to close the Connecticut’s respite centers. (And no Democratic legislator should have allowed such a plan to go forward).

In the end a Plan B budget may not be needed, but if it is, the Democrats have a lot of work to do to improve the plan that is now on the table – and they all know – that there is a variety of alternatives to choose from including requiring the super rich to pay their fair share, closing corporate tax loop-holes that have been left in place, reducing municipal aid to the state’s wealthiest town, utilizing the surplus that is built into this budget or actually finding cuts that are less harmful.

“Tis Better To Look Good Than Be Good”

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(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

It is morning in America – or at least in Connecticut – as a “solution” to Connecticut’s immediate budget crisis takes shape.

SEBAC, the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, has voted to change its bylaws and allow for another vote on a clarified SEBAC/Malloy concession package.

The change means that going forward a state employee concession package will only need the support of a majority of state employees rather than the 80 percent super majority that was required under the old rules.

Governor Malloy proclaimed “It’s good news that the unions have changed their ratification process to one that respects the will of the majority,” and announced that he will be dispatching his lead negotiator, Mark Ojakian, to meet with SEBAC leaders to prepare “a clarified agreement that’s ready to be voted on by all state employees.”

Other Democratic elected officials, who had mysteriously disappeared from public view, scurried back into the lime-light with the news.

Democratic Speaker of the House Chris Donovan released a statement saying “This is the responsible course of action, as we look to avoid the terrible cuts and layoffs that would do so much harm to our state,”

Meanwhile, the top two Democrats in the State Senate, Don Williams and Martin Looney, issued their own statement calling the SEBAC action “the news Connecticut has been waiting on for weeks.”

Even Democratic State Senator Edith Prague, who had long been considered a strong labor supporter, piped in saying “I literally prayed for days for something like this to happen… Plan B, all of those layoffs, would have been a disaster for everyone,”

Earlier Prague had some of the harshest criticism for state employees following the failure of the initial agreement to get a sufficient number of votes to pass.

So, call it joy in Mudville as Connecticut’s politicians do high fives all the way around.

Governor Malloy succeeded, with the help of the Democratic Legislature and various media outlets such as the Hartford Courant, to vilify Connecticut’s state employees.

Even though the vast majority of state employees supported the biggest concession package in state history (a package that according to the Governor saved $1.6 billion over the next two years and more than $20 billion dollars over the next 20 years), Connecticut’s politicians were able to shift responsibility for their own failures onto the backs of Connecticut’s public employees.

Malloy explained the need for action on the unsustainable state employee pension and healthcare systems.

The truth is that those systems were the product of negotiated collective bargaining agreements between previous Democratic, Republican and Unaffiliated Governors and all were approved by Democratic or Republican dominated legislatures.

The $9 billion unfunded liability in the state’s pension fund and the $25 billion hole in the state employee post-retirement health care fund are exclusively the product of the state’s failure to set aside the money needed to fulfill those commitments.

That is not to say that changes weren’t necessary but imagine taking on a large mortgage, not making payments and then being angry when the bank showed up and said you are in deep trouble and at risk of losing the home. And we aren’t talking about a sub-prime mortgage sold to some illiterate applicant or not being able to make payments due to a job loss.

This was year after year of simply not making the necessary payments to fulfill the legal and moral obligation to do the right thing.

But all of that was lost in the noise when Governor Malloy framed the debate in February.

If the state employees did not come through with an unachievable concession package, he – the Governor – would be forced to shred the safety net and lay of thousands of state employees.

And let’s be honest. It was never a question of whether state employees were willing to make major concessions – both short-term and long-term.

From the beginning it was a political game to determine who would “take the fall” for the tax increases and budget cuts necessary to balance the budget.

That and, of course, a way to divert attention from the actions that were or were not being taken by the Governor and the Legislature.

For example, thanks to all of the excitement around the concession package few will remember that the underlying budget fails to require the rich to pay their fair share, makes the deepest cuts in history to our public colleges and universities, undermines our landmark campaign finance and ethics system and provides for an ill-conceived merger of our state university and community colleges systems that will lead to ending the state’s long-time policy that anyone can seek the knowledge and skills needed to succeed by attending one of Connecticut’s community colleges.

The majority of state employees will be relieved that a “solution” to the layoffs is at hand while a minority of state employees will be upset and feel they have been “had” by their union leadership and the system.

And meanwhile, the Governor and Legislature will claim victory.

True our elected officials had to mislead the public and bully the state employees, but as the saying goes – “Tis better to look good than be good”.

The Question: Will the General Assembly Meet its Moral Responsibility (or Not)

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(Cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

Call it a Stunning Case Study on the Failure of Connecticut’s Democratic State Legislature;

Back on July 1, 2011 the Connecticut House of Representatives and the State Senate voted to give Governor Malloy the super-authority he requested to make budget cuts without legislative approval.

To cover their tracks, they inserted language that read that “the speaker and the president pro tempore may refer [Malloy’s Plan] to the joint standing committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to appropriations and the budgets of state agencies. The committee may hold a public hearing regarding such provisions and submit its findings to the Speaker and president pro tempore not later than August 15, 2011. Not later than August 31, 2011, the General Assembly may call itself into special session and may enact legislation that adjusts expenditures for the biennium ending June 30, 2013, by an amount equal to the amount of modifications or reductions proposed in any such provision.”

As we now know, Governor Malloy is has submitted and is moving forward with a plan that “shreds the safety net”, cuts essential services and mocks the principles and ideals that serve as the Democratic Party’s core values.

Speaker Donovan and President Pro-Tempore Williams have referred that plan for a public hearing but there is no indication that a special session of the legislature will be called so that the people’s duly elected representatives can vote for, against or change Malloy’s plan.

Of course, by holding off a special session, Donovan and Williams ensure that the cuts are implemented making it that much harder to undo the damage of Malloy’s actions.

As to the notion of the double standard – – – Imagine if a Republican Governor was given this extraordinary authority by a Republican controlled legislature. Imagine what the Democrats would be saying if the state relied on a Republican Speaker of the House and a Republican President Pro Tempore to decide it was “necessary” for the Legislature to even meet to discuss the terrible cuts the Republican Governor was making.

I have no doubt we’d be see a Wisconsin like uprising among Democratic officials and Democratic constituencies.

Malloy’s plan is a disaster and it’s bad for Connecticut.

But what is even worse is the way the Democratic General Assembly has handled this crisis.

And what are the Democratic Legislative Leaders saying now?

They seem to be doing a pretty good job ducking the media.

In fact, it’s hard to find many comments in the media from any Democratic officials.

“Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said no one in his caucus likes any of the cuts proposed, but in the absence of a labor deal with state employees there isn’t much of a choice.” CT Newsjunkie 7/15/11

“Douglas Whiting, (Chris Donovan’s spokesperson) said that while “the speaker believes these cuts would do great harm to the state, he thinks the best and most responsible solution is for the governor and SEBAC (State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition) to find a way to reach an agreement.” CT Mirror 7/15/11

Observers will remember back in February when Malloy said that any shredding of the safety net would be the state employee’s fault.

Five months later and the Legislature’s two top Democrats – Donovan and Williams – are ensuring that Malloy’s unwarranted and unprecedented attack on Connecticut’s state employees is successful.

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