NU/CL&P: Heads they win – Tails you lose…

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[For those of you who want a break from reading about “education reform” here’s one for you. It is long and “rambling” but I think you will find it interesting].

It was a riddle.  A really big riddle.

Why didn’t Northeast Utilities say a word when the Malloy Administration announced a plan last summer that would reduce the company’s revenue by more than $60 million?

Back during the harsh winter of 2010-2011a record 118,000 Connecticut households received government-funded financial help with their winter heating bills.

Then, late last summer, faced with the proposed federal budget cut to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Governor Malloy’s administration proposed a new plan for helping people who could not afford to pay their heating bills during the upcoming winter of 2011-2012.

Malloy’s plan was to provide financial aid to about 37,000 households that used oil to heat their homes leaving approximately 80,000 families with no heating assistance whatsoever. The unfortunate 80,000 households that were set to receive no heating assistance were the households that used electric or gas to heat their homes – and nearly all of those lived in major urban areas.

According to Malloy’s budget chief, Ben Barnes, the administration’s approach was to devote the limited funds to those who used oil to heat because Connecticut state law mandated that electric and gas companies cannot shut off utilities for non-payment between Nov. 1 and May 1. More

Legislature Steps Up: Rejects Malloy’s Heating Assistance Plan

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Last night, after hours of testimony about the impact Malloy’s inhumane heating assistance plan would have; the Connecticut Legislature showed real leadership and said enough is enough and rejected his plan.

The plan they did adopt doesn’t go far enough and Malloy and the Legislature will have to return to this issue before the winter is over but it was an important first step.

There is much more to be said about this development but start with these two  news stories for the latest;

CTNewsjunkie: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/three_legislative_committees_change_malloys_heating_assistance_plan/

CTMirror:  http://ctmirror.org/story/14033/liheap-hearing

 

Does Connecticut have an independent Legislative Branch or Not? Today is a Test

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At 3pm today, 56 or so Democratic members of the Connecticut General Assembly will be joining with their Republican colleagues to approve or reject Governor Malloy’s plan to slash the number of Connecticut residents getting heating assistance from 117,000 to 36,000.

The Malloy Administration’s plan is to pass on 100% of the federal cut in heating assistance to Connecticut’s poorest citizens.

The Governor says that there are simply no available state funds in this year’s $20 billion dollar to budget to help these people pay their heating bills.

No available funds despite the fact that a couple of weeks ago the Executive Branch found an extra $15 million thanks to the work of the Treasurer’s Office.

No available funds despite the fact that there are tens of millions extra in certain line items such as the budget to pay for retiree health benefits.

No available funds despite the fact that there is an $80 million dollar surplus built into this year’s budget and a $546 million surplus in next year’s budget.

No available funds despite the fact that while state employees are facing wage freezes and reduced benefits, thousands of high paid managers will get millions in new longevity bonuses later this week.

No available funds despite the fact that the size and salaries of the Governor’s personal staff has grown substantially and that the highest paid employee in the Governor’s Office is not even his  Chief of Staff but his PR advisor at $160,000 – $10,000 more than the Governor receives.

The Malloy Administration has been clear – if nothing else – tens of thousands of our neighbors must go without state supported heating assistance this winter and his rationale is that at least they won’t freeze to death because the utility companies cannot shut off their electricity and gas until May 2012.

At 3 p.m. today the members of the Appropriations, Human Service and Energy Committees will be holding a joint hearing and immediate vote on Governor Malloy’s incredible and inhumane proposal.  Legislators will vote to approve or reject this plan.

If rejected the Governor will have to develop an alternative plan.

It is nothing short of the clearest most concise test of how the democratically elected members of the Connecticut General Assembly perceive their role.

Will they overlook the facts and the truth and cut off heating assistance to some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable, infirm and elderly citizens or will then stand up and tell the Governor to find the funds necessary to maintain this most vital and essential
of programs.

Call your legislators and find out how they intend to vote or check back later for a list of how people voted.

If we must, we must… And we can (one last look at the heating assistance issue)

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[Apologies to those who felt my flurry of posts about the cuts to Connecticut’s heating assistance program were over the top.  Obviously I feel very strongly about this one and I want to return – “one last time” – to this pressing issue.  However, for those who are tired of hearing about it, please feel free to skip this post]

Of course, one must be carefully when using numbers and statistics, but the basic facts are these;

Connecticut’s per capita income is about $56,000, while the per capita income in the US is about $33,000;

Luxemburg’s is $38,000, Switzerland’s $37,000; Japan and Norway come in with per capita incomes of about $35,000.

If Connecticut was its own country it would be one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Yet despite that wealth almost one in ten Connecticut residents lives below the federal poverty level and in some of our urban centers the number of people living in poverty exceeds 30 percent or more. (For a two-parent household with two children, the poverty level was $21,200 in 2008.)

With such wealth and such poverty, the challenge facing Connecticut, yet again, is the point Hubert Humphrey often made when he pointed out that “the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped. “

When it comes to this heating assistance issue, the underlying factors are two-fold:

(1) Washington vs. the States and (2) can Connecticut afford to make up the difference with the heating
assistance program if it has to.

Number #1:  Washington vs. the States:

As a result of the massive cuts that are taking place at the federal level, states will be increasingly forced to deal with the corresponding reduction in vital and essential services.  Obama’s proposed cut to heating assistance is cruel and unfathomable but it is a drop in the bucket compared to what will be taking place in the coming years.

While Connecticut media coverage about the impending heating assistance crisis is finally increasing, a recent Connecticut Post editorial revealed that there remains a fundamental lack of appreciation about the dire nature of this problem.

The Connecticut Post Editorial wrote “Gov. Dannel P. Malloy should have a simple answer for anyone who doesn’t like his plan to restructure home heating aid this winter:  Talk to the White House.”

The CT Post added “It was President Obama, not Malloy, who recommended a plan that will leave Connecticut with less than $50 million for the coming winter from a federal assistance program after the state spent more than $115 million last year. The shortfall can mean only one thing — people in need will go without.”

Yes, of course calls should be going to Washington and late yesterday Malloy’s press office put out a press release entitled “GOV. MALLOY JOINS NEW ENGLAND GOVERNORS TO URGE LEVEL-FUNDING FOR HOME HEATING ASSISTANCE.”

But that “solution” begs the question.

The federal government is polarized, dysfunctional and broken.  To make matters worse, those in Washington will spend the comings months fighting over how to cut trillions more from the federal budget.  It would be great if Washington came through with the $5 billion in funding for the Low
Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), but the immediate question facing Connecticut is what happens if it doesn’t.

(2) Can Connecticut afford to make up the difference in LIHEAP energy assistance funding if necessary.

Governor Malloy’s approach takes the position that Connecticut can’t and won’t make up the difference in funding if that becomes necessary.

The Governor plans to use all of the remaining energy assistance funds to support those who heat with oil, leaving no public support for those who heat with electricity or gas.

As discussed in earlier posts, Malloy’s plan is try to prevent people who use oil from freezing to death while relying on a state law preventing utility companies from shutting off services during the winter months as the best way to keep the 80,000 low income families who received heating assistance last year from freezing this year.

As noted, the problem with Malloy’s strategy is that it will mean tens of thousands will lose their utilities when May 1st rolls around – the date which utility companies can start shutting people off for non-payment.

The Malloy administration’s claim is that there just aren’t available funds to help all of those in need.

But that simply isn’t true.

The two-year budget that Malloy proposed and the Legislature approved during the summer includes a combined surplus of over $550 million dollars and that number assumes no further revenue growth (even
though revenue has been growing in some key categories).

For example, Connecticut’s second gas tax – the gross receipts tax that is charged on the wholesale price of gasoline – continues to bring in more and more revenue as a result of the record gasoline prices.

In addition, the existing projected surplus doesn’t even count the tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions that are hidden in various line items including the account that pays for retiree health benefits.

Just a few weeks ago, the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management reported to the State Comptroller that two state agencies were running at least $15 million over budget but that it wouldn’t affect the bottom line because a new $15 million had been found thanks to activities in the State Treasurer’s Office.

When all is said and done three committees of the Connecticut General Assembly will be required to
approve or reject Malloy’s heating assistance plan next week (September 27, 2011).

Considering the factors outlined above, I believe it will be the most important vote they will be taking this year.