Willington Rest Stop Saved… But Connecticut’s Colleges and Public Finance Program Go Down Drain

(Hartford) – With less than 10 hours to go until the end of the Connecticut General Assembly 2011 Session, the Hartford Courant is reporting that the “Malloy administration’s plan to permanently close two I-84 rest areas in Willington on July 1 – on the way to closing all seven of Connecticut’s noncommercial rest areas on interstate highways in the next two years – will be scrapped and they will all stay open,” according to Democratic State Representative Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill.

Guerrera tells the Courant that the Legislature is poised to use their final hours to adopt language that will prevent the rest areas from being closed but even if the legislation is not passed before today’s adjournment, “the administration has assured me that the rest areas all will stay open.”

Apparently  the funds have been found not only to save the Willington rest stop but the other five rest areas as well.

The Chairman of the Transportation Committee went on to tell the Courant “I’m just happy to have worked this out with the administration.”

Unfortunately as of moments ago there was still no word that Governor Malloy or the Democrats in the Legislature were backing off their decision to implement the deepest budget cuts in history to Connecticut’s public colleges, nor their plans to undermine Connecticut’s Community College through a misguided merger program nor even their outrageous decision to lay off almost the entire investigation and audit operation of Connecticut Election Enforcement operation thereby destroying Connecticut’s landmark campaign finance program.

I guess it is a question of priorities because  Roy Occhiogrosso, Governor Malloy’s chief advisor, who had earlier said the Governor would not reconsider his decision to close the rest stops told the Courant, “Sometimes things change around here, and they change quickly…you have to be open to reasonable compromises right up until the end of the session.”

So there you go….

You can find the Courant story here:  http://www.courant.com/news/politics/hc-rest-areas-0609-20110608,0,1333639.story

A reminder about Malloy’s definition of “Shared Sacrifice”. The $24 million in new municipal revenue

A total of $15 million for the ten wealthiest towns, $1.6 million for the ten poorest towns

As the 2011 session of the Connecticut General Assembly comes to an end this coming Wednesday the Malloy Administration will remind us that the phrase that best describes this year’s session is “Shared Sacrifice”

Beginning with the ten times he used the word “sacrifice” in his February budget address, Governor Malloy has been pushing the concept that this budget is all about shared sacrifice. His point, over and over again, has been that we are balancing the Connecticut budget by asking everyone to sacrifice.

And there are a lot of sacrifices in this budget…

But lost in the rhetoric are some stunning examples of just how this Governor defines sacrifice.

First there was income tax proposal in which those making over $2 million a year are asked to pay just .02 percent more a year while the rest of us faced far greater percentage increases. This when the data shows that the wealthiest in Connecticut pay about 4.9% of their income in state and local taxes while those in the middle pay at least 10% of their income in state and local taxes.

Then there is the extraordinary example of Malloy’s plan to help Connecticut’s cities and towns.

While cutting deeply into a variety of programs, Governor Malloy not only maintained the level of municipal aid but proposed doubling the size of the municipal real estate conveyance tax as a way to provide cities and towns with a revenue stream that was separate and above what they received from their local property taxes and state grants.

The budget adopted by the Democrats in the General Assembly included this expanded tax.

While requiring those who sell their property to pay .5 percent of the sales price to their local municipality doesn’t immediately seem unfair, the truth becomes evident when you look at who actually benefits from Malloy’s proposal.

Starting July 1, 2011 – thanks to Governor Malloy and the Legislature’s Democrats – Connecticut’s ten wealthiest towns will share $15 million in new revenue from the expanded real estate conveyance tax.

The state’s ten poorest towns will share $1.6 million.

The benefit per person from Malloy’s plan?

The 203,000 people in the ten wealthiest towns will receive a benefit of $73 per person. All new money to help expand local services or allow the town to cut their local property tax rate.

Meanwhile, the 653,000 people who live in the ten poorest towns will receive a benefit of $2.45 per person providing those communities with no meaningful help in preserving services or cutting taxes.

The Governor and the Democrats could have increased the state portion of the real estate conveyance tax which would have raised a similar amount of money but would have distributed those funds based on need.

Instead, the rich got a break on their income taxes while Connecticut’s wealthiest towns will get an unlooked-for windfall.

Yes, the 2011 Legislative Session may have been about sacrifice but it certainly wasn’t a definition of shared sacrifice that most of us would recognize.

Governor Malloy, Speaker Donovan and President Williams Solve Connecticut’s Budget Problems

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

Last night Governor Malloy’s press office released a statement that the Governor and Democratic legislative leaders had come up with a plan to eliminate the $400 million deficit in the state’s upcoming budget.

The Governor capped off the victory by saying “As promised, we’ve maintained our commitment to municipal aid, preserved the safety net and we have not asked for additional taxes.”

Instead the three leaders agreed to additional spending cuts and using higher than anticipated revenue to fill the hole.

And just in case the state employees forget to fulfill their role, Governor Malloy added “The only thing that needs to happen now is for the SEBAC agreement to be ratified in a timely fashion. If it isn’t, we’re back to Plan B – something I don’t think anyone wants.”

Speaker Donovan, now a candidate for Congress, jumped on board saying “Once again, Governor Malloy has kept his promises.”

President Pro Tempore Don Williams backed up the Governor’s threat to state employees saying “We encourage state employees to ratify the SEBAC agreement so we can avoid the draconian budget alternatives that would undermine Connecticut’s economic recovery.”

Their plan to eliminate the $400 million deficit includes “saving” $52 million in what they say are over budgeted allotments to the state retiree healthcare accounts well as cutting $7 million dollars from various workers compensation funds since apparently those won’t be needed as well.

The most interesting piece of all is that the Democratic leaders agreed to cut over $14 million from the State Department of Education’s Interdistrict Cooperation Fund.

Apparently, despite the Connecticut Supreme Court’s rulings that separate and unequal education is unconstitutional, the state’s leaders have determined that we can reduce funding for the programs that are designed to give students the opportunities to attend more desegregated public schools.

Of the $400 million mini-budget plan, my personal favorite it their claim that they have “not asked for additional taxes” to balance the budget.

In fact, since Connecticut’s gas tax #2 is tied to the price of gasoline, the recent spike in gas prices has netted the state $70 million more than was expected and that has come in just the last few months.  Since state government is unwilling to cap this regressive tax, higher gas prices will mean more and more money pours into the state’s general fund and politicians can say with a smile “we have not asked for additional taxes.”

Correct, because the taxes are just growing “without being asked.”

Good one  huh?

You can read more at CTNewsjunkie:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/400_million_budget_gap_to_be_filled_primarily_with_surplus_funds/

A Giant Step in Connecticut’s Race to the Bottom…

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

Hidden behind the shadows of this year’s state budget debate is a growing set of actions that will do more damage to Connecticut’s future than anything we’ve seen during this Great Recession.

Connecticut’s fundamental truth is that our most precious natural resource is our people and the only economic development strategy that will work is to ensure that we have the most educated, knowledgeable and capable workforce in the nation and the world in order to successfully compete in the 21st Century global marketplace.

As we lose our educational edge to southern and midwestern states, not to mention China and India, we are seeing a disaster of unparalleled proportions taking shape – a disaster that will make the Rust Belt and its failed manufacturing economy almost look good.

While the debate about taxes and state employee concessions makes headlines, few realize that the state budget Governor Malloy proposed and the Democratically-controlled legislature enacted will make the deepest cuts to our public colleges and universities in state history.

In the coming days, the General Assembly will hide inside a so called “implementer bill” an authorization for a massive re-organization of the Connecticut State University System and Connecticut’s Community and Technical Colleges – a planned merger that fails to consider for what is best for our colleges and more than 100,000 students who attend them.

A story in yesterday’s edition of the CT Mirror offers us a glimpse into the devastating impact these decisions will have on our public institutions of higher education.

As a direct result of Governor Malloy’s budget cuts and policies being championed by the Governor and his Commissioner of Higher Education, Connecticut’s community colleges are on the verge of ending their historic policy of “open enrollment”, a policy that assures that anyone, regardless of background or economic standing has the opportunity to attend one of our state’s community colleges as they seek to acquire the knowledge and
skills to succeed.

Stop for a moment and understand what is taking place.

The Malloy Administration is implementing a change in policy that would take us from a state in which every person has a right to expand their skills and advance their education to one in which, as Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti said, the state must focus resources on those who have a real chance of benefiting from taking courses.

The CTMirror article reports that “Meotti said that Connecticut should reconsider offering access to post-secondary education to those who are destined to fail. Three of every four students who enter the community college system lack basic knowledge in math, English and reading and are
required to take remedial courses upon entry into a community college, according to the State Department of Higher Education.”

Meotti adds in his own words that these “are students who are so not ready and have no ability to be successful in a college classroom,”

Wait?  What?

The Democratic Commissioner of Higher Education, serving under a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Legislature, in a state
with the highest achievement gap of any nation, a place that can only succeed if we have a well trained workforce says that our community colleges should be reserved for those who are destined to succeed?

We aren’t talking about entrance to Yale or even UConn (although remember George W. Bush went to Yale and his academic skills certainly didn’t predict his “success”).  We are talking about ability to attend on of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges, institutions whose primary role is not to provide academic degrees but to ensure that every person has the opportunity to learn and grow and strengthen their skill set so they can build a better quality of life for themselves, their families and their community.

Imagine if what Meotti said was uttered by someone like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Eric Cantor or Paul Ryan.  Demonstrators in Connecticut would take to the streets decrying their elitist, arrogant positions and suggesting that it was based on some inherent classism or racism.

A claim that only some people are “destined to succeed”?

Certainly Mike Meotti isn’t racist but the policies he is pushing would have devastating consequences on those who need a little more help because they are coming out of failing schools or don’t have the life experiences or network to ensure that they will absolutely “succeed” in college.  Let’s face it, minorities, women, those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds will all be disproportionately hurt by these proposed policies.

And these are just the words of Malloy’s point person on higher education.

As the CTMirror points out, Governor Malloy himself “has a plan to decrease the high use of the state’s community colleges for remedial coursework.”

And the Governor added “We want to draw down [the number of] students who are having to use their time and energy” on remedial courses, he said. “That’s probably the best way to get at this problem.”

One assumes that the Governor is expecting that Connecticut’s public high schools can improve student performance to the point that students graduate with the fundamental skills they need to be successful in college.  However, the challenges facing our schools, especially those in urban areas, schools that will be producing 40% of Connecticut workforce, are significant and improvements will take years, even decades, to fully implement. In the mean time, Malloy’s proposed approach would mean tens of thousands of Connecticut residents would be shut out from the opportunity to go to a community college to acquire additional education and skills.  Hardly the appropriate path to take if we want a stronger economy, not to mention a more equitable and just society.

Instead of ending open enrollment in our community colleges, how about we actually throw the doors wide open and use our scarce resources to give these students the tools they need to succeed, even if they need some remedial work before taking some of the more advanced courses.

How about we don’t cut $20 million dollars from the most efficient and effective part of Connecticut’s system of higher education, our community colleges.

What if we remembered that not everyone begins or even finishes their primary and secondary school experiences with the same set of skills and capabilities, but every person, old or young, white or black, man or woman, rich or poor can always learn and improve their skills as they seek to position themselves to succeed.

And Instead of simply talking about jobs, how about we actually do something to ensure we have a broad based, multi-talented workforce that is prepared for the jobs our businesses will need… oh and Governor, some of those jobs aren’t in state of the art research labs but still require skills beyond what people are getting in high school.

But most importantly, where are the voices of reason on this vital issues?

Why the silence from members of the Legislature’s Black and Latino Caucus and other legislators representing communities whose constituents will be especially hurt by the politics Malloy and Meotti are moving forward with?

Where are the more progressive legislators who claim to truly believe that everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed, not just those who have been born with opportunities dropped into their laps?

Where are the women legislators who understand the barriers that are in place for women trying to return to the job market and how some courses, even if they don’t end up in an Associate Degree, can be the difference between finding and not finding safe, quality work?

Where are those policy makers who were the first in their family to attend college or at least recognize that first time college attendees might very well need – and certainly deserve – some extra help as they work to change the course of their lives?

Where is Connecticut’s business community who complain so bitterly that they don’t have access to enough educated workers, even to the point of needing to import workers from other states and countries?  These economic times are hard enough for Connecticut’s businesses without having our state leaders implement policies that will ensure we don’t have an educated enough workforce as we move deeper into the 21st Century.

And where are the editorial writers whose job it is to speak out on important issues like this?

As Governor Malloy and the General Assembly careen toward the last day of the 2011 legislative session, Connecticut’s future doesn’t rest with how the FY12 budget drama plays out.  Connecticut’s future will depend on whether the Democratic Legislature has the vision, courage and wherewithal to put the brakes on Malloy’s disastrous higher education policies so that they can return next year with a plan that builds, not destroys Connecticut’s most important economic development tool – our colleges and universities.

Watch this issue carefully in the coming day.  How the General Assembly handles Malloy’s efforts to undermine Connecticut’s community colleges will say a lot about their character and dedication to Connecticut’s future.

Fake State Budget “Surplus“ goes from $680 million to $34 million in a blink of an eye…

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

Back on one of my favorite issues….

Over the past few months most of Connecticut’s elected officials (and many in the media) have celebrated Connecticut’s growing state surplus.

Republicans, in turn, were blasting the Democrats for raising taxes when the state had a surplus and Democratic legislators have been talking about using the extra funds to reduce the extent of the budget cuts.

Intentionally (or unintentionally) what all of these people failed to reveal was the this year’s budget (FY11) was “balanced” with a plan to borrow $956 million. A loan that was scheduled to be paid off by maintaining a surcharge on electricity bills.

But interestingly, even though the budget was approved last summer, and that officials often worry about the State’s cash flow, the State Treasurer never borrowed the money to pay for this year’s budget.

One might think that it fact would mean that it would be reported that without that borrowing the state was actually facing an almost $1 billion dollar deficit, but since the budget authorized the borrowing, it was always reported that the budget was “balanced” and any new revenue was reported as a growing “surplus”.

Now Governor Malloy is proposing to NOT borrow the money to balance this year’s budget and instead he wants to use this year’s “surplus” to pay this year’s expenses.  The move saves the cost of borrowing and saves the far more significant cost of the interest on that loan.  It could even mean the surcharge on electric bills could be reduced.

All of this would be great news except that Governor Malloy’s plan uses up all but about $34 million of the recently reported $680 million state budget surplus and this places a significant limitation on how the State is going to deal with the $300 million dollar deficit in the budget that the Democrats approved and the Governor signed into law a couple of weeks ago.

$300 million dollar deficit in the new budget?

Remember that Governor Malloy had assured legislators that his state employee concession plan would save an unachievable $1 billion
dollars. Senate President Don Williams and other leaders said they too were sure the agreement would save the billion dollars so Democrats, in turn, adopted a budget that included the full billion in concession savings.

When the Malloy/SEBAC agreement was later announced it turned out that it “saved” $1.6 billion over two years and only $700 million in the first year. (not to mention the fact that some of the $1.6 billion in savings is a tag unlikely).

The agreement, therefore, left at least a $300 million dollar deficit in the state budget for next year.

Malloy has talked about closing that gap with a combination of additional budget cuts and using some of the “revenue growth”.

However, with the surplus gone, we can rest assured he will focus on additional budget cuts and as of now it isn’t even clear the legislature will have the opportunity or take the initiative to vote on where those cuts will be made.

Not good news considering $300 million in additional cuts would require about 50% more cuts than has already been made to next year’s budget.

A state surplus of $680 million disappears in a day?

This must be Connecticut.

Malloy Ramps Up His Psychological War on State Employees

REVISED AND UPDATED  (cross-posted from Pelto’s Point at the New Haven Advocate)

The ugly truth facing Connecticut became increasingly apparent Wednesday as Governor Malloy signed into law a new state budget that is $2 billion out of balance.

A budget that from the very beginning was designed to fail while making Connecticut’s public employees the scapegoats for the state’s fiscal problems.

Over the last 48 hours, relying on unachievable concessions from Connecticut’s state employees, Democratic Legislators approved Governor Malloy’s plan that will eventually lead to massive cuts to vital services.

Rather than confront that truth and raise sufficient revenue or identify and approve additional cuts the Democratic majority held fast to the lie that $2 billion in concessions could be achieved.

However, with only 45,000 active state employees, a legal impediment to reducing the benefits provided to retirees and a legacy of underfunding Connecticut’s state employee pension and health care costs it is literally impossible to achieve a $2 billion concessions package that would survive the negotiation and approval process.

Now, with the budget approved, this twisted approach to governing moves forward as the Governor announces that tomorrow he will issue 4,000 lay-off notices and that “everything is on the table” for additional cuts.

The magnitude of the budget lie is becoming apparent.

4,000 Connecticut state employees and their families now wait in fear for the news that their lives will be plunged into chaos as they are thrown into the world of unemployment during the greatest economic downturn of the past 50 years.

Adding insult to injury, laying off 4,000 employees will not only impact the quality and availability of important state services but it will only “save” the state about $300 million leaving a hole of at least $700 million in the coming year’s budget.

According to the Governor’s rhetoric, this “deficit” will only be eliminated through additional cuts rather than additional revenues – despite the fact that the new budget gave Connecticut’s super wealthy a pass on being required to pay their fair share in taxes.

Cutting $700 million more on top of the record cuts that have already been adopted will have a profound and devastating impact on Connecticut’s most essential services.  The quality of life for tens of thousands, including some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens is now at risk because legislators would not face the reality that they were voting on a fraudulent budget plan.

Meanwhile, like so many politicians around the country, Governor Malloy continues to blame this impending disaster on public employees as he ramps up a game of psychological warfare to force concessions and set the stage for cuts in services that can then be blamed on the state’s workers.

And as this horrible strategy plays out there is nothing but silence from Connecticut’s Democratic officeholders.

Imagine if Pratt & Whitney announced 4,000 layoffs.

No, better yet, think back to the times that Pratt has announced layoffs of far fewer employees.  Rallies with Democratic politicians on the picket line calling for investigations, demanding meetings and charging that the company is engaged in union busting.

But now when the shoe is on the other foot and a Democratic CEO who is unfairly targeting employees….Silence.

Hypocrites!

Connecticut’s new state budget – A commentary on our times

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

As Democratic legislators circle the wagons to vote for Connecticut’s proposed budget, not one of them admits that while the Republican’s alternatives are wrong, this budget could have – and should have – been better.

This “Democratic Budget” unfairly targets state employees, fails to force the super wealthy to pay their fair share and makes record cuts to our colleges and universities.

After reading the coverage of the debate in the State Senate last night you’d think this budget was a “victory” and it is not.

The most telling statement of all comes in the form of the press release put out by the Senate Democratic leadership who validate and celebrate their
budget vote by pointing out;

“No wonder the budget framework has been endorsed by business leaders from across the state, including the Fairfield County Business Council, Bridgeport Business Council, and the CEO’s of some of Greater Hartford largest companies, such as Aetna, UTC, and CIGNA,” said Senator Williams and Looney.

Has it come to that?   The proof that something is good public policy is because America’s biggest CEOs say it is…

A final note.  The Democrats seem particularly proud that they are not only maintaining but actually expanding municipal aid as a way to support local services and keep local property taxes under control.  What they fail to point out is that since the additional funds are based on the expanded
real estate conveyance tax this budget will give the wealthy town of Greenwich $12.5 million dollars more while Manchester, a struggling city of comparable size, will receive about $1.5 million more —- 10% of what Greenwich will get.

A budget that coddles those making more than $2 million dollars a year while placing an even greater burden on the middle class and increases
municipal funds for Greenwich over Manchester at a rate approaching 10-1 is not a good and fair budget.

Even if the CEOs of America’s biggest companies say it is.