Monday, February 28, 2005

Naugatuck Primary: It's Getting Dirty

There is a delightfully fun race going on down in Naugatuck, where recent Republican Curtis Bosco is facing off against semi-local crank Peter Jurzynski for the Democratic mayoral nomination.

Primary day is now only a week away.

Some highlights from a recent article in the Waterbury Republican-American:

Jurzynski criticized Bosco's involvement in Naugatuck politics as evidence that he is part of a small "political clique" that has run Naugatuck for years without regard to party loyalty or the involvement of "ordinary citizens."

Jurzynski has made the "clique" claim about every opponent he has faced since his election to to the Springfield City Council in 1979.
Jurzynski repeated his attack on Bosco's Democratic credentials on several fronts: that Bosco was registered as a Republican for several years and switched from the Republican party so late that he can't vote in next Monday's primary, and that he supported Mayor Ron San Angelo in the 2003 election.
"I see Naugatuck like no other politician's ever seen Naugatuck," Jurzynski said.

If you ask Bosco, that means once every two years. His mailer calls Jurzynski a "no-show" in Naugatuck.

Jurzynski acknowledges that he has spent long periods out of town, but because he has to make a living. He has worked as school teacher in New York City and Boston, a senior center director in Stoneham, Mass., and a deputy commissioner of elderly affairs in Boston.

Yes, it's all here, folks. The crazy mudslinging, the snarky local journalist, the bizarre background (ex-Republican vs. occasional resident for Democratic nomination)... What's not to like?

Of course, the primary next Monday means little. Jurzynski is already on the ballot for May's municipal election as an independent candidate, which is fortunate as he has never actually won any of the mayoral primaries he's forced in Naugatuck. In fact, he's drawing fewer and fewer voters each time.

We have to thank Jurzynski and Bosco for giving us a spot of entertainment in an otherwise boring May election cycle.

Source: Dalena, Doug. "Mud starts to fly in Naugatuck". Waterbury Republican-American. 28 February 2005.
(I suggest you read the article if you're seeing this today. The Rep-am's site is awful, but the article is worth it.)

Special Election set for Tuesday

83rd House District to replace Abrams

83rd District

On Tuesday the voters in the 83rd House District will vote for a new state representative, following the resignation of Rep. James Abrams in January.

The candidates are Democrat Catherine Abercrombie and Republican Robert Clermont, who has served on the Meriden city council for four years. Abercrombie has never held public office before, although she has been involved with several citywide institutions.

Both candidates are from Meriden.

The 83rd district was not contested by a Republican in 2004. Abrams, who has served in the House since 1994, said his resignation was because of a desire to return to private life, but there have been rumors that he wants to be a state judge.

Abrams was a member of the committee considering the impeachment of Gov. Rowland last year.

So what's going to happen? The 83rd District is in towns that are usually reliably Democratic, but traditionally low turnout means that special elections can get pretty wacky. The weather is another factor. Tomorrow's predicted snowstorm may keep even the most stubborn of voters away from the polls. There are 13,000 registered voters in the district: the election may draw less than a thousand.

In short, anyone could win. Meriden and Berlin's usual voting habits suggest that the seat will stay Democratic, but in a special election with no incumbent, anything can happen. I'll post returns as soon as they become available.

"Balloting To Fill Vacant House Seat". Hartford Courant 26 February 2005.
"State Representative to Step Down Wednesday". Associated Press 4 January 2005.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Sullivan Criticizes Rell at Budget Hearing

Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan criticized Gov. Rell and her budget yesterday at a public hearing of the appropriations committee.

At issue was the cost-of-living adjustment for workers at nonprofit organizations hired by the state:

When Rell proposed her $31 billion, two-year budget earlier this month, she said she did the best she could to preserve the social safety net. She did not include the back-to-back 4.5 percent cost-of-living raises that nonprofit organizations expected through a new "indexing" law that requires raises for workers under nonprofit contracts to equal raises given state union employees.

Instead, Rell proposed a 4 percent increase next fiscal year and no cost of living adjustment the year after that to the nonprofit organizations hired by the state.

The nonprofits claim that they will be forced to cut services, which will then force people into state-run programs, thereby increasing the burden on the taxpayer.

So... if nonprofit workers make 4% more next year than this, then make the same amount the year after that... services need to be cut? I don't follow.

The article is unfortunately unclear on whether employees belonging to state unions are indeed getting 4.5% raises for each of the next two years. That may be true, and if it is then the nonprofits are really over a barrel. Nonprofits can't be expected to come up with that money on their own, and the "indexing" law is quite fair.

This could also be posturing for Sullivan, who is expected to run for governor next year. In fact, I expect it's a little of both. Sullivan has been on the record criticizing Rell more than any other public official, portraying himself as the defender of municipalities and now nonprofit organizations.

Let's see if he can deliver for them. If so, it will be a relief to already stretched-thin nonprofit groups... and a nice boost for his prospective campaign next year.

Source Leukhardt, Bill. "Rell's Budget Criticized At Public Hearing". Hartford Courant 25 February 2005.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Judge Dismisses Westfarms Suit

Mall has No Standing to Challenge Blue Back Sqare Referendum

Frankly, I'm surprised they weren't laughed out of court.

Judge Kevin E. Booth, of Superior Court in Hartford, granted the town's motion to dismiss a lawsuit that Westfarms filed last year alleging that West Hartford exceeded its authority in approving the retail, residential and entertainment center.

My question? If the town and the voters don't have the authority to approve a plan to develop a parcel of land in West Hartford... who does? Westfarms Mall (which isn't even entirely in West Hartford--the J.C. Penney's is in Farmington)?

The mall had claimed that its taxes would rise (?) and that its economic value would decrease. Thankfully:

...Booth ruled that competition is not a basis for winning standing to press the lawsuit.

It's pathetic, really. I remember driving around before the referendum and hearing ads against the Blue Back project on WTIC-AM. Invariably, those ads were funded by Westfarms.

This was a stupid move on the part of the mall. I can't imagine that their investors have much confidence in them anymore.

Source: Puleo, Tom and Daniella Altimari. "Westfarms Suit Dismissed". Hartford Courant 24 February 2005.

Civil Unions Approved by Judiciary Committee

Measure is one step closer to becoming law

In a move that surprised few and satisfied none, the State Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday approved a civil unions measure by a wide margin. The bill must pass the House and the full Senate before it gets to the desk of Gov. Rell, but most seem to be predicting that it will succeed.

There are two groups currently opposing the measure: social conservatives (religious groups, etc.) who see it as one more step towards gay marriage and social liberals (groups like Love Makes a Family) who see the measure as inadequate and halfhearted. Both are correct. Civil unions are indeed one step on the road to full marriage rights for gays, and, as such, they are imperfect and unequal.

But for now, they are necessary. Here's the view I think puts it best:

Several lawmakers contrasted Love Makes a Family's all-or-nothing approach with the incremental pace of social change.

"That's how we do things up here, we take things one step at a time," said Rep. Themis Klarides, a Republican from Derby who supports civil unions. (Altimari)

This is wise. Social conservatives must face the facts: gay marriage will be a reality within the next quarter century. There will never be a federal constitutional amendment against it and so slowly, state by state, it will come to pass. The watershed will probably be a Supreme Court ruling against the blatently unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

But social liberals must face the fact that huge segments of the population are incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of gay marriage. They see it as a threat to their way of life and to families. These opinions may be neither well-informed or open-minded, but they exist nonetheless and must be reckoned with.

So moving forward in the direction of gay marriage is important, but it is just as important to move slowly and carefully. Society changes but slowly, and trying to force social change inevitably leads to backlash. Case in point? Look around. What are we living in now but the backlash against the violent and sudden social revolutions of the 1960s?

So let's be smart and move forward slowly, coaxing and cajoling the unwilling citizen at a reasonable pace down this road.

As for the bill itself, there is no reason why it ought not to pass. Social conservatives on the committee made no headway with proposals to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, or a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. This bodes well for the future of the bill, and so far Gov. Rell has expressed no desire to stop the measure herself.

Patience, everybody. Social conservatives, you'll hopefully come to see that civil unions do not in fact pose a threat to society, and social liberals will see the wisdom of moving with care.

source Altimari, Daniela. "Legislators Back Same-Sex Unions". Hartford Courant 24 February 2005.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Supreme Court to hear Kelo v. New London

Eminent Domain for Private Development the Issue

The Supreme Court today will hear the landmark case of Kelo v. New London. At issue is whether the city of New London can seize the neighborhood of Fort Trumbull through eminent domain in order for a private developer to build a hotel, convention center and condominiums.

The issue at stake is whether eminent domain can be used for private development. The public-private New London Development Corp., which is spearheading the drive to "revitalize" New London, says yes. The remaining citizens of Fort Trumbull say no. If you are from or familiar with this area of the state, you probably know the story pretty well.

So... will the public benefit from the redevelopment of Fort Trumbull? It depends on who you mean by "the public". Theoretically, the plan will bring a windfall of tax revenue into the city, which will lead to better roads, schools and services. So the ordinary citizens of New London may benefit, if all goes as planned, but they will obviously not benefit as much as the developer and the NLDC. Also, the facilities being built are not in any sense "public" (with the possible exception of the convention center).

There are two issues here:
1. Poor/lower middle class people are being kicked out of their homes for a private development that will only tangentially benefit them. Here's a blatent example of the gentrification plans the NLDC has:

“They have over 90 acres now,” Kelo said. “It’s more than enough room to build on. We never said they can’t build. We just said ‘We want to stay.’ ”

But Kelo’s apricot-colored house, with a decorative outhouse in the front yard and wind chimes made of silverware, doesn’t fit in the city’s development plans.

“They just would not be compatible with all the other uses,” said Edward O’Connell, an attorney representing the New London Development Corp., the quasi-public agency behind the redevelopment effort. (Apuzzo)

Poorer houses and neighborhoods don't fit with the city's plans. This, apart from simply being snobbish, is also terrible development. It's better to work with what you have rather than destroying it to gamble on something new. Convention centers, like ballparks, are not magic bullets. Their impact on the local economy can be negligible, especially if no conventions come. Today, when every city large and small has a convention hall, this is a very real possibility.

2. This is a reckless abuse of government power. The government shouldn't be seizing homes to further private development. Locke argued that one of the fundamental purposes of government was to protect private property; this is clearly in stark opposition to that principle! Whether the public good will be served by razing Fort Trumbull is questionable at best; this should clearly not fall under the Fifth Amendment's eminent domain clause.

Liberals and conservatives alike should be wary of this attempted land grab, and the Supreme Court ruling, if there is one, will be a landmark.

Apuzzo, Matt. "Conn. residents fight eminent domain law". Associated Press 20 February 2005.
Moran, Kate. "‘It's Hard To Believe We've Come This Far'". New London Day 22 February 2005.

Monday, February 21, 2005

New Haven: Asset or Albatross for DeStefano?

Interesting article in the Courant today about John DeStefano and the Yalies he depends on to run and fund his campaign. Some telling moments:

Last spring, John DeStefano Jr. swapped his gas-guzzling SUV for a hip hybrid-electric car. It was a small step toward cleaner air for New Haven, but a big leap forward for his campaign for governor.
DeStefano has long looked to Yale University and its pool of graduates for help running city hall and energizing his campaigns. He's counting on them again as he repackages himself as a progressive Democrat with higher ambitions.

Both these quotes illustrate one of DeStefano's major problems: no one yet knows what he stands for. Is he an enviromentalist liberal? A pragmatic administrator? A zealous reformer? An advocate for radical change?

We can also see from the story what looks to be the major theme of his campaign: He Turned New Haven Around:

DeStefano contrasted the city he inherited more than a decade ago with the city he presides over today: one of falling crime, recovering schools and a growing middle class.

He's going to have to sell that hard, and hope it doesn't backfire. Most Connecticut citizens have a negative view of New Haven. This is not solely New Haven's fault, our cities are generally viewed very negatively. Therefore, since New Haven is what DeStefano is running on, look for other Democrats to run right at him on the issue. It is very easy to play on people's fears of the city and reinforce the belief that it is dank, unsafe and unlivable.

DeStefano and his Yalies had better start working now to dispel that myth statewide.
Source: Martineau, Kim. "New Haven's DeStefano Taps Into Yale Activism." Hartford Courant 21 February 2005.

Friday, February 18, 2005

New Q-Poll Today

Rell's Approval Slips, but Still Remains High

Public Not Sold on Gas Tax, Wants Millionaire's Tax

Quinnipiac University released a new Connecticut poll today showing Gov. Rell's approval rating slipping somewhat from 83% (January 13) to 74% in the wake of the release of her first budget earlier this month.

Here are the numbers: (from Quinnipiac University, go check them out)

Feb 18, 2005: 74% approve; 14% disapprove; 11% don't know/NA
Jan 13, 2005: 83% approve; 3% disapprove; 14% don't know/NA

Her approval rating in January was the highest ever recorded for a Connecticut governor in a Q-poll, and followed her first State of the State and the revelation that she had undergone surgery for breast cancer. She has lost support among Democrats and Republicans almost equally (drops of 7 and 9 percentage points respectively), and has lost 10% among independents. Her biggest drop was among men, who approved of her 82/4 in January, and now approve of her 71/16.

So what does all this mean? Despite the budget wrangling and name-calling over the past week, Gov. Rell is still an enormously popular figure among Connecticut residents. Democrats may have been hoping for a bigger slide, and may be disappointed to learn that residents identifying themselves with the Democratic Party still give her such strong support.

More worrisome for Rell is the strong support for the "millionaire's tax" (supported 76%-22%, and has strong support amongst Republicans, 62%-32%) and opposition to a new gas tax (opposed 61%-37%). Since Rell has declared herself "open" to the millionaire's tax, I imagine we'll see that implemented in the near future. It may either help to offset the proposed gas tax or replace it entirely.

There is lukewarm opposition to the governor's plans for a $1 surcharge on rail tickets in Fairfield County (opposed 50%-44%), but the plan finds support elsewhere in the state. This will probably pass, too.

Good news for the governor comes in the form of very strong support for a proposed cigarette and alcohol tax, the so-called "sin taxes". Not surprising in a state where only 18% smoke and 7% are daily drinkers.

Also, the proposition to ban cell phone use while driving is supported 86%-13%. Maybe it will actually pass this session.

Overall, this poll shows the governor in good position to get most of what she wants out of the budget process this year. Enacting a higher gas tax may hurt her somewhat, but the implementation of the millionaire's tax should help soften the blow. Look for her ratings to drop again somewhat as this process wears on, but it is unlikely that she'll drop below 60% any time soon.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Navy Housing Remodel in Groton

Does this mean Sub Base is Staying?

The Navy, along with a private corporation, are remodeling Navy housing in Groton near the Sub Base:

Groton — The Navy and a contractor broke ground on a housing complex Wednesday that represents the first step in developing more than $600 million of new and renovated units in the Northeast that officials predicted will be popular with sailors.
GMH will spend more than $600 million over the next six years in Navy communities stretching from Lakehurst, N.J., to Brunswick, Maine. In Groton, it will build 122 new three- and four-bedroom townhouses on the former Nautilus III North, replacing 124 three-bedroom units; 119 homes for senior enlisted people and officers in Dolphin Gardens; and 44 three- and four-bedroom townhouses on the former Cherry Circle mobile home park. All the projects are slated to be finished by next spring.

In addition, 427 units in Nautilus Park, Conning Towers and Polaris Park will be renovated, with new kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms, as well as new lighting, flooring, paint and carpets.

All of the rumors coming out of Washington seem to indicate that the Sub Base will be closed during base realignment within a year or so. Supposedly the Navy wants to move the entire Atlantic sub fleet to Norfolk. There have also been a few muted concerns that closing the base would be punishment for Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT2), who has been a vocal opponent of several of the Administration's policies.

Now the question is whether the Navy would spend millions of dollars upgrading facilities around a base, then close it. Maybe. But then again, it may be a sign that the base will stay open after all. Here's hoping.

Hamilton, Robert. "Navy Breaks Ground On New Housing". New London Day 17 February 2005. (registration required)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Newton Probe Official: Dem Calls for him to Leave Committees

It's official: State Sen. Ernest Newton is being investigated by the Feds for corrupt practices.

Federal officials are investigating whether state Sen. Ernest E. Newton II of Bridgeport acted in his official role to secure government funds for four community groups, including one that employs him, according to details learned Tuesday about a subpoena served at the state Capitol.

Newton is a member of both the public safety committee and the judiciary committee, from which he has been under pressure from Republicans to resign. Now, however, Democrats are starting to get into the act:

...Rep. Andrew M. Fleischmann of West Hartford became the first legislative Democrat to call for Newton to step down from his positions on both the public safety and judiciary committees. Fleischmann said he agrees with state Rep. Bill Hamzy, the state Republican chairman, that Newton should not serve on the public safety committee because it deals with sensitive issues involving the state police, gambling and homeland security.

If more Democrats join Fleicshmann, Newton may soon have no choice. I assume that they want him off these committees because they both deal with criminal justice, and it's a conflict of interest for someone under investigation. Newton, who resigned as head of the public safety committee last month, has so far refused to surrender his membership.

Not surprisingly, the comparisons to Rowland are sprouting everywhere, but Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams rejects that line of thought:

"No one called for Rowland to resign until he admitted he lied," said Patrick Scully, a spokesman for Williams. "Sen. Newton has made no such admission. There's no parallel."

True. Also, Rowland's corruption was a few orders of magnitude worse than what Newton is being investigated for. Yet, the story of someone in government using his position to line his pockets and help his friends is depressingly familiar.

Source: Lender, Jon and Christopher Keating. "Senator's Role In Funding Investigated". Hartford Courant 16 February 2005.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

February 15th News Roundup

Some of the political news from around the state today:

Feds close in on Newton: GOP wants him off state police committee

State Senator Ernest Newton (D-Bridgeport) is starting to feel more and more heat from a federal corruption probe that seems to be centered around him:

FBI agents swooped into the state Capitol complex and seized computer files from state Sen. Ernest Newton's office late last week, and now a top Republican says Newton should step down from the committee that oversees the state police.

...Newton should step down from the legislature's public safety committee, Hamzy said, because the committee oversees sensitive issues involving the state police, gambling and public safety. (Keating)

Newton stepped down as chair of that committee last month, but remains a member. A raid on Newton's senate office is very serious, and shows that the Feds are getting close. If charges are filed against him, expect Republicans to press for his resignation from the committee and the senate much harder, and some Democrats to turn against him. The comparisons to Rowland, fair or not, are already surfacing.

Rell Considers Millionaire's Tax

Gov. Rell is willing to compromise with the Democrats about Republican-unfriendly tax increases:

Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Monday that she is willing to discuss the idea of a millionaires tax and other tax proposals by Democrats, if legislative leaders are willing to have a serious discussion about spending cuts.

"We will look at anything," Rell told the state Associated Press Managing Editors Association during a meeting at the governor's residence. "If that tax is on the table, we better have cuts on the table." (Haigh)

It's going to be on the table. What's prompting this, Governor?

The state's finances were dealt a blow by President Bush's national budget proposal, which will cut discretionary federal funding to Connecticut by $105 million if approved by Congress, the governor's budget office said. (Haigh)


Waterbury: City of Morality

Independent Party Alderman Frank J. Caiazzo Jr. has placed an item on the agenda, suggesting the city pass an ordinance making Waterbury an "abortion-free city." (Gambini)

Great. Maybe my town will pass an ordinance legalizing crack, personal anti-aircraft batteries (for those right under the approaches to Bradley) and cockfights. It will be just as effective.

Blumenthal vs. Wal-Mart

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Monday said he is considering an investigation of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on the heels of news of a settlement of federal charges that the company violated child-labor laws in three states, including Connecticut.

"We're awaiting a copy of the settlement the details are unknown to us at this point," Blumenthal said. (Dawkins)

Go Blumenthal! Way to get back into the headlines! But... isn't a suit against a monsterously unpopular corporation that forces six-year-olds to work in the mines for a nickel a week... risky? Especially since the feds have already done the work?

He sure seems like a guy who's running for something.

Haigh, Susan. "Rell Offers To Talk Taxes If Leaders Consider Cuts". Hartford Courant 15 February 2005.
Gambini, Steve. "Abortion issue to go before aldermen". Waterbury Republican-American 15 February 2005.
Keating, Christopher. "Call For Senator To Quit Panel". Hartford Courant 15 February 2005.
Dawkins, Pam. "Wal-Mart probe mulled". Connecticut Post 15 February 2005.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

DeStefano: Yawn

New Haven mayor John DeStefano is running for governor next year. He already has a delightful website with cool graphics and an awful lot of money. He is the mayor of the state's second-largest city (Bridgeport is first, Hartford has fallen to third), and has survived several attempts to take him down, some from within his own party. He's visible, politically adept and a survivor.

So why don't I care?

A few reasons why DeStefano's campaign has failed to attract much interest:

1. The "Who?" factor: John DeStefano isn't very well-known outside of Greater New Haven, although he may become more so as the campaign wears on.

2. New Haven: Typical reaction of a Connecticut resident to "He's the mayor of New Haven": New Haven? Oh. I've been through there in my car/on the train. What a dump.

Before irate New Haven boosters start sending me nasty email, remember that this is just perception and not fact. For all that we know, New Haven may not, in fact, be a dump. It may just look like one from the highway. In any case, DeStefano is going to have to work hard to sell not only his message but his city. Recent labor problems and high-profile killings in the city aren't helping.

3. Corruption: This article in the Yale Daily News details some of the corruption that has tainted the DeStefano administration in New Haven. A brief snippet:

Bass believes that the LCI affair was not an aberration but rather one manifestation of the "climate of corruption that DeStefano encouraged." Indeed, incidents of corruption, or at least dubious legitimacy, characterize the DeStefano administration. Lowlights include the mayor's choice of a housing inspector who, within a year, was accused of larceny and accepting a bribe, a missing $2.3 million of city housing money that has never been accounted for, a salary paid to his ally, the Reverend Bosie Kimber, though there is no paperwork proving any work was ever completed, and a slew of shady loans to entities already owing the city money. The most shocking of these was the loan to Joe Nacca, a businessman to whom no bank would lend money because he was convicted of a felony and risked going to jail in the immediate future.
DePatris, Melissa. "Summer loan scandals tarnish city hall's reputation". Yale Daily News 4 September 1998.

This is ancient history to most, but a whiff of something rotten can still be scented near city hall in New Haven (and it isn't just the Quinnipiac River). Any hint of corruption is going to be a killer in this election cycle. Consider what happened to Malloy. I fully expect the other Democrats in the race to talk this up.

4. Negativity: So far all that DeStefano has done is make attempts to tear down Jodi Rell instead of building himself up. This is a marked contrast to the mostly positive campaign Susan Bysiewicz has run so far. He was on Bruce and Colin the other day, and he was quite nasty about the budget. Note to DeStefano webmaster: Maybe an article about whiny mayors isn't such a great thing for the front page of the site.

5. Bor-ring: So far I don't see much out of DeStefano that is exciting or new. I especially don't see anything that leads me to believe he has a chance in hell against Jodi Rell, should she run next year.

My money is still on Bysiewicz, if Blumenthal doesn't run. And let's not kid ourselves, Blumenthal is not going to run.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

State Budget: Part Two

Governor Rell released her budget yesterday. No one is entirely satisfied, which is quite typical. A breakdown of some of the major points from her budget speech:

I am proposing 667 million dollars for 342 new self-propelled rail cars for the New Haven to New York line; 300 million dollars for a new rail maintenance facility; 187 million dollars for congestion mitigation measures for I-95 between Greenwich and North Stonington; 150 million dollars for improvements and congestion mitigation on I-91 and I-84; and 7.5 million dollars for new transit buses. These expenditures are above and beyond what we are already scheduled to spend.

Good. We need this. What I like even better is her plan to pay for it:

I am calling for a total gas tax increase of six cents - over the next 8 eight years. And this money will be used exclusively for these transportation projects. You'll see your pennies at work on the rails, at the airport and on our highways.

In the late 1990s we cut the gas tax by 14 cents. As I said, I am proposing to increase it by six cents - over a several year period. Even at its peak in 2013 at 31 cents a gallon, the gas tax will still be far lower than it was in 1997 at 39 cents.

I am also proposing a $1 surcharge, beginning in 2008, on all tickets for trips on the New Haven Line. The surcharge revenue will only be spent for the New Haven Line revitalization program. Let me repeat that - it will ONLY be spent for the rail car program and it will not go into effect until the new rail cars are put into service.

There are many citizens who believe that any increase in taxes should be anathema, and that we should work with what we have instead of burdening taxpayers more. I would respond that taxes are necessary in this case to keep our infrastructure-dependent society moving. These particular increases are not back breaking, and, if they truly only go to pay for the transportation measures, should be a concrete lesson for us in what, exactly, our taxes are paying for.

The only thing that bothers me here is the fare increase for Metro North riders. Fees have gone up for commuters by quite a lot lately. We want people to use public transportation as much as possible, and I fear that higher ticket prices might drive some back on to the highways. The Democrats in the legislature should consider alternatives. The so-called "millionaire's tax" is once again on the table: let's get that done and save commuters another headache.

Another proposal in my budget calls for a tuition freeze at all state colleges and universities. The freeze will apply across the board - at UConn, the four state universities and our 12 community-technical colleges.

The presidents at these schools are grousing because they weren't consulted about this, but I say too bad. The more kids who can afford to go to college, the better. The rise in tuition at all colleges over the past twenty years has been really alarming.

Under this plan, every nursing home in the state and the more than 350 nonprofit community providers would receive a four percent increase in their state funding.

Yes, we would impose a tax on private payers in the system now, and yes we would have to make a limited, narrow exception to the state spending cap. But doing so will allow us to receive matching federal funds and to stave off a potential health care crisis.

But let me be clear about this: if the federal government does not support this initiative with matching funds, I will not support it either.

Rowland vetoed something like this last year. The shortage of funds in nursing homes has been devestating.

And, lastly, the one thing we never thought a Republican governor would say:

Those are my tax increases. I won't run away from them.


This budget is pretty no-nonsense, and is a good example of why I like Rell. Nothing flashy here, no Adriean's Landing-type wastes of money and time, no huge spending increases, no draconian cuts (that we know of). There will be modifications, I'm sure, and lots of political posturing by both sides, but the legislature ought to get this one done on time.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

State Budget: Part One

I know there is going to be a lot to say on this topic, so it's going to be a running series.

Gov. Rell will make her budget speech at noon today, but already there is a lot to talk about. Select portions of the budget have been made public, and the predictable outcry has begun.

Some highlights thus far:

Rell will propose raising the cigarette tax by 74 cents per pack - or 49 percent - and also increasing the tax on alcohol as part of her fiscal package for the next two years, sources said. (Keating)

I am leery of "sin" taxes, as I don't believe the government should be in the habit of punishing citizens for what it deems "immoral" behavior, and I think another solution should be found. Cigarette taxes are usually popular, however, and they are probably the safest tax hike a governor can propose. Not coincidentally, this is the third time in four years that the General Assembly has raised the cigarette tax (Keating). I'm a bit disappointed in Jodi Rell for proposing "sin tax" increases. Surely she knows that this is a very temporary solution to the state's ongoing fiscal crisis.

The same source confirmed that Rell is proposing an increase in the state's 26-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax. The money would be set aside in a special fund to help pay for transportation improvements. A state transportation advisory board has suggested that a dedicated funding stream is needed to reduce gridlock on state roads.

Michael J. Fox, director of the Gasoline & Automotive Service Dealers of America, said he has been told that Rell's budget will call for a 5 cent gas tax increase over the next six years, from 26 to 31 cents. (Haigh)

It's good to see that Michael J. Fox stays busy.

This increase is going to be a slight hardship on families, but our roads and public transportation systems sorely need upgrading. We're going to have to take this one. Remember that the gas tax fell from 39 cents to 26 cents under the Rowland administration; it's not going to kill us to go halfway back. Also, it makes sense that the people using the roads should help pay for them. This isn't back-breaking, and I fail to see how it's going to hurt the gasoline industry, as Fox claims. People still need to buy gas in Connecticut, and so they will. Besides, if filling up your Hummer starts to bring tears to your eyes, you can always buy a Prius.

Last one for now:

Rell has already revealed some spending initiatives, including a tuition freeze at the University of Connecticut and other state colleges, $20 million to promote stem cell research, $15.5 million for laptop computers for ninth- and 10th-grade English students, a package of veterans benefits that includes monthly bonuses for Connecticut National Guard members serving overseas and $58 million in increased funding for the Department of Children and Families. (Haigh)

The tuition freeze is an excellent idea, but why do ninth graders need laptops? More and better computer labs in each school is a better answer to technological problems. Stem cells might become an issue, but I don't see what the few social conservatives in the General Assembly can do about it. Some are calling for a wholesale reorganization of DCF before it gets the money, which is a good idea as long as they DO get the money. No one will oppose bonuses for CNG troops.

We're going to be hearing a lot of griping, grousing, kvetching and election posturing in the next few weeks. But Gov. Rell's good standing with the legislature should guarantee that most of her budget will pass intact.

Sources: Keating, Christopher. "Rell's Tax Plans Already Under Fire." Hartford Courant 9 February 2005.
Haigh, Susan. "Rell's budget plan already drawing criticism." New Haven Register 9 February 2005.

How sad is it that the New Haven Register has to get articles about Connecticut's budget from the AP?

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Naugatuck Primary: Old Crank Seeks Old Crank Vote

The Waterbury Republican-American has this story today:

Peter J. Jurzynski is going after the senior citizen vote, and hard.

During two public forums and several interviews, Jurzynski has made his strategy clear: to harness the votes of the oldest registered voters in the borough.
Jurzynski's senior strategy has three main prongs: hiring a Naugatuck senior to fill the vacant senior center director's post; an outreach program to help homebound seniors; and major investments in low-income public housing for the borough's oldest residents.
Jurzynski has promised to hire an "elderly czar" to help the oldest seniors who cannot leave their homes. He said that person would run programs that would help people who don't or can't get to the senior center.

Remember Jurzynski? He's the guy who is challenging recent Republican Curt Bosco in the Democratic mayoral primary a little under a month from now. In the fine old tradition of New England grumps, he is campaigning on a platform of answering the complaints of old cranks like him.

It's not a bad strategy. 18 percent of Naugatuck's registered voters are over 65, and if anyone is going to turn out to vote in a March primary, it's the elderly.

The other candidates, meanwhile, are having a ball with Jurzynski.

[Republican Mayor Ron] San Angelo said he finds Jurzynski's suggestions too confusing and lacking in detail, and that he didn't know how to respond.
As for an elderly czar, [endorsed Democratic candidate Curt] Bosco said Jurzynski wants to create more big government, comparing the idea to San Angelo's hiring of a human resource director.

"On May 2, Curt Bosco is asking to be elected the elderly czar," he said in a prepared statement, "except in this town we call it the mayor, and I don't need anybody else doing my job."

Someone prepared that statement for him? And "big government" accusations from a Democrat against a Republican and a crank? Oh right, the ex-Republican thing... An "elderly czar", too! Who says local politics isn't fun?

Source: Dalena, Doug. "Borough mayoral hopeful courts seniors Jurzynski vies with Bosco for Democratic nomination." Waterbury Republican-American 8 February 2005. (No link, the site isn't worth it.)

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Local Legislative Oddities

There is very little election news to report. Governor Rell is going to release her budget this week, Michael Ross is still alive, nothing new in the Newton case... This is a perfect time to examine some of the unusual town council/board of selectmen compositions in Connecticut.

Let's start with the map.

Note the four towns in purple. These towns are controlled by neither Republicans or Democrats, but by some combination of the two major parties and a minor party. In these cases, the minor party has split the government in ways not usually seen in this country.

Cornwall: Cornwall, Litchfield County, is not a typical Northwest Corner town. It is surprisingly liberal-leaning. It is the only town west of the Connecticut Valley (excluding Bridgeport) to have voted for Bill Curry in 2002, and very definitively went for Kerry last year. Cornwall voted 2-1 for Democrat Roberta Willis over Republican Michael Lynch for state rep., but was faced with no Democrat to vote for for state senate.

Cornwall is one of only a very few towns in the state with a member of the Green Party on its legislative board (I know New Haven has one, too). In fact, the board is split three ways. Gordon M. Ridgway (D) is the First Selectman, while Kenneth C. Baird (R) and Kenneth E. Kreskinen (G) are the others on the three-person board. I imagine that Mr. Kreskinen, who was elected in 2003, votes with Mr. Ridgeway more often than not, but it's a fascinating situation. I wonder if it will hold up this year.

Pomfret: Pomfret is in much the same situation as Cornwall, except that its odd man out is John Bala, an independent. Mr. Bala placed second to the current first selectman, Republican David I. Patenaude, in the 2003 election. Pomfret may be one of many towns with a clause that specifies that whoever finishes second in the election for first selectman gets a place on the board. This guarantees minority representation, although it seems to have backfired somewhat here.

Waterford: I really shouldn't include this town, because it appears that first selectman Paul B. Eccard, who the Secretary of the State's site says is a member of the "Waterford Independent" party, was cross-endorsed by the Republicans in 2003. I'm really not sure whether he's a Republican or WI first; both are possible. Still, the listing is interesting, and WI is one example of town-specific minor parties (such as the [your town here] Taxpayer's Party).

Winchester: Check this out:

Selectmen: 1st, Maryann D. Welcome (D), David A. Cappabianca (R), Lynda E. Colavecchio (R), Paul James O'Meara (I), Althea Candy Perez (D), Marie A. Prelli (R), Barbara Wilkes (I)

Three Republicans, two Democrats and two Independents sit on Winchester's board of selectmen. The Independents voted with the Democrats when it came time for the board to choose its leader, making Democrat Maryann Welcome mayor.

It's a minority government! We see these so rarely outside parliamentary systems. Let's see if it can survive the November elections, shall we?

It is interesting to see how minor parties/independents can have such an effect on municipal politics. The small playing field tends to equalize the candidates in terms of money and name recognition in a way that is impossible to replicate on a larger scale. We will see if any of these legislative oddities survive past November, or if some new ones are born.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Portland Update

Yesterday Portland split its ticket on a two-question charter overhaul:

With a surprisingly large turnout of 1,426 people, or 18.6 percent of eligible voters, residents voted 626-534 to approve the controversial proposal that was generated by the charter revision commission to change the method for approving the budget.

However, by a vote of 643-491, residents rejected a second question, which would have limited the power to freeze certain departmental budgets to only the first selectman. That power instead will remain with the selectmen.

Voters did the right thing both times. See my previous post on this subject for more information. Allowing an "automatic" budget to take effect after four referendums, while still not perfect, is a decent solution to a festering problem.

The second question is a little more problematic. In most cases, I'm in favor of a useful single executive in municipalities: if not a town manager, then a strong mayor. But in this case, the continued mismanagement of Portland's government by the squabbling selectmen will nudge the town ever-closer to adopting the council/manager form of government they need.

This may well be a sign of impending doom for the Democrat-controlled board of selectmen. There is a good possibility that the discontent expressed here may well translate into a Republican victory in November.

18% is a "surprisingly large" turnout? Ouch.

Source: Mill, Jeff. "Charter Change OK'd". Middletown Press 2 February 2005.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Campaign Finance Reform

Governor Rell and the Democrats in the General Assembly are at odds over a key part of Rell's reform package: the public funding of political campaigns.

Rell's plan, which has been described as "modest", does more to limit current private spending than to bring the state into campaign finance:

The proposals would include a ban on all campaign contributions from lobbyists and their political committees, and from contractors doing business with the state, and would offer individuals a small tax reduction –– about $5 –– on contributions to political candidates who abide by voluntary spending limits. (Mann)

Democrats think this isn't nearly enough.

...Many Democrats say the only practical approach is a public financing law that would provide significant money to candidates who agree to spending limits.(Pazniokas)

Maine and Arizona already have such laws on the books. Massachusetts tried something similar with its Clean Elections Law, which was passed by referendum in 1998 but dropped by the legislature in 2003 due to a lack of funds.

Both options are problematic. Governor Rell's ideas, while noteworthy, is a little vague on its definition of "lobbyist". Who is a lobbyist? Is, say, a PAC funded by Pfizer a lobbyist PAC? The incentive is also minimal; will politicians really opt in to a system that denies them PAC money in exchange for giving their supporters 5% of their money back in tax reductions?

Public campaign financing is not trouble-free, either. It seems to work in Maine and Arizona, but the problem is the cost. How will we pay for it?

Under the bill raised last year, an election season like the gubernatorial year of 1994 would cost the state between $22 million and $28 million, [Rep. Lawrence] Cafero [R-Norwalk] said. If the voluntary funding schemes proposed in the past –– including a checkoff on the state income tax or revenue from special license plates –– did not cover such a cost, he asked, where could the money come from but the state's general fund?
“When those kinds of questions were asked,” Cafero said, “there were no answers.”

I seriously doubt Rell will allow a tax increase to pay for it.

This will be the major bone of contention between Rell and the General Assembly this year, I believe. Democrats in the Senate can override her veto, but the House is a few votes short. Nothing at all may be accomplished. However, there is some hope:

Still, in the early weeks of the 2005 legislative session, most players in the reform debate are careful to emphasize the shared desire for tightening ethics rules and making campaigns less susceptible to special interest money.

"The gulf between the parties is much less than it's ever been before," said Tom Swan, the executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, which has been seeking campaign reform for decades. "There appears to be agreement on how important it is to cap campaign spending."

If the good feeling lasts, an equitable compromise may yet be reached.

Mann, Ted. "Campaign Financing Stymies Ethics Reformers". The New London Day 28 January 2005.
Pazniokas, Mark. "Work On Reforms Just Starting". Hartford Courant 31 January 2005.