Katrina: Connecticut Responds
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Connecticut Politics and Elections: Coverage, Analysis, Maps and Commentary
Hurricane Katrina’s thrashing of the Gulf Coast made a bad situation worse, shutting down 95 percent of oil production in the region and sending the price of crude oil up $2.61 a barrel to close at a record $69.81 Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the price of heating oil rose 16.7 cents a gallon, hitting $2.08, and gasoline prices again hovered at record levels nationally and broke another record in the New Haven area, hitting $2.60 a gallon for regular unleaded, according to AAA. (Troise)
Two reports released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau show Connecticut's average median household income decreased by $344 to $55,916 for the two-year period of 2003 and 2004, from $56,260 for 2002 and 2003 Meanwhile, the state's poverty rate rose from 8.2 to 9.1 percent between those two time periods, while the number of uninsured residents increased from 10.5 to 11 percent. (Jaksic)
The average household will spend between $2,000 and $2,500 more this year on home heating oil and gasoline than in 2000, [economist Donald] Klepper-Smith said. (Troise)
The group came up with several options, including expanding winter heating assistance for low-income households, creating a low-interest loan pool to help small businesses and municipalities with energy costs, and increasing bulk purchases of gasoline and heating oil for state vehicles and buildings. (Troise)
...Rell and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Monday that the transfer would violate constitutional and statutory provisions barring such a move without Rell's consent.
Pennsylvania last week persuaded a federal judge to halt a similar realignment of planes assigned to its Air Guard.
"There is an important principle here that goes back to the first days of the Republic. The National Guard is the successor to our militia," Blumenthal said. "We are guaranteed a militia by the United States Constitution." (Pazniokas)
For two days last week, real estate scouts who help companies find sites for their operations visited Greater Hartford to see what the region has to offer.
They left with an impression of an area taking wing - home to more than just the insurance industry, pleasantly uncongested, with an ample supply of educated workers, and, oh yeah, with a Cabela's superstore on the way.
"There's a lot more here than I thought there was. I didn't realize how much the area has to offer," said Joseph Callanan, president of Dallas-based Trammell Crow's Northeast region.(Kalra)
"You know, you think of the Northeast and you think of how congested it is. You don't think of the natural beauty and the compactness. These towns are all drivable."
"The area now seems to have a genuine critical mass in the high-tech fields," Donovan said. "Five or six years ago, that wasn't here. Hartford's becoming more legitimate. I and my clients can seriously consider it now."
On Thursday - a clear, cloudless morning - the consultants were treated to an hourlong helicopter ride over verdant hills, crystal lakes and the city skyline... The morning ride was followed by an afternoon at the Buick Championship watching some of the nation's top golfers competing in Cromwell.
He was surprised when told that the Connecticut workforce was slightly, but not "significantly," more unionized than workforces in other areas of the country (16 percent compared with 13 percent), and that central Connecticut had "excellent" power transmission.
"You should put that on your website," he said. (Kalra)
Dennis J. Donovan, who heads site selecting firm Wadley Donovan Gutshaw Consulting in New Jersey, said efforts to raise the Hartford area's profile nationally are, for the most part, beginning to gain momentum.
"There's one exception: Not funding a major national marketing campaign," he said.
Donovan, one of the site selectors who visited in 2002, said at least $2 million a year should be spent in marketing the area. The alliance's budget now sets aside about $50,000 a year for such efforts.
Enthusiasm for Hartford was tempered among the consultants by a perception that Connecticut is stingy in offering tax breaks to win corporate business. Although they acknowledged that incentives are the least important factor in landing a deal - and irrelevant without the business basics - subsidies can often serve as the tie-breaker between competing locations.
With a total package of about $2,000 per job, Connecticut lags behind competitors such as New York, which often shells out between $5,000 and $10,000 in tax incentives per job created, Donovan said.
"Connecticut is noncompetitive," Donovan said, shaking his head. "It's a shame, because you need the incentive to close a deal. Selling a community or a state is like selling any other product. And every salesman needs a closer. That's not corporate welfare, that's capitalism." (Kalra)
1. Improving democracy education. I advocated for the civics education law which now requires all CT high school students to take one semester of civics. But that step is insufficient. I believe we need to have programs in the elementary schools – in fourth and fifth grade – that teach children about participatory democracy. I have introduced legislation to set up such a system, and will continue advocating for it in the years to come.
2. Increasing voter registration. Failure to register is the number one obstacle to voting. I have always supported Election Day registration (EDR), since it is the single most powerful way to increase both voter registration and voter participation. There are myriad other steps we can take to increase registration, but EDR is the first and most important.
3. Expanding outreach to communities that feel disenfranchised. In CT – as in every state – there are far too many communities where people feel that politics and government don’t really serve them. Most often these are urban communities with higher rates of poverty and lower rates of educational attainment. We cannot afford to have so many of our citizens disengaged from our democracy; such disengagement threatens the basic principal that all Americans have an equal voice in our system of government. As Secretary of the State, I would work to expand all types of outreach in such communities – through educational programs, community fairs, and collaborations with local, non-partisan groups.
4. Improving state compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Under NVRA, all public assistance offices are also voter registration sites. Voter registration rates at CT public assistance offices have been far too low over the past several years. As Secretary of the State, I will continue work that I began last year in conjunction with two non-profit pro-democracy groups and the Dept. of Social Services to strengthen Connecticut’s compliance, and increase voter registration and participation among low-income citizens.
§ In 2004, my job outside the legislature was to coordinate communications and outreach for a nationwide effort to increase voter registration among low-income Americans.
§ In 2004 and 2005, I was a leading advocate for the establishment of a voter verifiable paper trail for new voting machines. Working in conjunction with TrueVoteCT, this spring I helped enact the bill that now requires these auditable paper trails in Connecticut.
§ As I mentioned earlier, I have put countless hours into the fight for comprehensive campaign finance reform to take the big money out of state politics. As Secretary of the State, I will know how to administer a public financing system if we have one in place by 2007. And, if we don’t, I will dedicate time and resources to winning such a law.
"It would be a tragic mistake, a tragic loss to this nation," Commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi said before the vote.
Retired General Lloyd Newton initiated the move to strike Groton from the list of 62 major bases tapped for closure or realignment by the defense department.
Newton, a Pratt & Whitney executive who lives in West Hartford, told his colleague today that "it would be a big mistake to close this facility at this time." (Lightman)
"We in Connecticut do a lot of testing already, far more than most other states. Our taxpayers are sagging under the crushing costs of local education," said Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell. "What we don't need is a new laundry list of things to do -- with no new money to do them."
"Unfortunately, this lawsuit sends the wrong message to students, educators and parents," said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education. "The funds have been provided for testing, but Connecticut apparently wants to keep those funds without using them as intended." (Gillespie)
"We believe poor children will suffer if the state of Connecticut wins" its lawsuit, said Brittain, who for years was a central figure in the Sheff vs. O'Neill school desegregation case that sought to improve racial balance in Hartford's public schools.
"No Child Left Behind keeps the accountability on the states, where it belongs," said Brittain, chief counsel and senior deputy director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. (Frahm)
"Overall, the rate of change in all towns over those years is not stellar, by any means," she said. "This suggests that we need to work with a sense of urgency to change fundamentally what is going on in our high schools across the state."
She said the answer is not more testing, as required in the federal No Child Left Behind law. The state on Monday became the first in the nation to sue over requirements that schools tests students every year in grades three through eight. (AP)
"I thought she had announced for governor and somehow I had missed it," said Roy Occhiogrosso, a longtime state Democratic operative and now a consultant. "It's either the least informative annual report ever, or it's a campaign mailing and she owes the taxpayers a lot of money."
But a spokesman for Rell, Rich Harris, defended the brochure as a useful means of communicating with citizens. He denied that it was promotional in its purpose, and said its timing had nothing to do with any anticipated run by Rell for governor in next year's election.
"The timing has to do with her one-year anniversary as governor," he said.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert tried to give the Naval Submarine Base at Groton a last-minute boost today, urging the base closing commission to "strongly consider the case made by Team Connecticut" against closing the facility.
"As a fiscal conservative," the Illinois Republican said, "I cannot support a base closing that does not provide taxpayer savings."
In addition, Hastert wrote, "Closing SUBASE New London would eliminate a center of excellence for undersea warfare in which Congress has invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade."
Since becoming speaker in 1999, he said, "I have personally seen Congress invest more than $120 million into the New London Navy base. Our nation's taxpayers would be ill-served if these investments in our national security are wasted." (AP)
A ban on campaign contributions from lobbyists and state contractors would likely be upheld by the courts, national campaign finance experts told a legislative task force on Thursday.
In proposing the ban, Connecticut lawmakers should clarify that it is designed to prevent future corruption, the experts warned. (AP)
The [legislative task force on campaign finance reform] hopes to hammer out a compromise by Sept. 15 that would overhaul the system and limit the influence of special interests. Besides limits on contributions, lawmakers are considering creating a voluntary publicly funded election finance system. (AP)
Senate Democratic staff are researching the rules for investigating and possibly expelling a senator.
Williams said Connecticut has never taken the step of investigating and possibly expelling a legislator for violating the public trust.
"It has happened in some other states and we are doing the research right now in terms of what allegations, or in some cases specific convictions, have given rise to an expulsion procedure," he said.
Newton cannot be impeached under the state constitution. But the Senate can investigate a member and, by a two-thirds vote, expel him.
One witness admitted to the grand jury that he paid Newton about $2,000 in exchange for the senator's "help" in providing state funding and other needs for a now closed youth home.
Another witness said he told the grand jury that Newton repeatedly solicited money from his agency in return for assistance, but said no money was paid. Still other witnesses describe questions from prosecutors, FBI agents and jurors on whether campaign funds were diverted to Newton's personal use. (Cummings)
...Godbolt only recently pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to embezzlement charges — six months after the scandal had first surfaced in the press. During this period, Republicans had been beseeching Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams to remove Newton as deputy president pro tem, but their earnest entreaties had fallen on deaf partisan ears.
Newton's Democrat friends in high places have been biting their swelling tongues for months. Even after Godbolt's guilty plea, Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan, a persistent critic of Rowland and one of Newton's mentors and friends, declined to comment, though he has had a little over 4,000 hours to think of something clever to say. (Pesci)
A legislative task force is considering requiring candidates who want public campaign funds to raise set amounts of money from regular people in their districts first.
The group reached a tentative consensus Thursday on requiring a $5,000 threshold for House races and a $10,000 threshold for Senate races. The lawmakers said they want to require at least some of that money to be raised from inside a candidate's district, from people who are not lobbyists or state contractors.
"You're encouraging people to connect back with their core constituents," said Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, adding that the goal is to encourage more grass-roots campaigning. (AP)
U.S. coach Bruce Arena said he decided the team should play at Rentschler Field after visiting the stadium's Web site two years ago, and coming to the conclusion that it could be a world-class venue for soccer.
But Arena also said he would like to see more tickets sold for the contest. Only 15,000 of the 38,000 available had been sold by Tuesday.
"What we hope to accomplish here is to win the game," he said. "Let's pack the stands."
[Lt. Governor Kevin] Sullivan said the game is a great opportunity for the area to prove itself as a sports market.
"All the eyes of the world will be here on Aug. 17," he said. (AP)
James A. Amann, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, said Monday the proposed Utopia project “may be bigger than Preston” and suggested he would get involved if it appears the town is squandering a chance to get the project built. (Mann)
"I have no appetite to drag the governor or anybody else in to make this a political decision," [Preston First Selecteman Robert] Congdon said. "It should be an objective analysis of credible details that are submitted on the part of the developer. If someone thinks we're being too stringent, I welcome them to review the submissions and tell us our shortcomings."
"At this time, I'm not supporting the legislature getting involved in any way until the town of Preston requests such action," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, D-Ledyard, whose district includes the town of Preston. "The state has defined a process for the transfer of this property, and I trust Preston and its committee and Board of Selectmen to move that process forward in a way that serves the best interest of the town. And I think it'd be inappropriate to intervene at this stage." (Mann)
The project, a bus-only route running 9.6 miles between New Britain and Hartford, would launch in 2011 if all remains on schedule, state officials said. One key portion of that schedule: regaining the federal government's faith in Connecticut's ability to deliver what it promises.
Earlier this year, the FTA downgraded the $335 million project from "recommended" status to "not recommended." (Reitz)
A six-year $286.4 billion transportation bill approved by Congress Friday includes $10 million to build the first high-speed ferry terminals in the state in Bridgeport, Stamford and New Haven.
Advocates of ferry service said the funding is a long overdue move to use the Long Island Sound to help ease congestion on Interstate 95. (AP)
All the while, John DeStefano continues raking in campaign contributions from people who owe him their livelihoods. People who work at or get contracts from City Hall, over which he presides as New Haven's mayor. People who work for the school system whose board he appoints. People who want public favors--including public money--for their downtown real estate projects.
And people who would love to have a good relationship with the man DeStefano hopes to be: the governor of Connecticut. (Bass)
[DeStefano] says he makes it clear that donating has nothing to do with whether contributors do business with the city. (Bass)
DeStefano's eminent domain record in New Haven is awash in complexity and defies easy labels. Much of this ambiguity derives from the fact that, unlike the New London government, DeStefano has employed eminent domain for unambiguously "public" projects, not to turn land over to private developers for their profit. (Abadi)