FORMS OF GOVERNMENT IN CONNECTICUT:   HOME RULE BUT WHERE IS HOME?   ONE SOLUTION...



BET rejects use of longer-term bonds for municipal projects
Robert Marchant, Greenwich TIME
Published 9:37 pm, Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Should the town have the ability to issue long-term bonds maturing over 20 years that give budget-makers more flexibility -- or stick with its current policy of shorter term borrowing that incur less interest costs?

Democrats on the Board of Estimate and Taxation voted yes to the concept of longer-term debt obligations, while Republicans voted no, so the measure failed to pass at the BET's Monday night meeting.

The debate revealed a political and philosophical rift between board members on the merits of loose or tight debt obligations. The town is currently under a restriction dating from 2008 that bonds have to be paid back in five to seven years, in effect, a policy called "modified pay as you go." The issue has a long backstory among town leaders involving overdue infrastructure repairs and concerns over debt levels.
..story in full here:
http://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/BET-rejects-use-of-longer-term-bonds-for-5902429.php




Just-Appointed Key Hartford Official Out After Criminal Record Revealed
The Hartford Courant
By JENNA CARLESSO and STEVEN GOODE
6:49 PM EST, November 27, 2013

HARTFORD —

Less than a day after Mayor Pedro Segarra named Kennard Ray his new deputy chief of staff, Ray abruptly withdrew from consideration.

The withdrawal came shortly after questions were raised about Ray's criminal history, which includes arrests on weapons and drug charges. Records show that Ray has several felony convictions, including criminal possession of a gun and possession and sale of narcotics.

Ray, 32, was scheduled to begin work with the city on Dec. 2. His role would have been to act as a liaison to the city council, community organizations and city residents, according to Segarra.

In a letter to Segarra dated Tuesday, Ray said that he withdrew his nomination due to "extenuating circumstances." He did not elaborate.

"It is only with the best intentions and concern for my city, my mayor and his administration that I have chosen not to serve," Ray wrote. "Extenuating circumstances have made the acceptance of this position unrealistic. My sincerest apologies are extended to you, Mayor Segarra, the office of the mayor and the entire city of Hartford for any confusion, consternation or dismay that my sudden withdrawal may cause."

Segarra said Wednesday that he had accepted Ray's withdrawal after learning about "information that was not initially disclosed."

"Mr. Ray is a qualified individual with solid references from former supervisors and community leaders," Segarra said. "However, public servants, especially those in leadership positions, must be held to a higher standard."

Officials from the mayor's office said Wednesday that the city's policy is to conduct background checks on candidates on or before their first day of employment. The officials said they were now looking into changing that policy.

A background check was initiated on Ray after The Courant raised questions Tuesday about his criminal history, they said.

Ray's criminal history includes a 1997 conviction for the sale of narcotics, a 1998 conviction for possession of narcotics, a 1998 conviction for carrying a pistol without a permit and a 2004 conviction for criminal possession of a gun.

Bruce Rubenstein, chairman of the city's Internal Audit Commission, said Wednesday that the panel would look into the matter.

The city announced on Tuesday that Ray had been hired as deputy chief of staff. Ray served previously as political and legislative director for the Connecticut Working Families Party.

Lindsay Farrell, director of the Connecticut Working Families Party, said Wednesday that Ray is a "thoughtful, passionate" community organizer and that he and others who have made mistakes should not be punished for the rest of their lives.

"He should be judged on the quality of his work and commitment to the community," Farrell said. "I think it's a bad call on their part."

Ray did not respond to requests for comment.

Senior Information Specialist Tina Lender contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant





MAYOR FINCH AND PAUL VALLAS (R)
Photo of action by the State Board of Education to take over the Bridgeport Schools...so what is left for the elected members of the City Council to do?


Education committee plays hooky
Brian Lockhart, CT POST
Updated 12:07 am, Friday, September 6, 2013

BRIDGEPORT --How many meetings has the City Council's Education Committee cancelled?


If they were school students, they would have run out of excuses a long time ago and been sent to the principal's office.

Even though Bridgeport is at the center of a contentious national debate over reforming public schools, the council's education and social services committee has been paralyzed for almost two years.

While the council's six other committees often convene monthly, the education group met only once this year, in February, records show. A July meeting of the seven-member committee was adjourned after only the two chairmen -- Councilwoman Denese Taylor-Moye, D-131, and her new co-chairman, Councilman John Olson, D-132 -- showed up.

And although the city is beginning a new school year, the committee cancelled its Sept. 11 meeting.

In 2012, the committee met at least four times, based on available records, but couldn't conduct business on one of those occasions because of poor attendance.

In contrast, there were eight meetings in 2010 and six in 2011, typically to hear presentations or vote on grants.

"The Education Committee is in a weird situation," said Council President Thomas McCarthy, D-133. "Every other committee has a specific, definite task in front of it."

Meanwhile, McCarthy said, most education business is the responsibility of the elected Board of Education.

Critics say there are plenty of topics a proactive Education Committee could explore if members wanted to exert their independence, starting with the multi-million-dollar education budget the full City Council approves each year.

"The committee doesn't do anything ... They don't put anything on the agenda," said Councilman Andre Baker, D-139, an Education Committee member who petitioned his way into next week's Democratic school board primary.

Bridgeport's school district has experienced a particularly tumultuous few years, beginning in 2011 with the state takeover of the Board of Education quietly orchestrated by Mayor Bill Finch's administration.

The state Supreme Court ruled the takeover illegal in February 2012, so Finch and the council proposed changing the City Charter to appoint the school board. Voters defeated that initiative in November.

This year, a state Superior Court Judge ruled that Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, a nationally known and controversial education reformer, was not qualified for the job and had to leave office. That decision has been delayed so the state Supreme Court can consider the city's appeal later this month.

The Education Committee met once with Vallas, hosting a meeting with the superintendent in February, 2012.

A year later, members met once with new hire Joshua Thompson, the mayor's director of education and youth whom Finch called his point man for education reform.

John Marshal Lee, a self-appointed fiscal watchdog, believes too many council committees lack initiative. "They set up council committees to act like catcher's mitts. The pitcher is Mayor Finch. Most of what they catch is what he pitches," Marshal Lee said. "They're all reactive -- they're catching everything. They're taking no initiative."

Taylor-Moye could not be reached for comment. Olson was appointed as her cochairman a few months ago and said he understands the criticism and hopes to make changes. Olson faces a council primary next week.

"All committees really exist by receiving proposals, mostly from the administration," Olson said. "So we're going to have to create our own agenda ... If I'm re-elected, which I may not be, I'll see what I can do with it."

Olson succeeded ex-Councilman Martin McCarthy as Taylor-Moye's co-chairman. McCarthy was absent from many council meetings last winter as he established his new restaurant, Fire Engine Pizza.

McCarthy resigned from the council in March.

Thomas McCarthy said he asked Olson to co-chair the Education Committee because of his past experience on the school board.

"(The committee) can certainly highlight issues and create a bully pulpit for change that the council feels should be made for the Board of Education," McCarthy said.



"
Occupy Wall Street" Mobilizes In Hartford

By JENNA CARLESSO, jcarlesso@courant.com
5:10 PM EDT, October 4, 2011

HARTFORD —
 
The growing "Occupy Wall Street" movement against corporate control and greed has found its way to Hartford, where two gatherings are scheduled in Bushnell Park Wednesday to plan what form the protest might take in the city.

Discussions about the protest, modeled after the campaign that started three weeks ago in New York City, started in Hartford last week, according to people involved with the movement.

They said that more than 60 people attended a meeting Sunday at the Charter Oak Cultural Center to discuss the movement, and several Facebook pages have been created to support what's being called Occupy Hartford.

The two meetings, called general assemblies, are planned for 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. in the park. They were called so interested people could voice their concerns and discuss a plan of action, some of those involved said. They said there may be protests in connection with the events.

"To me, there's something inherently wrong with the way things are going," said Wesley Strong, who has been active in the Occupy Hartford Google Group, an online forum. "I think others feel similarly, and want to do something about it."

Strong said he has struggled to find stable work since graduating from Central Connecticut State University in 2008. He said he is concerned about the economy and unemployment, particularly among younger people.

"I think that's why these protests have seen a lot of youth participation," Strong, 26, said. "It seems there is a general discontent among people in this country over the way things are going."

Peter Goselin, a Hartford lawyer who's offering legal support to the Occupy Hartford group, said Tuesday that concerns seem to be centered on corporate control of health care through the insurance industry, unemployment and bank foreclosures and homeowner evictions.

He said the meetings Wednesday were called so people could get together to make decisions about what to do next. Some people may also bring signs or wear T-shirts to express their concerns.

"The idea of conducting a democratic meeting in the open where people can see is in sharp contrast to the way business and politics is done now, where everything is behind closed doors," Goselin said.

City Councilman Luis Cotto, who also is involved in the movement, said one reason Occupy Hartford was formed is because "people want to get out and show discontent."

"There's this idea of occupying a space and then having rallies from there," he said. It's still unclear, however, what parts of the city the group will occupy and what actions it will take, he said.

Protests related to Occupy Wall Street have spread to cities large and small across the country. Demonstrators marched the streets of Los Angeles, gathered in front of the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago and rallied in Boston, according to media reports. Rallies and gatherings were also planned in cities like Memphis, Tenn., Hilo, Hawaii, and McAllen, Texas, according to the reports.

Cotto said that some who attended the meeting in Hartford Sunday expressed an interest in taking immediate action, whether it be in the form of a march or a "sleep-in," in which people camp out overnight in various parts of the city.

"There were people ready to go that evening," Cotto said, "but the overall consensus was that we should meet on Wednesday."




Read this as if the fire were in Fairfield County.

Cut to tax credit could open debate on property tax reform
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
September 12, 2011

Though many middle-class Connecticut households will lose $200 next spring when a popular credit on their state income tax return shrinks, there is a silver lining: Those same filers will get nearly one-third of that cut back from the federal government.

And the head of an economic think-tank at the University of Connecticut says that win-lose arrangement is just one of the factors that underscores the ineffectiveness of a state property tax credit that has enjoyed tremendous popularity since it helped resolve a partisan tax battle in Hartford 16 years ago.  Professor Fred Carstensen, head of the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, also said his unit recently launched a new research project into a potential alternative to the  credit, said the new cut also offers an opportunity for policy-makers to re-examine a regressive property levy that still dominates Connecticut's tax network.

"As I took a comprehensive look, I couldn't identify any significant economic benefit to the property tax credit," Carstensen said during an interview last week...full story here.



Wall Street's ride compounds states' pension fears
YAHOO
AP
By MICHAEL GORMLEY - Associated Press
12 August, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Wall Street's volatility has hit state pension funds just as they were beginning to recover from the recession, turning what was merely a troubled forecast into a potentially stormy future for taxpayers who are on the hook for billions in unfunded liabilities for government retirees.


As for the millions of government clerks, engineers, janitors, teachers and firefighters in the retirement systems, they are protected by law or, as in New York, by the state constitution, to be backed up by tax dollars if necessary. Their benefits remain safe for life in guaranteed "defined benefit" pension plans that are disappearing in the private sector, where most employees are left to fend for themselves with 401(k) plans that they mostly or entirely fund themselves.

California's main public-employee pension fund, the nation's largest, has lost at least $18 billion off its stock portfolio since July 1, about 7.5 percent of its $237.5 billion total asset value on June 30.

Florida's pension fund has lost about $9 billion since June 30, a decline of 7 percent for a fund valued at $119.4 billion on Thursday, while the Virginia Retirement System shrank from $54.5 billion on June 30 to about $51 billion by week's end, a decline of 6.4 percent, said its director, Robert P. Schultze.

New York's state comptroller will not say how much the state pension fund has lost during the latest Wall Street roller coaster, but the fund was 5 percent below its pre-recession value before the recent losses and remained nearly $8 billion below its pre-recession value.

And Kentucky, which has more than $20 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, has seen the value of its public pension fund decline $1.7 billion — or 15 percent — since July 1, falling to a total value of $9.7 billion.

Nationwide, states have a combined $689.5 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and $418 billion in government retiree health care obligations, according to data collected earlier this year by The Associated Press. Those benefits are protected by state law or, as in New York, by the constitution.

Pension fund managers say there is no risk current government retirees will miss a monthly check and that they are remaining calm and taking the long view in their investments. Some say the market plunge is even providing a great opportunity to buy stocks at fire-sale prices.

Kentucky Retirement Systems Chief Investor T.J. Carlson said his fund has not made significant changes to its investments in response to the market turmoil.

"We haven't changed our long-term strategy in any way," he said.

Critics of the defined benefit plans, which guarantee pensions for life to public employees and are rarely found any longer in the private sector, say the recent stock market plunge underscores the need for fundamental changes.

The amount state and local governments are being forced to funnel into pension payments is rising as retirees live longer and elected officials have awarded more generous pension benefits in recent years, taking taxpayer money away from core public services.

At the same, pension funds promise returns on investments — 7 percent to 8 percent or more a year — that many critics say are unrealistic in the future.

E.J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said the asset levels of virtually all public pension funds are below 2007 levels despite the recovery of the market in 2009 and 2010.

"They still think there is a 'long-term norm,'" he said of fund managers. "The events of the last two months are a reminder of how wrong that might be."

As recently as last month, California's two public pension funds reported investment gains of more than 20 percent for the fiscal year ended June 30, largely driven by rising stock values.

The increase came as both funds — one for teachers, the other for state and local government workers — were clawing their way back from losses in 2008 and 2009 that cost them up to one-third of their asset value.

The recent losses are stoking fears again that taxpayers will have to bail them out at the expense of other programs that already have been subject to deep budget cuts. The state already faces an estimated $75 billion in unfunded public pension liabilities.

"The stock market volatility just shows that the public budget should not be subject to the Dow Jones Industrial Average," said Dan Pellissier, president of California Pension Reform, a group that is preparing a ballot initiative to limit the amounts governments can spend for future pensions.

Pellissier himself will qualify for a $5,000-a-month state pension when he turns 55 in five years after working in state government for two decades. Despite his own government pension, Pellissier said public employees should bear the investment risk for retirement benefits just as private-sector employees do through 401(k) plans.

New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said public pension funds work well. New York has reduced pension benefits in the past year for newly hired workers and lowered its performance outlook to 7.5 percent, while most states remain at 8 percent.

"This is a fund that has worked and been able to pay out benefits for 90 years," he said. Managers also note the "funding ratio," which is the percentage of the fund needed to pay out all its obligations, is more than 80 percent in many states, which pension managers say is positive.

As an example of pension funds adapting to meet changing conditions, the $51 billion Pennsylvania Public School Employees' Retirement System increased its cash allocation to 8 percent after the 2008 market crash so it could pay benefits without having to sell assets. It has lost as much as 3 percent in value since July 1.

After a strong showing last year in a rebounding market, many state pension fund managers are confident they will ride out the latest gut-churning gyrations on Wall Street.

While Virginia's fund has an unfunded liability of $17.6 billion, it diversified after the stock market losses in 2008 and 2009, allowing it to better weather stock market swings. New Jersey's pension portfolio is more diverse than ever and includes real estate, hedge funds and private equity investments.

"It's a hedge against the kind of market conditions we've seen over the past two weeks," state Treasury spokesman Andy Pratt said. "We have significant protection against the ups and downs of the stock market we're seeing now."

He said returns for the last fiscal year were between 17.5 percent and 18.5 percent, the best year since 1998.

In Massachusetts, investments are being diversified and loopholes to accrue pension benefits are being closed. The state also added 15 years to its deadline for fully funding the retirement system, pushing it to 2040.

Julie Graham-Price, spokeswoman for Ohio's Public Employees Retirement System, said the fund's bond holdings gained this week even as stock values sunk, evidence of a balanced portfolio.

"We have no idea yet what July and August will look like except to say it's not good when the market is volatile and has dropped like it has," said David Urbanek, spokesman for the Illinois Teachers Retirement System. "It's a cyclical thing. We will ride it out, just as we have overcome numerous other downturns over the last 72 years."

Even with the steady-as-she-goes response from pension fund managers, critics of the system say taxpayers should be nervous about their future liabilities to government retirees, said Jim Waters, vice president of the Bluegrass Institute, a nonpartisan group that has pressed for a defined contribution system for government employees in Kentucky.

"Without pension reform, Kentucky could be headed for bankruptcy and the inability to provide necessary services for its neediest citizens," he said. "Kentucky's been in a hole for a while now, but continues to dig ... There's no way we can rely solely on the stock market or even individual contributions alone to close the liability gap."

___

Associated Press writers Roger D. Alford in Frankfort, Ky.; Angela Delli Santi in Trenton, N.J.; Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee, Fla.; Johanna Kaiser in Boston; Bob Lewis in Richmond, Va.; Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pa.; Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio; Adam Weintraub in Sacramento, Calif.; and Christopher Wills in Springfield, Ill., contributed to this report.



Over 3000 by mid-August
Malloy administration to ax 328 state workers
DAY
Associated Press
Article published Jul 13, 2011

HARTFORD (AP) — The Malloy administration will lay off 328 state employees in the first wave of job cuts as it seeks to balance the two-year, $40.1 billion budget.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy released details of job reductions Wednesday. The governor's office says the Department of Corrections will take the brunt of the layoffs as it loses 222 jobs. Of those, 191 are correction officers.

The state plans to close the Bergin Correctional Institution in Mansfield in August and the Enfield Correctional Institution in Enfield by October.

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is losing 89 jobs and the remaining cuts are from three other agencies.

Malloy said Tuesday that because of state rules governing layoffs, employees can be required to leave in two, four or six weeks.


States and unions struggle over public labor's future
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
February 4, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's call for labor concessions puts him on a growing list of Democratic governors and mayors who are demanding a permanent, new relationship with the organized labor allies who helped elect them.  Jerry Brown in California, Andrew Cuomo in New York, Deval Patrick in Massachusetts and Malloy in Connecticut are making the case that present levels of public-sector compensation no longer can be sustained.

It's a trend that Barry Bluestone, a Northeastern University economist and longtime friend of labor, says has brought public employees to a watershed moment in politics and labor relations.

"This is not the right, this is progressive liberals on the left," Bluestone said of Malloy and the other governors. "I think that's starting to have an effect on many of these unions of saying, 'Well, we've to figure out a new way of doing our business.' "

To Bluestone, that new way of doing business must mean re-examining benefits and shedding most work-place rules and job classifications that hamper governors and mayors from cutting costs.  He is an unlikely advocate for the proposition that unions should surrender hard-bargained work rules and benefits to avoid a public backlash and the abandonment by political allies.

Bluestone, 66, is the son of Irving Bluestone, a key lieutenant to Walter Reuther, the founder of the United Auto Workers, whose contracts set the pace for broad swaths of the workforce, helping to grow the middle class.  He still sees unions as an important force for social and economic justice.

But Bluestone, who worked in a Ford parts plant as a college student in Michigan, said the decline of the UAW from 1.5 million members in the early 1960s to fewer than 465,000 today is a cautionary lesson for public-sector unions.

In July 2009, he wrote a commentary for the Boston Globe that posed a provocative question, "A future for public unions?"

Bluestone reported that between 2000 and 2008, the price of state and local public services increased by 41 percent nationally compared with 27 percent in private services.  Faced with their own stagnant wages and the threat of job losses, private-sector workers have become more insistent on a leaner, more productive public-sector workforce, Bluestone said.

"Union leaders may think that by working diligently to elect friendly public officials, they can fend off the day of reckoning," he wrote in The Globe. "But that day is fast approaching."

Bluestone said he was moved to write the piece after seeing Democratic labor allies such as Boston Mayor Thomas Menino break with unions over issues like experimental charter schools, which tend to be non-union.  Then the economic crisis hit, exacerbating the pressure on state and local governments that had been building over the cost of long-term obligations, such as debt, pensions and retiree health liabilities.

"I just saw all of this leading to a point where the unions really would be taking a lot of hits, not just from conservatives, but from liberals," Bluestone said. "I was basically saying, 'Guys wake up. This is coming down the pike.' "

The reaction of his friends in labor was surprisingly positive, he said.

"I had some of my friends in the labor movement who castigated me for playing into the hands of the right wing and just giving them more ammunition," Bluestone said. "In fact, that was not the general reaction."

He has become a sought-after speaker on the subject of challenges to public-sector unions. Last week, he participated in a three-day retreat attended by Massachusetts officials, including the governor, and CEOs, foundation heads and union presidents.

"There was a really lively discussion about what are some of the things the unions can do, and how can we create this new labor-management environment that will be good for teachers and other public employees, but also good for the commonwealth," Bluestone said.

On Monday, he addressed an economic conference in Hartford sponsored by the Partnership for Strong Communities.  Bluestone, who taught at Boston College while Malloy was a B.C. undergraduate, sees Malloy as the latest in a long line of progressive Democrats on a collision course with labor.  On Thursday, Malloy described the current compensation levels of state-employee as unsustainable and said that labor concessions would be part of his plan to erase a structural deficit of $3.7 billion.

Bluestone's message is neither being embraced, nor rejected by Connecticut labor leaders.  Larry Dorman, an AFSCME employee and a spokesman for the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, and Connecticut AFL-CIO president John Olsen, each said that public-sector employees are not responsible for the state's fiscal crisis.

"We're in an economic crisis caused by Wall Street and corporate America. It was exacerbated by Bush tax cuts," Dorman said.

He agrees with Bluestone about the danger faced by public employee unions losing the battle for public opinion. And labor already is engaged in a high-profile fight with New Haven Mayor John Destefano, who was supported by labor the 2006 campaign for governor, over pensions.

"There is blood in the water," he said. "Of course, we are concerned."

But he is unwilling to concede that the biggest political danger to unions lays with its erstwhile Democratic allies.

"It is in the end being driven by right wing ideologues and corporate America," Dorman said. "That is the pressure point."

State employees expected to negotiate with Malloy, just as they did with Gov. M. Jodi Rell two years ago, when they gave back $600 million in benefits and allowed the state to defer a $300 million pension contribution.  Olsen said he rejected the idea that public-sector employees must give up on pensions and good health coverage, just because corporations have succeeded in taking away those benefits from their employees.

"It's sad. Because I lost my legs, I want to cut your legs off?" Olsen asked. "That's pretty much where we are. I believe everybody should have a pension, everybody should have health coverage."

As for more flexible work rules?

"You always need to sit down in good faith and bargain," Olsen said. "You're always looking at what's being put on the table."



COG combos
Barnes, moving toward confirmation, hints at budget plans

CT POST
Ken Dixon, Staff Writer
Published: 07:38 p.m., Thursday, January 20, 2011

HARTFORD -- Benjamin Barnes of Stratford, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's candidate for financial chief, gave lawmakers a look Thursday at likely tactics for reducing the state's multibillion-dollar deficit.

During a 90-minute hearing on his nomination, Barnes indicated that schools may obtain continued levels of support over the next two years; agency consolidations are being planned to save money; and that "significant" investments in transportation infrastructure would mean more construction jobs in the state.

Barnes said the budget deficit scheduled to take effect July 1 is now less than $3.4 billion, thanks to a slight increase in tax revenues, but it is still formidable.

Barnes stressed that "voluntary" cooperation may be requested among cities and towns, but without a county form of government the state cannot force its communities to work together.

Later in the afternoon, he was easily confirmed by Senate members of the joint legislative Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee. His nomination to become secretary of the Office of Policy and Management heads to the Senate for a final vote.

Barnes said that he is reviewing many of the state's tax exemptions, which, if put back on the books, would mean billions of extra dollars in revenue for the state

Barnes -- a former longtime aide of Malloy's when he was mayor of Stamford and whose most recent job was as an executive with the Bridgeport Board of Education -- said the lingering recession creates major problems in continuing levels of state services.

"I personally believe that we should not accept that bad times and budget deficits are reason to defer our aspirations for progress and improvement," he said. "Government needs to be better run and we will find a way to do that within any resources we have available."

He said the Educational Cost Sharing formula that the state uses to support local school districts is crucial to maintaining schools and at least holding the line on local property taxes.

Under questioning from Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, co-chairman of the committee, Barnes said possibly combining some of the 15 regional Councils of Government (COGs) could be advantageous.

But he's aware of the state's history of home rule among 169 towns and cities.

"We should be pursuing a long-term policy of strengthening them that may involve reducing the number of them," he said. "I'm open to hearing that although I also understand that regional cooperation should be voluntary. Towns in Connecticut are long-standing entities and their home rule is something they take very seriously."



Malloy tells towns he'll protect them from spending cuts
Governor says he will balance budget without harming municipalities
By Matt Collette Day Staff Writer
Article published Jan 20, 2011

Cromwell - Cities and towns will not feel the brunt of state spending cuts, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday, even as he pledged to balance the deficit-plagued state budget.  Still, he told civic leaders at the annual meeting of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, reforms will take time.

"I'm not going to change this overnight," said Malloy, speaking to a packed ballroom at the Crowne Plaza Hotel and Conference Center. "If you have me back here next year, I'll probably be able to say a few things we've done. But things have been going in the wrong direction in Hartford for far too many years."

He did, however, promise to deliver a balanced state budget that does not break the backs of cities and towns.

"What we're in the process of doing right now … is figuring out where we can spend our money, what's reasonable, what's equitable," Malloy said. "And every day, I am thinking about not hurting cities and towns, not hurting boards of education."

Malloy said that cities and towns have long lived under the budgeting system - Generally Accepted Accounting Principles - that the state government is just now adopting, prompted by an executive order the governor signed moments after his swearing-in.

"I understand, I think, better than most how hard your job is," said Malloy, who served 14 years as mayor of Stamford. "I want to work with you. On the other hand, I want to create a truly balanced budget, one that complies with GAAP."

For years, Malloy said, state lawmakers have far outspent their means, creating a massive deficit the state must now address. The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis projects a $3.7 billion state deficit for 2011-12.

"That allowed bad decision-making to go on for such a long period of time because we believed the day of reckoning would never come, or it would come so infrequently that we could borrow our way out."

Borrowing to meet operating expenses, Malloy said, is not an option. Instead, the state will have to restructure the way it operates by consolidating agencies and reducing layers of management, moving decision-making powers closer to the level where state employees interact directly with the public.

"You have found ways to flatten your management structure," Malloy said. "If you take your public works department, you probably have a manager or a commissioner, probably an assistant and then a couple of supervisors. Then everyone else is directly involved in providing services to the town."
State government, he said, needs to be structured in a similar way.

"We've got to reinvent ourselves," he said.

Malloy said he would push the legislature to act quickly on at least the spending half of the budget, giving municipalities an idea of what to expect from the state when they are drafting their budgets.  Though his address offered a commitment to help cities and towns as much as possible, Malloy had few specific examples of how he would do that. That information, Malloy said, would come Feb. 16, when he gives the governor's annual budget address to the state legislature.

He said he was open to signing legislation that would allow cities and towns to levy hotel or local sales taxes, a way to broaden the tax base so municipal governments are less reliant on property taxes.  Malloy also said he would work to ensure that school districts would receive as much education money as possible. In recent years, the state slashed its Education Cost Sharing grants, replacing those funds with federal stimulus money that is no longer available.

"I'll go as far as I can - or go completely - to keep communities from being harmed by that," Malloy said.  He also said that Connecticut has much work to do to improve its transportation infrastructure and education system to make the state more business-friendly.

"We're dead last for job growth," Malloy said. "We're probably going to rank dead-last, or in the bottom five of all 50 states, in terms of getting those jobs back."

Malloy received a standing ovation at the beginning and end of his talk, which lasted about 30 minutes, followed by a brief question-and-answer period. He boasted that he was the first governor to speak to the group since John Rowland, a silent reminder that Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell never appeared before the Council of Small Towns at its annual meeting.

"I think I am making news today," Malloy said. "I showed up."








Fireworks in Greenwich 2012?
The Mother Nature variety, as show above, in her July 4th spectaculars in Washington, D.C. and Weston.

RTM chairmanship in state of flux
Neil Vigdor, Greenwich TIME
Published 06:51 p.m., Saturday, July 7, 2012

The status of one of the top office holders in the Representative Town Meeting, whose fellow committee members have accused him of overstepping his authority, is in limbo without a specific road map for adjudicating the rare feud because of questions over parliamentary procedure.

The RTM Finance Committee voted in May to form a special investigatory panel to look into alleged misconduct by the group's chairman, Gordon Ennis, who is said to be at odds with his colleagues over the sharing of internal documents such as emails and reports, as well as the tenor of their communications.  But the probe, which is expected to be spearheaded by Joan Caldwell, the legislative body's second in command, has yet to get under way.

"The question becomes, do they have the right to set up such a committee?" Caldwell told Greenwich Time. "And if they do, fine. And if they don't, who does?"

A recent update of "Robert's Rules of Order", which prescribes different sets of procedures for removing a governing body officer dependent on whether the person has a set term length, is further complicating the process.

"It's about the procedures," Caldwell said. "Until we're sure that the procedure is being protected and that the RTM, the committee and I are on solid ground, there's a reluctance to go forward. It could work out fine this time, become a precedent and next time be challenged."

Town Attorney John Wayne Fox rendered a legal opinion that the Finance Committee was within its power to create the special panel, but that it needs to be ratified either by RTM Moderator Thomas Byrne or a vote of the full 230-member legislative body.

"Depending upon what they find, there could be hearings down the road," Fox said.

A message seeking comment was left for Byrne, who earlier this year met with Ennis and aggrieved committee members to try to mediate the dispute.  All but two of the committee's 12 members then backed a motion to remove Ennis "for cause," but the coup attempt was thwarted after the town attorney concluded the action did not follow due process.  Additional questions linger over who will ultimately decide Ennis' fate as chairman, a position he has held for the past 2 1/2 years.

"It is my opinion it would not be appropriate for the Finance Committee to be the trier of fact when the Finance Committee has already taken a vote and made a determination as to what it feels ought to be the final outcome," Fox said.

Ennis acknowledged that the feud has taken its toll on the committee, which is charged with reviewing nine-figure town budgets, labor contracts and other fiscal policy matters.

"I'm afraid we're in for some tough sailing," Ennis said. "I don't know that the committee can be effective."

Those familiar with the rift say it stems in large part from a special report on town property leases that was compiled by several of Ennis' subordinates, who then became irked when the chairman tried to unilaterally edit the document.  Relations between Ennis and his Finance Committee colleagues became so strained that they accused him of freezing them out of electronic and written correspondence, as well as name-calling.  Among those Finance Committee members with whom Ennis is known to have clashed is Rob Perelli-Minetti, co-chairman of the group that prepared the lease report.

Perelli-Minetti declined to comment on the basis of the pending investigation or to address Ennis' statements.  Ennis expressed his frustration with what he characterized as a lack of cooperation and follow-through by committee members.

"Some of the new additions are just not of the caliber of the people we had in the last session," Ennis said. "The performance of the Finance Committee during this last budget review that was completed in May was just dismal and very disappointing. You can't just mail it in and that's what actually happened."


Not exactly accurate!
Town Meetings Lauded By Some, Lamented By Others
Hartford Courant
By MARK SPENCER | Courant Staff Writer
May 9, 2008


Partisans of the town meeting form of government cherish it as a centuries-old tradition that is as New England as clam chowder and as sacred as democracy itself.

But supporters of the town manager-elected council form of government, who see that approach as a wellspring of good, efficient government, describe the town meeting as outmoded and dysfunctional. They say the Yankee aversion to change has prevented towns from adopting modern forms of government prevalent in the rest of the country, hobbling them as they face increasingly complex challenges.

The divide is no more evident than at this time of year, when thousands of residents in more than 100 towns in the state decide the fate of local budgets. In the coming weeks at town meetings across the state, cantankerous codgers will sit beside well-scrubbed, earnest young parents in school auditoriums and meeting halls to shout yes or no, influencing the next local tax bill that arrives in their mailboxes and the services they get from their towns and schools.

Paul Fetherston is relieved that he will not be around to see it. He recently left his job as Canton's chief administrative officer, frustrated at what he sees as an inability to get things done in local government.

"The Northeast is known nationally for its reluctance to change at the municipal level," said Fetherston, who also has been town manager in Newington and worked in East Hartford and Simsbury.

Fetherston was raised in Connecticut and says he loves it here, but he is leaving the state to become a deputy city manager in Boulder, Colo., where he expects to find what he views as a more progressive way of governing.

Although some towns only use the town meeting for big decisions, such as the budget, others, including Canton, rely on it for even minor matters, such as approving all ordinances or accepting grants of more than $100,000.

Low attendance at town meetings leaves decisions on increasingly complex issues in the hands of a few, opponents say. They argue that such matters are better left in the hands of trained professionals and an elected council.

"We have a disconnected public that doesn't know the issues and doesn't have time to know the issues," Fetherston said. "There has to be a reason to elect people. If you don't like the decisions they make, you can vote them out of office."

But Frank M. Bryan, a political science professor at the University of Vermont, is an enthusiastic supporter of town meetings. He calls them "the schoolhouse of democracy," in which every citizen is a legislator. He said the dialogue in town meetings educates people and leads to enlightened decisions.

"The people assembled usually bring out the arguments for and against something and give it a good airing," Bryan said.

When it comes to Connecticut Yankees, you can't beat Sam Humphrey. At 85, it doesn't take much prodding for him to tell you his family goes back eight generations in Canton. "It's only here in New England where individuals have the right to decide things," Humphrey said. "That's a privilege that is as close as you can get to a true democracy."

Home rule in Connecticut allows towns to determine the form of government they use, and that has led to a hodgepodge of approaches. The town meeting is the ultimate authority on at least some decisions in the 106 of the state's 169 municipalities that have elected boards of selectmen, according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

Under a manager-council government, the manager prepares the budget for council review and approval. Berlin eliminated town meetings in favor of a manager and council in 1994, although it still has budget referendums.

"People were not inclined to come out," said Fred Jortner, who was an elected official in Berlin before and after the change. "There were a handful of people controlling town finances."

Berlin proved that even reserved New Englanders can change their ways. The controversial switch to a town manager was initially approved by a 55-vote margin. Four years later, a referendum to switch back to the town meeting was defeated by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Bonnie Therrien, town manager in Berlin before taking the same job in Wethersfield, said administrators who come from out of state often don't last long when confronted with a system they see as antiquated and cumbersome.

"It just drives them crazy," she said.

The situation is particularly acute when it comes to budgets, which administrators spend months developing with their staffs and elected boards. Even in the smallest of towns, spending plans run into the millions these days. Residents who vote at a town meeting may or may not understand the budget.

Berlin's town manager, Roger Kemp, who worked in California and New Jersey, said he had never heard of a town meeting before coming to Connecticut.

"People always vote no because they can," he said. "People vote their wallets."

In a nod to the limits of the town meeting and decreasing participation, towns are increasingly holding referendums on their budgets.

For managers, that has its own problems. Some towns hold automatic referendums after the town meeting; others require residents to petition for one. Some set a limit on the number that can be held; others allow as many as it takes to win approval.

Michael E. Morrell, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, said the trend is away from town meetings and toward referendums to vote on budgets. He cited statistics from the state Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations that showed the number of budget town meetings decreased from 60 in 2004 to 50 last year. The number of referendums increased from 62 in 2004 to 73 in 2007.
 
Town officials are watching to see whether it's even more difficult this year. Budgets in Berlin, Plainville and Farmington have already been defeated in referendums.

Jortner, who served on the Berlin council, acknowledged that elected officials face pressure to keep taxes low, but said they have the long-term best interests of the town at heart.

Tim Tieperman came from Pennsylvania to become town manager in Tolland. The town initially did not have automatic referendums, but that changed several years after he arrived.

"It was a marathon of budget referendums before it got passed," he said. "That is when I said, 'This is enough.'"

He left and is now a city manager in his home state.

Bryan, who also teaches public administration courses, empathizes with the frustration town managers have with town meetings — to a point.

"It's a pain in the ass," he said. "Democracy is, and always will be."

Gene Chamberlain recently moved with his family from a suburb of Chicago to Farmington, where last month he spoke at his first budget town meeting. When he learned of the system, he said, he thought it was crazy.

"If you elect people for an office, you are essentially saying you trust that group to do what is best for the town," he said.

Humphrey, of Canton, started attending town meetings with his father at age 8 and estimates that he has been to about 250, despite being out of town for 23 years while he was in the Air Force. Anyone who wants to mess with his town meetings is looking for a fight.

He said he has never seen a town meeting make a bad decision, and he dismisses professional town administrators who say the time for them has passed.

"It's outmoded because it's a nuisance to them," Humphrey said. "They want to be dictators."




States Taking Different Approaches On Taxes, With Malloy Offering Few Clues
The Hartford Courant
By DANIELA ALTIMARI, altimari@courant.com
January 28, 2013

In red-state America, Republican governors such as Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Sam Brownback of Kansas have a big goal: Eliminate state income taxes in favor of higher sales taxes.

But in Massachusetts, officials are considering the reverse. Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick wants to increase the income tax and cut the sales tax.

Connecticut's Democratic governor, Dannel P. Malloy, is due to release his budget plan on Feb. 6. So far, he has offered few clues about how he intends to deal with a deficit projected to exceed $1 billion for the next fiscal year. The budget itself will top $20 billion.

"What I've said is, I don't plan on raising taxes,'' Malloy told reporters after the State Bond Commission meeting Friday. "It doesn't mean that every tax that would otherwise expire will expire.''

Malloy is unlikely to propose a plan as far-reaching as the one proposed by Patrick. "Why? The Politics 101 answer is that he's not a lame duck," said Jerrold Duquette, an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University.

Patrick's decision not to run for re-election has freed him from the constraints of politics and allowed him to pursue a sweeping liberal agenda, said Duquette, who lives in Longmeadow, Mass., and is a member of his town's Democratic committee.

In contrast, Malloy faces a potentially bruising re-election bid in 2014.

Malloy's critics on the right say they do not expect him to emulate Jindal or Brownback. But they wish he'd take a page from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's playbook. Cuomo, a Democrat, put forth a budget plan last week that is largely cobbled together from spending cuts, fee hikes and new gambling revenues.

"Gov. Cuomo is holding the line on spending and refusing to raise taxes,'' said Fergus Cullen, executive director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, an East Hartford-based think tank that advocates for small government and lower taxes. "I've long argued that Gov. Malloy ought to be more like Gov. Cuomo."

Cullen said he had high hopes in 2010, when Malloy edged out Republican Tom Foley.

"Just like only Nixon could go to China, only a Democratic governor with labor support could make a convincing case for fiscal restraint, for holding the line on spending,'' Cullen said. "Instead, he raised taxes and fed every interest group. ... He had a huge political opportunity that Gov. Foley never would have had and he blew it."

Under the mantra of "shared sacrifice," Malloy ushered in the largest tax increase in the state's history in 2011.

"That was a road New York and Massachusetts didn't go down,'' said Sen. John McKinney of Fairfield, the Republican leader in the state Senate. "We now have a tremendous opportunity to say to people and businesses that we're not going to raise taxes any more … that we're going to be more efficient."

But Malloy's approach also won praise.

"To his credit, Gov. Malloy made the hard decisions already and put the state back toward the path toward sustainability,'' said Jon Shure, director of state fiscal strategies for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research center that works on public programs that affect low- and moderate-income people.

Raising taxes is rarely popular: Public opinion polls by Quinnipiac University since March 2011 have consistently shown the Connecticut governor's job approval rating below 50 percent.

But the approach favored by Jindal, who is widely believed to be planning a run for the White House in 2016, and other Republican governors, has also been met with mixed reaction. A Rasmussen Reports poll of 1,000 likely voters throughout the nation found 41 percent do not think that eliminating a state's income tax in exchange for an increase in the sales tax is a worthy tradeoff.

Shure likened the strategy of scrapping the income tax to boost a state's economy to "saying your car will go faster if you take the engine out." He added: "For the most part, governors in the region are staying away from those shortsighted moves that we're seeing in other parts of the country."

But budget-crafting, like much in politics, is largely dependent on local dynamics. In Massachusetts, Patrick proposes cutting the sales tax by 1.75 percent in exchange for a package of $1.9 billion in new taxes to pay for education and transportation initiatives. His plan would increase the income tax from 5.25 percent to 6.25 percent, eliminating dozens of deductions, linking the gas tax to inflation and new taxes on candy and soda.

Meanwhile, just up the road in Maine, the Republican governor, Paul LePage, is calling for $200 million in cuts to local aid this year after pushing through the largest tax cut in state history in 2011.

Given the fragile nature of the economic recovery, many governors are reluctant to raise taxes — or able to propose broad-based tax cuts. "A lot of states are still constrained pretty tightly and some of that is a function of their own bad decisions in the past,'' said Don Boyd, a senior fellow with the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany. "It's not 'happy days are here again.'"

Even Chris Christie, New Jersey's enormously popular Republican governor, might find it difficult to cut taxes this year, Boyd said.

But the state budget maneuvers of 2013 might prove easy compared to the troubles looming on the horizon, Boyd said, citing rising health care costs and the likelihood of sharp reductions in federal aid.


"There's lots to worry about," he said.



New Jersey Lawmakers Approve Benefits Rollback for Work Force
NYTIMES
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
June 23, 2011

TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday approved a broad rollback of benefits for three-quarters of a million government workers and retirees, the deepest cut in state and local costs in memory, in a major victory for Gov. Chris Christie and a once-unthinkable setback for the state’s powerful public employee unions.

The Assembly passed the bill 46 to 32 on Thursday, as Republicans and a few Democrats defied raucous protests by thousands of people whose chants, vowing electoral revenge, shook the State House. Leaders in the State Senate said their chamber, which had already passed a slightly different version of the bill, would approve the Assembly version on Monday, and Mr. Christie, a Republican, was expected to quickly sign the measure into law.

The legislation will sharply increase what state and local workers must contribute for their health insurance and pensions, suspend cost-of-living increases to retirees’ pension payments, raise retirement ages and curb the unions’ contract bargaining rights. It will save local and state governments $132 billion over the next 30 years, by the administration’s estimate, and give the troubled benefit systems a sounder financial footing, mostly by shifting costs onto workers.

While states around the country have moved to pare labor costs and limit the power of unions, the move is all the more striking here, in a Democratic-leaning state where Democrats control both houses of the Legislature and union membership is among the highest in the country. Most Democratic legislators opposed the benefits reductions, but their leaders voted in favor of the changes, exposing deep, longstanding rifts within the party that lawmakers say could weaken it in coming elections.




Along the San Andreas Fault?
Click above for the answer, but it looks to us as if this is not important to the secession talk.


California Counties Talk of Cutting Ties to State
NYTIMES
Jennifer Medina
12 July 2011

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Natives here have long called this area the Inland Empire, a grand title for a stretch of cities about 50 miles east of Los Angeles. Now, a few political leaders are hoping this empire will lead a movement to break off from the State of California.

Frustrated by a state government he calls “completely dysfunctional” and “totally unresponsive,” a conservative Republican county supervisor is pushing a proposal for roughly a dozen counties in the eastern and southern parts of the nation’s third-largest state — conspicuously not including the heavily Democratic city of Los Angeles — to form a new state to be called South California.

“We have businesses leaving all the time, and we’re just driving down a cliff to become a third-world economy,” said the supervisor, Jeff Stone, who once ran for the Legislature. “Anyone you ask has a horror story. At some point we have to decide enough is enough and deal with it in a radically new way.”

He added: “I am tired of California being the laughingstock of late-night jokes. We must change course immediately or create a new state.”

Mr. Stone’s list of complaints is long — too much money spent on state prisons, too much power for public unions, too many regulations and not enough of a crackdown on illegal immigration. It seems clear that he has struck a nerve in some quarters; he said that his office has been inundated with thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls supporting his call for secession.

“I’m 59 and have lived here all my life,” one man from Anaheim wrote. “I’m about to leave the state, but if we could break from the liberal counties I’d stay. God bless you and let me know if I can help.”

While several other county supervisors initially dismissed the notion of seceding, on Tuesday the board unanimously approved Mr. Stone’s proposal to plan a conference for California municipal leaders to discuss ways to fix state government or consider secession — although they said they would make sure that no county money or personnel were used to plan such an event.

In many respects, the rest of the state can feel worlds apart from the scenes of sandy beaches and lush wine groves that California is known for. And while the rest of the country thinks about the northern-southern divide of the state, for years the largest differences have been between the coastal and inland areas.

Outside the biggest cities, the landscape is dotted with orange groves instead of palm trees and deserts instead of coastlines, an environment that is generally more rural than urban. The population tends to be poorer and more socially and politically conservative — Republicans outnumber Democrats in all but three of the counties in Mr. Stone’s proposed new state, which includes San Diego.

Calling for secession in difficult economic times is not a new idea — more than 200 such proposals to break up California have been floated since the state was formed in 1850. In 1992, several northern counties held an advisory vote on secession, but it ultimately went nowhere.

The closest any campaign came to success was in 1941, when several counties in Northern California and southern Oregon campaigned to form the state of Jefferson. At the time, the counties said they did not have enough roads and created a “Proclamation of Independence” for the 49th state — Alaska and Hawaii had not yet joined the union.

But just as the movement was gaining traction, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and residents put aside their dreams for a new state to work on the war effort.

Calls to break from the rest the state are not unique to California. Parts of Texas, Florida and Idaho have all tried to divide from their home state in the last several decades. Although the details differ, the story line is basically the same — one part of the state believes it is getting short shrift from the capital.

“The politics of victimhood are very powerful,” said Shaun Bowler, a political science professor at the University of California, Riverside. Mr. Stone’s effort taps into an angry undercurrent among many conservatives in the eastern part of the state. “People have been mad for a long time. They seem to have a sense that if they keep shouting louder that they are right that they will convince the rest of the state that they are right.”

Under Mr. Stone’s proposal the state would have only a part-time Legislature, with lawmakers earning $600 a month. And there would be no term limits. One crucial element of California’s budget structure (and an article of faith among Republicans) would remain: a strict limit on property taxes.

Mr. Stone said he was particularly angered when the state’s budget diverted roughly $14 million from several newly incorporated cities in Riverside County. Jurupa Valley, for example, lost $6.4 million from its anticipated budget just a day before it was officially incorporated.

During the hourlong discussion of the proposal on Tuesday, the debate brought into clear focus the divide between Republicans and Democrats. Several speakers said they were angered by comments from Gov. Jerry Brown’s spokesman, who suggested that anyone who wanted to live with “very conservative right-wing laws” could simply move to neighboring Arizona.

(The spokesman, Gil Duran, did not back down Tuesday, saying that the idea of secession was a “pure joke that doesn’t merit serious attention.” He pointed out that the area Mr. Stone wants to peel off collects more money from the state than it generates. He added, “It’s an escapist fantasy of someone more interested in a political stunt than focusing on his job.”)

Bob Buster, the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, initially called Mr. Stone’s idea a “crazy distraction.” But he acknowledged that there was much to be unhappy about.

“There is a chronic unhappiness we have with the state that we cannot shake,” said Mr. Buster, who is not a registered member of either party. “We’re already balkanized in this state. The problem is governance itself, but we need to work to fix the problems, not spend time talking about just taking our marbles and leaving.” .

California Governor Vetoes Budget
NYTIMES
By JENNIFER MEDINA
June 16, 2011

LOS ANGELES — Gov. Jerry Brown of California on Thursday ’vetoed the state budget that the Democratic-controlled state Legislature had passed the day before, saying that the proposal merely papered over the state’s long-term deficit and added billions in new debt.

The veto means that the governor will have to reopen negotiations with the Legislature to try to get his plan to close a $10 billion gap approved. In order to pass that plan, which relies on extending some taxes that were set to expire this year, Mr. Brown needs votes from two Republicans in each house, support that has so far been elusive.

Mr. Brown, who has railed against budgetary maneuvers that the state has relied on for years to balance its budget, placed the blame on Republicans and commended lawmakers from his party for their “tremendous efforts” to balance the budget, but said that the plan approved Wednesday was not balanced.

He said the budget contained “legally questionable maneuvers, costly borrowing and unrealistic savings,” and that it would not meet the state’s financial obligations.

“A balanced budget is critical to our economic recovery,” he said in his veto message. “I am, once again, calling on Republicans to allow the people of California to vote on tax extensions for a balanced budget and significant reforms.”

He added: “If they continue to obstruct a vote, we will be forced to pursue deeper and more destructive cuts to schools and public safety — a tragedy for which Republicans will bear full responsibility.”

While many lawmakers said that they had expected the governor to continue to negotiate with Republicans, few expected him to veto the budget entirely.

Among the reasons legislators scrambled to pass the stop-gap budget plan by Wednesday’s deadline was that state law called for them to have a full day’s pay docked for every day the budget was late. Since they passed a budget by the deadline, their pay will continue unimpeded, despite the governor’s veto.



States ignored warnings on unemployment insurance

YAHOO
By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press
19 February 2011

WASHINGTON – State officials had plenty of warning. Over the past three decades, two national commissions and a series of government audits sounded alarms about the dwindling amount of money states were setting aside to pay unemployment insurance to laid-off workers.

"Trust Fund Reserves Inadequate," federal auditors said in a 1988 report.

It's clear now the warnings were pretty much ignored. Instead, states kept whittling away at the trust funds, mostly by cutting unemployment insurance taxes at the behest of the business community. The low balances hastened insolvency when the recession hit, leading about 30 states to borrow $41.5 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to their growing population of jobless.

The ramifications will be felt for years.

In the short term, states must find the money to pay interest on the loans. Generally, that involves a special tax on businesses until the loan is repaid. Some states could tap general revenues, making it harder to pay for schools, roads and other state services.

In the long term, state will have to their replenish unemployment insurance programs. That typically leads to higher payroll taxes, leaving companies with less money to invest.

Past recessions have resulted in insolvencies. Seven states borrowed money in the early 1990s; eight did so as a result of the 2001 recession.

But the numbers are much worse this time because of the recession was more severe and the funds already were low when it hit, said Wayne Vroman, an analyst at the Urban Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank based in Washington.

The Obama administration this month proposed giving states a waiver on the interest payments due this fall. Down the road, the administration would raise the amount of wages on which companies pay federal unemployment taxes. Many states probably would follow suit as a way of boosting depleted trust funds.

Businesses pay a federal and state payroll tax. The federal tax primarily covers administrative costs; the state tax pays for the regular benefits a worker gets when laid off. The Treasury Department manages the trust funds that hold each state's taxes.

Each state decides whether its unemployment fund has enough money. In 2000, total reserves for states and territories came to about $54 billion. That dropped to $38 billion by the end of 2007, just as the recession began.

Over the next two years, reserves plummeted to $11.1 billion, lower than at any time in the program's history when adjusted for inflation, the Government Accountability Office said in its most recent report on the issue. Yet benefits have stayed relatively flat, or declined when compared with average weekly wages.

"If you look at it from the employers' standpoint, they're not going to want reserves to build up excessively high because then there's an increasing risk that advocates for benefit expansion would point to the high reserves and say, 'We can afford to increase benefits,'" said Rich Hobbie, executive director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.

A review of state unemployment insurance programs shows how states weakened their trust funds over the past two decades.

In Georgia, lawmakers gave employers a four-year tax holiday from 1999-2003. Employers saved more than $1 billion, but trust fund reserves fell about 40 percent, to $700 million. The state gradually has raised its unemployment insurance taxes since then, but not nearly enough to restore the trust fund to previous levels. The state began borrowing in December 2009. Now it owes Washington about $588 million.

Republican Mark Butler, Georgia's labor commissioner, said his state had one of the lowest unemployment insurance tax rates in the nation when the tax holiday was enacted.

"The decision to do this was not really based upon any practical reason. It was based on a political decision, which I think, by all accounts now, we can look back on and say it was the wrong decision," Butler said. "Now we find ourselves in a situation where we've had to borrow money and that puts everyone in a tight situation."

In New Jersey, lawmakers used a combination approach to deplete the trust fund. The Legislature expanded benefits and cut taxes, as well as spending $4.7 billion of trust fund revenue to reimburse hospitals for indigent health care. The money was diverted over a period of about 15 years and helps explain why the state's trust fund dropped from $3.1 billion in 2000 to $35 million by the end of 2010. The state has had to borrow $1.75 billion from the federal government to keep the program afloat.

"It was a real abdication of responsibility and a complete misunderstanding of how you finance an unemployment insurance fund — to make sure you have sufficient money in bad economic times," said Phillip Kirschner, president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association. "In good economic times you build up your bank account, but in New Jersey, they said, 'Well, we have all this money, let's spend it.'"

California took its own road to trust fund insolvency. Lawmakers kept payroll tax rates the same, but gradually doubled the maximum weekly benefit paid to laid-off workers to $450. The average benefit now is about $300 and is paid for about 20 weeks.

Loree Levy, spokeswoman for the California Employment Development Department, said lawmakers were warned of the consequences.

"We testified at legislative hearings that the fund would eventually go broke and would become permanently insolvent if legislation wasn't passed to increase revenue," Levy said.

California has borrowed $9.8 billion to keep unemployment insurance payments flowing. It owes the federal government an interest payment of $362 million by the end of September.

In Michigan, unemployment insurance tax rates declined from 1994 through 2001. The trust fund prospered during those years because of the healthy economy and low unemployment rate. Then the recession arrived and reserves plunged. In response, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation that lowered the amount of wages subject to unemployment taxes from $9,500 to $9,000. They increased the maximum weekly benefit from $300 to $362. The trust fund dropped from $1.2 billion to $112 million over the next four years. In September 2006, Michigan was the first state to begin borrowing from the federal government.

Other states held their trust funds purposely low as part of an approach called "pay-as-you-go." Texas is a nationally recognized leader of this effort. Its philosophy is that, in the long run, it's better for the economy to keep the maximum level of dollars in the hands of businesses rather than government. Texas had to borrow $1.3 billion in 2009. State officials have no regrets about their policy.

"By keeping the minimum in the (trust fund), Texas is able to maximize funds circulating in the Texas economy, allowing for the creation of jobs and stimulation of economic growth," said Lisa Givens, spokeswoman for the Texas Workforce Commission.

The pay-as-you-go approach goes against the findings of a presidential commission that looked into the issue of dwindling trust funds in the mid-1990s.

"It would be in the interest of the nation to begin to restore the forward-funding nature of the unemployment insurance system, resulting in a building up of reserves during good economic times and a drawing down of reserves during recessions," said the Advisory Council on Unemployment Compensation, which President Bill Clinton appointed.

Hobbie, from the association representing state labor agencies, said there's no way to tell which approach is better over the long haul. He acknowledged that keeping reserves at the minimum in good times goes against one of the original aims of the program — to act as an economic stabilizer in bad times. That's because businesses are asked to pay more in taxes, which leaves them less money to invest in their company.

A survey from Hobbies' organization found that 35 states raised their state unemployment taxes last year.

Hobbie said he suspects that some states allowed reserves to dwindle out of complacency.

"I think we just got overconfident and thought we wouldn't experience the bad recessions we had in, say the mid '70s, and then this big surprise hit," he said.




PUBLIC EMPLOYEES USED TO NOT BE ALLOWED TO GO ON STRIKE (IN MY LIFETIME)
Cause and effect:  At one end of the spectrum of union rights, we offer the Yale&Towne striker...nothing like the early days of  "breaking unions"


Collective Bargaining Law Upheld in Wisconsin
NYTIMES
By MONICA DAVEY
June 14, 2011

The Wisconsin Supreme Court cleared the way on Tuesday for significant cuts to collective bargaining rights for public workers in the state, undoing a lower court’s decision that Wisconsin’s controversial law had been passed improperly.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, issued at the close of the business day, spared lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Capitol from having to do what some of them strongly hoped to avoid: calling for a new vote on the polarizing collective bargaining measure, which had drawn tens of thousands of protesters to Madison this year and led Democratic lawmakers to flee the city in an effort to block the bill.

Republican leaders had warned on Monday that if the Supreme Court did not rule by Tuesday, they would feel compelled to attach the same measure to the state’s budget bill, which is expected to be approved this week.

The decision ended, at least for now, lingering questions about when and whether the cuts would take effect, but it also underscored the state’s partisan divide, which seems to grow wider by the day. The ruling was 4 to 3, split along what many viewed as the court’s predictable conservative-liberal line.

The majority of the justices concluded that a lower court was wrong when it found that the Legislature had forced through the cuts in collective bargaining without giving sufficient notice — 24 hours — under the state’s open-meetings requirements.

In its written decision, the court cited the importance of the separation of powers, and said the Legislature had not violated the state’s Constitution when it relied on its “interpretation of its own rules of proceeding” and gave slightly less than two hours’ notice before meeting and voting. In the end, the provision passed without the attendance of any of the Senate’s 14 Democrats.

Justice David T. Prosser, whose re-election bid was threatened this year because he was seen as a conservative who would cast the deciding vote on the collective bargaining measure if it came before the court, voted to overturn the lower court ruling. He issued his own opinion concurring with the majority.

Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, who is viewed by many as leading the court’s liberal wing, wrote a scathing opinion that accused the majority of a “hasty judgment.”

“It is long on rhetoric and long on storytelling that appears to have a partisan slant,” Chief Justice Abrahamson wrote of Justice Prosser’s opinion.

Republicans, who won control of both legislative chambers and the governor’s office in last November’s elections, praised the ruling, and said they could now move forward with what some of them describe as a fiscally wise budget.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling provides our state the opportunity to move forward together and focus on getting Wisconsin working again,” Gov. Scott Walker said.

Democrats said the court’s decision was unsurprising given a battle that had turned so fierce. Protests, again, were mounting at the Capitol. Democratic leaders said they planned to remind voters of the collective bargaining bill in the weeks before Senate recall elections that grew out of the fight.

“I guarantee you, some Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief about not having to take this up again,” said Senator Christopher Larson, a Democrat. “On the other hand, these justices just sent a reminder to voters of what has happened here.”

Wis. Assembly reaches deal to end debate, vote
By TODD RICHMOND and SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press
Feb 24, 8:57 AM EST

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin Democrats in the state Assembly agreed to a deal in the pre-dawn hours Thursday to limit debate and reach a vote, perhaps by midday, on a bill taking away public workers' collective bargaining rights. Republican leadership in the Senate meanwhile dispatched police officers to the homes of some of the 14 Democratic lawmakers who have been on the run for a week to avoid voting on the proposal, to compel them to return.

The early morning action Thursday was designed to force a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill that has made Wisconsin the focus of a multiple state effort to curb union rights. The Assembly deal announced shortly after 6 a.m. followed more than 42 hours of debate that began Tuesday morning.

"We will strongly make our points, but understand you are limiting the voice of the public as you do this," said Democratic state Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison. "You can't dictate democracy. You are limiting the people's voice with this agreement this morning."

The Senate convened at 7 a.m. for long enough to make a call of the house, which allows for the sergeant at arms staff to go to the homes of missing lawmakers with police. The lawmakers can't be arrested, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he hoped it would pressure them to return. He would not say how many Democrats were being targeted, but he said it was more than one.

"Every night we hear about some that are coming back home," Fitzgerald said.

Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach, who is in the Chicago area, said all 14 senators remain outside of Wisconsin and would not return until Walker is willing to compromise.

"It's not so much the Democrats holding things up, it's really a matter of Gov. Walker holding things up," Erpenbach said.

Tens of thousands of people have protested the bill for nine straight days, with hundreds spending the night in sleeping bags on the hard marble floor of the Capitol as the debate was broadcast on monitors in the rotunda. Many of them were still sleeping when the deal to only debate 38 more amendments, for no more than 10 minutes each, was announced. The timing of the agreement means the vote could come as soon as noon Thursday.

Democrats, who are in the minority, don't have the votes to stop the bill once the vote occurs.

Passage of the bill in the Assembly would be a major victory for Republicans and Walker, but the measure must still clear the Senate. Democrats there left town last week rather than vote on the bill, which has stymied any efforts there to take it up.

The battle over labor rights has been heating up across the country, as new Republican majorities tackle budget woes in several states. The GOP efforts have sparked huge protests from unions and their supporters and led Democrats in Wisconsin and Indiana to flee their states to block measures.

Republicans in Ohio offered a small concession on Wednesday, saying they would support allowing unionized state workers to collectively bargain on wages - but not for benefits, sick time, vacation or other conditions. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's proposal also would allow most public workers to collectively bargain only for wages.

In Ohio, Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus denied protests have dented the GOP's resolve, saying lawmakers decided to make the change after listening to hours of testimony. He said he still believes the bill's core purpose - reining in spending by allowing governments more flexibility in dealing with their workers - is intact.

Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro called the changes "window dressing." She said the entire bill should be scrapped.

"We can't grow Ohio's economy by destroying jobs and attacking the middle class," Cafaro said. "Public employees in Ohio didn't cause our budget problems and they shouldn't be blamed for something that's not their fault."

Wisconsin Democrats have echoed Cafaro for days, but Walker has refused to waver.

Walker reiterated Wednesday that public workers must make concessions to avoid thousands of government layoffs as the state grapples with a $137 million shortfall in its current budget and a projected $3.6 billion hole in the next two-year budget.

The marathon session in the Assembly was grand political theater, with exhausted lawmakers limping around the chamber, rubbing their eyes and yawning as Wednesday night dragged on.

Around midnight, Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, accused Democrats of putting on a show for the protesters. Democrats leapt up and started shouting.

"I'm sorry if democracy is a little inconvenient and you had to stay up two nights in a row," Pocan said. "Is this inconvenient? Hell, yeah! It's inconvenient. But we're going to be heard!"

The Ohio and Wisconsin bills both would strip public workers at all levels of their right to collectively bargain benefits, sick time, vacations and other work conditions. Wisconsin's measure exempts local police, firefighters and the State Patrol and still lets workers collectively bargain their wages as long as they are below inflation. It also would require public workers to pay more toward their pensions and health insurance. Ohio's bill, until Wednesday, would have barred negotiations on wages.

Ohio's measure sits in a Senate committee. No vote has been scheduled on the plan, but thousands of protesters have gathered at the Statehouse to demonstrate, just as in Wisconsin.

In Indiana, Democrats successfully killed a Republican bill that would have prohibited union membership from being a condition of employment by leaving the state on Tuesday. They remained in Illinois in hopes of derailing other parts of Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels' agenda, including restrictions on teacher collective bargaining.

And in Oklahoma, a Republican-controlled state House committee on Wednesday narrowly approved legislation to repeal collective bargaining rights for municipal workers in that state's 13 largest cities.

---

Associated Press writers Ryan J. Foley in Madison and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.
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Madison Madness:  The unions are in an uproar in Wisconsin, but taxpayers just won’t stand for it anymore.
National Review
Larry Kudlow
February 18, 2011 3:15 P.M.


The Democratic/government-union days of rage in Madison, Wis., are a disgrace. Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan calls it Cairo coming to Madison. But the protesters in Egypt were pro-democracy. The government-union protesters in Madison are anti-democracy; they are trying to prevent a vote in the legislature. In fact, Democratic legislators themselves are fleeing the state so as not to vote on Gov. Scott Walker’s budget cuts.

That’s not democracy.

The teachers’ union is going on strike in Milwaukee and elsewhere. They ought to be fired. Think Ronald Reagan PATCO in 1981. Think Calvin Coolidge police strike in 1919.

The teachers’ union on strike? Wisconsin parents should go on strike against the teachers’ union. A friend e-mailed me to say that the graduation rate in Milwaukee public schools is 46 percent. The graduation rate for African-Americans in Milwaukee public schools is 34 percent. Shouldn’t somebody be protesting that?

Governor Walker is facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit, and he wants state workers to pay one-half of their pension costs and 12.6 percent of their health benefits. Currently, most state employees pay nothing for their pensions and virtually nothing for their health insurance. That’s an outrage.

Nationwide, state and local government unions have a 45 percent total-compensation advantage over their private-sector counterpart. With high-pay compensation and virtually no benefits co-pay, the politically arrogant unions are bankrupting America — which by some estimates is suffering from $3 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

Exempting police, fire, and state troopers, Governor Walker would end collective bargaining over pensions and benefits for the rest. Collective bargaining for wages would still be permitted, but there would be no wage hikes above the CPI. Unions could still represent workers, but they could not force employees to pay dues. In exchange for this, Walker promises no furloughs for layoffs.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is also pushing a bill to limit the collective-bargaining rights of teachers for wages and wage-related benefits. Similar proposals are being discussed in Idaho and Tennessee. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich wants to restrict union rights across-the-board for all state and local government workers. More generally, both Democratic and Republican governors across the country are taking on the extravagant pay of government unions.

Why? Because taxpayers won’t stand for it anymore.

In an interesting twist on this story, even private unions are revolting against government unions. Private unions pay taxes, too. And they don’t have near the total compensation of the public unions. It’s no wonder they’re fed up.

So, having lost badly in the last election, the government-union Democrats in Wisconsin have taken to the streets. This is a European-style revolt, like those seen in Greece, France, and elsewhere. So it becomes greater than just a fiscal issue. It is becoming a law-and-order issue.

President Obama, who keeps telling us he’s a budget cutter, has taken the side of the public unions. John Boehner correctly rapped Obama’s knuckles for this. If the state of Wisconsin voters elected a Chris Christie-type governor with a Republican legislature, then it is a local states’ rights issue.

But does President Obama even know that the scope of collective bargaining for federal employees is sharply limited? According to the Manhattan Institute, federal workers are forbidden to collectively bargain for wages or benefits. Instead, pay increases are determined annually through legislation.

Meanwhile, Gov. Scott Walker said it would be “wise” for President Obama to keep his attentions on Washington, not Wisconsin. “We’re focused on balancing our budget,” he said in a television interview. “It would be wise for the president and others in Washington to be focused on balancing their budget, which they’re a long ways from doing.”

Amen.

Obama should stay out. And Governor Walker should stand tall and stick to his principles. A nationwide taxpayer revolt against public unions can save the country. Otherwise, the spiraling out-of-control costs of state public-union entitlements will destroy the local fisc, just as surely as the unreformed federal entitlements of Social Security and health care are wrecking our national finances.





A Watershed Moment for Public-Sector Unions
NYTIMES
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
February 18, 2011

In the half century since Wisconsin became the first state to give its public workers the right to bargain collectively, government employee unions have mushroomed in size and power — so much so that they now account for more than half of the nation’s union members.

But the legislative push by Wisconsin’s new governor, Scott Walker, a Republican, to slash the collective bargaining rights of his state’s public employees could prove a watershed for public-sector unions, perhaps signaling the beginning of a decline in their power — both at the bargaining table and in politics.

Three-fourths of the states allow collective bargaining by some or all of state or local government employees. And labor’s friends and foes alike agree that if the Wisconsin legislation passes, it will create momentum for similar bills in Ohio, Indiana and other states.

“These kinds of high-profile public-employee battles have enormous stakes,” said Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor law at Harvard. “We’re still feeling the consequences of President Reagan confronting the union in the air controllers’ strike. For anyone interested in union rights, the fight in Wisconsin couldn’t be more important.”

From Florida to California, many political leaders are seeking to cut the wages and benefits of public-sector workers to help balance strained budgets.

But Mr. Walker is going far beyond that, seeking to definitively curb the power of government unions in his state. He sees public-employee unions as a bane to the taxpayer because they demand — and often win — generous health and pension plans that help push up taxes and drive budget deficits higher.

To end that cycle, he wants to restrict the unions to bargaining over just one topic, base wages, while eliminating their ability to deal over health care, working hours and vacations. Moreover, he wants to require unions to win an employee election every year to continue representing workers.

By flooding the State Capitol in Madison with more than 10,000 protesters, labor unions are doing their utmost to block Mr. Walker’s plans. They helped persuade Democratic state senators to slip out of the building this week to deny Republicans the quorum they needed to pass the legislation.

Democrats say the governor’s “budget repair bill” — strongly supported by the Republicans who control both legislative houses — is political payback, intended to cripple public-sector unions, which spent more than $200 million to back Democrats across the country in November’s elections.

Mr. Walker denies any such notion, saying he simply wants to curb union bargaining rights and bring public workers’ wages and benefits in line with the private sector. “It’s not about the unions,” he said this week. “It’s about balancing the budget.”

Christopher Policano, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said his union was willing to negotiate concessions with Mr. Walker, “but he wants to throw out the bargaining table.”

Mr. Walker has repeatedly argued that most Wisconsin residents back his legislation. After visiting a factory this week, he said that private-sector workers often complain that public employees receive more generous health and pension benefits than they do.

There is no question that public-sector unions and the thousands of contracts they have negotiated over the years have improved wages and pensions of government workers and made government service more attractive. But union leaders are quick to point to studies showing that overall compensation for government employees is slightly lower than for private-sector employees of comparable age and education.

Also embedded in the Wisconsin debate — and reaching well beyond that state — is a more fundamental dispute over the role, even the legitimacy, of public-sector unions. Like Mr. Walker, Ohio’s new governor, John Kasich, and Indiana’s second-term governor, Mitch Daniels, both Republicans, see public-sector bargaining as something to be banned or severely restricted because of its effect on taxpayers and government budgets.

Some Republicans quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat, who bridled at public-sector unionism and once said, “The process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted in the public service.”

Republicans say the Democrats have embraced the government employees’ cause because weaker unions would reduce crucial political support for Democratic candidates. Republicans have often denounced what they say is a squalid deal in which public-sector unions spend generously to elect allies to office and then those allies lavish generous wages and benefits on union members.

Ever since Wisconsin gave its government employees the right to bargain in 1959, it has generally been Democrats who have extended that right in other states. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave most federal employees the right to unionize and bargain collectively.

The national importance of the Wisconsin fight is clear. President Obama weighed in on labor’s behalf on Wednesday, calling Mr. Walker’s proposals “an assault on unions.” And the House speaker, John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, praised Mr. Walker for “confronting problems that have been neglected for years at the expense of jobs and economic growth.”

Citing an anticipated budget deficit of $137 million this year and a $3.6 billion shortfall over the next two years, Mr. Walker argues that his measures to curb union power and bargaining are essential to help balance the budget. Union leaders say that several of Mr. Walker’s proposals — including the one that would require elections each year to determine whether a majority of public employees want to keep their union — are really intended to cripple unions, not balance the budget.

Other governors, Democrat and Republican, are also grappling with budget deficits. But many of those governors, like Jerry Brown of California and Andrew M. Cuomo in New York, both Democrats, and Rick Snyder of Michigan, a Republican, are not trying to strip bargaining rights. They are instead using public pressure and the threat of layoffs to persuade public-sector unions to make far-reaching concessions.

“Wisconsin has become ground zero for the process of pushing back against unions,” said Steve Meyer, a professor of labor history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “People are waiting to see what happens here. That’s why the labor movement has become so deeply involved trying to stop this process.”

As happens so often in today’s increasingly partisan politics, the battle reflects how differently Republicans and Democrats view a particular subject — in this case, unions and their power. Many Republicans see public-sector unions as greedy, powerful special interests that are taking too many taxpayer dollars. Many Democrats see them as natural allies and a vital part of a labor movement that has helped build the nation’s middle class.

The furious demonstrators in Madison have shown that public-sector unions still wield real power. But if the Legislature enacts Mr. Walker’s bill, a tipping point might well be reached, with the power of public-sector unions tilting into decline.