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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Spicer: Malloy’s Immigration Policy Ignores the Law

By Ana Radelat

Washington — White House press secretary Sean Spicer today took aim at Gov. Dannel Malloy, saying the Connecticut chief executive “chooses not to follow the duly passed laws of this nation” in telling the state’s police forces they don’t have to cooperate with the Trump administration’s new push to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants. Image
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responding to a Skype question from Neil Vigdor of Hearst Media. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo

“The idea that Governor Malloy would not want the law followed as enacted by Congress or by the Connecticut legislature in any fashion seems to be concerning, right?” Spicer said. “Whether you’re a governor or mayor or the president, laws are passed in this country and we expect people and our lawmakers and our law enforcement agencies to follow and adhere to the laws as passed by the appropriate level of government.”

The press secretary’s remarks, made in response to a “Skype question” from a Connecticut journalist, were a reaction to Malloy’s release Wednesday of a memo to state police departments that said, “Law enforcement should not take action that is solely to enforce federal immigration law.”

“Law enforcement is not required to collect information regarding an individual’s citizenship or immigration status and there is no state or federal mandate to do so,” the governor said.

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Playhouse Hosts Forum on National Vote

The Westport Country Playhouse will host a forum on a new way to elect the president on Thursday, March 2 at 7 p.m.

Sponsors of the event, “The State of Voting: CT Debates a New Way to Elect the President,” include the League of Women Voters of Westport and National Popular Vote Connecticut.

Panelists include: Mark Albertson, historian; Hendrik Hertzberg, essayist; Luther Weeks, CT Voters Count, with the moderator,Victoria Bassetti, of the Brennan Center for Justice.

The event will include an opportunity for questions from the public, an announcement said.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Himes: More Than ‘Words That I Use, Often Imperfectly’ Image
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes stopped by the Westport Arts Center today to make his declaration and have his portrait taken by “As We Are!” exhibition photographer Xenia Gross. The exhibition features portraits of people who have contributed personal material to express their individual views and experiences with labels and the power of words. In response to the prompt, “I am more than___,” Himes wrote:”...the words that I use, often imperfectly.” The Himes photo will be added to the exhibition. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Leslie LaSala for

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Himes Addresses Large Town Hall Meeting in Norwalk Image
UPDATE U.S. Rep. Jim Himes addressed a wide range of issues tonight before a packed Town Hall meeting at the Norwalk Concert Hall. Himes promised to do all within his power to ensure that the Permanent Committee on Intelligence, of which he is a member, carries out a full investigation into what U.S. intelligence agencies have said were Russian attempts to influence the presidential election. However, he said the “right way” to investigate this is by an outside, nonpartisan panel. So many people turned up for the more than two and a half hour meeting that police shut down access once the auditorium was filled. The audience gave Himes a standing ovation on his entrance, prompting him to quip: “I’m living my fantasy of being a rock star.” The meeting, which the congressman said was his largest Town Hall gathering since he was elected in 2009, was streamed live on Facebook. Himes will hold another one Wednesday night at Bridgeport City Hall at 6:30 p.m. photo

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Malloy Proposes Bill Reducing Liquor Prices

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today announced that he has submitted a legislative proposal to the Connecticut General Assembly that will update an antiquated state law that currently forces the owners of certain retail stores to sell their products at artificial prices set by liquor wholesalers, resulting in unnecessarily high prices for consumers.

Connecticut is the only state in the country that has a law mandating that the retailers of alcoholic beverages sell their products at a minimum price above wholesale cost determined by the wholesaler industry, Malloy said in an announcement.

This means that – unlike everywhere else in the nation – these retailers cannot set the prices of the products that they put on the shelves in their own stores. he said.

As a result of this law, which the state adopted in 1981, the artificially determined prices typically end up being higher than the prices that these products sell for in nearly every other state in the country, forcing Connecticut residents to either pay more money or travel to a bordering state where the identical products are sold at a lower price.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

S&P Worried About Proposed Cost Shift Onto CT Towns

By Keith M. Phaneuf

A major Wall Street credit rating agency has issued back-to-back critical analyses of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new, two-year budget proposal.

S&P Global Ratings warned today that Malloy’s proposals to shift one-third of the cost of the teachers’ pension program onto cities and towns, and to realign other grants, “creates budgetary uncertainty for local governments.”

“If implemented, these proposals will create winners and losers,” said S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Victor Medeiros.

“Although we view the ability of a state to pass budget pressures on to lower levels of government in times of state budgetary stress as a credit positive for the state, the credit impact on local governments could be negative should they not be able to adequately adjust to this new funding paradigm.”

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

‘Spy Ship’ off Groton Fuels Democratic Calls for Probe of Trump Moscow Ties

By Ana Radelat

Washington — As news of a Russian “spy ship” loitering 30 miles from Groton made the rounds of the U.S. Capitol today, Democrats wove the incident into their demands for investigations of President Trump’s relationship with Russia.

“Residents of Connecticut should know that the arrival of the Victor Leonov, a Russian intelligence ship, 30 miles off our coast yesterday does not present a direct threat to our physical safety,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District,

“Its appearance is troubling, however, viewed in conjunction with the ongoing stories of Russian ties and interference in the Trump Administration and the recent deployment of a Russian cruise missile in apparent violation of international agreements.”

An unnamed U.S. officials this week told several news outlets that the Kremlin had secretly deployed controversial cruise missiles inside Russia.

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Senate Abolishes Obama Gun Rule Prompted by Sandy Hook

By Ana Radelat

Washington – The U.S. Senate today approved legislation that will roll back an Obama administration rule requiring the Social Security Administration to submit information about mentally impaired recipients so they can be added to a list of people barred from purchasing a gun.

The 57-43 vote to overturn Obama’s rule is the first clash over gun control in the new Congress.

“Republicans consistently say we don’t need new gun laws, we just need better enforcement of the laws already on the books. But today, they voted to undermine enforcement of existing law that provides complete information for the background check system,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, one of several Democrats who argued against overturning the rule.

Issued in December in response to Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the rule was expected to add about 75,000 names to a database of people banned from purchasing weapons.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

Feds Blink on High-Speed Rail Plan in CT

By Ana Radelat

Washington – In the staredown between the Federal Railroad Administration and opponents of part of its plan in Connecticut to bring high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor, the federal government has blinked.

It has agreed to consider additional input from those concerned about the route in Connecticut, and more importantly, the FRA is willing to modify that plan.

The NEC Future plan has been in the works for years. The FRA says it would reduce travel time between New York and Boston by 45 minutes and between Washington, D.C., and New York by 35 minutes and add tracks and railroad cars to a refurbished railroad system in the Northeast.

Other states have lauded the plan. But NEC Future has met heavy resistance from Connecticut, a pushback centered largely on a bypass of an existing rail line along the coastline that would run through Old Lyme and other historic coastal towns.

Click HERE for more of story

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Legislators Begin to Push Back on Malloy’s New Budget

By Keith M. Phaneuf

The General Assembly today began its review of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s new two-year budget with a strong, bipartisan pushback from the Appropriations Committee.

Lawmakers challenged proposals to reallocate local aid, open nonprofit hospitals’ real property to municipal taxation, continue dedicating some sales tax revenues to transportation, and close 40 percent of next year’s deficit with state employee concessions.

Malloy, who met with Capitol reporters at a separate news conference, said legislative resistance comes as no surprise.

The governor, who highlighted several key aspects of his plan in the days leading up to its full presentation on Wednesday, acknowledged there are a lot of difficult choices.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Upfront Payment Puts Land Swap Back on Table

By James Lomuscio

A land swap between the town and a developer that would net the town nine parking space on Elm Street is back on the table, according to Selectman Avi Kaner and developer David Waldman. Image
This building housing the Villa Del Sol Restaurant at 35 Elm St. would be razed and swapped for part of the town-owned parking lot across the street. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

Waldman had scrapped the land swap idea in early December, saying the numbers did not work in terms of what the town wanted financially and what was economically feasible for him.

“The economics just didn’t work for me, and as a developer I had to let it go,” Waldman, principal of David Adam Realty who is heading up the nearby Bedford Square Project, told WestportNow on Dec. 5. (See WestportNow Dec. 5, 2016)

Since then, Waldman working with Kaner and Brian Stern, chairman of the Board of Finance, appear to have reached an agreement. It is expected to go before the finance board in April, and if successful, the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Westport Projected to See $6M Reduction in State Aid Image
UPDATE This graphic provided by the state’s Office of Policy and Management shows Westport will see a $6 million reduction in state aid in the fiscal year beginning July 1. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Office of Policy and Management graphic

02/08/17 11:54 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Malloy Unveils $40.6 billion, Two-Year Budget

By Keith M. Phaneuf

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today unveiled a $40.6 billion, two-year budget that closes $3.6 billion in deficits by seeking $1.5 billion in labor concessions, imposing $400 million in annual pension costs on cities and towns, and scaling back tax credits for the middle class and working poor. Image
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy addresses the state legislature today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo

The plan, which would spend $20.1 billion next fiscal year and $20.5 billion in 2018-19, also dramatically overhauls the financial relationship between the state, municipalities and hospitals. It ends nonprofit hospitals’ long-standing exemption from local property taxation while increasing state payments to the industry, in turn generating more federal Medicaid dollars for Connecticut.

The pension fees and the hospital funding changes were designed not only to close major shortfalls in state finances driven largely by surging retirement benefit costs, but also to shield Connecticut’s financially distressed cities.

The labor savings target, which involves $700 million in the first year of the new budget and $800 million by the second, has an ugly alternative. According to Malloy’s budget director, Ben Barnes, the alternative would be to seek at least 4,200 additional layoffs.

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02/08/17 11:19 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Police and Fire Budgets Show Slight Decreases

By James Lomuscio

Next year’s police and fire department budgets seemed to please the Board of Finance as it pored over Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe’s proposed $79 million 2017-18 municipal budget Tuesday night. Image
Police Chief Foti Koskinas listens to Board of Finance members along with First Selectman Jim Marpe and Finance Director Gary Conrad. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

The proposed police budget of $8,141,397 represents a 0.5 percent decrease over the current year, and the $9,110,386 proposed fire budget is down 0.7 percent.

The Police Department decrease does not factor in salary changes as contract negotiations continue. Officers have been without a contract since June.

Still the first responder overall budgets seemed on target with Board of Finance Chairman Brian Stern’s zero-base budgeting directive as the town girds itself against the state’s fiscal malaise.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Connecticut Democrats Embrace Trump as Organizing Tool

By Mark Pazniokas

Twice in six days, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, has called news conferences in his Hartford office to draw a connection between state legislation filed by Republican lawmakers and the nation’s unparalleled newsmaker, Donald J. Trump.

The Connecticut Democratic Party, meanwhile, has averaged an email “alert” every other day since Trump’s inauguration, using the president’s pronouncements on Obamacare, voter fraud, abortion, financial regulation and immigration to expand and energize the Democratic base.

So far, Democrats say, Trump has produced results: Hundreds of volunteers responded to Democrats’ email appeals last month, 11 times more than in the previous January — and five times greater than in the two weeks before the November election.

“It’s a scary time for a lot of people,” Duff said. “We need as Democrats to make sure that people understand we are going to stand up for the principles that we believe in and we are going to work hard for the rights of all of our citizens.”

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02/07/17 07:38 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

GOP, Malloy Offer Plans to Restore Stalled Local Aid

By Keith M. Phaneuf

Republicans in the state House and Senate and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy both released proposals today to release stalled municipal aid that local officials hoped to receive this fiscal year.

And Republican leaders also said that their Democratic counterparts withdrew support at the last minute from a plan to restore education grants — and to close a small budget deficit as projected by nonpartisan analysts.

Democratic legislative leaders countered that the GOP plan still needed adjustments and that Republican leaders went “rushing into a news conference” rather than continuing bipartisan talks.

“We want to be bipartisan if that is an option,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby said during a late morning news conference in the Legislative Office Building. “We all could have been standing here today moving the state of Connecticut forward.”

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02/07/17 03:33 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Analysts: Big Pot of Money Awaits CT if Marijuana Legalized

By Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Connecticut could bring in $45.4 million to $104.6 million a year in revenue if the legislature legalizes marijuana in the same way Massachusetts or Colorado have, Connecticut’s nonpartisan fiscal experts say.

The estimates, by the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis, were for the second full fiscal year after legalization of the drug and varied depending on which state’s model for taxes and licensing fees was followed.

If the legislature allowed municipalities to also apply a 2 percent sales tax to marijuana, cities and towns could collectively bring in $9 million by the second full year of legalization, OFA estimated.

The revenue would be smaller in the first full year of legalization, between $30 million and $63.9 million for the state and $5.6 million for municipalities. The growth from year to year reflects that experienced in Colorado since legalization in 2014.

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02/07/17 10:40 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Lawmakers Discuss Issues at Chamber Breakfast Image
On the eve of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget address to the legislature, five local lawmakers today discussed issues facing Connecticut at a session at the Westport Library. The breakfast gathering, attended by about 30 persons, was sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce in association with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, and the Wilton Chamber. Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport Chamber, served as moderator. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

02/07/17 10:32 AM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Friday, February 03, 2017

Last in 5-Part Series: When Fiscal Reality Meets Political Spin

By Keith M. Phaneuf

When state budget director Ben Barnes told reporters Connecticut had “entered into a period of permanent fiscal crisis,” he did so just 13 days after his boss, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, had won the 2014 gubernatorial election with a polar opposite message.

While Malloy dismissed a major deficit forecast and pledged not to raise taxes, his Republican opponent, Tom Foley was even more upbeat about delivering tax relief and closing the deficit.

The challenge of wooing voters has taken on new dimensions as politicians increasingly are boxed in by Connecticut’s fiscal realities, and the 2014 gubernatorial campaign isn’t the only example.

In recent years, Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly have accused each other of making unrealistic if not ridiculous promises that fly in the face of the state’s mounting debts.

Click HERE for more of story

02/03/17 09:47 PM Comments (0) • PermalinkEmail Favicon Facebook Favicon LinkedIn Favicon

Himes Urges Caution in Rolling Back Financial Rules

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th) said today he hopes President Trump’s efforts to roll back Obama-Era financial rules won’t just help his friends but put the nation’s interests first. Image
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes addresses the Westport Rotary Club in 2015. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

Himes, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker, represents Westport, Greenwich and other affluent Connecticut towns where many bankers are his constituents.

He issued a statement after Trump announced a series of steps to revisit the rules enacted after the 2008 financial crisis and set the stage for a showdown with Democrats over the future of Wall Street regulation.

Himes’s statement: “On Friday morning, in a meeting with business leaders, President Trump said, ‘We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank. Because frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, that had nice businesses, they just can’t borrow money … because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.’

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Malloy: Teacher Pension Proposal to Hit Wealthy Towns

By Keith M. Phaneuf

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said today his proposed budget would shift $407.6 million, nearly one-third of the annual cost of municipal school teachers’ pensions, on to cities and towns — a move that would hit the state’s wealthiest communities the hardest. Image
Westport would be hard hit by the Malloy proposal. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) graphic

Malloy also said the two-year budget he will present Wednesday to the General Assembly would propose eliminating the $200 property tax credit within the income-tax system, costing nearly 875,000 middle-class households as much as $105 million per year based on nonpartisan analysts’ estimates.

Unlike nearly all other state education aid, the state contribution to teacher pensions does not factor in a town’s wealth or local taxpayers’ ability to pick up some of the cost. It proportionately funnels the most aid to districts that can afford to hire more teachers and provide the highest salaries.

“At a time when state government is making difficult cuts to services, we can no longer exclude how we pay for teachers’ pensions from this conversation,” Malloy said.

Click HERE for more of story

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Thursday, February 02, 2017

Himes’ New Dems and Moderate Republicans Explore Coalition

By Ana Radelat

Washington — With Donald Trump’s presidency fueling partisan fires in Congress, a group of centrist Democrats led by Rep. Jim Himes is trying to find common ground with GOP counterparts.

The pro-business “New Democrat Coalition” co-chaired by Himes, D-4th District, gathered with members of the “Tuesday Group” of House Republican moderates for a long lunch in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.

The goal was to determine whether they could come together on infrastructure, budget, tax and other issues.

“We talked about areas we might agree on,” Himes said.

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Part 4 of a Series: As Cuts Get Ugly, Legislators Forfeit Power, Transparency

By Keith M. Phaneuf

As retirement benefit and other debt costs continue to surge, some officials say there’s more at risk than higher taxes and deep cuts to key programs.

As budget choices turn ugly and voter frustration mounts, they say, legislators have been willing to forfeit some of their power and accept less public transparency, sometimes in exchange for greater political cover.

“I know that the only way we’re going to get out of this is to make a lot of difficult decisions, which is a little bit scary,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, a veteran member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. “But I think we have to remember that the budget is one of our core obligations. Instead we look for excuses to absolve ourselves of our responsibilities.”

One path that legislatures historically have taken to cut spending from a safe distance involves “lapses” — somewhat nebulously defined savings targets that the governor must achieve.

Click HERE for more of story

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Legislative Update Breakfast Set for Tuesday

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, in association with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, and the Wilton Chamber, on Tuesday will host a legislative update breakfast, entitled “How’re things in Hartford.”

It will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the Westport Library’s McManus Room.

Six legislators from Westport, Weston and Wilton were invited, according to Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport Chamber, who will moderate the discussion.

The session, open to the public, will take place on the eve of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget address to the legislature on Wednesday.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Marpe: Five-Year Forecast ‘Not a Wish List’

By James Lomuscio

Saying it is not a wish list but a catalog of possible expenditures, Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe tonight presented a $93.8 million five-year, town and school capital plan to the Board of Finance

The plan is up from last year’s projected $72.5 million forecast.

“This is intended to be a catalogue of possible expenditures,” Marpe said at the outset. “Some things will come off here.”

Among the 22 items included in the 2016-21 plan are Department of Public Works sewer projects and related bridge work costing $11.4 million due to Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) inspections.

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Part 3 of a Series: Whether Taxing or Cutting, CT Faces Painful Fiscal Future

By Keith M. Phaneuf

There is no shortage of ideas on how Connecticut should not solve the fiscal crisis caused by its massively unfunded retirement benefit programs.

There are plenty who say state government cannot tax its way out of a problem expected to last 15 years or more, and to attempt to do so would cripple an already weakened economy.

This camp places most of its hope in slashing labor costs. Unfortunately, the fastest growing expenses in the current budget have nothing to do with present-day workers, whose benefits are very close to the national average. And even reducing expenses tied to present-day workers comes with plenty of complications.

A second approach holds some reductions must be made but there’s no hope deep spending cuts can do it all and that major tax increases are unavoidable. Too much of the budget is tied up in fixed costs, and a slash-and-burn approach only would destroy the state’s quality of life while still failing to balance the books.

Click HERE for more of story

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Malloy to Propose Mandate Relief for Cities, Towns

By Keith M. Phaneuf

UPDATE Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today unveiled a plan to ease mandates on cities and towns, led by elimination of a controversial cap on local budgets.

The governor, who is expected next week to recommend a major realignment of aid from wealthier to poorer communities, also proposed: changes to collective bargaining, tightening of prevailing wage standards, granting more flexibility in local property assessment rates and eliminating a requirement for a superintendent in small school districts.

“True partnerships are built on listening to the concerns and responding to the needs of the other party,” Malloy said. “Given the challenges we face in balancing the budget in the next biennium, the state and local municipalities must continue to strengthen our working partnership — and in some respects, begin to redefine this relationship.”

Local cities and towns have complained loudly over the past two years since the legislature established a cap system, with financial penalties when local spending exceeds certain limits.

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Monday, January 30, 2017

First In A Series: CT Standing On Its Own Fiscal Cliff

By Keith M. Phaneuf

Connecticut stands on the cusp of an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

The budget that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will present to the legislature Feb. 8, in an attempt to close $3 billion in deficits over the next two years, is only a portent of a far greater, long-term challenge facing the state.

Simply, the bill is coming due in ever-increasing amounts for the 80-year failure of one of the richest states in the nation to adequately save for retirement benefits promised to teachers and state employees.

Hobbled by debts accumulated by generations of governors and legislators, Connecticut for at least 15 years to come is likely to face a bleak and politically dangerous menu of options that could shape the state’s economy and quality of life.

Click here for more of story

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Malloy Proposals Target Opiods

By Arielle Levin Becker

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today announced a series of legislative proposals intended to prevent opioid addiction and overdoses.

They included requiring physicians to prescribe opioids electronically rather than on paper; allowing visiting nurses to destroy unused medication; and allowing patients to add directives to their medical files indicating that they don’t want to be prescribed an opioid medication.

The proposals, which Malloy announced at an event for families of people who died from drug use, also include requiring doctors to provide information about the risk of addiction when prescribing opioids, and removing legal restrictions that can prevent state agencies from sharing information that could help track trends and how resources are being used.

“Connecticut is trying to lead on this issue. We’re probably, undoubtedly, not doing enough, but we always look for ways to do more,” Malloy said.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Westport Sales Tax?

By Keith M. Phaneuf

Connecticut’s cities and towns today unveiled a sweeping financial plan that included a major sales tax boost to aid communities, new regionalization incentives and collective bargaining changes. Image
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin today at CCM’s news conference in Wethersfield. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Keith M. Phaneuf for

The bargaining changes would be designed to ensure new revenue for towns would not be used to boost wages and benefits for municipal workers.

And while the plan the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) unveiled in Wethersfield was aimed at communities of all sizes, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin predicted this approach would enable the capital city to avoid insolvency and would boost struggling urban centers statewide.

The proposal could place Democrats in the General Assembly in a political quandary, leaving them caught between public-sector labor — a strong part of their political base — and a long-established priority of easing property-tax burdens.

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