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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Democrats Would Slash Municipal Aid, Allow Casino, Legalize Pot

By Keith M. Phaneuf


House and Senate Democrats today recommended opening a new casino, legalizing marijuana, and imposing deep cuts to municipal aid and public colleges and universities to balance the next two-year state budget.

And while their plan begins the process of establishing tolls in future years, it strips transportation reserves in the short term while selling 35 acres in Hartford along the elevated Interstate 84 highway to keep the state’s transportation program afloat.

The Democratic plan consolidates several departments, retains but reduces the public financing program for state elections, and closes an unnamed prison, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School and the Southbury Training School.

Like Malloy, who submitted his latest budget proposal on Monday, the Democratic plan also relies on state employee unions to provide concessions worth $1.57 billion over the next two fiscal years combined.

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05/16/17 03:15 PM Comments () • Permalink

Monday, May 15, 2017

Towns Hit Hard in Malloy’s Latest Budget Revisions

By Keith M. Phaneuf, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Kyle Constable, and Jake Kara


UPDATE Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today recommended more than $700 million in cuts to municipal aid to help compensate for a $1.5 billion projected decline in state income tax receipts over the next two years.

[Under the revised budget proposal, Westport, which in this fiscal year received $1,673,011 in state aid, would owe the state $4,611,597 in the next year, according to the state Office of Fiscal Analysis.]

The adjustments Malloy proposed to the $40.6 billion, two-year budget he first unveiled on Feb. 8 also would add about $80 million in annual tax hikes to the $600 million in new yearly revenue recommended three months ago.

Most of the increase comes from boosting the real estate conveyance tax, though the governor also recommended ending the sales tax exemption on nonprescription drugs and imposing certain restrictions on business tax credits.

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05/15/17 01:29 PM Comments () • Permalink

Positive Results From Bond Sale; Aaa Rating Reaffirmed

Town of Westport officials today announced positive results from a $6.9 million bond sale.

The sale, which occurred May 9, yielded competitive interest rates on the strength of solid reviews from Moody’s Investors Service, an announcement said.

“I am very pleased that our bonds were in such a high demand,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe. “These great results will keep our debt service costs, and the burden on the taxpayers, as low as possible.”

The town received a total of eight bids on the bonds with Fidelity Capital Markets submitting the winning bid. Fidelity beat out firms such as Roosevelt & Cross, J.P. Morgan Securities, Janney Montgomery Scott, and FTN Financial Capital Markets, among others, the announcement said.

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05/15/17 10:19 AM Comments () • Permalink

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Soft Opening for Bistro du Soleil

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Friends and family tonight attend a soft opening of the newest addition to the Saugatuck restaurant scene. Bistro du Soleil, located at 615 Riverside Ave. The restaurant, featuring a French-Mediterranean menu with a Latin twist, will open to the public on Thursday. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo


05/13/17 07:15 PM Comments () • Permalink

Friday, May 12, 2017

CT Takes Another Credit Rating Hit on Wall Street

By Keith M. Phaneuf


Connecticut’s status on Wall Street took another hit today when a major credit rating agency downgraded the state’s bond rating — a move that could lead to higher borrowing costs.

The downgrade by Fitch Ratings Inc., from A+ to AA-, comes about one month after Treasurer Denise L. Nappier warned the General Assembly to adopt a new approach to borrowing or risk slipping further in the credit rating.

It marks the fourth time Connecticut has faced a downgrade since May of last year. Fitch and S&P Global Ratings downgraded the state at that time, while Kroll Bond Rating Agency did so just two months later.

The fourth major rating agency, Moody’s Investors Service, hasn’t downgraded the state in recent years, but has given Connecticut a “negative” outlook, meaning its financed are being closely watched. Such outlooks often are a harbinger of a future downgrade.

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05/12/17 05:05 PM Comments () • Permalink

Floral Fury as Mother’s Day Nears

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Tina Ahlberg, manager of Westport Florist, 1 Treadwell Ave., said she is very busy today filling flower orders in advance of Mother’s Day. “Since Mother’s Day weekend is our busiest of the year, we asked customer to help us spread out deliveries over Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” she said. “Also, some customers told us they may not want to go out during the forecasted weekend storm and want to pick up flowers before Mother’s Day. We’ve been so busy we may need to stop taking orders at some point this weekend. Meanwhile, we’ve hired extra help to answer phones. The phones have been ringing off the hook.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com


05/12/17 05:01 PM Comments () • Permalink

Comings and Goings: Newbrook Kitchen Opens Next Month

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Newbrook Kitchen and Artisan Market, a paleo cuisine takeout cafe, opens at 37 Saugatuck Ave. (next to Dunville’s) on June 6, according to owner Cindy Hartog (l). Both sous chefs, Hartog and her daughter Danielle, 23, a Staples High School graduate, class of 2012, said the store will offer a wide range of gluten-free and paleo foods including three salads each day and three sandwiches made on paleo house-made bread, specialty gluten-free cookies and vegan ice cream. Hartog noted “You don’t need to follow a paleo diet to enjoy our offerings.” For the past 12 years, Cindy Hartog owned Cindy’s Sous Chef, catering business for kids birthday cooking parties.  The new space was formerly occupied by Collyer Catering, which relocated to Redding. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com


05/12/17 01:45 PM Comments () • Permalink

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Houses Passes Bill Regulating Uber and Lyft

By Mark Pazniokas


Connecticut today acted belatedly to impose standards on Uber and Lyft, the market-disrupting, ride-sharing companies that arrived here three years ago, ignoring a regulatory structure devised for taxicabs — not an app-driven matchmaking service for drivers willing to pick up passengers in their personal cars.

After false starts, intense lobbying and, ultimately, a compromise, the House of Representatives voted 103 to 39 to approve and send to the Senate a bill that defines Uber and Lyft in state law as “transportation network companies” and sets standards for driver background checks, motor vehicle safety and insurance coverage.

If passed by the Senate, Connecticut will be one of the last states to figure out this piece of the new economy.

Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, the co-chair of the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, had a simple introduction to a complex bill: To anyone who feels the new standards are insufficient, they are the first attempt to keep up with a technology and business model not addressed in any current regulatory framework.

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05/11/17 06:45 PM Comments () • Permalink

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Malloy Would Empty Reserve, Cut Local Aid to Close Deficit

By Keith M. Phaneuf and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today unveiled a plan that relies on one-time revenue sweeps, withholding $19 million in municipal aid, dozens of small agency cuts, and draining the state’s reserves to close the roughly $390 million gap in current state finances.

The plan, which was prompted by a huge drop in anticipated state income tax receipts in April, effectively concedes Connecticut will close its third successive fiscal year in deficit.

It also means the state probably will enter the upcoming two-year budget on July 1 with little or nothing in its Rainy Day Fund. [Westport’s state aid would be cut by $8,874, according to the Office of Policy and Management.]

The plan “requires actions we would all prefer to avoid,” Malloy wrote in a letter to legislative leaders, the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis and Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo.

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05/10/17 07:03 PM Comments () • Permalink

Comings and Goings: RadioShack Closing

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Two months after a RadioShack employee at 877 Post Road East said the store “definitely is not closing,” a sign has gone up outside announcing its closing. An employee said he did not know when the store would close. RadioShack’s parent company filed for bankruptcy in March and said in its bankruptcy filing it would close 200 stores and evaluate its options for the remaining 1,300. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com


05/10/17 03:42 PM Comments () • Permalink

Monday, May 08, 2017

Tesla Promotes Bill Allowing Direct Sales in CT

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State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg tonight addresses a meeting at Dragone Classic Motorcars on Post Road West hosted by Tesla and partners about economic opportunities for Westport and surrounding areas if electric vehicles manufacturers like Tesla were able to invest in the state. The Connecticut General Assembly is currently considering a bill, which would authorize the direct sale of electric vehicles without existing dealership franchise agreements. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo


05/08/17 09:42 PM Comments () • Permalink

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

House Speaker: Deficit Too Great to Rule Out Income Tax Hike

By Keith M. Phaneuf


While insisting they remain very sensitive to the economic risks posed by another state income tax increase, House Speaker Joe Aresimowitz, D-Berlin, said today he would not rule out another hike — including one on wealthy households — given the massive deficits projected for state finances.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin also urged other lawmakers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to focus first on a plan to stabilize state finances over the long term.

“I still refuse to enter the negotiations taking anything off the table,” Aresimowicz said, noting that neither party nor branch of government has offered a plan to date that comes close to solving the budget crisis.

A new forecast released Monday, driven largely by eroding state income tax receipts, warned Connecticut will have nearly $1.5 billion less to spend over the next two fiscal years than originally anticipated.

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05/02/17 03:41 PM Comments () • Permalink

Monday, May 01, 2017

CT’s Tax Revenue Plunge Bottoms Out at $1.5B

By Keith M. Phaneuf


Connecticut’s latest budget nightmare became reality today.

Analysts for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis downgraded anticipated revenues for the next two fiscal years by $1.46 billion — nearly $600 million next fiscal year and $865 million in 2018-19 — largely because of eroding income tax receipts.

Projected revenues now fall $2.2 billion, or 11.3 percent, short of the funding needed to maintain current services in 2017-18. And with the potential deficit swelling to $2.7 billion, or 13.6 percent, in 2018-19, the biennial shortfall approaches $5 billion.

Further complicating matters, revenues for the current fiscal year are $413 million below anticipated levels. This pushes state finances more than $380 million in the red and threatens to deplete the $236 million in the emergency budget reserve with less than nine weeks remaining before June 30.

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05/01/17 03:07 PM Comments () • Permalink

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Comings & Goings: Saugatuck Grain and Grape Closes

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UPDATE After six and a half years, Saugatuck Grain and Grape wine and spirits at 40-42 Railroad Place, next to the Harvest Restaurant, formerly Mario’s, has closed and will move in a few weeks to a new location at 375 Post Road West. The store opened in October 2010 in space previously occupied by Depot Liquor. A sign out front says it is for lease. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com


04/29/17 01:35 PM Comments () • Permalink

Friday, April 28, 2017

Love for Sneakers Launches Teen’s Lucrative Software Business

By James Lomuscio

For Gary Perelberg, a 17-year-old Staples High School junior, it was a passion for limited edition, designer sneakers that put him on the fast track toward making his first million within in a year.

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Gary Perelberg at work at home. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for WestportNow.com

“When I was in the eighth grade I became interested in designer sneakers, especially the ones that would sell out quickly,” he said about Air Jordans and other Nike lines. “So, I would go to the website and try to buy them.”

Sometimes he would be lucky enough to snag a coveted pair, such as $140 Air Jordans, and resell it on Ebay for $400.

“I got two other pairs of Air Jordans for the same price, and those sold out in less than five minutes,” Gary said. “I sold those for $900 each.”

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04/28/17 12:18 PM Comments () • Permalink

Aux Delices Opens on Church Lane

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Aux Delices French bakery and cafe today opened its second location in Westport at 44 Church Lane, just in time for warmer weather and sunny skies. As part of the opening celebration, it offered complimentary coffee to customers. The new space was formerly occupied by SoNo Baking Company’s Bakery and Cafe, which closed earlier this month. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Helen Klisser During for WestportNow.com


04/28/17 11:53 AM Comments () • Permalink

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Comings & Goings: Savannah Bee to Bedford Square

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Savannah Bee Company, known for its premium artisanal honeys, honey-based health and beauty products, and mission to educate people about the wonders of the Honeybee and preserving the art of beekeeping, will open in Bedford Square this summer. It will offer daily honey tastings and an extensive health and beauty section featuring luxurious products made with ingredients straight from the hive, according to the Savannah, Georgia-based-company. The Westport boutique will be Savannah Bee’s first store in the Northeast. To date, it has four locations in Georgia, one in Florida, and two in South Carolina, with three more locations opening this summer, including Westport. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com


04/27/17 06:55 PM Comments () • Permalink

GOP Offers Alternative Budget — But Has Much Work Still To Do

By Keith M. Phaneuf, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, and Mark Pazniokas


Republican legislators today unveiled a two-year budget plan that rejected controversial proposals to pass teacher pension costs onto towns and to expose nonprofit hospitals to local taxation.

But the GOP plan, which also would eliminate a program to share sales tax receipts with municipalities, is out of balance by more than $1 billion because of recent, massive erosion in state income tax receipts.

The budget Gov. Dannel P. Malloy offered in early February and the proposal majority Democrats on the Appropriations Committee crafted but did not vote on this week also face similar massive shortfalls.

Still, Republicans insisted their $35.7 billion plan offers a valuable template legislators could follow to close a major projected deficit — probably approaching $4.7 billion over two years — while minimizing impact to taxpayers.”

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04/27/17 06:02 PM Comments () • Permalink

CT Tax Revenue in Free Fall, Adding $1.1B in Red Ink for Next 2 years

By Keith M. Phaneuf


Plummeting state income tax collections are experiencing their worst decline since the last recession, falling $450 million below anticipated levels for April — one-and-a-half times the free fall projected just one day ago.

More importantly, the escalating erosion means income tax projections for the next two fiscal years must be downgraded by $500 million and $600 million, respectively, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration said today.

That adds $1.1 billion to an already daunting $3.6 billion deficit forecast, all but shattering hopes of avoiding tax increases or big municipal aid reductions in the next budget.

The new trend also means the state probably will close its third successive fiscal year in deficit and deplete its $235.6 million emergency budget reserve.

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04/27/17 04:15 PM Comments () • Permalink

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Malloy Seeks Bipartisan Summit to Tackle Eroding CT Income Tax Receipts

By Keith M. Phaneuf


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today asked legislative leaders to meet with him next week to plan a bipartisan response to state income tax receipts declining by “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The governor did not identify how severe the decline is likely to be before his budget staff and nonpartisan analysts complete their latest assessment, which is due Monday.

But the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis — which prepares a daily update on income tax collections after the April 18 filing deadline — notified lawmakers today that receipts for April were running $293 million below originally anticipated levels.

That’s a revenue shortfall of 20.4 percent.

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04/26/17 09:06 PM Comments () • Permalink

High-Income CT Taxpayers Hit by Trump Tax Plan

By Ana Radelat


Washington — The new tax plan released by the Trump administration today would slash taxes for corporations and eliminate the estate tax, double the standard deduction and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three.

The federal tax code overhaul, which the Trump administration calls the first of its kind since 1986, also would eliminate many deductions used by those who don’t take the standard deduction to lower their taxable income — including deductions for state and local taxes that would disproportionately impact high-income states like Connecticut.

But the Trump plan would keep the mortgage interest deduction and the charitable donations deduction in place. Trump’s plan also would boost the tax break for child and dependent care expenses.

But the proposal is only an outline, lacking key details, including the income levels that would be subject to the pared-down tax brackets of 10 percent, 25 percent and 35 percent. White House officials say they haven’t specified which income levels would hit the higher tax brackets because that’s part of ongoing discussions with Congress.

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04/26/17 08:09 PM Comments () • Permalink

Comings & Goings: 2nd Aux Delices Location Opens Next Week

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Aux Delices French bakery and cafe, 1035 Post Road East, opens its second location in Westport next week at 44 Church Lane, according to owners Greg Addonizio and his wife Debra Ponzek. The new space was formerly occupied by SoNo Baking Company’s Bakery and Cafe which closed this month. Ponzek said the new location is its fifth since opening its first cafe in Riverside in 1995. Other locations are in Greenwich and Darien. She said the Church Lane location features the same range of baked goods and gourmet foods as its other Westport location, which opened in June 2012. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com


04/26/17 05:07 PM Comments () • Permalink

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Divided Legislature Flubs a Dress Rehearsal on the Budget

By Mark Pazniokas


Connecticut saw a preview today of what a fiscal deadlock looks like in a closely divided General Assembly: A fragile Democratic majority unable to unite behind a spending plan, and a Republican minority unwilling to step into the void and share responsibility for a budget destined to be poison at the polls in 2018.

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Reporters and lobbyists surround Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney and other Democrats after the Appropriations Committee adjourned without a budget vote. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Mark Pazniokas for CtMirror.org

With an eye on upcoming campaigns for governor and the legislature, leaders of the two parties blamed each other for the failure of the Appropriations Committee to vote on a spending plan, as well as the expectation that the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee won’t even attempt a vote on a tax package before its deadline Friday.

The fight left unanswered a key question: How will the General Assembly agree by its constitutional adjournment deadline of midnight June 7, or at least by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, on an unpalatable mix of spending cuts and new revenue to close a shortfall of about $1.7 billion in an annual budget of $20 billion?

To pass a budget in the evenly divided Senate, Democrats need the unanimous agreement of their 18 members, plus the tie-breaking vote of Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman. In the 151-seat House, Democrats can afford no more more than four defections in a caucus that has five members who voted with Republicans against the budget last year.
tart to govern.”

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04/25/17 05:38 PM Comments () • Permalink

CT Budget Process Collapses Amid Dissension

By Keith M. Phaneuf and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas


UPDATE The General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee today failed to adopt a $41 billion budget proposal as Democrats were unable to hold together a paper-thin majority on the panel.

And as leaders from both parties blamed each other for the committee’s failure to act — two days before its Thursday deadline — everyone also acknowledged there was a chance the tax-writing Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee might not finish its work before its allotted time runs out on Friday.

Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague and Rep. Toni E. Walker of New Haven, the Democratic chairs on the appropriations panel, announced at about 3 p.m. that a vote would not be held.

“It was made clear that many of the people who were participating” in preparing the plan “were still voting no,” Walker said, referring to Republican members of the Appropriations Committee.

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04/25/17 04:52 PM Comments () • Permalink

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Comings & Goings: Layla’s Falafel to Post Road East

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Layla’s Falafel, featuring Middle Eastern cuisine and owned by Trumbull residents Dino and Layla Sakakini, will open at 1537 Post Road East in late May. J.P. Sakakini, the owners’ son, said his parents started the business 17 years ago in Fairfield. He said Westport will be the family’s fifth location, with two in Stamford, and one in Trumbull in addition to the original Fairfield location. “The Westport location is small, only a few tables but our main business is takeout and catering,” he said. “We offer fast, casual food and service and we are definitely not at all like a chain food business—we are truly family owned and operated.” He added, “We’re excited to become part of the Westport community.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com


04/23/17 04:52 PM Comments () • Permalink

Friday, April 21, 2017

Comings & Goings: Julian’s Pizza Opens Another Location

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Julian’s Pizza Bar & Kitchen, 1460 Post Road East, will open in May, according to owner Mike Sayed who also owns Julian’s Pizza, 539 Riverside Ave. He said the eat-in and takeout eatery offers wood-fired oven pizza, burgers made with beef supplied by Fleisher Craft Butchery, vegeburgers, free range chicken appetizers, pasta and a full service bar. Pizza slices are available during daytime hours. “We were the first Westport pizza shop to offer wood-fired oven pizza and we’re expanding that offering in our new location,” he said. The space was previously occupied by Bravo, an Italian cuisine restaurant, also owned by Sayed and, before that, until April 2012, by Munson’s Chocolates for 20 years. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com


04/21/17 04:08 PM Comments () • Permalink

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Chamber Hosts After Hours at Historical Society

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Ed Hynes, a board member of the Westport Historical Society (WHS), today addresses the monthly Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce business after hours networking gathering hosted by the WHS. Hynes curated the current exhibit, “The British Are Coming,” part of American Revolution Month commemorating the 240th anniversary of the 1777 British raid on Danbury that began with a Compo Beach landing. “This was a great and informative venue to hold our get together,” said Matthew Mandell, Chamber executive director. “Next month we’ll celebrate Cinco de Mayo at Halsted property.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo


04/20/17 06:48 PM Comments () • Permalink

Malloy Warns CT Employee Unions of Layoffs

By Keith M. Phaneuf


Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration notified state employee unions this week that nearly 1,100 workers could face layoffs in May — the first stage in an alternative cost-cutting plan if ongoing concessions talks aren’t successful.

This marks the second time in the past week that Malloy has hinted time is running out for unions to accept major concessions to help balance the next budget.

The governor, who expressed disappointment publicly last week that months of informal talks hadn’t produced a deal yet, this week took the first in a series of procedural steps to begin another round of state worker layoffs.

The administration specifically notified bargaining units that 11 departments and agencies had crafted plans that could affect close to 1,100 workers and also lead to elimination of about 120 unionized positions that currently are vacant.

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04/20/17 05:28 PM Comments () • Permalink

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Finance Panel Eyes Ending Sales Tax Exemption for Nonprofits

By Keith M. Phaneuf


The legislature’s tax-writing panel is considering a measure that would repeal the sales tax exemption on goods and services sold to nonprofits — a provision that saves these entities more than $200 million per year.

Democratic leaders of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee said this proposal, which will go to a public hearing next week, is part of an ongoing exploration of possible widening of Connecticut’s sales tax base.

But the top House Republican on the committee and the state’s largest nonprofit association cautioned it could harm the nonprofit community at a time when Connecticut relies on it the most.

“At this point we are just hearing it,” Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, House chair of the Finance committee said. “I think we have to take all (revenue) options seriously.”

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04/19/17 04:47 PM Comments () • Permalink

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Advocates for Teachers, Towns Say Voters Oppose Pension Cost Shift

By Keith M. Phaneuf


West Hartford — Lobbying groups for Connecticut teachers and municipalities today unveiled poll results showing 72 percent of voters oppose using local property tax dollars to fund a portion of the state’s pension program for public school teachers.

The survey, commissioned by the Connecticut Education Association and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, also found 64 percent of voters would cast ballots against legislators who back such a plan.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration, which wants to shift one-third of a skyrocketing pension bill onto municipalities, responded that communities and teachers must accept that Connecticut must make tough choices to address long-ignored problems.

And while the advocates for education and municipalities insisted shifting pension costs onto the local property tax base was an unacceptable solution, they didn’t discuss how state officials should cover an expense projected to grow 525 percent over the next 15 years.

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04/18/17 03:28 PM Comments () • Permalink

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