Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday wrap up

Gov. Rell has reaffirmed her pledge not to increase any taxes in the proposed budget that she'll submit to the legislature Wednesday. I met with her for about 90 minutes yesterday. Not including any new tax or tax increase on existing taxes means she will likely follow through on her other promise from the state-of-the-state address earlier this month, that every program, every service in every state agency is on the table in terms of tax cuts.

She's described her budget proposal as "not pretty."

And this legislative session is not going to be very pretty, either. Democrats, special interests and municipal leaders are not going to like her proposal....and there will no doubt be more than a few lines in the sand drawn. Wednesday is going to be a very interesting day.

A little tease for you to ponder over the weekend....

What do nuclear weapons, the Electoral College and spear fishing have in common? The answer (another shameless promotion) is in my Hackett on Politics column in this Sunday's newspaper.

And while I'm at it -- shameless promotion #2 -- every Monday morning I make a guest appearance on the Lee Elci radio show....WXLM-FM, 104.7, between 7:35 and 8 a.m.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Off to the capitol

Making a rare break from the confines of the office today for atrip to Hartford to see what's going on up there. More later this afternoon when I get back.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A snowly Wednesday

It's not pretty on the highways this morning.

In Washington today, the House of Representatives is expected to take up the president's economic stimulus package. It will pass....but probably not with enough Republican votes for any claim of bipartisan actio, although I do think President Obama deserves some credit for the steps he's taken to reach out a hand to Republicans. Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership in the House isn't quite as out-reaching.

It's expected the real compromise will come out of the Senate.

George Will, the Washington Post columnists, a few weeks ago on one of the Sunday morning TV shows made the comment that what made Lincoln a great president was in some small part possible because of Stephen Douglas. It was Douglas who challenged Lincoln, forcing him to defend his ideas. Will went on to say, what Obama needs for his presidency is a "Douglas."

I think what we're seeing with the Republicans in Washington is the "Douglas" that Will was referring to. I think the combination of Republicans questioning and forcing Obama to defend his position, and Obama's willingness to include them in the discussion is healthy....and will likely bring about a real change in the way Washington operates in the long run.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lots to think about....

It's official, the switch to digital TV has been delayed. The Senate voted today to push off the Feb. 17 start date because too many people are apparently not ready yet.

The legislature seems poised to expand the state bottle bill, and increase the nickel deposit to 10-cents. That's been discussed in Hartford for years, but never got off the groun -- at least not before now. It's seen as a way of increasing state revenues, and in the gradn scheme of things, it's not abad idea. The cost to consumers affects only those who choose not to redeem the empty containers -- so it's hard to oppose the plan since it is an individual choice to pay more if you want.

I'm not so sure I like one of the other proposals being offered, a 5-cent charge for the plastic bags at grocery stories and other places. Hey....they're perfect for garbage...and I'm not sure I want to go out and actually have to buy garbage bags.

My column in Sunday's paper regarding some of the legislative bills being submitted drew quite the response from readers. More bills are being posted on the legislature's Web page daily....there might be a second installment next Sunday.

So...what's up with you folks today?

Friday, January 23, 2009

What are they thinking....

Scanning the bills that have been filed in the General Assembly by local lawmakers, will leave you wondering if any of them realize the state's in a fiscal crisis.

Is it really a priority to bond $15 million for improvements at the Garde Art Center in New London? Apparently some of our legislators think so.

How about $700,000 for the LymanArt Museum in Old Lyme? It looks that way.

And let's not forget the lobster restoration program. Granted, an argument could be made that putting our lobster fishermen out of work doesn't help the economy...but it does raise the question that I've asked over and over....where are the priorities?

Right appears everyone is taking cover, trying to protect their own from the budget spending cuts that will have to be made. So...if it's not this....than what does get sacrificed?

(Shameless self promotion....more on this subject in Sunday's Hackett on Politics column. Have a good weekend.)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

This just in...

Apparently Caroline Kennedy has withdrawn her name from consideration to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate....

Elsewhere...Gov. Rell is proposing a Connecticut Economic Stimulus Packgage of its own...a $525 million package of various statewide infrastructure projects to be approved at next week's state Bond Commission meeting.

According to the release from here office...."This bond agenda is all business -- no frills, no earmarks. It addresses real and immediate needs for the entire state."

It's about time we got rid of the frills and earmarks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A feel good day

Barack Obama is a hard act to follow....even for himself.

I thought his inaugural address was very good, hitting the right notes with the right tone. I particularly enjoyed his theme of returning to the core values that made this country great and using those values to make this country great again. I think one of the problems he faces is that after every speech he delivers, the expectations for the next one rise substantially. I don't think ysterday's speech disappointed....but maybe it didn't quite make it up all the way to the expectation -- real or unreal as they might have been.

I was also impressed wth the crowds. I recalled to some here in the office that I was there for the dedication of the World War II memorial, when about half the mall was filled and large TV screens were needed for the overflow to watch the ceremonies. That was a tough day making you way through the crowds. I can't imagine what it was like yesterday, (but I should be getting some insight from my daughter, a sophomore at American University, who was there.)

As our editorial noted this's been a long time since the American spirit and pride was so brillantely on display as it was yesterday....and that was a nice feel good day.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History being made today

I've been asked a lot over the last several weeks if I was going to Washington today for the inauguration. The answer is no. Not that I wouldn't mind being there and seeing history made, but it just doesn't work with the schedule. So I'm content today to watch it unfold on the TV...and wait for President Obama to make his first visit to southeastern Connecticut.

No one knows for sure yet when that will be....but he's coming -- they all do.

The president delivers the commencement address at each of the nation's four military academies once in his term. That means between this year and the next three, President Obama will deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London.

It will mark the fifth president that I've seen there. I was there for both of Ronald Reagans visits, George Bush Sr., the two Clinton visits and the two by George W.

But today, all eyes are on Washington with the much anticipated (and highly-hyped) inauguration address to be delivered shortly after noon. Let me know what you thought of his speech.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A new week

Something other than more talk about the state budget or tomorrow's inauguration...

As you probably are aware, (How could you not be with all the TV ads), on Feb. 17 television, as we know it, will change. It's going digital....and if you're not prepared, you won't be getting a signal anymore.

Or will you?

There's a push in Congress, supported by the incoming Obama Administration, to delay the conversion of digital TV until June. It seems not enough people are ready for the switch...the federal Commerce Department doesn't have anymore coupons to give out to folks to help offset the cost of buying the converter boxes. in fact, the latest information was that there were more than 100,000 on a waiting list for coupons -- but those coupons won't bcome available until the ones already handed out expire and not used. (There's no plan to print up anymore coupons. We can print money to bailout corporate executives who ran companies into the ground, but we cannot bailout the public who, by the way, own the airwaves?)

No decision's been made on whether it will be delayed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Odds and ends...

A few things going on as we head into the weekend.

Word out of Hartford is that state budget folks will likely announce early next week that the deficit has now reached $1 billion -- not including any of the savings that have already been implemented thus far from two special sessions and a long list of individual actions taken by the governor.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but this is getting serious and it's time lawmakers in Hartford got serious about it. The problem is, they want to wait and let the governor drop the first shoe so they don't have to look like (or decide) they're not supporting their favorite special interest group. much as I hate to admit it, nothing serious starts to happen until Feb. 4.

Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy is throwing the gloves down on Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. Malloy says he's giving Blumenthal until Jan. 31 to say whether he's in or out in terms of the 2010 gubernatorial race. Malloy, who won the Democratic endorsement in 2006, but lost the nomination to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano in a primary, is eager to get his campaign off the ground -- provided that Blumenthal isn't running. But Malloy isn't waiting, either.

And former Speaker of the House Jim Amann will officially announce his candidcy for governor at the end of the month.

Monday's a holiday for some, MLK Day, but not for me. Have a good weekend and we'll talk again Monday.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Budgets shortfalls and bottle deposits

The Democratic led General Assembly came up short again yesterday in addressing the full scope of the state's budget crisis...knocking another $133 million off the books, but leaving more red ink to be dealt with later. Of course by the time they get around to that, the deficit is expected to be higher than the $350 million that was projected going into Wednesday's action.

The legisalture did, however, finally acted on i the bottle bill deposit issue, enacting a measure that will enable the state to now collect the 5-cent deposits that consumers don't collect. It's estimated that will bring in an additional $25 million this fiscal year. That same issue was part of hte governor's proposal during the November special session which, at that time, the Democratic majority opted not to act.

Using that as a track record of sorts, then it seems like a pretty good bet that those issues the legislature doesn't want to address today may very well be on the table the next time it acts on the budget deficit.

The legislature's failure to take more dramatic action in erasing the revenue shortfall in the current year's spending plan could result in the governor sending them a proposed two-year budget on Feb. 4 with a serious case of sticker shock.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

All eyes on Hartford

The governor's second mitigation plan to address the current (and that is used loosely) deficit will come up for debate and "action" at the General Assembly today. I use the word current deficit because within 24 hours, the projected shortfall in the current fiscal year's spending plan will balloon....making whatever actions taken today almost nothing since the "size" of the deficit tomorrow will be as large as today -- if not bigger.

That's because no one, as some of you have pointed out, has actually put forth any significant proposal to serious reduce spending. It's a political game of chicken, both the Democratic leadership and the governor's office waiting to see who blinks first.

The governor, to her credit, has at least made some proposals and has taken some steps. But it's piecemeal at this point. The "major" steps come Feb. 4 when she presents her two-year spending plan. The Democratic legislative leadership is content with that, waiting to see what she proposes before doing anything on their own.

But what is missing, and something I've been saying for some time, is the lack of priorities. Here's the bottom line: The legislature and governor will, when all is said and done, adopt a state budget in the neighborhood of $17 billion (yes, Billion) for each of the next two years. I've asked lawmakers and the governor, what will the money be spent on? What are the priorities that will be funded? Where will the $17 billion go?

I'm still waiting for an answer.

My guess is that they'll "do something" today, but will not adopt the governor's full proposal...and the state's fiscal position will be no better tomorrow as we wait until Feb. 4 before anyone gets serious about this.

(Just for the record, there was no post yesterday because I took the day off to celebrate an anniversary with someone very special....I have my priorities.)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cost cutting measures

Gov. M. Joid Rell on Friday issed an executive order to trim the state's motor vehicle fleet. Only those state employees who travel more than 700 miles will be issued state vehicles.

The governor took the budget axe out again today, ordering state contracts for goods and services to be canceled or reduced....and the phasing out of deputy commissioner positions in state agencies.

On Wednesday, the Democratic leadership in the General Assembly wil get its chance to act on the state budget crisis. They'll take up the governor's to address the current $343 million (and climbing) deficit in this year's budget. Democrats have yet to put any plan of thier own to address revenue shortfalls.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Actions vs. words

Democratic legislative leaders have taken exception when I have suggested they lack the willingness to make the difficult decisions to address the state budget crisis....but I find their actions to bemore telling then their words. Take for example the latest issue revolving around a new contract for Department of Corrections Officers.

An arbitrator awarded the union a contract based on the state's last best offer, however, Gov. Joid Rell is now calling on the legislature to reject the contract, claiming the state can't afford the $86 million in payraises.The state's offer was made last May, well before anyone knew of the real impact of the economic meltdown.

The Democratic response to the governor's call was...expected. Senate President Pro Tem. Don Williams, D-Brooklyn, dismissed the idea of rejecting the contract because it might hamper the state's ability to win union concessions later. Newly elected House Speaker Chris Donovan, a union activists by trade, said it wasn't the unions who caused our financial problems -- kind suggesting that they shouldn't have to be penalized because of it

Yet...these same two legislative leaders are also "heard" echoing the governor's mantra that there are no sacred cows during this year's budget deliberations, and everything is on the table in terms of spending cuts.

The legislature can vote to accept the union contract -- or do nothing and just let it take effect by default in 30 days. It would take a two-thirds vote in either chamber to reject the contract. I don't see a vote being called for because that would result in lawmakers actually having to go on record of doing something . Doing nothing seems to be the easy path.

Just an idea....but how about rejecting the contract and suggesting to the union that the pay freeze they'll get will be counted as the union concession later. That is, of course, if there truly are no sacred cows.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

It's official....

A joint session of Congress met today to count the Electorial College vote. Obama won, 365 to 173.'s on to 2010 where things will be just as interesting. How interesting? (Shameless self-promotion) Check out this week's Hackett on Politics in Sunday's edition of the Norwich Bulletin.

Doing the math....

Late last month, Gov. M. Jodi Rel sent legislative leaders a mitigation plan to address the state's current fiscal year's projected $343 million deficit. She also wanted the lame-duck legislatue to return to Hartford last Friday to act on her plan.

The Democratic leadership passed on the opportunity to make another trip to Hartford, especially since the new legislative session would begin five days after the date she picked. So they instead decided to act on her plan next week....Wednesday, Jan. 14.

That's an interesting date, because the following day, Thursday, Jan. 15, is the deadline for fourth quarter tax payments. That means, when the lawmakers take up the governor's proposal -- that deals with addressing the projected $343 million shortfall -- they won't know exactly what the latest figures on projected income tax revenues are (because that won't be known until the day after.)

The fourth quarter income tax filings will reflect the major collapse of Wall Stret investsments that took place in October....when the market hit those all-time lows. Most economists suggest that it's likely those numbers (the Jan. 15 filings) will be bad -- and could result in boosting the projected deficit higher than the current $343 million thinking.

If that's true....then what happens in Hartford next week is this:

The legislature looks over the governor's plan, adopts a good portion of it -- but probably not all of it -- so there will still be a deficit in currently year spending when all is said and done Wednesday. Then on Thursday, new numbers will be released (and if economists are corect) the deficit will grow -- whose knows, maybe back up to $434 million again (despite the actions taken the day before.) the end week, although some action was taken, the progress made is We're still in the same boat.

And we still haven't begun dealing with the next two years, and the $6 billion projected shortfall over that period.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Tell me something I didn't know...II

Gov. Rell, battling a cold, cut her State of the State adress short -- a mere 17 minutes. The focus of her address was the difficult challenges the state is facing...emphasizing that point by using the word "challenges" 17 times — almost once a minute.

But we already know that.

There was little "news" to the governor's address. She basically repeated what she has been saying for months -- that her proposed two-year budget will inclue "deep cuts" affecting "every state agency, state program and state service offered."

I didn't expect that she would get into details, but I had hoped that she might have been a bit more insightful in providing some specifics of just what "painful and not easy" choices are being made. Looks like we'll have to wait until Feb. 4 to hear the devil that lies within the details.

She did, however, strike the right note in saying that "government must shrink." There is no question the size of state government, in terms of people and programs, have grown over the last decade -- and now is the time to cut back.

But I'm not convinced that she can fully offset the impact of a projected $6 billion shortfall in revenues over the next two years through spending cuts alone. There's a difference between cutting back, and cutting off.

Tell me something I don'tknow...

Gov. Rell is scheduled to deliver her opening remarks to the 2009 General Assembly convening in Hartford this morning. The governor is schedule to make those comments in about an hour. I'll jump back on after herspeech and comment more directly on what she had to say after the fact.

But there was another "interesting" development in terms of the state's budget problem that came out of Hartford yesterday. Senate President Pro Tem Don Williams, D-Brooklyn, was quoted as saying that any proposal submitted by lawmakers this year that costs money, and doesn't pay for itself, is for all practical purposes....dead on arrival.

That's a rather bold statement. I'll be looking forward to see if that really happens.

More later...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Hartford getting ready to go for 2009

The 2009 legislative session is scheduled to begin tomorrow. But there's also forecast for what appears to be a rather nasty storm tonight and into tomorrow morning which could make the commute to the Capitol tricky. I'm wondering, if in the interest of public (not to mention personal) safety if the opening session will be canceled.

There was, however, some encouraging news from the Capitol today. Incoming Speaker of the House Chris Donovan said he is asking the two main legislative committees (Appropriations and Revenue) to begin working on the budget sooner rather than later. Traditionally, neither group begins the real heavy lifting until later in the session. Of course, not much can be done on the new budget until next month when Gov. Rell delivers her proposal to the General Assembly.

And if tomorrow's session is held, I do hope the governor will be a bit more frank in her opening remarks with some clear indications of what she intends to present in terms of a two-year spending plan. She hasrepeatedly said she wants to avoid tax increases and layoffs of state workers -- but I don't know how you cut $6 billion over two years without some increase in taxes and some layoffs or major union concessions.

Monday, January 05, 2009

And a new year begins

My column in Sunday's paper about Caroline Kennedy's bid for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat drew a few responses from readers. Most felt she didn't deserve it, and a few commented on her "lack of perfect political appearance...suggesting that unless she improves greatly, she's unlikely to be very successful in the Senate. one reader suggested she needed to "look" more Kennedy-like in order to gain people's confidence.

Personally, I don't have a problem with her making a bid for the seat. What I do have a problem with is the way these things are handled. I'm not a fan of having Senate seats filled by governor's who get to appoint whoever they want. That's not how it's done in the House of Representatives. A vacancy in the lower chamber is filled by special election.

If you think about it, does it makes sense that a two-year office is filled by special election, but a six-year term is filled by appointment? It doesn't to me.

There will likely be legisaltion submitted in Hartford this year calling for a change in the way vacancies are filled -- and having them filled through a special election. I hope it gets a hearing and is then brought out for a vote.