Saturday, April 1, 2017

April 2017

Friday April 28, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Connecticut’s Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee finds support for no tax increases; Attorney General Jeff Sessions is met with protests on Long Island; and, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launches a new anti-crime task force.

After a week of debate and what looks like a $4.7 billion budget deficit, it took less than ten minutes for Democrats and Republicans to agree yesterday on a revenue package.

The modest revenue package doesn’t include any broad based tax increases, but it does increase marriage licenses from $30 to $50, reduce the earned income tax credit for the working poor, allow the Department of Revenue Services to waive penalties and interest payments for tax delinquents to increase collections by $60 million, and eliminate the film production tax credit for $4 million. It also reduces taxes in some areas. For instance, it eliminates the sales tax for coin-operated car washes, admission taxes to Harbor Yard and the Oakdale Theater, and lowers the insurance premium tax rate.

Other revenue initiatives approved yesterday by the committee would seek to phase out the $550 million hospital tax over a seven year period, new income tax exemptions on pensions and Social Security, reductions in the estate and gift tax and a $500 income tax credit for college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math who agree to live in Connecticut after graduation.

The committee also approved a bill to study how to give Connecticut motorists discounts if the General Assembly agrees to move forward with tolls.

About 100 people gathered outside the Central Islip federal courthouse this morning to demonstrate against the attorney general’s visit, sending the message that “immigrants are welcome here.”

The demonstrators gathered about two hours before Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed law enforcement officials during a stop in the same community where the bodies of four young men were found in a park just over two weeks ago.

In his speech, Sessions said the government’s mission is to “demolish” MS-13, the group that authorities say are responsible for a recent series of killings. Sessions laid out elements of the government’s plan, and defended the president’s immigration policy.

Before Sessions spoke, demonstrators chanted, “Sessions Go Home” and “No Hate, No Fear, Immigrants are Welcome Here.”

According to The Albany Times Union yesterday, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has launched a crime task force, in response to the rising number of heroin overdose deaths in New York. 

The AG’s office organized and is deploying the Suburban and Upstate Response to the Growing Epidemic—or SURGE—to focus specifically on suburban and upstate New York.  SURGE aims to disrupt the state’s widening heroin and opioid distribution networks. The initiative will target gangs and individuals who deal heroin and opioids and commit acts of violence in suburban and upstate communities across New York State. 

An April 2017 report published by the Rockefeller Institute of Government found that New York—like the majority of the country—is experiencing a rise in drug-related deaths. The report said 14,173 people died from drugs in New York State between 2010 and 2015. This represents an approximately 45% increase in drug-related deaths, compared with the preceding six years, 2004 to 2009.  In 2015 alone, 3,009 New Yorkers died from drug overdoses or chronic drug abuse—a 71% increase, compared with 2010. 

SURGE will work hand-in-hand with local police departments. Lawmakers and police departments applauded Schneiderman for providing resources to local law enforcement.

Thursday April 27, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight:Republican Connecticut Budget Is Out of Balance Before It’s Even Released; Connecticut Comptroller Kevin Lembo Announces Exploratory Bid For Governor; and, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman Pledges Renewable Energy in State of the Town Address.

Republican legislative leaders, who refused to sign onto a spending plan earlier this week, presented their own two-year budget Thursday. But it was out of balance before the press conference even started.

The Republican plan would spend about $20 billion in the first year and $20.3 billion in the second year of the budget, which is about $71 million less than Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget in the first year, and $173 million less in the second year. The 2017 budget is $19.8 billion. However, the proposal was out of balance as soon as it was released at a Legislative Office Building press conference because income tax receipts had already fallen about $450 million, or about 30 percent behind budget estimates.

Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan, who receives data about tax collections every day, said even he was surprised by the magnitude of the erosion. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby) and Senate Republican President Len Fasano (R-North Haven) maintained that they would continue to revise their budget proposal as new revenue figures are released. Fasano said Republicans have met their obligation to present a budget using the same revenue figures the administration and Democratic lawmakers used to craft their budgets. Those budgets are also now out of balanced based on the latest revenue figures.

“There’s going to be criticism, but don’t criticize Republicans because we have a budget we’re willing to pass,” Fasano said. “The Democrats have nothing to put on the table.”
Fasano said they are doing the best they can and they’re willing to continue the conversation at the negotiating table. Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) called the proposal “half-baked.” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz  (D-Berlin) said they appreciate the effort the Republicans put forth with their budget proposal. He said he looks forward to sitting down and negotiating a budget.

The governor’s office struck a similar tone. “While we are still reviewing the details of their plan, the Republican budget released today appears to be an earnest effort to balance our state budget,” Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for Malloy said. “We appreciate that they’ve put their ideas on the table. The governor looks forward to sitting down with all legislative leaders in the days ahead to continue the conversation about balancing our budget while strengthening our state economy.”

Ending months of speculation, state Comptroller Kevin Lembo announced Thursday he is forming an exploratory committee to run for governor. The 53-year-old Democrat from Guilford, who has not been shy about challenging his own party’s governor on fiscal policy, joins an increasingly crowded field. Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, former Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei, and Jacey Wyatt have all formed exploratory committees to seek the Democratic nomination. The field of candidates who have formed exploratory committees on the Republican side is even larger.

Following a tour of Precision Combustion, a clean energy catalytic device manufacturing company on Sackett Point Road in North Haven, Lembo told reporters he is contemplating a run for governor because he is both “frustrated” by, and “sick and tired” of the state of politics in Hartford. Asked if he was considered part of that, Lembo said “there is plenty of blame to go around.”

“We’ve got to demand accountability from Hartford. We’ve got to get the economy moving for all of the people and small businesses in our state,” Lembo said in campaign video. He also made a point of saying he didn’t grow up in the “political class.”

“Before running for state comptroller, I had never run for anything in my life,” Lembo said. While saying he thinks Republicans share in some of the blame for residents’ frustration, Lembo added: “I’ve stood up to Governor Malloy,” noting his staunch opposition last year to Malloy and the state bond commission’s decision to grant a multi-million dollar loan and grant deal to two hedge funds.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman pledged to work to make sure all the town’s electrical energy generation comes from renewable sources by 2025 in his State of the Town Address Tuesday evening. 

“That may seem ambitious, but it’s a very possible goal,” said Mr. Schneiderman of the renewable energy pledge, adding that he plans to unveil a bill soon to commit the town to 100% renewable energy. Southampton’s pledge is not without precedent — East Hampton Town committed to producing all its electrical energy from renewable sources by 2020 back in 2014.

Mr. Schneiderman acknowledged that the promise of the Long Island Power Authority’s approval of the South Fork Wind Farm off the coast of Montauk in January helped pave the way to make these pledges attainable. The wind farm is currently slated to come online in 2022, providing 90 megawatts of power to East Hampton’s transmission substation, with capability for input to other areas of the grid if the wind farm is expanded.

Mr. Schneiderman added that the New York State Energy Research & Development Agency has named the town a Clean Energy Community. Southold Town also achieved a Clean Energy Community designation earlier this year.

Wednesday April 26, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy Invites Lawmakers To Budget Negotiations; Good Government Group Grades the Fiscal Transparency of Special Districts; and, Southold Town adopts new agricultural definitions.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy acknowledged today in a letter to legislative leaders that revenue projections are eroding and it’s time to start budget negotiations.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis reported today that revenues were$293 million, or 20.4% behind projections. Malloy’s budget office had largely ignored newer revenue estimates for the past three months.

“We have acknowledged our current revenue shortfall and OPM now projects that we could lose hundreds of millions of dollars towards next year’s budget once the consensus revenue process is complete next week,” Malloy wrote. “Given that, and without a formal proposal from your Appropriations and Finance Committees, we must chart a course together for reaching a responsible, balanced budget for the coming biennium.”

Democratic legislative leaders were still holding out hope for a revenue package, but the party only has a one vote majority on the committee and it’s still unclear whether it will come to fruition.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and the Frontier Group inspected 79 special districts in a report they released Tuesday. The report found that many lack fiscal transparency and easy access to audited financial statements or checkbook level spending data. Nationwide, there are 38,000 of these entities that provide a specific service for a designated area that would typically be provided by a state or local government. There are over 447 special districts in Connecticut, which managed over $1.4 billion in 2013.

One of the 30 lagging special districts highlighted in the report was the Metropolitan district Commission, which provides water and sewer services to Hartford and seven other member towns. “Member districts like Hartford County Metropolitan District play an important role in public life, providing valuable services,” Kate Cohen, state director of ConnPIRG, said Tuesday. The report gave the Metropolitan District a C- grade.

Of the 79 special districts reviewed, only seven had detailed spending checkbooks available online to allow citizens to see how their tax money is spent, dollar by dollar. The districts that performed best in this study were based in states like Texas and Illinois, which have taken action to pass legislation or enforce financial accountability standards for all levels of government or certain districts.

The report also offers recommendations special districts aren’t left behind as state and city governments move towards greater transparency.

The Southold Town Board approved a resolution Tuesday to adopt new and modified agricultural definitions with the intent that issues or tweaks can be resolved while use regulations for agriculture are established. “This has been a very long collaborative process to better identify what is agriculture in the Town of Southold, not to invent new agriculture, but just what is there today,” said Chris Baiz, chairman of the agricultural advisory committee, before the unanimous vote. The definitions are “part one” in the process, he said; “part two” will be determining how the definitions will be applied, as well as defining the word “farm.”

After voting “yes” on the resolution, Mr. Dinizio said he wished agricultural definitions could remain at the three that currently exist in the town code: “farm,” “farm building” and “farm stand.” “My personal view is the more words we have, the more words can be misunderstood by people,” he said, adding that he trusts the committee, “which has worked extremely hard on this.”

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the code needs language that is enforceable, not ambiguous, and that enforcement requires cooperation from the agricultural community. “I think we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think it’s very difficult to think that all of agriculture can be put under one umbrella of definitions … I’ll adopt these, but I really think we need to sit down and add a whole bunch more.”

Tuesday April 25, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Appropriations Committee Fails To Approve Spending Plan; Connecticut Sales Tax Proposal Pits Municipalities Against Nonprofits; and, New York Senators plan bill to force SUNY, CUNY divestment from fossil fuels.

After spending most of the day behind closed doors the Connecticut Legislature’s Appropriations Committee declined to vote on a two-year $41 billion spending package Tuesday. Democratic leadership blamed Republicans and Republicans blamed Democrats who hold a two-seat majority on the Appropriations Committee.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the process of putting together the spending package was bipartisan and he wasn’t going to force his Democratic colleagues to vote on a package that didn’t resemble a Democratic spending plan. “For two months we’ve worked on a compromise bill,” Aresimowicz said.He said the package released Tuesday morning is not a Democratic budget. “I can’t ask my members to vote for a budget that is already compromised from the beginning,” Aresimowicz said.He said they had the votes and wanted the Republicans votes, which is why they stayed at the table as long as they did. “We were hoping for a bipartisan process,” Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven) said following the failure of the committee to raise the spending package for debate. He said the budget would have looked much different if it wasn’t a bipartisan compromise. 

Aresimowicz said at the very last minute Republicans “pulled the rug” out from under our feet and informed the Democrats they wouldn’t be voting for the package. He said it fell apart Monday night. Without a spending plan, Aresimowicz said he doubts the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee will have a tax package later this week.

Senate Republican President Len Fasano (R-North Haven) said it’s obvious Democratic lawmakers didn’t vote on the package because they didn’t have the votes “for one reason or the other.” Fasano said Republicans will put forward a budget later this week and move forward from there. House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said all they want is to sit down and create the best budget for the state of Connecticut. Democratic lawmakers argue that’s what they were trying to do by compromising. “The bipartisan message they’re sending out might not be accurate,” Klarides said. She said her ranking member was not included in all the budget negotiations.

Since the state Senate is evenly split between the parties, Sen. Paul Formica (R-Waterford) is a co-chair on the Appropriations Committee, and he too was left out of conversations, Fasano said. “The budget that came out today was much different than the budget that was talked about behind closed doors with Paul as chair,” Fasano said.

The state’s largest organization of local leaders came out in support of a plan Wednesday to raise the state’s sales tax rate from 6.35% to 6.99% as long as the increased hundreds of millions generated would be sent back to the municipalities. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities says the increase in the sales tax rate could provide an estimated $440 million to towns and cities, but only if the state doesn’t take a cut of the proceeds in the process.

CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong said the organization supports the tax hike to boost revenue and reduce dependence on a regressive property tax system. However, the group’s support is “contingent on other important cost-control measures being adopted by the General Assembly,” DeLong said. “We need to have cost containment” along with a sales tax increase to prevent the additional money coming in “being spent like we’re drunken sailors,” he added. Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, said her organization supports the legislation because “property taxpayers have had a bullseye on their backs” for too long and increasing the sales tax is “a fairer plan.”

Nonprofit organizations are opposing the bill because it also includes language to eliminate the sales tax exemption on goods and services provided by nonprofit organizations. This part of the legislation would cost nonprofits about $216 million a year. Peter DeBiasi, chairman of the board of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, said the proposal would “would take funds from services for people with developmental disabilities and homeless shelters, from people struggling with substance abuse, victims of domestic violence, and arts and cultural programs, among other services.” He said nonprofits have been exempted from the sales tax because “they provide services in their communities so that government does not have to.”

The Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee has until Friday to decide whether they will take up any of the proposals being made.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
A pair of Democratic state senators from Manhattan plan to introduce legislation that would require SUNY, CUNY, and their affiliated organizations and foundations to divest from publicly traded fossil fuel companies. 

The legislation, which is being pushed by Sens. Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, would require both university systems’ boards of trustees to cease all new investments in the worlds’ 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies by July 1, 2018, and fully divest from stocks, debt or other securities by Jan. 1, 2022. The same rules would apply to university-affiliated nonprofit organizations, such as the SUNY and CUNY Research Foundations. “States have an obligation to ensure public dollars are divested from fossil fuels, especially given the collective impact they can make to address climate change,” Hoylman said in a statement. “This is even more important in the face of the Trump administration’s disastrous energy and environmental policies that will increase fossil fuel production.” A SUNY spokesperson did not immediately comment.

Such calls for divestment are not new in the Empire State. The SUNY Student Assembly’s Executive Committee passed a resolution in 2015 calling on SUNY to divest from companies and interests that manufacture fossil fuels. Krueger also carries legislation that would require the state comptroller to divest the state pension fund from fossil fuel companies.

A number of universities in the United States, including some public schools, have committed to divest from fossil fuels. Whether the SUNY/CUNY divestment legislation gains traction remains to be seen, though. Krueger’s pension fund divestment legislation and an Assembly same-as bill did not make it out of the committee stage in 2015 and 2016.

Monday April 24, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Underperforming Income Tax Receipts Complicate Connecticut Budget Picture; U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal Offers Public Health Advisory On Ticks As Connecticut Population Surges; and, U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin’s town halls draw fiery crowds to Riverhead and Farmingville.

Connecticut Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan is counting income tax receipts, noting “we’re still light.” As of Monday, the Department of Revenue Services was reporting the state is about $267 million behind on revenues, or about 20% of what was estimated in the state budget. The amount is enough to trigger a deficit mitigation plan for the current year and large enough to deplete the $235.6 million rainy day fund.

“We are tracking revenue very closely as we are in the middle of our highest collection period,” Chris McClure, a spokesman for Malloy, said. “We will hold off from drawing any conclusions until later this week when we will have a clearer picture.” The counting will continue, but by the end of the week the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Office of Policy and Management will have to work together to agree on revenue numbers. At the moment the two offices are not in agreement on where revenues, especially those from the state income tax, are at.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated on March 27 that the state would end fiscal year 2017 with a $45 million deficit. The Office of Policy and Management last week was still predicting the state would end the year with a $19.7 million surplus.State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who predicted a $44.6 million deficit on April 3, said he warned about underperforming tax receipts. “I would prefer to be wrong, but these latest income tax reports are unfortunately consistent with concerns I raised earlier this year about the performance of final April income tax payments,” Lembo said. “I will continue to monitor and analyze receipts on a daily basis.”

Lembo’s next report on the state’s finances will be on May1.

Connecticut is seeing a surge in ticks this spring and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Thursday to urge residents to be vigilant. “Increasingly these ticks are a threat to public health,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve listened to story after story from people in Connecticut whose lives have been decimated by these ticks and the diseases they carry.” Blumenthal was joined at the Experiment Station by its director, Dr. Theodore Andreadis, who said while there was no established scientific reason why the tick population is increasing, his own theory is “the mild winter weather seasons we’ve had the past two years have probably contributed.”

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has collected 450 ticks so far this year and 38% have tested positive for Lyme disease - 11% higher than the average that have tested positive over the past five years in the state.
Over the past five years, the Tick Testing Laboratory has received 12,483 ticks from Connecticut residents or health departments for testing and on average 27% tested positive for the Lyme disease agent.

“Although we have yet to reach peak tick activity this spring, adult deer ticks, ixodes scapularis, are already active and biting residents in greater numbers,” Andreadis said. “At this time of year, personal protection measures and conducting tick checks remain the most effective ways to reduce the risk of tick-borne diseases.” Blumenthal and Andreadis said it is not unusual that Connecticut is seeing a spike in ticks and its related diseases. “Lyme is everywhere,” Blumenthal said. “It may have gotten its start, at least name-wise, from Connecticut (the town of Lyme). But many states are seeing increasing numbers.”

Blumenthal, who conceded he used to test the patience of his children with his “highly intensive, intrusive,” checks for ticks, listed some of what he called “common sense” procedures people should practice as the weather warms up and more time is spent outdoors.  “Wear better clothing, wear insect repellent, check your children for ticks every time they come in from outside” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal was also in New Haven to trumpet the fact that CAES recently received $3.25 million – its share of a $10 million federal grant - from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to join with Cornell University, Columbia University, Fordham University and the New York and Connecticut Departments of Health to establish a Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases. The award will enhance research efforts into mosquito and tick-borne diseases, including West Nile, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Lyme disease, Babesia, Powassan and Zika.
But the money won’t help in time for this year’s tick season.

Newsday reports:
Rep. Lee Zeldin faced fiery crowds in a series of public forums on Sunday as he highlighted his differences with Donald Trump while standing behind his support for repealing and replacing Obamacare. Zeldin, a second-term Republican from Shirley, answered written questions submitted by attendees and read by moderators. The tour of the district began Sunday afternoon in Riverhead at Suffolk County Community College, where a capacity standing-room crowd of 225 hissed at his answers and interrupted his statements. From there, he faced a more evenly split crowd of 150 at the Portuguese American Hall in Farmingville. His friendliest crowd of 200 came at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Smithtown, at an event moderated by a conservative group promoting religious freedom.

Zeldin said he supports a more robust policy against Russia and opposes proposed cuts to Brookhaven National Laboratory and Long Island Sound environmental programs.
He highlighted differences he has with Trump and said he believes the president should release his tax returns.

One question in Smithtown asked whether Zeldin thought Trump was honest. Zeldin replied: “It’s one thing to be a reality TV host. It’s another to be president of the United States. I’m not saying that in a pejorative sense. The style needs to evolve to become a little bit tighter. When you say something it has huge consequences.”

In Riverhead, Zeldin faced interruptions from the crowd as he answered questions. “I want to be able to answer your questions,” he said. “Some of these answers need more than a quick sound bite.” Some attendees complained afterward that Zeldin wasn’t answering questions and didn’t allow for follow-up questions.

Friday April 21, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: Governor Dannel Malloy readies 1,100 layoff notices in Connecticut; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issues 154 budget line item vetoes; and. New York State takes steps towards public defense reform.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy said that he is not using the threat of layoffs as “leverage” to get the state employee unions to agree to $1.56 billion in concessions over the next two years, but under the law he must start giving employees notices.

The Malloy administration said it will reduce the state workforce by over 1,100 employees in May “as a first step toward resolving the state budget shortfall.” In addition to those filled positions, the administration said it will allow another 120 vacant positons that were scheduled to be filled to remain vacant.

According to Governor Malloy’s press release, the impacted employees will include non-union employees as well as members of various bargaining units. The layoffs are expected to save about $80 million.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued 154 line item vetoes of legislative additions to the state budget last night. Cuomo’s office said those vetoes include 13 re-appropriations for items that had previously been fully paid out; 75 items that are more than seven years old for which no state funding has been disbursed over the most recent seven-year period; 58 appropriations related to functions the administration deemed to be unconstitutional because the purpose of a re-appropriation was changed.

In some instances, changes to re-appropriations deemed unconstitutional included the deletion of language that gives the governor’s budget director sign-off on certain spending. Such executive powers were the source of friction during budget negotiations, though ultimately a deal was struck on who gets what power when it comes to making mid-year changes to the budget in the event of federal funding cuts.

Under the deal, if there are cuts to Medicaid or other spending, the Division of Budget will propose a revision plan to the Legislature and state lawmakers would then get 90 days to pass an alternative plan, otherwise the Division of Budget’s plan would take effect.

According to The Albany Times Union, raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 has finally put New York in the company of almost every other state. This recent success is tied to a budget deal that included another criminal justice reform, which could serve as inspiration to other states. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed to reforms in the system that provides legal representation to the poor. Much of the nation has struggled with this issue since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1963 Gideon vs. Wainwright decision, which enshrined a constitutional right to an attorney for any criminal defendant.

After decades of work, advocates for indigent legal service reform view the final deal with optimism. Jonathan Gradess of New York State Defenders Association said: “Finally there is an executive commitment…an independent state agency…legislative appreciation…that this is a crisis.”

The state Office of Indigent Legal Services is tasked with developing plans by December to broadly ensure criminal defendants are represented by public counsel; the quality of public defense is improved; and eligible, over-burdened public defenders receive relief. The Office’s William Leahy said: “These reforms are going to put New York at the forefront of getting Gideon right.”

Thursday April 20, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Liz Becker and Melinda Tuhus.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Finance Committee Explores Abundance of Revenue Ideas as Deadline Nears;
Police civilian review board discussed at New Haven meeting; and, U.S. Supreme Court Asks for Further Briefing on
East Hampton Airport Case.

The Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee is expected to wrap up its work next week, but until then it seems to be pursuing every revenue generating idea it can to close the two year $3.6 billion budget deficit.  A committee bill published Wednesday proposes increasing the income tax rate on Connecticut’s wealthiest residents from 6.7% to 7.49%. It maintains the number of personal income tax brackets at six.

The proposal is part of a larger one that creates a 10% occupancy tax rate on bed and breakfasts and dedicates a portion of the taxes on hotels and lodging to promote and develop culture and tourism. There is no fiscal note attached yet to the bill so it’s still unclear how much revenue the various proposals would generate.

The goal, according to Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, was to get all the legislation out Wednesday so they can hold a public hearing on the proposals next Tuesday, April 25. The committee had held six public hearings since January. The committee’s deadline to forward legislation to either chamber is
April 28.

Malloy’s $41.51 billion, two-year budget, gives 31 towns in the state more state aid than they currently receive. That means 138 cities and towns don’t benefit under the governor’s budget.Add to that Malloy’s proposal to shift about one-third of teacher pension costs to municipalities and there are very few lawmakers left to support the governor’s budget proposal. Budget analysts are expected to weigh in on the state’s revenue estimates on April 28.

About 30 people met in the basement of a New Haven church on Wednesday night to further hash out the elements of a police civilian review board they could support. WPKN’s Melinda Tuhus was there.

There are three proposals in the mix – one from the Board of Alders, which makes the most limited changes to a past, discredited review board – and two from grassroots groups, one of which is more far-reaching than the other. It would create a board of elected community members who would review all complaints and arrests before they can be referred to the state’s attorney’s office.

Dan Barrett, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, was on hand to provide insights that might help guide the work, though he made clear the ACLU would not take a position in favor of any one proposal: "I think what you’re doing is ground-breaking, and it can be a model. The reason we’re very interested in what’s happening in NH right now is if a city in CT gets a system that works, and it produces justice and it changes facts on the ground, it can be a model for other cities – maybe not one for one – but it can be a way for us to turn around and tell, for example, police and prosecutors – yeah, it does work, and it’s working in one of CT’s biggest cities."

Audience members raised questions about the ideal size of a civilian review board, how its members would be elected or selected, and how it would actually work. So the work continues on all fronts.
Melinda Tuhus, WPKN News

The U.S. Supreme Court has asked for further briefing on East Hampton Town’s petition for the country’s highest court to hear their case on whether the town can enact rules at its municipally-owned airport.

East Hampton Town announced Wednesday that the Supreme Court has ordered the preparation and filing of additional briefing from the respondents led by commercial aviation interest group Friends of the East Hampton Airport, in the town’s petition to overturn a federal court ruling stripping the town’s right to enact restrictions on noisy aircraft using its airport. The respondents have until May 19 to submit their brief, after which the town will have two weeks to prepare a reply.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court is taking a serious look at our petition,” said Councilwoman Kathee Burke Gonzalez, the town board’s liaison to the airport. “The town welcomes the opportunity to be further heard by the filing of a reply brief, on the drastic impacts that the Second Circuit’s decision will have on our airport and airports across the country. The court’s order is a positive step in our march to regain local control of East Hampton Airport.”

The City of New York also filed an amicus brief April 5 in support of East Hampton’s petition. The town had attempted in 2015 to enact several pieces of legislation limiting the use of the airport by noisy fixed wing and helicopter traffic. Aviation groups sued soon afterward. While the U.S. District Court upheld two out of three of the town’s rules, they were struck down by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2016.

Wednesday April 19, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Harris Makes Connecticut Gubernatorial Bid Official; Former Federal Prosecutor Jumps Into 2018 Race for Governor; Visconti Enters Race For Governor, And Will Bypass Republican Nomination Convention; and, residents press for housing ban at Calverton Enterprise Park.

Having stepped down from his post as a state agency commissioner, Jonathan Harris was ready to announce Tuesday that he’s exploring a run for governor. “I have executive experience and I’ve dealt with a lot of really tough issues,” Harris said Tuesday evening in a phone interview.

The former West Hartford mayor and three-term state Senator who stepped down Monday as Consumer Protection Commissioner believes he has a lot to offer the state of Connecticut. He said he wants to tackle the tough issues, and isn’t afraid to bring people together to “forge practical solutions.”

Harris is the second Democratic candidate to formally file paperwork declaring his candidacy. The first was Middletown Mayor Dan Drew. Unlike Drew, Harris waited until after Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced he wasn’t going to run for re-election.

Harris said he’s committed to using the Citizens Election Program and the only reason he would get out of the race is if Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman were to decide to run. He said Tuesday that he told Wyman last summer that if she wanted to run he would support her candidacy.

He knows how to get the attention of jurors, but will the be able to convince Democrats to support his gubernatorial bid? The former federal prosecutor who put former Gov. John G. Rowland in jail a second time Chris Mattei, a 38 year-old Hartford attorney, who is now in private practice with Koskoff, Koskoff, & Beider, has joined the race for Connecticut Governor. He’s never held elected office and is describing himself as an outsider to the political process.
Mattei is the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to announce he’s interested in the seat following Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s decision not to seek a third term. The announcement was much more casual and low-key than the email and maiden campaign video Mattei emailed to his supporters Wednesday morning.

In his maiden video, Mattei, who is not well-known to political insiders, seeks to strike a populist message. “We’ve arrived at a troubled time. It seems as the values that I grew up with and that so many of us share are being put to the test everyday,” Mattei says in the video that is overlaid with soft piano music. “Values of fairness and decency. Tolerance and the rule of law.”

Mattei, who formed a committee and filed his paperwork today, is fashioning himself after former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. In 2005, Patrick was at first seen as a dark horse candidate, facing veteran politicians, but he was able to win a three-way primary with 49 percent of the vote. He went on to win the general with 55 percent of the vote.

Mattei is unlikely to be the last Democratic candidate to get into the race. State Comptroller Kevin Lembo is also said to be considering a bid for the Democratic nomination.

Joseph Visconti, 60, who ran as a petitioning, unaffiliated candidate for governor in 2014, announced Wednesday that he has taken out paperwork to seek the Republican nomination for governor in 2018. Visconti, a contractor from West Hartford, is also a former 2008 candidate for U.S. Congress. He said, like in 2014, he will be skipping the Republican convention in May and running as a petitioning candidate. To qualify as a petitioning candidate Visconti would need about 9,350 signatures, or 2% of the 467,687 enrolled GOP voters.

He dropped out of the governor’s race the weekend before the 2014 election and endorsed Republican Tom Foley. But it was too late to get his name off the ballot. Visconti remained on the ballot and received about 11,000 votes, but he didn’t play the role of spoiler because it wasn’t enough to hand Foley the election over Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. In 2016, Visconti formed an exploratory committee to consider a run against U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal but he wound up not running.

Visconti, a tea party and gun-rights activist, also served a two-year term on the West Hartford City Council. Visconti has had a four-decade career in the construction business. His campaign biography also notes his work in theater, having trained as an actor and mentor in New York and performed for years in children’s shows in Hartford.

Members of a coalition formed with the stated purpose of preventing residential development within the Calverton Enterprise Park urged the Riverhead Town Board last night to take action against housing at EPCAL before entering into any agreement to sell land to any buyer, including Luminati Aerospace. Rex Farr, longtime president of the Calverton Civic Association and coordinator of the recently formed Coalition Against EPCAL Housing, said the coalition has not taken a position on the proposed sale to Luminati but believes “it is essential that the letter of intent and any other agreement or contract with Luminati must explicitly forbid housing construction at EPCAL now or in the future.”

The town signed a letter of intent with Luminati Aerospace LLC last week. The letter of intent states that Luminati wants to purchase most of the remaining town-owned land within the enterprise park for $40 million. The parties have 30 days from the signing of the letter of intent to agree “in principle” on the terms of a “definitive agreement,” after which the town must determine pursuant to state law, that Luminati is a “qualified and eligible sponsor” for the purposes of buying and developing the site.

Luminati Aerospace CEO Daniel Preston told RiverheadLOCAL on March 28 he has absolutely no plans to build any kind of housing at the site. “Housing has no place in an aviation manufacturing park,” he said.

But members of the new coalition, as well as Democratic supervisor candidate Laura Jens-Smith, have called for the zoning code change regardless of Luminati’s stated intentions, citing the possibility that Preston’s plans may change or he may sell the site to another entity.

Tuesday April 18, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.) 

In the news tonight: Jonathan Harris Steps Down as Connecticut Consumer Protection Commissioner; Education, Municipal Officials Lobby Hard Against Connecticut Teacher Pension Shift; and, Cuomo Administration officials tour proposed solar site in Shoreham.

Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris resigned Monday in a letter to Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, just days after the governor announced he would not be seeking re-election in 2018. 
Harris, 53, a former state senator and mayor, has expressed an interest in running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Stepping down from the executive branch post would be necessary to proceed with filing paperwork for a gubernatorial bid. 

Harris was appointed to the Consumer Protection agency in December 2014 after helping lead the Connecticut Democratic Party through Malloy’s 2014 re-election campaign. Last summer, as part of a court settlement, the party agreed to pay a $325,000 fine to election regulators for using the party’s federal funds to pay for mailers supporting Malloy, who was a publicly-financed candidate.

Harris, who has practiced law for more than 20 years, will be replaced by his deputy, Michelle H. Seagull. According to a press release from Malloy, Seagull will serve in the position of acting commissioner until a permanent successor is named. Harris has indicated that he wouldn’t seek the Democratic nomination if Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman decides to run. 

The largest teacher union and the largest municipal lobbying group joined forces this week to pay for a poll to show lawmakers that shifting the cost of the teachers retirement system to cities and towns is unpopular. The poll of 600 voters found 72% oppose plans to use local property taxes to cover teacher retirement costs. And 67% of voters are opposed to using local property taxes to balance the state budget.

Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, said they called the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to see if they wanted to help pay for a poll when they learned Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to shift one-third of teacher pension costs to municipalities might still be part of budget negotiations among legislators.

Later this month, the legislature’s two budget-writing committees are expected to release their response to the Malloy budget proposal released in February, which included shifting $400 million in payments to the teachers retirement system to municipalities. “Ninety percent of the costs to the teachers retirement fund is debt,” Waxenberg said. “Debt that the towns had nothing to do with and debt that the teachers had nothing to do with,” he added.

He said they’re hoping legislators are listening to what the public had to say in the poll and we hope there’s another way to deal with the budget deficit “other than passing it onto the property taxpayers of the state of Connecticut ... It’s an unwinnable solution that will not be forgotten by the public over a period of time as evidence by the polling results,” Waxenberg said. The poll also found 67% of voters oppose the use any property taxes to erase the state budget deficit.

This is the first year of the past six years in office that Malloy has asked municipalities to help solve the state’s budget woes. Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said the governor’s proposal is a “non-starter for so many legislators, so I think it’s in big trouble ... There need to be other solutions," Bye said.

Newsday reports:
A proposal by local and state lawmakers to preserve 800 wooded acres around the shuttered Shoreham nuclear plant from development as a solar farm got a potential boost Tuesday as officials of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration toured the site on a fact-finding mission. The tour came as local officials continued their efforts to preserve the site as a state park, which would require state preservation funds. They also are pursuing an effort to designate it part of the core pine barrens, to preserve it from development. State Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he and state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) will soon introduce legislation to designate the site part of the core pine barrens, along with another site of a planned solar farm in Mastic.

A tour of the facility Tuesday led by the Long Island Pine Barrens Society director Dick Amper and Brookhaven Town officials was joined by Wayne Horsley, regional director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and Carrie Meek Gallagher, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Both agencies report to the Cuomo administration. “We’re happy to be out here in person to help evaluate the state’s interest in preserving this property,” said Gallagher, noting the potential benefits for water, land and wildlife preservation.
Horsley he would be reporting findings to the Cuomo administration, which has yet to endorse the Shoreham park project. The Cuomo administration has not endorsed any of the proposals for the Shoreham property.

National Grid and NextEra Energy, both private companies, have proposed to build the state’s largest solar farm for LIPA on the southern end of the property. The 72-megawatt array would benefit from existing transmission lines and a substation built for the never-used nuke plant. National Grid, which acquired the 800-plus acres around the Shoreham plant when it bought KeySpan in 2007, and NextEra have offered to contribute 300 acres on the north end of the parcel for preservation if they can develop 350 acres for the solar farm to the south.

Last month, 18 environmental and civic groups called on the state to preserve the parcel as a park. Englebright said doing so would create a “shore-to-shore” patchwork of federal, state and county parks, tying the Long Island Sound coastline with mid-island pine barrens forests and the Great South Bay shoreline. Englebright called the Shoreham parcel the “missing piece” to the shore-to-shore goal.

LaValle last month acknowledged he was working on the legislation to preserve the property under Pine Barrens designation. “The overwhelming input has been to preserve this land,” he said.

Monday April 17, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: 2018 Race For Connecticut Governor Begins in earnest; Adoptees in Connecticut Try Again to Get Access to Their Birth Certificates; and, Suffolk County Executive to deliver State of the County speech on May 17.

Now that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has announced he won’t seek a third term, a number of Democratic hopefuls who have been waiting for an opportunity to succeed the governor are essentially cleared for takeoff. Malloy’s announcement Thursday also gives Republican candidates who have already announced their intention to run for the seat a chance to distinguish themselves from a pack that doesn’t include the unpopular governor.

Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris was the only one of the potential Democratic candidates to attend Malloy’s announcement Thursday. Harris said he had nothing to declare, but the former executive director of the Connecticut Democratic Party said he wouldn’t consider running if Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman wanted the seat. Malloy praised Wyman as the “best” lieutenant governor at least twice during his announcement. Wyman has yet to announce her plans.

However, Chris Mattei, the former federal prosecutor who sent former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland to prison the second time, was quick to email a statement to reporters praising Malloy for his leadership on paid sick leave, the minimum wage, and gun safety.Mattei, who is considering entering the race for governor and would be vying for the Democratic nomination, said he will make a decision in the coming days.

Democratic State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who has at times butted heads with Malloy and his administration, has also expressed an interest in running for the post, but would also step aside if Wyman were to run. Middletown Mayor Dan Drew is the only Democratic candidate to officially announce he’s seeking the nomination.

Republicans have been lining up since 2014 to run for governor and the field is getting more crowded by the week. There’s Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is making his third run, along with Glastonbury Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, David Walker, Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, and Peter Lumaj, who is running for statewide office but hasn’t said whether he will seek the governor’s office. And those are just the candidates who have already filed their paperwork with the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

A bill that would restore the right of every adopted adult citizen in Connecticut to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate is winding its way through the legislative process. In 2014, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a bill into law that gives adoptees born after Oct. 1, 1983, access to their original birth records. In Connecticut and most other states, adoptees receive amended birth certificates that omit the biological parents’ names. 

However, including “after Oct. 1, 1983” in the bill’s language was a compromise. Proponents of the legislation have always wanted to make all birth certificates, regardless of when an adoptee was born, available to adoptees. Karen Caffrey, president of Access Connecticut, a grassroots organization that pushed for the legislation, has said 24,000 Connecticut adoptees born after Oct. 1, 1983, would benefit from that law, but there are about 65,000 people who have been adopted in Connecticut since 1919. That means there are about 41,000 who would benefit by opening up the records to all adoptees. 

By law, a petition for an original birth certificate may be filed in the probate court or the Superior Court that finalized the adoption, but the process is difficult and there are no guarantees the request will be granted. Most adoptees believe they deserve access to information about their birth parents.

Kathy Flaherty, an adult adoptee and an attorney, said: “I do not know my family history (other than the mental health and addiction issues) when it comes to any medical conditions — every box (other than those) on the non-identifying form for both parents was checked ‘not known’.”  Flaherty said her brother, who also was adopted but not from the same family, died at the age of 33 from a congenital heart defect that no one knew he had because no one knew his family medical history.

The bill is currently on the Senate calendar.

Newsday reports:
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone will deliver his annual State of the County message May 17, and for the first time will move the event to a larger setting, Suffolk Community College’s Van Nostrand Theatre in Brentwood. “This year we’re moving . . . to a larger venue,” Bellone said. “I look forward to sharing my ideas with our elected officials and community leaders on how we can continue moving Suffolk forward.” Since taking office in 2012, Bellone has delivered his annual address to county lawmakers at their auditorium in Hauppauge, which can seat 155. The Van Nostrand Theatre can seat 477.

Bellone’s Republican predecessor, Steve Levy, moved the annual address from the legislative auditorium to various sites around the county, generating criticism from lawmakers and increasing security costs. Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, Republican caucus leader, said he had no problem with changing the location to the college. McCaffrey, of Lindenhurst, noted that the legislative auditorium “is always jam packed and may not be the best of venues,” adding, “I’ll probably have more problems with what he has to say.”

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said Bellone informed him of his plan and understands that the event has “outgrown the space” available in Hauppauge.

Friday April 14, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: a bill to help increase pay equity for women in Connecticut clears the House; New York activists call for a People’s Commissioner for the Public Service Commission; and,New York State Court of Appeals Justice Abdus-Salaam is found dead in the Hudson River.

In Connecticut, a bill to help increase pay equity for women in the workforce easily passed the House of Representatives Wednesday by a 139-9 vote. But the bill that prompted name-calling between lawmakers from different parties was substantially different than the one Democratic leadership in the House wanted to run last week. The original language that would have prohibited employers from asking prospective employees about their salary history was stripped from the legislation.

The bill that passed the House Wednesday would prohibit gender wage discrimination, ensure workers maintain their seniority following maternity or family medical leave, ban employers from using a worker’s previously earned wages as a defense against a charge of pay inequity, and give the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities the ability to hear wage complaints. Currently, that responsibility lies with the Department of Labor.

Following passage of the bill, several women’s groups issued statements in support, but said there needs to be more work on the issue. Kate Farrar, Executive Director of Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, said, “We look forward to continuing the momentum with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to achieve pay equity for women in Connecticut.”

A group of activists representing low-income customers and environmentalists are calling for Governor Andrew Cuomo to nominate what they term a “People’s Commissioner” to the Public Service Commission.

While they have submitted a list of names of potential nominees to the governor, members of The Energy Democracy Alliance haven’t made the list public. But they say they want at least one commissioner who is tuned into the issues facing needy New Yorkers as well as someone who will push for the energy efficiency goals that Cuomo has called for.

The group’s call comes as the Public Service Commission has just two commissioners out of five seats. Former Commissioner Audrey Zibelman left earlier this year for a job as the top executive at AEMO, which regulates power markets in Australia. Two commissioners can make utility regulatory decisions, but Alliance members noted that, the end of the legislative session is approaching in June. After that, the Senate would have to return to the Capitol to confirm any nominees. 

According to The Albany Times-Union, State Court of Appeals Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam’s body was found floating in the Hudson River on Wednesday afternoon.She had served on the state’s highest court since June 2013. Her fully-clothed body was spotted by passersby on the Manhattan side of the river near 132nd Street. Abdus-Salaam, 65, had been reported missing from her home in Harlem earlier Wednesday. 

Abdus-Salaam was a graduate of Barnard College and Columbia. She was elected to trial-level state Supreme Court in 1993 and re-elected in 2007. She joined the state’s midlevel Appellate Division court in Manhattan in 2009. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo said: “Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was a trailblazing jurist whose life in public service was in pursuit of a more fair and more just New York for all. As the first African-American woman appointed to the State’s Court of Appeals, a pioneer. Through her writings, her wisdom, and her unshakable moral compass, she was a force for good whose legacy will be felt for years to come. On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest sympathies to her family, loved ones and colleagues.”

The New York Police Department’s investigation into the cause of death is still ongoing.

Thursday April 13, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy Says He Won’t Seek Re-election;
Dueling Bills to Expand or Repeal Connecticut’s Bottle Bill Move Forward; and, Constructed Wetlands Project On a Roll on Shelter Island.

Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel P. Malloy ended the speculation today about whether he will seek a third term. He won’t. Malloy, 61, gathered his staff on the fourth floor of the state Capitol today to deliver the news before heading down to a 2 p.m. press conference.

Malloy could have waited until after the legislative session or at least until after negotiating a state budget deal to make the announcement, but he didn’t. He said he first reached the decision not to run for re-election back in August, and then again in September. But he changed his mind a few times before the idea of not running for re-election made sense and made him happy. “I gave myself enough time to make sure I don’t want to change that decision,” Malloy said. “I’m very comfortable and happy with the decision I’ve made.” The governor also made the point that he’s sticking around until the end of his term in January 2019. “I’m going to be governor until January 2019 and every single day I expect that myself and my staff will be working very hard to continue the process of refinishing, of finishing the work we began quite literally the first day I was sworn in,” Malloy said.

Narrowly elected in 2010 following the Great Recession, the now unpopular governor was faced with a one-year, $3.67 billion budget deficit. In order to solve it, he implemented what ended up being the state’s largest tax increase, brokered a concession package with state employee unions, and cut spending slightly in 2011. Many speculated that he wouldn’t win a second term, but he was re-elected by a larger majority — a margin of more than 28,000 votes — in 2014 after a bruising rematch with Republican Tom Foley.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), who attended the announcement, agreed the governor has never been afraid to make tough decisions, “even decisions that were sometimes unpopular — for the good of the state.” He concluded that Connecticut is better off because of Malloy. Senate Republican President Len Fasano (R-North Haven), said he might not always agree with Malloy, but he respects “him greatly for his tireless work ethic and dedication to Connecticut.”

Connecticut lawmakers and environmentalists want to fix Connecticut’s bottle deposit bill, not replace it. However, the beverage industry and grocers would like to see it replaced with a mandate on curbside recycling. Two bills have advanced through the Environment Committee. One would increase the handling fee redemption centers receive for participating in the program and processing the bottles and cans. Connecticut has not changed the bottle handling fee per container in 34 years. 

Another proposal would get rid of the bottle bill and create a 4 cent bottle recycling fee in lieu of a bottle deposit fee. A third proposal by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would increase the deposit on a can from a nickel to a dime. The idea is that an increase in the deposit would encourage people to return empties at a higher rate. Malloy estimates the proposal would bring in an additional $12 million to the state from those unclaimed bottles and cans that end up in single-stream recycling containers.

Connecticut is one of 11 states that are “bottle bill” states where consumers can get back the small deposit they pay on bottles and cans at the time of purchase. Delaware was the last state to get rid of its bottle bill back in 2010. Both sides have been using it as an example to make their case.

Rep. Mike Demicco (D-Farmington), who co-chairs the Environment Committee said he’s going to do everything he can to ensure that Connecticut’s bottle bill is not repealed. “I’m concerned about the reduced recycling rate,” Demicco said. “We have a winning program here in Connecticut and we ought to stick with it.”

At the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island this month, work is well underway on Suffolk County’s first non-proprietary constructed wetlands septic system, a project designed to remove up to 90% of the nitrogen in the effluent from the farm’s 1737 Manor House, where much of its staff lives.

The project is an early step in the farm’s master plan to be the site of innovative environmental experiments while continuing to honor its history, said Sylvester Manor Planning & Conservation Consultant Sara Gordon.

The project was funded by the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program, a New York State Community Capital Assistance Program grant, an education grant from the Long Island Community Foundation, and by donations from community members and board members, farmers and staff at Sylvester Manor. If this pilot is successful, it could pave the way for approval of this technology at other sites in Suffolk County.

Wednesday April 12, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: A New Report Challenges Business Community’s Perception of Connecticut’s Economy; and, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Blocks Northern Access Pipeline.

A new report from the Center for Public Policy and Social Research wants to change the public’s perception of Connecticut’s economy and its tax structure at a time when lawmakers are wrestling with proposals to increase revenue. Commissioned by the AFL-CIO, the report by three economists at Central Connecticut State University, finds that Connecticut’s quality of life and economic competitiveness are “quite robust.” 

The economists, Jared Ragusett, Paramita Dhar, and Carlos Liard-Muriente, acknowledge at the end of the report that their findings “are not the popular perceptions of the state economy by the business community and government officials.” However, that doesn’t mean they’re wrong or the report wasn’t compiled with empirical data. 

Citing 2015 research by Ernst and Young, the report says Connecticut has the lowest Total Effective Business Tax Rate in the region, but states like New York and New Jersey, with higher business tax rates, are performing at a faster pace than Connecticut. The report also concludes that “Connecticut provides businesses the lowest share of business taxes as a percentage of state and local taxes not only in New England, but in the country. This is a significant advantage for business and makes Connecticut an attractive location to do business.”

Connecticut has traditionally ranked toward the bottom 10 states in almost any national survey of its business climate. The high cost of doing business and poor infrastructure were cited among the state’s weak points, while Connecticut’s innovation and quality of life were bright spots in the report.

Environmentalists are celebrating Governor Andrew Cuomo's decision to block construction of a 99-mile pipeline through western New York. The 24-inch Northern Access Pipeline would carry natural gas from Pennsylvania to Canada. But late Friday, while all eyes were on the state budget process, the Department of Environmental Conservation quietly denied a critical water-quality permit, effectively preventing pipeline construction.

Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director for Food and Water Watch, said the project would have affected 192 streams and 600 acres of forest, and crossed the sole source of drinking water for 20,000 people. "This is a real victory for the grassroots who fought this, day in and day out, particularly folks out in western New York who really never let up," he said, "and I think without that activism, this victory just doesn't happen."

National Fuel, the company that wants to build the pipeline, said it would create up to 1,200 jobs and provide reliable energy supplies to western New York, the Midwest and Canada. There is as yet no word on whether it will appeal the decision or move the pipeline route. Beauchamp said building more natural-gas infrastructure just deepens reliance on energy sources that harm the environment. "Ultimately, we've got to get off fossil fuels altogether," he said, "and this is a huge victory for anybody that wants to transition away from the fossil-fuel use that's really locked us into the kind of climate chaos we're living through."

Under the federal Clean Water Act, states have broad authority to grant or deny permits for pipeline construction. Beauchamp noted that last year, Cuomo used denial of the same water-quality permit to stop construction of the Constitution Pipeline Project in eastern New York. "Using this authority twice, I'm hopeful, also sets a precedent for the country," he said. "We really want to see other governors follow suit and stop these pipelines the way that the governor here has, at least in these two instances."

Tuesday April 11, 2017 (Thanks to WPKN Volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: former United States Comptroller General, David M. Walker seeks Republican nomination for 2018 Connecticut Governor’s race; disability Advocates Make Final Push For Funding Before Connecticut Legislators Unveil Their Budgets; and, Suffolk County creates pilot program to replace outdated septic systems.

It may be 19 months before Connecticut elects its next governor but the number of candidates seems to be growing daily. On Monday, David M. Walker, of Bridgeport, who served as United States Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008, and founded the Comeback America Initiative, submitted papers to run for the Republican nomination for governor. 

Walker, 65, is a senior strategic adviser in the public-sector practice of PriceWaterhouseCoopers and was a 2014 candidate for lieutenant governor. Walker said he decided to take the step to run – now – “because Connecticut needs a transformation, change agent. I am that person; nobody is more qualified to take on the difficult job of righting the state’s sinking ship than me.”

Walker joins fellow Republicans Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, of Glastonbury, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, and former Coventry Town Councilman Micah Welinktukonis as candidates who have formally filed with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. On the Democratic side, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew and Jacey Wyatt, a former candidate for first selectman in Branford, have filed their papers to run for governor. 

Walker said in the coming weeks he would be rolling out more specific plans on how to tackle the state’s difficult issues.He reiterated that he plans to run a “positive, idea oriented” campaign. The Democratic incumbent, Governor Dannel P. Malloy has yet to state whether he will be running for a third term in 2018.

The Connecticut Independent Living Centers whose mission is to help individuals with all types of disabilities move out of nursing homes, find gainful employment, or affordable housing, are once again facing the budget axe. Governor Dannel P. Malloy proposed eliminating all state funding for the five regional centers as part of his budget proposal. That was before Republican Donald Trump released his federal budget blueprint that further cut their funding.

“On a very modest budget, our Independent Living Centers had been available to the 347,000 individuals with disabilities living in Connecticut, and we have already been forced by budget reductions to curtail services,” Daria Smith, executive director of the Connecticut State Independent Living Council, said. “If state budget cuts are implemented, in this new era of less support from the federal government, the individuals we serve could have nowhere to turn for support.”

Eileen Healy, executive director of Independence Northwest, said the state’s five centers helped 233 individuals transition out of nursing facilities and saved the state about $11 million. Another 422 received services that prevented the need for costly emergency health, transportation, and residential supports, and 17,000 received information and referral services on disability related topics.The centers were funded at about $372,000 last year before they were cut further in July bringing the allocation for each of the five centers down to $40,000 each.

The 2016 budget cuts had already reduced the service areas from 169 cities and towns down to 25. “People with disabilities are vulnerable,” Jade Vail, an employee and a client at one of the centers, said. “Balancing the budget on the backs of Connecticut’s most at-risk citizens is wrong.”

Rep. Cathy Abercrombie (D-Meriden), who is the Appropriations Committee Human Services subcommittee co-chair, said the subcommittee did not recommend eliminating the line item, but it did recommend a reduction in the $372,000 allocation the centers received last year. She said every nonprofit organization funded by the state budget will receive a cut. At the same time lawmakers recognize the important work done by these centers and fully support their mission. The legislature’s Appropriations Committee is expected to release its spending proposal by the end of the month.

Suffolk County has created a pilot program to encourage homeowners to replace outdated septic systems or cesspools — an initiative that aims to reduce nitrogen pollution in the county. The Reclaim Our Water Septic Improvement Program allows homeowners to receive a grant totaling up to $11,000 from the county toward replacing old wastewater systems with new technology. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called it a “huge leap forward” in efforts to protect water quality.

There are more than 360,000 homes that use outdated septic systems and cesspools, according to the county. The outdated systems do not properly treat wastewater to remove nitrogen. The nitrogen excess affects water quality and has closed beaches, caused brown tides and fish kills.
“As I have said many times, all of our efforts to replace polluting systems with new technology that will protect water quality could be of limited value if we don’t find a way to make these new technologies affordable for homeowners,” Mr. Bellone said.

There are $2 million in total funds available for the first year of the program and it will be funded at that amount each year through 2021, according to the county executive’s office. The incentive program will launch in July with an application process.

Monday April 10, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Judiciary Committee Defeats The Governor’s Proposal To revamp the juvenile justice system; Sugary Beverage Tax Gets Public Hearing Tuesday in Connecticut; and, New York governor and legislative leaders hammer out a state budget plan.

Passing legislation revamping the juvenile justice system, one of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature initiatives this year, failed to make it through the Connecticut Judiciary Committee Friday. An attempt to amend the governor’s bill to “study’’ the issue failed, as the committee’s 5 p.m. deadline came and went.

Rep. William Tong (D-Stamford), tried to get fellow committee members on board by calling the study bill a “complete change” from the original legislation, but his request fell on deaf ears. “It’s unfortunate that the clock ran out before the Judiciary Committee concluded all of its business,” Kelly Donnelly, spokesperson for Malloy said. “But the good thing about our legislative process is that conversations about important issues such as these can and will continue this year - especially when they have budget implications.”

Malloy has been pushing for two years to get the General Assembly to recognize that the adolescent brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25, but he’s been met with mostly Republican resistance. There’s another group of socially conservative Democrats who believe state and federal law says 18-year-olds are adults and there’s no reason to change that. Malloy’s original proposal would have changed how 18 to 20 year olds are treated by the state court system. Instead of being treated as adults they would be given “youthful offender” status and handled by the state’s juvenile justice system. The governor has said those arrested for offenses such as “public drinking, possession of alcohol, drug offenses, shoplifting” would be the likely benefit from the legislation.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said one of his concerns about raising the age is that he didn’t understand why 18-year-olds “could serve in the armed forces, go off to college,” but wouldn’t be considered adults when it came to the justice system. Candelora, who was speaking for the Republican caucus, also said Republicans didn’t feel like their input on the initiative was sought or wanted.

The governor has had to repeatedly beat back critics of his initiative - both this year and last - who say it coddles young criminals. Malloy has said the youthful offender status he proposed would not apply to the most serious crimes, including Class A felonies and violent crimes. Motor vehicle crimes would also have remained in adult court under his proposal.

A bill that would impose a penny per ounce tax on certain carbonated and non-carbonated beverages that contain added caloric sweeteners will be the subject of a public hearing of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on Tuesday in Connecticut. The sugary beverage tax, proponents hope, would be used to fund a welfare-to-work program that subsidizes child care for low-income families.

The public hearing is at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. The bill has been proposed in the past, but it hasn’t made it very far in the legislative process.
Advocates are hoping this year is different. Connecticut Voices for Children estimates a tax on sugary beverages would bring in about $85 million a year. The estimate is based on 2015 legislation that called for a tax of one cent on each fluid ounce of soda sold. The $85 million in revenue, is far more than the $33 million Connecticut needed to fully fund the Care4Kids program this year.

As of the end of February, the wait list for the program had grown to 3,000 children and is expected to increase to 5,000 by the summer. Due to federal changes in the program last year, the state decided to close enrollment to most families and simply continue to fund the children already receiving care. “Connecticut families already face some of the highest child care costs in the nation, with an average annual price tag of $13,880 for infant child care,” Connecticut Voices for Children said.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy didn’t offer families any help. In fact his two-year budget cuts funding for the program by about $14.5 million over the next two years causing a potential shortfall of about $42 million in 2018 and $48 million in 2019.
That’s why Connecticut Voices for Children is calling on lawmakers to consider a tax on sugary beverages as a way to fund the program.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
A week past the deadline, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders hammered out a state budget plan Friday morning. The budget includes most of the agenda Cuomo laid out in January, including a college affordability plan to cover tuition costs for more middle-class students. That program will go into effect for the coming school year and cover tuition at public higher education institutions for families making $100,000 or less. In the fall of 2018, the household income cutoff will settle at $110,000 raising to $125,000 in the fall of 2019.

Here are the major elements of the state budget deal:
• "All Funds" spending (includes federal aid): $153.1 billion

• State operating funds spending: $98.1 billion, a 2% increase

• K-to-12 education aid increase: $1.1 billion, including $700 million in Foundation Aid, an increase of 4.4%.

The budget includes the "Raise the Age" initiative, overhauling the way the state treats 16- and 17-year-old lawbreakers. Changes will be phased in, raising the age of juvenile delinquency from 16 to 17 beginning in October 2018, then raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in October 2019.

Friday April 7, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers Gretchen Swanson and Mike Merli.)

In tonight’s news: a bill requiring Connecticut gun owners to show their permit to police was defeated yesterday; Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim contemplates running for higher office, and asks for statewide funds; and environmental protesters jeered outside former Cuomo aide Joe Percoco’s court appearance in Manhattan.

Proponents conceded defeat yesterday on a bill that would have given law enforcement permission to ask a person to see their gun permit. Before the Judiciary Committee had even posted its final agenda for Friday’s meeting, Connecticut Against Gun Violence let its supporters know in an email that the bill would not be raised for debate. 

This is the second year proponents had pitched the legislation. Last year, it passed the Public Safety and Security Committee on a 16-9 vote, but never got raised for a vote in the House. This year, it wasn’t only Second Amendment proponents who opposed the proposal; it was lawmakers from urban districts concerned about racial profiling by police. 

Lawmakers from New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport expressed concern during the public hearing about how the legislation would impact their communities and people who look like them.

The Connecticut Citizens Defense League applauded the defeat of what’s come to be known as the “show me your papers” bill. The legislation had the backing of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, who said they struggle with reporting to the public when a person calls 911 and reports seeing a person with a gun.

Convicted by a federal grand jury in 2003 on racketeering, extortion, bribery, and mail fraud charges, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim – who made a successful political comeback in 2015 when he won re-election – is contemplating higher office. However, due to his conviction, Ganim is ineligible for the Citizens Election Program, which gives money to candidates who meet certain requirements.  That’s why Ganim is asking state election regulators if they might consider allowing him in the program.

Today, Ganim sent a petition to the State Elections Enforcement Commission, asking them to reconsider. Ganim was released from prison in 2010 after serving six years in prison. He has restored his voting rights and renewed his status as an elector. In 2015, he was re-elected Mayor of Bridgeport.

The petition will appear on the State Elections Enforcement Commission’s April 19th agenda.

According to The Albany Times-Union, yesterday Governor Andrew Cuomo’s former top aide Joe Percoco got the Game-of-Thrones-style “Shame!” and jeering treatment, from a group of protesters outside his court appearance in Manhattan. Percoco is implicated in an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving a power company.

New York Post reporter Kaja Whitehouse said on Twitter that the protestors were environmental activists from Orange County, where a natural gas-fired plant is being developed by Competitive Power Ventures.

Competitive Power Ventures allegedly benefited from pay-to-play favors doled out by Joe Percoco in exchange for goodies that included a job, which protestors slammed as “low-show,” for his schoolteacher wife.  According to communications detailed in the federal criminal complaint unveiled in September, Competitive Power’s executive Peter Galbraith Kelly is referred to as “fat boy” by Percoco and lobbyist Todd Howe. Kelly is among the defendants in the case, all of whom have pleaded not guilty.

(Thursday, April 6, 2017 is not available.)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers)

In the news tonight:  Bill Codifying Solitary Confinement Practices approved by Connecticut Judiciary Committee;
Immigrant Community Plans Connecticut Capitol Rally; and, Luminati seeks to buy Riverhead Town’s land at EPCAL for $40 million.

The Judiciary Committee passed a bill Tuesday to reduce the use of solitary confinement in Connecticut prisons. The bill, which was approved by a 27-14 vote, is now headed to the House of Representatives.  Sen. Paul Doyle (D-Wethersfield) who co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, has said at the start of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration there were over 200 people in solitary confinement, now they’re down to 35. 

The bill has been championed by Sen. Gary Winfield (D-New Haven) who in March spent two hours in a replica-like solitary cell to experience the feeling of isolated confinement. “We are concerned about the effects of isolated confinement on the individuals we place in isolated confinement,” Winfield said. But those concerns don’t just end with the inmates. “There is a concern about those who have to deal with people in isolated confinement,” Winfield added.

The bill states that isolated confinement shall be used only to protect against a threat of imminent physical harm to correctional staff or other inmates - and only for the shortest duration possible to protect against such harm; no inmate shall be assigned to solitary for more than 15 days without a hearing where correctional officials would need to show why continued isolation is necessary. Also for any inmate who has spent more than six months in solitary, and is not a physical threat to other inmates or correctional officers, an alternative placement should be found. The bill would also require the Department of Correction to provide training to employees who interact with inmates who have been isolated from the rest of the prison population.

During the public hearing phase on the bill, there was opposition, including the testimony of Brian Anderson, lobbyist for Council 4 AFSCME, a union of 35,000 public and private employees, including 5,000 correctional workers.
“Administrative segregation is an important tool for keeping inmates, the public and staff safe in regards to corrections facilities functioning properly,” Anderson testified. “A tool is needed to change the behavior of violent or disruptive inmates. Administrative segregation provides a safe place to house inmates who are a threat to other inmates or staff.”
Anderson said he supported the part of the legislation which would provide for increased training and wellness opportunities for correction officers.

They may live in one of the most progressive states in the nation, but a coalition of immigrants, labor, community, legislative and business allies will be rallying April 29 at the state Capitol to let everyone know they’re “Here to Stay.”
“Here to Stay” is the name of the rally and it’s only the most recent action the immigrant community in Connecticut has taken since Republican Donald Trump election as president last year. “The Trump administration’s assault on immigrants cannot be tolerated,” Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, said Monday.

David McGuire, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said there’s no mistake about it that Trump and the Department of Homeland Security has targeted Connecticut because of its stance on immigration. “We cannot let this harmful anti-immigrant rhetoric to go unchecked,” McGuire said. “We have spoken loudly against executive orders, but we have to keep this drum beat up.” He said the thing they are most fearful of is complacency. “We have to keep up the message that Donald Trump cannot trample immigrant communities,” McGuire said.

The Trump administration’s deportation forces have terrorized immigrant families, according to Franklin Soults, a spokesman for SEIU 32 BJ, and have made state agencies like the Department of Children and Families worry about what would happen if mass deportations were to occur. DCF has said that if undocumented parents are deported and their 22,000 children enter foster care, the cost to the state is estimated to exceed $630 million. However, even if 10% ended up there, the cost would be around $60 million. 

Alok Bhatt, of the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, said they appreciate the steps state and municipal officials have taken regarding the rhetoric by the federal government but “we must organize and build power to defend ourselves against these attacks. While we engage our own movements, we, as targeted peoples, must also form a united front against an administration based on bigotry and ignorance.”

The rally will be held from 1-3 p.m. April 29 at the state Capitol in Hartford. Similar rallies are expected to be held on May 1 in Boston, New Haven, New Jersey, New York, and Washington D.C.

The Riverhead Town Board on Tuesday unanimously authorized the signing of a letter of intent to sell most of the remaining town-owned land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, including both runways, to Luminati Aerospace LLC for $40 million. Luminati has had a presence at EPCAL since 2015, when it purchased the former SkyDive Long Island property for $3.4 million. More recently, it leased space in a portion of the former Hangar 6 building.

The purchase involves most of the remaining 2,300 acres owned by the town, about 600 of which are developable, according to the town. Supervisor Sean Walter said he believes the state will require a covenant prohibiting any additional development within those 2,300 acres.

“My goal is to quite simply to use it for its intended purpose, which is an aviation manufacturing base,” Luminati CEO Daniel Preston said in a recent interview. “My focus is going to be on getting the greatest economic impact locally, and the largest number of job creations, which is between 800 and 2,000 people by the end of the fifth year, and that’s quite conservative.”

Mr. Walter said the land value of the EPCAL property alone is expected to generate about $1.6 million in annual property taxes before anything is built there.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteer Liz Becker.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut Hate Crimes Bill Wins Bipartisan Support in Judiciary Committee vote; New York Assembly passes state budget extender to avert government shutdown; and, growing support seen for New York single-payer health-care bill.

The Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday that would increase the penalty for hate crimes in Connecticut. The bill, which was the subject of some partisan wrangling when it was introduced by Democratic lawmakers in March, was approved by a 38-1 vote. Only Rep. Doug Dubitsky (R-Chaplin) voted against it.

Democratic lawmakers had pointed to the election of Republican Donald Trump as a turning point for an increase in hate crimes when they held a press conference on the legislation in the middle of March. Republican lawmakers, who weren’t invited to the press conference, accused Democrats of making it a partisan issue for no reason. Senate Republican President Len Fasano (R-North Haven) said when he first heard about the bill, the best way to combat hate would have been to show unity in the fight against it.

The bill would increase the penalty for hate crimes against a group of persons from a misdemeanor to a felony. It also adds hate crimes based on gender and increases the penalty for desecrating any house of worship or religious cemetery. Another one of the bill’s mandates is to create and publicize a hate crimes hotline and a text line for reporting incidents of harassment or intimidation of minority groups in the state.

Rep. Richard Smith (R-New Milford) said he hopes if the legislation is eventually passed that money raised by increasing penalties will go toward helping to fund the hotline initiatives.

The Albany Times-Union reports:
The New York state Assembly approved on Monday evening state budget extender legislation that will stave off a government shutdown as legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo continue to hash out the details of a new spending plan.

The Senate approved the two extender bills earlier in the day. The appropriations bill, the bulk of the legislation, does not need to be signed by the governor to take effect. The “Article VII” legislation — which contains policy language — does require his signature. The legislation lasts through May 31.

Speaking with reporters before the vote, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that an extender “isn’t a punt of our duties ... I’m just trying to make sure government isn’t shut down,” he said. As in the Senate, debate in the Assembly over the extender legislation was not painless. Multiple Republicans, who are in the minority in the Assembly, decried a budget process that does not include them in budget talks. And Democrats and Republicans said that the length of the extender (two months) is troublesome, as is the general legislative inaction on the budget.

The New York News Connection reports:
Doctors, nurses and lawmakers rallied in Albany today, urging the state Senate to pass a statewide single-payer health-care bill. The New York Health Act already has passed in the Assembly twice. At last count, the bill had 30 co-sponsors in the state Senate, just two votes short of a majority, and a special election next month is expected to raise that total to 31. If it becomes law, it would replace private insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays for all New Yorkers, regardless of employment, health, or immigration status, with a publicly funded system based on ability to pay. 

Doctor Oliver Fein, chair of the New York Metro Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Plan, says it would benefit not only the two million New Yorkers who are still uninsured, but also those who are working and paying insurance premiums. "We think for most people with incomes below $100,000, they will actually save money," he said.  A 2015 study estimated that the New York Health Act would save almost $45 billion in the first year alone.

Fein adds that the bill also would eliminate the local share of the cost of Medicaid. He points out that currently, counties are paying about 25 percent of the cost of Medicaid for their residents. "That would be absorbed into the New York Health Act and would be eliminated from a cost to taxpayers in rural counties in upstate New York," he added.  That would lower property tax bills. Fein says the rally in Albany could put the bill over the top.

Monday April 3, 2017  (Thanks to WPKN volunteers.)

In the news tonight: Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo Says State Will End the Fiscal Year With A $44.6M Deficit; Connecticut Senators Aim To Help Veterans With Mental Health Challenges Get Services; In Separate Statements, New York State Comptroller DiNapoli Criticizes Ill-Conceived Presidential Executive Order, and Asks for Report on Due Diligence in Wake of Dakota Pipeline Controversy

State Comptroller Kevin Lembo said slow income tax withholding has forced him to predict the state will end the year with a $44.6 million budget deficit. “I would be happy to be wrong,” Lembo added.

However, Lembo cautioned that income tax receipts have been weakening since January. “The withholding portion of the income tax, which accounts for over 60% of total income tax receipts, has been weakening in recent months,” Lembo said in his monthly letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. He agreed with the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis that revenues would fall about $60 million short of projections.

The Office of Policy and Management predicted on March 20 that the state will end the 2017 fiscal year in June with a $22 million surplus. But that estimate was based on the revenue estimates from January. Chris McClure, a spokesman for the governor and OPM, said they stand by their projections. “The March projections are usually more noise than signal, as they lack information on April revenue collections and may over or understate the impact of expenditure trends,” McClure said. “With that said, it’s worth noting that our respective projections differ by one-tenth of one percent.”

Lembo pointed out that “estimated income tax payments through February were below last fiscal year’s receipts. Typically, final April payments trend in the same direction as estimated payments. However because of stock market corrections and subdued bonus payments in the 2015 tax year, a large number of taxpayers may be eligible to utilize safe harbor provisions of the tax code.” He said that essentially means some taxpayers were able to delay the full payment of their tax liability until this April. But he’s concerned that those payments won’t help Malloy’s budget office reach its revenue estimates.

Recent investigations show that the Department of Defense has issued thousands of other-than-honorable (OTH) discharges to veterans, including hundreds in Connecticut, with mental health and behavioral health diagnoses. U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and seven other senators introduced legislation to change that.

On Monday, Murphy, veterans, and advocates for veterans, held a press conference at New Haven City Hall and called upon Congress to take action. “I can’t stand the idea of a veteran risking her or his life for this country, suffering the wounds of battle, and then being kicked to the curb as a result of those wounds,” Murphy said. “But that is exactly what has happened to tens of thousands of men and women who have fought and bled for our country.”

“This is common sense,” Murphy added. “We are breaking our promise to those who served.” Murphy said there is also a stigma that comes with an other-than-honorable discharge that is a heavy burden for veterans to live with. “A lot of these so-called offenses are very minor,” Murphy said.

The legislation Murphy helped introduce would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide mental health and behavioral health services to diagnosed former combat veterans who have been other-than-honorably discharged. The bill would also ensure that veterans receive a decision in a timely manner and requires the VA to justify to Congress any denial of benefits that they issue to a veteran.

Up until recently, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Murphy said, denied it had the legal authority to provide any care to former combat veterans who received OTH or Bad Paper discharges. The VA has reversed course on the matter, Murphy said, adding now it’s time for Congress to act to ensure mental health and behavioral health services are provided to these veterans.

In a press release last week, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli criticized Donald Trump's executive order reversing Obama administration environmental policies, saying: "Tuesday's Presidential Executive Order is yet another ill-conceived and dangerous attack on environmental protections.

"Along with the President's previous proposals to gut the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 31% and roll back protections for clean air and water, this action would decimate 40 years of work to reduce pollution in America, pushing our country backwards.”

In another press release last week, seeking due diligence in wake of the Dakota Pipeline Controversy, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, on behalf of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, is calling on Marathon Petroleum to explain how it identifies and addresses environmental and social risks, including potential violations of indigenous peoples' rights, in reviewing its potential acquisitions.

The shareholder proposal is co-sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church Funds, the Oneida Trust of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, Trillium Asset Management and As You Sow.