Thursday, March 26, 2015

Democrats Reject Clean Election Proposals

Many election campaign finance related bills were submitted to the Government Administration and Elections Committee of the Connecticut legislature this year but only one is moving forward with no Republican input.
Connecticut's Citizen Election Program is funded with taxpayer money and provides campaign grants to candidates. My state senate reelection campaign received nearly $100,000 from the program. The program was designed to eliminate outside influences in state political campaigns by forbidding businesses and lobbyists from a key role in the campaigns.
In 2013 Connecticut Democrats who control the legislature blasted bus-size loopholes into the Citizen Election Program with changes that received no Republican legislators vote.
Last year I talked about Democrats changing the campaign finance rules and then suing the campaign finance regulators.
Not only did the Democrats increase donor limits, lower safeguards and allow lobbyists to take a prominent role in campaigns again but they did all of this saying they must fight against the terrible impact of "Citizens United" - a U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed freedom of speech for businesses.
The reality is we don't have a problem with Citizens United money in political campaigns in Connecticut. What the Democrats did was raise the issue as a major problem so they could create loopholes in our clean elections program and claim "we had no choice."
Senate and House Republicans proposed a package of reforms to election laws this year, including the following changes: 
  1. Cap organizational expenditures by state political parties (SB612)
  2. Rollback the Democrats' increase of donor limits to state parties from $10,000 to $5,000 (HB6084)
  3. Stop state contractor's political donations from being used in state races (SB385)
  4. Eliminate public campaign financing grants to unopposed candidates (SB224)
  5. Reduce all public financing campaign grants by 25% ((SB225)
Instead of bi-partisan support for clean elections in Connecticut like we had when the program was created in 2005 under Governor Rell's leadership we have the majority party running roughshod over the program.

An amazing proposal in SB1126 this year is limiting audits of the taxpayer-funded grants to a political campaign. The Democrats don't think they should be audited this year if they had an audit last year. It seems the way state government currently audits businesses, state grant recipients, state contractors and even taxpayers should not apply to the politicians.

How brazen is that?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

NO to Casino Expansion in Connecticut

Casino expansion is the wrong direction for Connecticut. Danbury is the wrong location for a new casino in Connecticut. This proposal is a desperate move that offers no long-term benefits for our state.

Danbury’s economy is better suited to high technology and financial services expansion. Danbury consistently has the lowest unemployment rate in the state of Connecticut. Casino jobs offer no enhancement to western Connecticut’s economy.

New casino expansion in Connecticut proposed today will give us supermarket-sized casino parlors – not the same casinos we’re accustomed to at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Our state doesn’t need casino parlors dotting the landscape.

Slot machine revenues at Connecticut’s casinos are dropping precipitously due to the poor economy and new competition in the gambling market. We’ve seen this happen across the country and state government’s response elsewhere has proven Connecticut’s expansion proposal is a dead end.

Looking across the country we can see gambling parlors along interstate highways. These facilities are much smaller than the casinos within a casino we have in Connecticut. Picture a supermarket converted to a casino.

Atlantic City overbuilt their casino market and now they’re closing one after another. The gambling business is changing dramatically across the country. The Connecticut monopoly in the northeast is over and this proposal will not change our reality.

Should the Democrat majority of the Connecticut General Assembly insist on moving forward with this ill-advised idea then our state must renegotiate the tribal compact. Currently, state government shares in only a small portion of revenues generated by Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. This must change.

A new tribal compact must include state participation in all revenues at casino facilities in our state. Slot machines generate only 30% of casino revenue and we are currently limited to a piece of slot revenues. Table games like Poker, Blackjack, Baccarat and Roulette generate a large share of casino revenues and should be subject to a new compact. Negotiations for a new compact must include existing facilities at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun - not just expansion casino facilities.

A better idea is scrapping casino expansion in our state. Connecticut should help our two existing casinos focus on bringing tourists to their destination facilities. Allowing our casino operators to expand will only further erode their existing business.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Closing Loopholes" is Real Raising Taxes...

Governor Malloy says he’s “closing loopholes” when he’s really raising taxes…

Response to the Governor's budget proposal from the business community was swift and harsh. The president of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, Joseph Brennan said, “I think it strikes a blow at business confidence …strikes a blow at our recovery.”

State government grants to municipalities are essentially flat-funded or down slightly. That means local property tax payers must pick up the inflation costs and that translates into higher local property taxes.

The Governor’s budget proposal for the next two years claims to reduce the sales tax. The devil is always in the details. The reality is the budget proposal eliminates sales tax exemptions on clothing and restricts “Tax-Free Week.” We pay $57 million more in sales taxes.

Even your garbage collection costs are going up with Governor Malloy as he raises solid waste disposal fees.

Not only do you get more taxes from the Democrats but you also get a huge “get out of jail free” program. This budget predicts savings of nearly $50 million for releasing prisoners early over the next two years. Has anyone thought about the costs to monitor so many early-release prisoners?

Wait, there’s more. Governor Malloy doesn’t seem to like our third branch of government – the Judicial Branch. He proposes stripping over 1,500 employees from the Court Support Services Division and transferring them to the Executive Branch – now reporting to the Governor. Why is the Governor taking 35% of the Judicial Branch’s employees?

Transportation was a key focus of Governor Malloy’s budget address to the General Assembly. I’ll cover this topic in a future post.

I’ll keep reading and studying the details of Governor Malloy’s budget proposal. So far I see many questions.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Vote NO on Election Day

It sounds simple enough.

On Nov. 4, voters will be asked to consider an amendment to the Connecticut Constitution.

Question 1 asks: "Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?"

Many voters might say, “That sounds like a reasonable idea.”

But before you vote “Yes”, ask yourselves what the constitutional change will bring.

Will it mean online voting?  Telephone voting? Month-long voting?  Maybe all of the above?

Your guess is as good as mine.  No one knows what the end game will be. That’s why this question is not being straight with the voters. The truth is, you are being asked to change the state constitution for some unknown future changes to election law.

Changing the Connecticut Constitution is no small matter.  We are, after all, The Constitution State. It's wrong and potentially dangerous to do away with constitutional restrictions and simply leave it up to a General Assembly controlled by one party to decide how voting should happen.  This constitutional change would enable Democrats to make dramatic changes to our electoral system because they have a majority in the legislature.

No matter what your political affiliation, most of us can agree that access to the ballot should readily and easily available. If the goal of Democrats is early voting or no-excuse absentee balloting, they should have put those proposals in a specific constitutional amendment and let voters decide. The language of the question should be clear as a bell, but it isn’t.  Voters should know what the consequences of their “Yes” vote will be, but they have no idea.
Language is important. At least our predecessors thought so.  They felt it necessary to put election law in our state constitution.
A “Yes” vote on Nov. 4 will open the door to the unknown.  It opens the door to a lot of things without letting the public know where are going.  A “Yes” vote, in my opinion, represents a carte blanche for your state legislature to change voting laws going forward.
So, voters, do you trust them to make all the right moves at the State Capitol?  If not, please join me in voting “No” on Nov. 4.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New Fairfield's Hero on September 11, 2001

I had the honor of participating in New Fairfield's September 11th community remembrance service. Here is the text of my comments:

New Fairfield and neighboring Danbury paid a big price on September 11th 2001. Firefighter Chris Blackwell, Rob Higley, Candace Lee Williams and Michael Jacobs perished at the hands of terrorists. Dozens of other victims have family connections to our area on both sides of the state border.

Two-thousand-nine-hundred-seventy-seven victims.
All with a story – all with painful tears.

A tragedy of epic proportions.

Tonight we remember. Tonight we give thanks for their service and their love.

One story has deep roots in New Fairfield…

His mother said, "he was interested in anything that was dangerous. He was born with no sense of fear. When he was little he would swim underwater before he would swim on top of it. My other three children were a lot easier."

His brother shared a story about a distempered raccoon roaming the neighborhood that got too close to children playing nearby. He lead the kids to safety and then put the raccoon down.

That's the kind of guy he was. His first thought was always about others. So, it was no surprise to anyone when he became a career firefighter.

Chris Blackwell was a highly-decorated 20-year member of FDNY Rescue 3 – “Big Blue” as it is known in New York. Mr. Blackwell received the Heroism and Community Service medal in 1989, the Thomas Kennedy medal in 1990, and the Medal of Valor in 1992. He was a member of the FEMA urban search and rescue team and taught heavy rescue skills to fire departments throughout the region and the country.

Chris grew up in New Fairfield and graduated from Immaculate High School. He was a veteran, having served with the U.S. Air Force, was a 25-year member of New Fairfield Volunteer Fire Department - Company A and he worked as a regional paramedic during his career.

Chris was the husband of Jane Scott Blackwell, and beloved father of Alex (Alexandra), Ryan and Samantha.

His wife, dear children, proud parents, Fran and Don, siblings, in-laws and the New Fairfield community lost a hero on September 11th 2001.

Maybe not. It seems Chris’ legacy is alive and well. His children have followed him into public service.

Chris’ daughter Alex is in law enforcement. Son Ryan is now a firefighter in the FDNY – carrying the same badge as his father - #342. Daughter Samantha is studying for a career in health care.

Jane Blackwell rose to the challenge of being a single parent – she says with tremendous help from family and friends. I imagine her faith and her guardian angel wearing badge #342 in Heaven helped along the way.

So you see – Chris Blackwell is still with us through his loving family and friends. Chris’ legacy is alive and well and we are very grateful for his service.

May God Bless America and all of the families affected by the tragedy of September 11th. Thank you.

New Fairfield High School Madrigals performing at the September 11 ceremony.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Obama Says New Highway Tolls Are Okay - NOT!

The Obama administration moved to open the door for states to collect tolls on interstate highways to raise revenue for roadway repairs - essentially abdicating the federal government's responsibility to fund the interstate highway system.

This is very bad news for western Connecticut’s economy and environment if steps are taken to bring tolls to Connecticut’s border towns.

The proposal, contained in a White House transportation bill, would reverse a long-standing federal prohibition on most interstate tolling.

Any move to revive the idea of interstate tolls for placement in border areas like greater Danbury should be stalled immediately. Tolls on Connecticut’s western border would drive motorists to take local roads to avoid them, creating traffic bottlenecks in those neighborhoods and additional air pollution.  Border toll proponents say most of the toll revenue will come from non-Connecticut residents, but what about the person from greater Danbury who drives to work in New York, every morning?

In recent years, the State of Connecticut has raided over $187 million of taxpayer money that was supposed to be directed to transportation projects such as upkeep of roads and bridges.  Instead, that money was used to balance the state budget.

Tolls are taxes. We are overtaxed already. We need to get our spending under control.  We need to get honest in how Connecticut taxpayers’ money is being handled.

I have fought back past attempts to bring border tolls to Connecticut and I will continue strong opposition based on this week’s news from the White House.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Democrats Change Campaign Finance Rules Then Sue the Regulators

I am amazed at the brazen attitude of Governor Malloy and his minions in the Democratic Party when it comes to taxpayer-funded political campaigns. They claim Republicans are improperly spending money outside of Connecticut’s “Clean Elections” system but the Democrats changed the rules in 2013 to open the campaign cash floodgates with Republican opposition.

The Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) filed a lawsuit in federal court this week suing the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission (CT-SEEC) claiming they are interfering with First Amendment rights. Ironically, the DGA is suing Connecticut (to benefit incumbent Governor Malloy) over legislation passed by the Democrat majority during the 2013 General Assembly session.

Hypocrisy has unusual bedfellows when it comes to campaign finance law. Even some Democrat activists are chiming in on Governor Malloy’s campaign strategy. Somehow Common Cause managed to twist the story of the Democratic Governor’s Association’s lawsuit against the CT-SEEC will benefit Republican Tom Foley in the race for governor.

Governor Malloy served as the finance chair of the DGA and raised $20 million for their campaign coffers. Malloy’s senior adviser Roy Occhiogrosso was paid $258,000 by the DGA for research and polling services – one would assume to benefit Governor Malloy’s campaign.

Tough topic to follow but here goes – Malloy raises money for the DGA, the DGA pays Malloy’s senior advisor for polling and research. Now the DGA wants to claim these are “independent expenditures.”

Independent of whom?

So in Connecticut we have taxpayer-funded political campaigns for voluntary participants (this author has received “grants” of roughly $85,000 in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles). The candidates for governor will receive grants of $7 million each.

The Democrats didn’t think their “clean elections program” was fair so they changed the rules to let all kinds of new money enter the “clean” campaign. Now they don’t like the rules they made so in comes the DGA from Washington.

Sound confusing? Exactly! If you listen to the Democrats this is all about fairness to overcome the millionaire Republicans. Poppycock.