HARTFORD — Though the new state budget is just two months old, Connecticut’s chief fiscal watchdog already is warning about several problems that could push state finances into the red.
Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo warned that not only unstable financial markets, but also aggressive savings targets and revenue from new keno gaming all increase the budgetary uncertainty.
Lembo officially certified Tuesday that this fiscal year’s general fund – which covers the bulk of operating costs in the $19.8 billion overall budget – is on pace to finish $800,000 in the black.
This is the fiscal cushion built into the budget by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature, and an official projection that matches the budget’s bottom line is common during the first two months of the fiscal year, which began on July 1.
But there already are signs that keeping the budget in balance will be a challenge, according to the comptroller, starting with the recent market correction on Wall Street.
“The current volatility in the financial markets has also complicated the budget outlook for Fiscal Year 2016,” the comptroller said. “Over the past several years, the state has experienced significant fluctuations in capital gains-related receipts.”
State government’s single-largest source of revenue, the personal income tax, is expected to raise $9.7 billion this fiscal year. About 40 percent of those receipts come from returns filed quarterly – much of which involves capital gains, dividends and other investment-related income.
Unlike income tax receipts from paycheck withholding, investment-related payments traditionally fluctuate greatly from year to year, with the annual percentage change often stretching into double digits. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the leading indicator of the health of blue-chip stocks, suffered its first 10 percent correction since 2010 in August.
“Its important to remember that the stock market is not the economy,” Malloy’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, said Tuesday. “Unemployment is down, and Connecticut’s economy continues to strengthen. Nevertheless, we do partly depend on taxes based on capital gains to support state government in Connecticut. We will monitor our revenues closely and take action to keep the budget in balance as needed.”
Lembo noted that in late 2012, investors took significant capital gains to take advantage of an expiring 15 percent rate within the federal income tax. But while Connecticut experienced a one-time surge in state income tax receipts because of that in 2013, it was more than offset by a sharp drop one year later as investor confidence remained somewhat shaken.
And the comptroller added that Connecticut didn’t meet its goal last fiscal year for investment-related income tax receipts.
“It remains to be seen if the increase in gains related to sales will help to mitigate the negative impact of the present market decline,” Lembo said.
The situation on Wall Street isn’t the comptroller’s only concern with this year’s budget.
Every budget includes built-in savings targets that agencies must achieve throughout the year. But this budget relies on almost $190 million in agency savings – about $30 million more than last year’s budget.
Lembo also cited a new revenue component in the budget – the launch of keno at many Connecticut bars and restaurants. This game, which is expected to begin around January, is expected to raise $13.6 million.
These and other revenue assumptions need to be monitored closely, he said, adding that “undoubtedly, revenues will be adjusted in future months as trends become better defined.”
The comptroller is expected to close the books later this month on the 2014-15 fiscal year, a budget that is on pace to feature the first deficit of Malloy’s administration, albeit a small one.
The last projection from both the governor’s budget staff and from Lembo placed that likely shortfall at $70.9 million, or just under one-half of 1 percent of the general fund.
The legislature already has determined that any 2015 deficit will be closed by drawing on the emergency reserve – commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund – which currently holds about $520 million.
There isn’t much left in the way of pejoratives that haven’t been said about Vester Flanagan. He was disturbed, deranged, a psychopath, maniacal, the epitome of evil, and a flat-out nut job. The gunning down of TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, and then having the gall to videotape it, and expect it to make the round of cable and network news chatter, was beyond the diabolic.
The twist in Flanagan’s heinous act is that he’s African American and the victims are white. So the inevitable finger pointing began that if it had been the other way around, African Americans would have screamed bloody murder and the furor would have raged.
This is a disingenuous argument. More than a few African Americans did call Flanagan what he was, namely a homicidal nut case, and did offer prayers and condolences to the victims’ families. It was a case of their showing that all really lives do matter.
Almost no one publicly or privately bought into Flanagan’s rambling so-called “manifesto” in which he tried to put a racial rationale on why he did what he did.
Yet, the troubling and inescapable fact is that he did just that.
This is more than enough reason not to shrug it off as the rant of a kook. If Flanagan had lived, he likely would have been slapped with a hate crime prosecution by the feds in addition to state capital murder charges.
The hate crime charge would have been justified. And I’m confident that many civil rights leaders would have called for hate crime charges against him. To not call a hate crime a hate crime when the perpetrator is black and the victims are white would leave them wide open to the slur that blacks are hypocrites and have a double standard when the victims are whites.
The victims of Flanagan’s rampage were innocents who, according to his manifesto, one could deduce were shot because they were white.
Blacks must mourn these murders as passionately as they do those of black victims of white attacks. And just as passionately call for the harshest punishment of the killer. The great strength of the civil rights movement was that it seized and maintained the moral high ground by never stooping to ape the violence of white racists.
The Flanagan shooting spree is deeply troubling for another reason. While it is a grotesque and extreme example of racial violence, it is hardly an aberration. Whites at times have been the targets of racially motivated attacks by blacks. While it’s true that some attacks are for their money and valuables, others are revenge assaults by blacks for real or imagined racial insults.
It is equally true that the vast majority of violent crimes against whites are committed by other whites, while the vast majority of violent crimes against blacks are committed by other blacks. It’s also true that the vast majority of racially motivated hate crimes are still committed against blacks.
Yet, even after discounting crimes that are erroneously tagged as racially motivated, many blacks do attack whites because they are white. According to FBI Hate Crime Statistics, among the single-bias hate crime incidents in 2012, there were 3,467 victims of racially motivated hate crimes. It found that nearly one in four were victims of an anti-white bias. In other words, blacks attacking whites because they were white.
A motley collection of white supremacists and rightist extremist groups has eagerly made black-on-white violence a wedge issue in their crusade to paint blacks as the prime racial hatemongers in America. Their websites and blogs shrilly rant about a so-called “wave” of black violence against whites and claim that it gets swept under the rug and the perpetrators handled with kid gloves.
A decade ago, the New Century Foundation, an ultraconservative think tank, launched a national campaign to alert whites to the danger of hate crimes committed by blacks. It uses the issue of black hate crimes to rationalize and bankroll its research into alleged genetic defects among blacks. These groups and individuals relentlessly magnify black hate crimes to oppose affirmative action programs, stronger hate crime laws and various social programs; to justify the proliferation of white-supremacist-tinged paramilitary groups, police violence and racial profiling; and to lobby for more prisons and police and tougher laws. Black-on-white violence also reinforces whites’ fears of blacks as the ultimate menace to society.
The Flanagan onslaught claimed innocent lives and caused monumental pain and suffering to the victims’ families and friends. It dangerously heightens racial distrust and further poisons racial attitudes. This is all the more reason for blacks to quickly and vigorously condemn these attacks. If not, it’s taken by some as a tacit signal that blacks put less value on white lives than on black lives. That notion is a terrible price to pay for not calling a hate crime a hate crime, no matter who commits it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network.
VIRGINIA — Renowned film, stage and television actor Kevin Bacon will lead the Hartford Stage cast in the world premiere of Rear Window, adapted for the stage by Keith Reddin, and directed by Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak, from October 22-November 15.
Tresnjak said, “I read Cornell Woolrich‘s classic crime story ‘Rear Window’ in high school, and it made a lasting impression. I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to direct a stage version thirty years later, when the issues of surveillance and voyeurism have become even more pertinent. Keith Reddin‘s taut adaptation takes place inside of a sweltering, claustrophobic apartment, very much like the addled brain of the leading character, who will be played by Kevin Bacon. I can’t imagine finer collaborators than Kevin and Keith in exploring the terrifying psychological landscape of this timeless thriller.”
The play is based on the same short story-“Rear Window” by Cornell Woolrich-that inspired the Alfred Hitchcock film, a 1954 Academy Award nominee. It is the classic story of a man confined to his apartment who thinks he may have witnessed a murder in a nearby building. Rear Window is presented by special arrangement with producers Charlie Lyons, Jay Russell and Jeff Steen.
Russell said, “Kevin and I have been friends and collaborators for decades, and we’re thrilled he’s taking on this iconic role.” Lyons concurred, “Kevin’s award winning body of work is unparalleled, a leading man who creates memorable characters.”
WASHINGTON — White House officials on Monday said President Barack Obama may break his silence on whether he would endorse candidates for the Democratic primary.
Expected to be in lame-duck territory beginning this fall, Obama’s agenda has been driving the debate among popular candidates running for the presidency.
Observers are speculating whether Obama would endorse his vice president, Joe Biden or his former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Currently, Clinton is the front-runner for the party’s nomination. And Biden is seriously exploring a run in 2016 presidential race. Biden, who had his first meeting with Obama after he announced a possible bid for the White House’s top spot, is expected to make his decision next month, officials said.
A Biden versus Clinton redux would divide the Obama camp, some say.
Ask whether Obama would remain neutral throughout the primary process, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said the president would let the Democratic voters choose the Democratic nominee but “wouldn’t rule out the possibility of an endorsement in the Democratic primary.”
Democrats in Connecticut have already signaled their pick for the primary. Today, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to campaign for Clinton in New Hampshire. Malloy endorsed Clinton’s presidential candidacy in June.
Obama is facing the possibility of a second government shutdown of his presidency. Several conservative Republicans have threatened to hold funding bills to keep the government open after Oct. 1 if federal money for Planned Parenthood is not cut.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.), dismissed idea of a shutdown, saying Congress has “been down this path before.”
Still, that and other issues, including the Iran deal, are expected to spill into the 2016 presidential campaign.
Connecticut gained 4,100 jobs in July as the unemployment rate fell to a seven-year low of 5.4 percent, marking three consecutive months of job growth that have brought the state’s unemployment rate close to the U.S. average of 5.3 percent.
Average private-sector weekly pay was $958.91, up 2 percent over a year ago. The increase represents a gain in buying power, since the consumer price index rose by just two-tenths of a percent.
The report released Thursday by the Connecticut Department of Labor was one of the rosiest since the start of the state’s slow recovery from the great recession of 2008. The unemployment rate hasn’t been as low as 5.4 percent since May 2008.
“This is good news – our state should recognize the progress we’re making,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement. “Jobs are dramatically up, the unemployment rate is significantly down, and we’re on track to reach private sector job levels that the state hasn’t seen since before the Great Recession.”
Overall, the state now has regained 102,000 jobs, or 85.7 percent of the 119,000 seasonally adjusted positions lost from March 2008 to February 2010, when the recovery began. The private sector now has recovered 97 percent of the 111,600 jobs it lost.
“Connecticut is certainly recovering, and we seem to be accelerating somewhat,” said Peter Gioia, an economist at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “But we’re not alone in that other states still seem to be outperforming us.”
Massachusetts, with a larger economy, gained 7,200 jobs in July and has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.
Democratic legislative leaders saw only positive news in the report.
“Connecticut’s economic development policies are helping businesses create jobs, and the state’s job training programs like STEP-Up are preparing workers for a 21st century economy. There’s more work to do but this is extremely positive news,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.
“Early on, the General Assembly partnered with Governor Malloy to make smart, targeted investments aimed at creating jobs, and our efforts are bearing fruit,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.
The report comes as the state’s business climate still generates bad press. General Electric, headquartered in Fairfield, is considering moving out of state, blaming Connecticut’s fiscal environment.
The report is based on preliminary nonfarm employment data for July gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Six of the 10 “super sectors” tracked by the BLS gained jobs, led by 1,600 jobs in health and education, 1,100 in financial activities, 1,000 in government and 600 in manufacturing.
Construction was the biggest loser, seeing a loss of 2,300 jobs. But it still has net growth of 1,900 over the year.
Growth was uneven throughout the state, with gains in the Harford region and lower Fairfield County and losses in the New Haven market and eastern Connecticut. Danbury reported no changes.
The private sector numbers in Connecticut have a built-in anomaly: Two major employers — the tribal casinos of eastern Connecticut — are owned by sovereign governments and are listed as public-sector employers.
The casinos have been shedding jobs for months in the face of new competition in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.
For the first time in 54 years, the U.S. flag was raised over the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, a symbolic nod to the end of a diplomatic strain that has lasted more than half a century.
“We are gathered here because our leaders made a courageous decision to stop being prisoners of history,” Secretary of State John Kerry said during the ceremony.
NBC News notes that Kerry’s visit is also historic because “he is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the communist island since World War II.”
“My friends, it doesn’t take a GPS to realize that the road of mutual isolation and estrangement that the United States and Cuba were traveling is not the right one and that the time has come for us to move in a more promising direction,” Kerry said. “In the United States, that means recognizing that U.S. policy is not the anvil on which Cuba’s future will be forged.”
Three Marines were tasked with lowering the flag in 1961 when the U.S. severed diplomatic ties with the communist country, which sits just 90 miles from Florida. On Friday those same three Marines returned to watch the flag hoisted high above the embassy.
“Larry, Mike and Jim had done their jobs, but they also made a bold promise—that one day they would return to Havana and raise the flag again,” Kerry said.
In December, President Barack Obama announced that the “U.S. was ending an ‘outdated approach’ of isolating Cuba. In May, the U.S. dropped Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism,” NBC News reports.
On Friday Kerry acknowledged that while the raising of the flag was historic, the road to diplomatic harmony between the U.S. and Cuba has just begun.
“We are all aware that, notwithstanding President Obama’s new policy, the overall U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba remains in place and can only be lifted by congressional action—a step we strongly favor,” Kerry said.
James Tracy, one of the three Marines who helped take the flag down in 1961 and were on hand to see it raised, told CNN that the gesture was “one more step for peace.”
HARTFORD — For almost three weeks, Al Lopez went hungry in Connecticut. He was alone and bedridden in Avon after he returned from the John Dempsey Hospital in May. The cupboards were empty. The electricity was off. But Northeast Utilities, Community Renewal Team and other social agencies said no to his plea for help. So Lopez lived on just sugar and water for those three weeks until a neighbor returned from a business trip. Lopez then limped down the stairs to talk to his neighbor, who called 911. After being in the emergency room for hours, the nurses admitted him into the hospital’s psychiatric unit, where he stayed for three days and was released. The doctors deduced he was hungry — not mentally ill.
This experience was a first for the soft-spoken, 43-year-old man with a Jamaican lilt.
“It was an unpleasant experience,” said Lopez who now stays with a relative. “I survived it.”
Lopez, an Afro-Latino who recently emigrated from Jamaica, went hungry for almost three weeks, he said, because his caseworkers and state officials said “I wasn’t eligible” for the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. So he was denied food stamps by the Department of Social Services while he was underemployed and unemployed. Community Renewal Team also delayed energy assistance applications for several months; and the Connecticut Light and Power company, now called Eversource, refused to reduce his relative’s electric bill to keep the lights on.
Previous research shows that many immigrants do not apply for food stamps or know that this and other social services exist. Or, like Lopez, they are denied services or they received inadequate or delayed assistance while they integrate into their new home. Since 2000, about 50 percent of immigrant households with little or no education received social services. Prior to that, most immigrants would do two or three menial jobs. Now, experts say, they are assimilated into the welfare system instead of jobs with livable wages. And in some cases educated black immigrants are pushed out of white-collar jobs and onto welfare.
A recent immigrant adjusting to work, school and life in America, Lopez received little or no help from the social agencies he signed up with when he lost his job as a customer representative at Big Y in Avon. Last fall, Gifts of Love turned him away, saying they were not taking new applicants. So he went to Hartford Hospital, and they placed him in the Institute of Living mainly, he said, because they didn’t understand him, his accent and his customs. He was just anxious about his new home, how to find another job and how to cope with the loss of his mother before he was attacked by nativists in Hartford, he said. After relatives called 911, Hartford police officers took him to Capitol Region Mental Health Center, a community-based mental health facility operated by the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The staff there failed to secure food stamps and Medicaid for him.
Lopez’s Case Manager, Morris Mendez, said he did the paperwork and did not know why Lopez was denied. So Lopez followed up with his clinician at Capitol Region in Hartford, Roxanne Ellis-Denby.
“Unfortunately, you get the most help when you are in hospitals or jails,” said Ellis-Denby, who is Lopez’s clinician for about three years. “And he’s not eligible for food stamps or Medicaid until after five years here.”
Lopez’s eligibility is clear.
According to DSS’s website, every Connecticut resident (citizens and non citizens), whose income and assets are within the set limits are eligible for food stamps. Lopez was in school and work until October 2014. Because of being misdiagnosed, his clinician scheduled frequent visits to Capitol Region, so he could get help with other social services, he said. After his last visit to Capitol Region in October, he has been without a job and has zero income.
When asked why he was put in a psych ward in May, he said, they told him he had “anxieties.”
Civil Rights Advocate said that anxiety is not a reason to be in a mental institution. Lopez’s experience is only about someone adjusting to a new home or a process of acculturation, not mental illness, they said. Besides, even if he was a recent immigrant, there’s absolutely no reason DSS should delay or deny food stamps to someone unemployed, underemployed, sick or homeless,” they said.
But representatives in Hartford’s DSS office did, even though there is no backlog, according to DSS spokesman David Dearborn.
“In fact, we have an over 96 percent timeliness rate for SNAP application processing in the last six-month period evaluated by the federal government, which runs from October 2014 through March 2015,” he said. “Our internal data show that we have been maintaining that excellent rate to date.”
Lopez’s experience with DSS contradicts that prevailing trend at the department.
When contacted, a representative in the Hartford office said Lopez was denied in 2012 and 2014 when he was ill and underemployed. And despite submitting all the required documents, his application has been delayed since April 2015.
Some immigrant advocates believe Lopez is a victim of the anti-immigrant sentiment in Hartford and beyond.
Hate group membership has expanded since 2005 — fueled largely by anti-immigrant sentiment. But after President Barack Obama’s election in 2008, it spiked. That’s according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks right-wing extremists and hate groups.
Black immigrants, they say, are subjected to a particular brand of nativism—akin to the ethno-racism found among the Irish community in the early 1900s. It is now pervasive among African Americans, who are in these positions to help black immigrants but often failed to do so, they said. Xenophobia among native-born blacks is a disturbing trend in the age of Obama, the first African-American president in the United States. And many native-born blacks now believe they “are more endowed with more rights” than black immigrants, who are pushed away by African-American and Hispanic communities. So they, “fall between the cracks,” advocates said.
Lopez is of one of many who fell between those cracks in a xenophobic society spurred by immigration reform debates since 2007.
“There is a damaging immigration narrative that is largely predicated on anti-Blackness,” said Marybeth Onyeukwu, in Truthout. “ However, there are recent attempts to discuss immigration in a way that is inclusive of the Black immigrant experience,” disallowing the erasure of Black immigrants.
Despite a ban on discrimination based on national origin and ancestry, Lopez’s situation seems to be an anomaly or a result of unconscious bias, which consists of a series of micro aggressions toward black immigrants — even from native born blacks. This incredible incident of hunger in Connecticut is, therefore, the cumulative effect of a blatant indifference toward someone’s need for help, advocates say. And black immigrants from the West Indies are less likely than Hispanic immigrants to feel empowered about exercising their constitutional rights, said Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida Joyce Hamilton-Henry.
“Hispanic immigrants have unabashed demands that they have equal protection,” she said. “West Indians (some of whom are Afro-Latinos) are not as politically empowered.”
Accessing welfare and other programs—including jobs—can be seen as an indication that some immigrants have a difficult time assimilating in America. Black immigrants from the West Indies, pushed out of jobs because of anti-immigrant sentiments and other reasons, are now often assimilated into the welfare system, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
“When anti-immigrant sentiments are present,” Hamilton-Henry said, “all of us are threatened.”
The delayed SNAP application left Lopez food deficient for about a month. He called DSS and was put on hold for more than 70 minutes. As of press time, he’s still waiting for his application to be approved.
The story is based on the experiences of volunteers with the Connecticut Alliance for Better Communities, which publishes The Hartford Guardian. The name Al Lopez was used to protect the source used in this story.
FERGUSON, Mo — St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency Monday after Ferguson protests on the anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer turned violent overnight.
Photo Credit: The Root
“In light of last night’s violence and unrest in the city of Ferguson, and the potential for harm to persons and property, I am exercising my authority as county executive to issue a state of emergency effective immediately,” Stenger said in a statement. “The recent acts of violence will not be tolerated in a community that has worked so tirelessly over the last year to rebuild and become stronger.”
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar is immediately taking control of policing in Ferguson, under the order.
According to reports, protestors staged a sit-in, urging the Department of Justice to prosecute police violence. They blocked off the entrance to the DOJ building.
Activists Cornel West was among several noted activists among those who were arrested.
HARTFORD — The top Republican in the state Senate charged Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state employee unions Friday with making an end run around the legislature to resolve a disability pension controversy that the state auditors said may have cost Connecticut millions of dollars in improper payments.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, also called upon Democratic legislative leaders to insist Malloy submit the agreement reached with unions – which endorses a more lenient standard for awarding disability pensions – to the General Assembly for consideration. The auditors also recommended the legislature consider the issue.
“Untold millions of taxpayer dollars have already flown out the door in unwarranted disability benefits for ineligible state government retirees,” Fasano said. “Now, Governor Malloy has handed over rule-making authority to state employee unions and said, ‘OK, go ahead and write your own eligibility standards.’
“Can you say ‘conflict of interest’?”
Fasano’s objections concern a memorandum of understanding signed by Malloy’s administration and ratified Thursday by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition.
Both sides effectively agreed on how the state would implement Connecticut law regarding disability pensions. And because the parties don’t consider it to be a new contract or a contract amendment, it will not be submitted to the legislature for action, the Democratic governor’s budget office confirmed Thursday.
Spokesmen for the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate declined to comment.
But the process Malloy and the unions took runs counter to the recommendation of the state auditors of public accounts, Robert M. Ward and John C. Geragosian.
In a special June 17 report to the governor, the auditors detailed a problem that also was highlighted in a lawsuit filed this summer by state whistleblower Virginia Brown, a former attorney with the retirement services division in the comptroller’s office.
According to state law, an employee is disabled for up to 24 months if unable to perform the duties for which he or she was hired because of job conditions. After that, the employee may continue on disability retirement only if certain other conditions are met. In particular, that employee must not be able to perform some other “suitable or comparable” state occupation.
Both the auditors and Brown assert that, at times, workers have been allowed to maintain disability pay as long as their injury prevented them from returning to their original job.
“Democrats will likely not want to touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, but it is not something that is going away,” Fasano said, adding that Senate Republicans would introduce legislation next year to reform the disability pension system. “… Republicans will not allow Connecticut taxpayers to be disrespected as their money gets wasted time and time again in our one-party-rule state.”
“Isn’t it pretty hypocritical for the minority leader to advocate for this for his friends on one day, but send out statements (of opposition) the next?” Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia responded.
Puglia was referring to Fasano’s advocacy for a publicly financed pension for East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo.
“Seems like he has one standard for his friends and then another standard for everyone else,” Puglia said.
The state retirement commission, which also administers the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System, determined Maturo, a Republican, could not collect a disability pension – related to his work as a firefighter – while also collecting his salary as mayor.
Fasano argued this was unfair given that the state commission also determined it was OK for longtime Democratic activist Marilynn Cruz-Aponte to collect a regular pension for her work in New Britain government while also receiving a salary as assistant to the public works director in Hartford.
Hartford attorney Daniel Livingston said the memorandum on disability pensions basically returns the state to an interpretation it has followed for most of the past three decades: If a disabled worker cannot return to his or her original job within 24 months, they are entitled to an ongoing disability pension. Livingston could not be reached for comment Friday.
Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo also questioned whether this was the correct interpretation of the law after he took office in 2011. And while Brown asserts that Lembo and his staff pressured her not to raise concerns about how pensions were awarded, the comptroller – who insists Brown was not coerced in any way – directed the state’s Medical Examining Board to impose the more stringent disability pension standard in the fall of 2013.
But after this resulted in a significant increase in disability pension denials – and complaints from the unions – Lembo suspended all 24-month reviews and asked the administration and the unions to negotiate a solution.
Ward and Geragosian, who warned in June that millions of dollars in pension payments likely were improperly issued, either because of an incorrect standard or because of the suspension of medical reviews, urged the legislature to clarify the matter.
“This is a matter of state statute and legislative and regulatory authority,” Fasano said, adding that the legislature enacted a statute creating disability pensions and establishing the State Employees Retirement Commission to administer it, working with the comptroller. “SEBAC has no authority to draft or approve administrative rules or interpret state statutes. … This is another secret deal negotiated in the dark and is a bad joke on Connecticut taxpayers.”