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Eddie Perez Announces Bid for Mayor, Asks for A Second Chance


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD –– Former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez is asking for a second chance to lead the city.

Flanked by an energetic group of supporters at Arch Street Tavern on Thursday, Perez, 61, made his official announcement to run for mayor.

“It’s time for a change in city hall,” said Perez, a Democrat. “We need leadership that cares about the struggles in our neighborhoods. We need leadership to act and improve the lives of all our residents.”

Perez is hoping to follow Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who was convicted on corruption charges, served time, ran for office and won. Ganim was in prison for seven years for extorting city contractors. In 2015, he was reelected mayor.

Like Ganim, Perez was charged with corruption. The state tried Perez on five felonies for taking about $40,000 in kitchen and bathroom improvements from a Hartford developer, Carlos Costa. Costa was a city contractor on a Park Street development project.

But unlike Ganim, Perez did not serve prison time. His conviction was overturned by the Appellate Court in 2013 and upheld by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2016. Perez pleaded guilty to taking a bribe and attempted first degree larceny by extortion in 2017 after the state moved to retry him. Since then, the state has revoked his pension.

Eddie Perez talks to reporters after he announced his bid for mayor of Hartford
Photo: Ann-Marie Adams

Perez will join a crowded field of candidates vying for the city’s top job. State Rep. Brandon McGee, Hartford Board of Education Chairman Craig Stallings, businessmen Stan McCauley and Aaron Lewis have all registered to run for mayor. And the incumbent mayor, Luke Bronin, launched his re-election campaign in January. All are Democrats.

In a 30-minute speech, Perez took his audience on a journey back to 1969 when he first arrived in North Hartford from Puerto Rico. He began as a Vista volunteer and founded ONE CHANE in North Hartford. He continued to work as a community organizer in the south end of Hartford before he became president of Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance.

He ran for mayor in 2001 and was elected the first Hispanic mayor in New England.

In 2010, he resigned when he was charged with corruption.

“I let many people down and for that I’m sorry,” Perez said. “The people of Hartford have every right to hold me accountable. I ask for your forgiveness. I ask the city to give me a second chance.”

Perez’s now works as a transportation coordinator for Capitol Region Education Council.

Former City Council member Cynthia Jennings was among the cheering crowd supporting Perez’s bid for a second chance. The crowd that packed the downtown tavern was ecstatic, shouting: “Yes, we can,” and “Si se puede.”

Jennings said she was there to support Perez because “Eddie works on the assumption that we’re all one family and that’s how the city is going to come together.”

Perez said money will be a factor. He already knows he will face Bronin, who is “probably getting money from outside the city.”

The primary election is Sept. 10 and the general election is Nov. 5.

There are 69,531 total registered voters in Hartford.

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Education Committee Approves Lamont’s Watered-down Regionalization Bill


By Kathleen Megan, CTMirror

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont’s two key education bills — including one intended to push school districts toward regionalization — were approved by a legislative committee Friday, but with a few notable changes.

Members of the Education Committee eliminated the governor’s proposal to have municipalities chip in on teacher pensions and scrapped a plan to require homeschoolers to register in their school districts.

The votes, which went largely along party lines, were on House Bill 7150 — an act implementing the governor’s budget — and Senate Bill 874, the controversial bill that includes what some view as punitive steps to push school districts toward regionalization. The latter bill also would have established a commission charged with creating a plan for redistricting.

Last week, the Lamont administration changed language in Bill No. 874 making it more palatable to many by removing every reference to “redistricting” and “consolidation” and by empowering the commission to make only recommendations.

Senate Bill 874 was one of three bills that prompted hundreds of opponents to turn out for a hearing last month out of fear their school district would be forced to merge with others and that local control would be lost.

Earlier this month, two of the bills died, and last week Lamont recast his proposal to emphasize that his effort to get school districts to share services and save resources would be voluntary.

The original bill called for the establishment of a Commission on Shared School Services, charged with developing “a plan for redistricting or consolidation of school services and school districts.”

The revised bill not only eliminates the words “redistricting,” and “consolidation,” but also replaces “plan” with “recommendations” as a way to emphasize the advisory nature of the commission’s report. It says that the commission “shall develop recommendations for the sharing of school services and additional collaborations within and among school districts.”

“He [the governor] heard the people loud and clear and he heard committee members loud and clear,” said Rep. Bobby Sanchez, D-New Britain, and co-chairman of the education committee.

The bill approved by the committee maintains the governor’s language, but also eliminates a provision that was considered punitive by many. That controversial section of Lamont’s bill required small districts– defined as districts with fewer than 10,000 residents, fewer than 2,000 students, or with fewer than three schools — to share a superintendent with another district or name a chief executive officer to oversee the schools.

Education Committee Ranking Member Kathleen McCarty voiced concerns about the governor's education bills and voted against them. Ranking Member Sen. Eric Berthel is to her right.

KATHLEEN MEGAN :: CT MIRROR

Education Committee Ranking Member Kathleen McCarty voiced concerns about the governor’s education bills and voted against them. Ranking Member Sen. Eric Berthel is to her right.

The bill said that if such a district chose instead to maintain its own superintendent without sharing, the commissioner of education could withhold funding in an amount equal to the superintendent’s salary.

However, Republicans said the steps taken by the administration to water down the bill did not alleviate their concerns.

Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said that despite the language changes, “which do show there was listening and acknowledgement,” she is concerned about the “original discourse and the original intent” of the bill with its references to re-districting and regionalization.

“Most disturbing,” Lavielle said, was that the original language was “all based on the premise that effective local school districts must be prodded somehow to act in their own best interests. So many school districts in Connecticut are effective and efficient already and I don’t believe the state has any business to spend time and energy interfering with them.”

In addition, Lavielle said there is nearly $1 million in the governor’s budget to create and run the commission.

“I don’t see a reason to spend that money, especially in our severe budget straits, because I don’t see a reason for the bill,” she said.

Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, a ranking member on the committee, said she opposed the bill because it leaves the structure for a commission to move forward.

“At some point this could turn to more forced regionalization,” she said.

She said the possibility of “forced regionalization” resulted in a “a lot of angst in the school communities through-out the state.”

Sanchez noted that the bill also is stripped of the provision that would require home-schoolers to register with their district.

“So you don’t have to send me thousands and thousands of emails,” Sanchez said to the knowing chuckles of a dozen or so home-school advocates in the attendance.

Twenty two Democrats voted in favor of Senate Bill 874, while 13 Republicans voted against it. Two legislators were absent.

After it was approved, about a dozen opponents, who were at the meeting were disappointed.

Wilton resident Jennie Wong said, “We made our voices clear. The intent is still there to regionalize. I just think they should have heard us.”

Republicans and Democrats alike spoke in favor of the committee’s decision to eliminate Lamont’s plan to have municipalities pay for 25 percent of teacher pension costs, and a greater share if teachers were paid above the statewide median.

Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST), sent out an email after the vote saying, “This proposal would have overwhelmed property taxpayers in small towns and cities throughout Connecticut.”

She said the plan would have shifted $73 million “onto the backs of already burdened property taxpayers…COST is very pleased that lawmakers recognized that shifting a greater property tax burden on homeowners and businesses is bad public policy. This is a big win for municipalities and property taxpayers,” Gara added.

However, those voting against the bill said they were concerned about a provision that accelerated a plan to reduce education cost sharing funds to wealthier districts.

Under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, an agreement had been reached to phase in a shift in education funding over a 10-year period from wealthier districts to struggling, poorer districts. Lamont’s proposal would phase out the funds to wealthier districts over a shorter period of time.

“I am against this proposal,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, shortly before a vote was taken. “This really represents the undoing of a bipartisan budget that worked hard to re-establish a true [Education Cost Sharing] formula that took the appropriate educational needs into consideration as part of that formula.”

McCarty said the measure would “impact adversely over 74 towns, so for that reason I will be voting ‘no’ on the bill.”

Twenty Democrats voted in favor of House Bill 7150, while 15 Republicans and two House Democrats — Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire,  and Jill Barry, D-Glastonbury — voted against it. Two legislators were absent.

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Judge Rules in Favor of Robinson v. Wentzell, Says Magnet School Discrimination Case Can Move Forward


By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — U.S. District Court Judge Stefan R. Underhill on Thursday ruled that a lawsuit against the state and city of Hartford can move forward in challenging the racial quota for magnet schools aimed at integrating metropolitan area schools deemed racially imbalanced.

Judge Underhill gave the green light for plaintiffs to proceed in federal court with the Robinson v. Wentzell case, which claims that race-based enrollment quotas in public magnet schools “unjustly and unconstitutionally deny black and Hispanic children on wait list access to empty available seats in high quality magnet schools.”

At issue is the state law that mandates interdistrict magnet schools to reserve 25 percent of the classroom seats for white or Asian students. Those seats sometimes remain empty while black and Hispanic students are on a wait list because of losing out of a lottery system, advocates for the plaintiffs said. The lawsuit claims the lottery system is discriminatory.

The plaintiffs see the court’s recent ruling as a major victory.

“Yesterday was a huge victory for educational freedom and justice for Hartford black and Hispanic children and their parents,” said Gwen Samuel, Founder and President of the Connecticut Parents Union, an advocacy group based in Meriden.

LaShawn Robinson is the lead plaintiff in the case filed Feb. 15, 2018 by seven families. The California-based Pacific Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit on Robinson’s behalf because she believed the enrollment process for magnet schools was stacked against her son, who is black.

Robinson said she applied for her son to attend a magnet school but was denied for three consecutive years until her son, Jared, dropped out of his neighborhood school.

The lawsuit is a continuation for the long struggle for quality education for all students in a state with one of the highest achievement gap in the nation.

The state was confronted with this issue in the Sheff v. O’Neill case in 1989 when a coalition of parents and students filed a lawsuit that claimed the state denied Hartford students their civil rights in allowing them to remain in segregated schools based on race and socio-economic factors.

Robinson’s case attacks the state’s approach to a remedy for the 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling in the Sheff case, which mandates integrated schools.

“Incredibly, the state incentivizes public schools to deny Black and Hispanic children opportunities for an exceptional education for no reason other than skin color,” said Oliver Dunford, a Pacific Legal attorney for Robinson and the other plaintiffs. “This lawsuit aims to protect equal access to education for all children in Connecticut.”

The state and other intervenors, including advocates for the Sheff plaintiffs, asked the court to dismiss the case. Dennis Parker, one of the attorneys on the Sheff legal team, said at a forum in January that the Robinson case was an attempt to nullify the Sheff victory of having more than 40 magnet schools aimed at an integrated and quality educational experience for Connecticut students.

“Things we thought we won, the victories we thought prevailed in civil rights and in other areas are extremely fragile,” said Parker, who serves as executive director of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “They are not permanent. We don’t have the luxury of saying, we won this, we can move on to the next problem because those basic wins are being attacked on a daily basis by this administration and by others outside of the administration.”

Samuel sees it differently.

“Both the State of Connecticut, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, ACLU Racial Justice Program, and the Center for Children’s Advocacy, as Sheff v. O’Neill intervenors, tried very hard to have this case thrown out of court on a variety of grounds—forgetting that every child in Connecticut regardless of their race has a right to access safe and quality educational opportunities.”

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Mayor Luke Bronin Touts Robust Fiscal Future for Hartford, More Work to Do


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — In his third state of the city address on Monday, Mayor Luke Bronin touted Hartford as a city on the path to fiscal health after having averted a financial crisis.

Bronin said the city was fiscally sound and was attracting new businesses such as Insurtech, Stanley Black & Decker, MakerspaceCT and ThinkSynergy. Thanks in part to the state’s five-year plan that averted the city from filing bankruptcy last year. The state agreed to pay off the city’s $550 million debt.

The city was indeed at a crossroads and the mayor said he and his team made a plan and stuck with it.

“It’s easy to forget just how dangerous that crisis was,” Bronin said to the city council and others in City Hall. “It was not clear then that there was any path other than bankruptcy that would allow our city to avoid a catastrophic collapse of services.”

Bronin, who is seeking a second term in office, said the city now has enough money set aside for capital investments and to build on the city’s reserves.

But there is much more work to do.

The mayor outlined the need to increase the number of black and Hispanic police officers and fire fighters in the city, tackle youth homelessness, chronic absenteeism in the school district and invest more in Hartford neighborhoods.

The city recently hired more than 100 police officers and about half of those hired are black and Hispanic. Additionally, about 125 firefighters were hired and two-thirds are black and Hispanic, officials said.

The city has also received a grant to help reduce youth homelessness.  The city has partnered with several area organizations and has reduced chronic homelessness by 70 percent since 2015, Bronin said.

Almost 50 percent of Hartford students are considered chronically absent or on the brink of being labeled chronically absent. The city has partnered with a national organization to reengage students to lower the absenteeism rate.

“Issues like that can’t be solved inside the walls of our schools alone,” Bronin said.

There are also signs of development and other investments that dot the city’s landscape. Projects that were stalled are now on track again, such as the Albany Avenue Streetscapes, Westbrook Village and Weaver High School in the North End.

The Southend has a new library branch and Mutual Housing is turning blighted properties into an island of affordable housing.

Progress is evident, he said.

“Anyone who says that neighborhood economic development hasn’t been a priority just isn’t paying attention, or isn’t telling the truth,” Bronin said.

The first-term mayor ended his 30-minute speech by urging all residents and business owners to take ownership of the city and fight for its progress.

“We’re a city that fights when we’re down, and we fight for those who are down,” Bronin said. “We’re a city that stands together. We are the strong heart of our region, and the Capital of this great State.”

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Connecticut Must Support Community Nonprofits


By Gian-Carl Casa

Connecticut’s community nonprofits are important contributors to our quality of life and the state needs to support them with adequate funding.

Gian-Carl Casa

Community nonprofits do many things for people who live and work in our state, things like providing substance-abuse treatment, caring for troubled kids, helping people with disabilities, heating homes and bringing arts and cultural programs to communities across the state.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed budget largely recognizes the role played by community nonprofits in delivering vital services to the people of Connecticut. Despite a difficult budget year, the governor would maintain funding levels for most of the programs operated by nonprofits that serve our residents.

It’s a good starting point and we thank him for that. But there is more work to be done to make sure that payments to nonprofits cover the cost of the services they provide — because in many cases they simply don’t.

Years of tough budgets included many cuts to nonprofits even as demand increased. A 2015 study of rates for behavioral health services showed an annual loss for the top ten procedures (by volume) was more than $27 million for approximately 250,000 service hours. State grants for mental health and substance abuse have been reduced by 17 percent Before the legislature approved targeted wage increases last year, nonprofits that provide services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities hadn’t had a rate increase since 2007.

Compare that with the devastating increase in deaths from opioid abuse and the 2,000-person waiting list for services from the Department of Developmental Services.

It’s been said that for many years community nonprofits have been on the receiving end of cuts because they are run by dedicated people who will provide their services regardless. While it’s true that nonprofits do their best to raise funds from donations and diversify their offerings the days of “providing their services anyway” are ending. We hear frequently about programs that have been curtailed or closed – for example, the closing of group homes for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities or reduced hours for programs that help youth with trauma in their backgrounds. It is system approaching its breaking point.

The state should treat the essential services provided by community nonprofits as if they are fixed costs in the state budget – and off the table for further cuts.

One way to maximize limited state funding is by shifting more expensive state-operated programs into the community and re-investing the savings into the service delivery system. Community nonprofits can reduce state costs and meet the demand for services our residents need in a wide variety of areas.

Community nonprofits do the hard work so government doesn’t have to. The governor’s budget proposal is a good start and should be seen by legislators as the basis for making up some of the lost ground caused by a state funding system that hasn’t kept pace with the need.

The people of Connecticut who need or use services provided by nonprofits will thank them.

Gian-Carl Casa is President & CEO of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance.

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Obama Foundation to Recruit 100 Hartford Youth for Leadership Program


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The Obama Foundation is seeking 100 youth in Hartford for its community engagement training designed to “inspire, empower, and connect” young leaders who want to tackle problems in their communities.

Applications are available online and the deadline to apply is March 24. The six-month program will kick off in June. Mandatory in-person training will be held from June 7 to 9, Aug. 16 to 18 and Nov. 8 to 10.

Applicants should be between 18 and 25 years old and live in the city. Selected individuals will become a part of the Foundation’s Community Leadership Corps and gain valuable skills in community organizing, design thinking, and project management.

Hartford is one of two cities this summer to participate in the Foundations program—selected primarily because about 40 percent of Hartford residents are under 25.

Mayor Luke Bronin said Hartford is fortunate to have so many engaged youth.

““We are thrilled that the Obama Foundation chose Hartford as one of only two cities in the country for the second year of its Community Leadership Corps, which will work hand in hand with young people to help them make an even bigger impact in our community,” Bronin said.  “The Obama Foundation’s focus on investing in and supporting diverse young leaders is a perfect fit for a city like Hartford, and we are looking forward to working with them in the months ahead.”

The other city participating this summer is Chicago, home of the foundation’s headquarters. In its first year, the program was in Chicago, Phoenix, Ariz and Columbia, S.C.

The program will include three in-person trainings in each city, online trainings in between and ongoing coaching support.

“We know our young people are eager to make a difference in their communities, so the Community Leadership Corps aims to give them skills to take their passion and put it into action,” said David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation. “Building on the successes of last year’s program, we’re excited to introduce the Community Leadership Corps to Hartford—as well as bring together a new crop of leaders in Chicago. In doing so, we’ll help young leaders acquire the skills they need to tackle the issues in their communities.”

For more information about the 2019 program, visit www.obama.org/clc.

Photo courtesy of Obama Foundation.

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St. James Episcopal to Host the Vienna Boys’ Choir


WEST HARTFORD – The world-famous Vienna Boys’s Choir will give only one performance in Connecticut during its spring concert tour in the United States.

The Austrian ensemble will perform on April 2 at 7 p.m. at St. James’s Episcopal Church at 1018 Farmington Ave in West Hartford.

Artistic Director of Concerts at St. James Vaugh Mauren said the church is “extremely fortunate that the Vienna Boys Choir has included West Hartford in their 2019 tour.”

That’s because the choir gives about 300 concerts per year in locations across the world and is in high demand, he said.

“This concert is a rare opportunity for music lovers in the Greater Hartford region to have one of the finest boys choirs in the world,” Mauren said.

The Vienna Boy’s Choir, which traces its history to 1498, is known for their lively singing style and beautiful tone. Before 1918, the choir sang exclusively for the imperial court, at mass, concerts, private functions and on state occasions.

Mauren said that the choir will be heard in the natural acoustic of the church sanctuary that is “much more suited” to the boys’s voices than a larger venue.

The program will included the famous “O Fortuna” from Orff’s Carmina Burana, Renaissance and Baroque choral classics and selections from Broadway musicals. It will also end with favorite Strauss polkas and waltzes, including “The Beautiful Blue Danube.”

Tickets for the Vienna Boys Choir’s concert are priced from $20 to $65 and can be purchased here.

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Raising Costs of Transit and Rail Fares is Not Fiscally Sound


By Yanil Terón

Connecticut has four cities, Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, and Bridgeport, in the top thirty in the nation for zero-car households.  Seven neighborhoods in Hartford have household zero-car ownership rates above 40 percent.  Almost two-thirds of Hartford’s workforce, many of them using bus transit, work outside of Hartford.

During the 2018 transportation budget crisis, the CT DOT threatened to cut funds from the regional transit districts while raising bus and rail fares across the state.  Raising transit and rail costs while cutting service is a terrible strategy for getting Connecticut residents to work.

Cars are not an option for our state’s low-income residents and cutting their connection to jobs is not fiscally sound. Employers need workers, and transit gets them where they need to go.  A robust multimodal transportation system is egalitarian and provides key jobs access for both our urban professionals and the rest of the state’s workers.

The Center for Latino Progress works on equity and inclusion matters in a very inequitable state. We are involved in transportation topics because too often we find our neighbors and community limited by the inability to get to work. A transportation system that requires car ownership prevents many workers and families from building family savings and following the American dream.

We, as a grassroots organization, are in support of investment in our transportation system generated by tolls.  Toll revenue must be dedicated to building the sustainable transportation infrastructure of Connecticut’s future.  Tolls, as fees for highway use, are sorely needed for maintenance, bridge replacements, and continued investment in our transit and rail systems.  A modern, multimodal transportation system will allow businesses and communities to thrive while supporting the workers that power the economy.

The state’s commerce and community health should be driving the decision making.  Connecticut has the eighth oldest population in the nation and needs transportation options that support our aging seniors while simultaneously attracting a generation of young adults and professionals that are moving back into cities and town centers.  Both of those groups are looking to drive less and have an appetite for environmentally sustainable transportation that improves health, supports their neighborhoods, and connects them to opportunities.

A state that values all workers invests in accessible and high-quality transit systems and focuses on new development around transit corridors and stations.  Not everyone is going to take CTtransit, CTfastrak, or the Hartford Line commuter rail to work, but as more do, it will lift our local economies, reduce highway congestion, and improve our environment.  Considering the equity impact of tolls, we must provide a reduced fare structure for the working poor that are driving to work.

While federal and state gas tax rates have been flat for decades, transit fares have continued to rise. We need to consider how the transportation system of the future will serve our children and grandchildren with a livable world and green jobs.  Forty percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions are from the transportation sector, the largest contributing sector by far.  Without a shift to a higher percentage of transit, rail, walking, and biking for commutes, we will be contributing to the global climate catastrophe. As a coastal state, Connecticut cannot pretend to ignore the ravages we will face from rising waters and extreme weather events.

The state legislature and the governor are currently considering the structure and funding for Connecticut’s infrastructure investments and transportation system that will serve future generations. We are one of a few Northeast states that have yet to reimplement highway tolls, and that hinders our ability to invest in a transportation system that builds a vibrant and sustainable state.

Gas tax revenues are flat and will be falling as cars become more efficient and the percentage of electric vehicles climb.  We are not reducing the number of highways, while the costs for maintenance and replacement of those aging interstate structures are climbing rapidly as they reach the end of their useful lives.  A highway toll is a reasonable user fee that needs to be implemented to invest in our state’s future.

Yanil Terón, Executive Director, Center for Latino Progress – CPRF, founded in 1978. The Center’s Transport Hartford Academy focuses on the multimodal transportation sector.

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It May be Bumpy, But Lamont Sees ‘a path forward’


By Mark Pazniokas, ctmirror.org

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont cast his first budget proposal Wednesday as “a path forward,” a map for a wealthy state struggling to wriggle free of a crushing pension debt amassed over decades, end crippling cycles of deficits and spark economic growth.

In a televised, 35-minute speech to the General Assembly, Lamont politely challenged lawmakers to suggest improvements if they don’t like his approach, pleading for “a different type of politics.” But at least for now, the new governor drew few hard lines beyond which he would not cross, all but inviting a robust debate. 

“Politics in Washington is a dysfunctional mess. Let’s show that here in Connecticut, we can work together on an honest budget, on time, one that gets our state moving again,” Lamont said. “When we disagree, don’t go to a microphone. Come to my office. My door is always open. Let’s get it done.”

The plea prompted an extended standing ovation from both sides of the aisle.

But other applause lines — promises of a higher minimum wage, a paid family and medical leave program, a pledge to preserve collective bargaining for state employees — only resonated among the majority Democrats. 

“I think it is a responsible budget that meets our needs. We are facing a deficit of about $1.5 billion in the next year and more than that in the year after that,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven. “We need some additional revenues. We also need to make sure we have an economic development plan that keeps the state moving forward and promotes job development. I think that’s a key.”

Republican leaders, however, responded coolly after the speech to the governor’s ideas for raising new revenue.

“Well, clearly Governor Lamont has an interest in fixing the state,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “I think unfortunately the way he’s trying to do it now is only hurting Main Street America. The middle class is being hurt by far the most in this. I believe in a path forward for Connecticut as the governor mentioned, but this is not the path.”

Lamont, 65, a Democrat and Greenwich businessman, is only Connecticut’s second governor since Chester Bowles, who was elected in 1948, without experience as a legislator in either Hartford or Washington. The other was his predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford for 14 years.

Since taking office on Jan. 9, Lamont has invited a steady procession of legislators and other stakeholders, including the state-employee unions that contributed to his victory, to the Executive Residence, listening more than talking.

“Politics in Washington is a dysfunctional mess. Let’s show that here in Connecticut, we can work together on an honest budget, on time, one that gets our state moving again.”

Gov. Ned Lamont

On Wednesday, it was Lamont’s turn to speak.

He was not quite as relaxed as during his inaugural on Jan. 9, when he displayed a goofy charm, offering commentary and asides on his own speech as he delivered it. There were no taxes on the table then, no tolls, no hard requests. But he occasionally ad libbed, playing off the lawmakers’ applause —or their silence.

His promise to save nearly $600 million a year by curtailing borrowing and putting the state on a “debt diet” drew predictable applause.

“Now, I’ve talked to a lot of you,” he said. “I know you agree in principle, but then you generally have ‘one more special project that’s in the queue in my district.’ So be forewarned — if it is not tied to economic or workforce development, or cost-saving shared services, Connecticut is on a debt diet – and I am going to make sure we stick to that plan.”

He raised his voice, punching what was intended to be an applause line.

Lawmakers offered only a stony silence.

Lamont smiled.

“Crickets,” he said.

That prompted laughter — and applause.

If Lamont faces resistance from lawmakers about closing the bonding favor bank, he is looking at trench warfare over his call to end sales-tax exemptions for most everything but groceries and prescription medications. He noted he is seeking no raises in the rates for income or sales taxes, but said Connecticut needs to modernize its sales tax structure.

“Our current sales tax is designed for a Sears Roebuck economy driven by over-the-counter sales. Today we live in an Amazon economy, which is driven by e-commerce, digital downloads, consumer services,” he said. “So my sales tax reform would broaden the base so that digital goods are treated equally and more significantly that we are capturing a growing segment of the economy.”

He suggested there is no rhyme or reason to the current exemptions. Haircuts are exempt, not manicures. Netflix is exempt, not movie tickets. Lamont insisted he knows the size of the fight he is inviting, that he has been warned off by legislative leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers.

“Believe me, I’ve been forewarned by all of you —there was bipartisan consensus on this — that every tax expenditure has a strong lobby behind it and the pushback will be ferocious,” Lamont said.

The new governor promised to push back.

For the first time since announcing Saturday he would propose options for electronic tolling on all motor vehicles — not just trucks, as he promised during his campaign — Lamont explained his rationale to a live audience.

The governor said his lawyers convinced him that trucks-only tolling would survive judicial scrutiny only if the tolls were collected on specific bridges to pay for their reconstruction. He promised Connecticut car drivers would get discounted rates, as other states provide to their motorists.

Democrats applauded.

“By the way, it is estimated that over 40 percent of tolling revenue would come from out of state. As we foot the bill when we travel through their neighboring states, it’s time for out-of-state drivers to help foot the bill for fixing our roads and bridges,” he said.

Republicans, who see tolls as a wedge issue for 2020, did not.

Lamont cast tolling as part of a larger plan to grow the economy,  saying there is little chance of extended growth without modern transportation infrastructure, and there is no way of modernizing infrastructure without tolls.

Tolls would allow Connecticut to speed rail service from Hartford through New Haven and Stamford to New York City and add more frequent service to Waterbury and New London, he said. They also would help his economic-development team when companies ask about gridlock.

“Rather than nervously looking down at our shoes or checking our watch, our economic development team will now be able to answer, ‘I’m glad you asked me that,’ ” he said.

“I believe in a path forward for Connecticut as the governor mentioned, but this is not the path.”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby

Lamont faces structural deficits, as did his predecessor, but the immediate task is not as daunting as the $3.7 billion shortfall that greeted Malloy. In some ways, however, Lamont faces a more difficult political task.

Eight years ago, Democrats working with their first Democratic governor in two decades readily yielded to Malloy on difficult revenue questions, such as the $1.8 billion tax increase Malloy proposed in his first budget. The novelty of working with a Democratic governor is long gone — as Malloy discovered in his final two years in office, when legislators shut him out of budget talks.

Lamont needs to find his own path forward, as well as a way to coax lawmakers to join him on the trip. That is a work in progress.

A key talking point Wednesday was Lamont’s intention to break the cycle of deficits, a tempting prospect for lawmakers exhausted by the constant struggle to balance budgets, ignoring the future while paying off debts from the past.

“I will not allow this budget to be another scene from Groundhog Day, where I come to you year-after-year, hat-in-hand, lamenting the fact that we still haven’t addressed our structural deficits,” Lamont said. “Fixed costs inherited from the past consume nearly a third of Connecticut’s budget – much more than our peers. This hurts our ability to make investments in our future.”

He said he can offer a solution, but only if he is backed by lawmakers, selling his plan to business and labor, mayors and selectmen, town councils and boards of education. 

Everyone is going to have to sacrifice — take a haircut, as debtors tell creditors when there is not enough money to pay everyone.  And that includes paying the sales tax on every haircut.

Featured Photo Credit: Connecticut Public Radio

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Time to Gear Up for District and Magnet School Lottery


By Madeline Perez De Jesus

My daughter benefits from a different education reality than I did. My own working-class Puerto Rican parents, conversely, thought that all public schools were the same. My guidance counselor convinced my parents to allow me to apply to a prestigious exam high school in New York City allowing me to by-pass a low-resourced neighborhood school. Now I am writing a book on families navigating school choice. My experiences as a student, educational researcher (and now as a mother) have led me to understand that while the school choice system created by Sheff. v. O’Neill 30 years ago is not perfect, it has increased opportunity for Hartford children from backgrounds like my own who were previously shut out from high quality schools.

As my husband and I consulted our social network about the “process”, we realized their worldview and resources shaped the conventional wisdom many families shared with us.  As college professors, interpreted this advice through our own worldview and were mindful of the resources available to us as parents (that were not available to us as children).  We also learned that these perspectives are always tempered by reality. Below I list some of this conventional wisdom on public school choice followed by realities to consider:

Learn about your school options early.

Reality: Your options may already be shaped before your children are born based on where you’ve chosen to live (or didn’t choose). Where you live already shapes the menu of schools available to you (as well as your odds of getting in). Folks who are low-income are not likely to be able to access the full range of options with zoning.

You have to talk to lots of people to get the scoop on how they are experiencing the schools.

Reality: This assumes that you can access a network of parents whose children attend a wide variety of schools. If you don’t, you need to muster up the courage to speak to strangers. Trust and safety concerns impact one’s ability to engage strangers. When I was conducting my research in New York City, many wealthy parents told me it was the norm to be approached by prospective neighbors who wanted to learn about the schools. The working class and poor parents I interviewed thought it was crazy to approach strangers because of safety.

You have to make time to attend school open houses as well as workshops on how the lottery process works.

Reality: It was vital for us to visit schools observing classes in session. This gave us a strong sense of our top schools early on. Not everyone has the opportunity to visit on a weekday between 8am-3pm.  Parents who have overall control of how they schedule their time are the ones who are able to do this best.

You can apply to the HPS lottery every year and any year.

Reality: For Hartford residents, if you don’t apply in preschool, your chances diminish rapidly afterward. The Pre-K 3 year has the most seats available and therefore the highest chance of allowing you to get selected. Even if the seat you are offered was not one of your top choices, you are still advantaged as you are now the “in the system” and given priority if you choose to reapply next year. In her policy brief on the Sheff Movement, Mira Debs highlights that pre-k3 children are not provided transportation by the school system. Therefore, those who have control over their transportation are the ones who can take advantage of this.

Apply to the schools in your order of preference.

Reality: If you live in Hartford, zones really matter. (Jack Dougherty, from Trinity College writes about this.)  In order to increase your chances of being matched to a school, rank them while keeping in mind your odds of getting in. The press publishes the percentage of applicants from each town who get offers to schools which can be used to inform the way you rank your selections. Not everyone knows this. Therefore, parents who seek out data from reputable sources can rank in the ways that are most advantageous.

Consider sharing this information with someone who might need it before the February 28 lottery deadline. And let’s work to further efforts to make the lottery process support the needs of the families in Hartford with the fewest resources. Our entire region is better off as a result.

 

 

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