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Dedication Ceremony Set for Keith Carr Corner

HARTFORD — The City of Hartford and the Hartford Enterprise Zone Business Association will hold a dedication ceremony for the late Keith L. Carr Sr.

The first half of the celebration begins at noon on Oct. 30 at the corner of Main St. and Albany Ave. with the unveiling of a street sign, followed by the dedication of a bus stop shelter located at the corner of Main St.and Tower Ave.

The celebration will conclude with a reception at the West Indian Social Club located at 3340 Main St. in Hartford.

Considered by many as one of Hartford’s “favorite sons,” Mr. Carr is remembered for his many years of public service and commitment to a variety of organizations, including: The Upper Albany Merchants Association, The Connecticut Migratory Children’s Program and Chairman of the West Indian Independence Celebration Committee.

His contributions were also recognized by the Government of Jamaica who bestowed on him the National Award of the Order of Merit and he was well-known for his community involvement and efforts to collaborate with various ethnic organizations and groups in the Greater Hartford area.

We encourage the public to come out and participate in this most memorable event.

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Keith Carr Corner Approved

HARTFORD —  The Hartford City Council last night approved  a resolution to name the corner of Main Street and Albany Ave.  Keith Carr Corner.

The vote was by consent, meaning it was lumped into a bunch of resolutions and voted on as something already consented to.

No debate, considering the run up period consisted of wranglings over why that corner was being named after someone, supposedly not associated with that community. Larry Deutsch, one of two councilpersons who didn’t vote to approve the resolution, wanted to add another name to the corner, in the interest of giving “other deserving individuals” their recognition.

About a dozen members of the West Indian Social Club showed up last night to urge the council to approve the resolution.  But that push was not necessary because there were already five committed votes on the panel to ensure its passage and a throng of West Indians packed city hall two weeks ago to “make their voices” heard and to combat opposition to the resolution.

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Council Set to Vote on Keith Carr Corner

By Ann-Marie Adams

HARTFORD — The City Council is set to vote on whether a corner at Albany Avenue and Main Street will be dedicated to Keith Carr, “the glue” of the West Indian community who died last January.

The Council will meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the chambers on the second floor at City Hall, 550 Main Street.

The issue has caused a stir in the West Indian community. After considering the resolution since March, the Hartford City Council at a special meeting voted to reject the naming of the corner of Albany Ave. in July. There was no debate.

Since then, the West  Indian community has been mobilizing to fight what they considered an affront to not just to the former community activist but to the entire community.

The mobilization came after an article that appeared The Hartford Guardian news magazine online. In that article, Luis Cotto said he opposed the targeted corner because it “belongs” to the Puerto Rican community.

“I originally questioned why name the specific location after Keith Carr, again, a man I highly admired and considered a mentor in my field.  I thought I would hear rationale that spoke to Mr. Carr’s link to that specific site.

Instead I now understand that this represents a compromise between two communities, the communities in the upper Albany area (1.2 miles away from the proposed site) and communities in the North Main street area (1.3 miles away from the proposed site.),” Cotto said.  “It is because of this that I must respectfully NOT support this item.  That Tunnel section of the city is inextricably connected to the birth of the Puerto Rican community in this city.”

Cotto called the Clay Arsenal section of the City “the cradle” of the Puerto Rican community because “we came off the fields of tobacco in Windsor.  My mother and father’s first apartment was on East Street and even decades later when we moved up to Vine, the only store that would give credit was Ernie’s Market.”

Others respectfully disagreed with Cotto’s claim that the community cradled only the Puerto Rican community.

In a answer to Cotto’s letter, Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson stated that “we have got to reach a point in this city where we think unity rather than separation of communities.  It is important for our kids to learn that this is a multi- ethnic city and a variety of people can be celebrated within our neighborhoods.”

She continues:   “As you are aware, the West Indian and the Puerto Rican Communities have similar histories in Hartford.  The Clay Arsenal neighborhood was where the West Indian farm workers settled when they left the tobacco farms in the 50’s and early 60’s.  As a matter of fact, my parents lived on East Street and Green Street and shopped at Ernie’s too.  They attended Church around the corner at Saint Monica’s and Mr. Carr followed the same pattern.”

Cotto earlier this year championed a street dedication for Maria Sanchez, a former community activist from Puerto Rico.  As late as last Friday, he said he stands by his decision about the Keith Carr corner dedication.

And other residents have joined in the discussion.

Jean Walcott Holloway of Fairmont Street said that Clay Arsenal neighborhood belongs to African Americans and the Puerto Ricans and that the West Indians should find another corner to salute Keith Carr.

“It has become far too convenient lately to re-name or superimpose individual’s names on our street names irrespective of the residents’ opinion or the individual’s history in the area,” she said. “Such actions reduce the honor that may be bestowed on an individual and cause confusion in neighborhoods that have no connection with the individual being honored.”

Others in the West Indian community believe that argument is substantially flawed.

“Hartford contains many people of diverse backgrounds; Hispanic, West Indian, African , Vietnamese, East Indian, West African and East European, to name a few. We all share the city,” said Janet Wilson of Bannister Road. “Therefore, I do not understand how an  attempt by one group to rename a street after a respected member of their community can possibly be construed as disrespect to any other ethnic group, especially someone like Keith Carr who was known and beloved by the Hartford community as a whole.”

Ann-Marie Adams is a West Indian, a Caribbean-American and an African-American. She’s also Afro-Latino.

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Naming of Keith Carr’s Corner Rejected

By Ann-Marie Adams

HARTFORD — The West Indian community is quickly reacting to news that the city council last night rejected the idea of having a Keith Carr Corner– with no debate.

After considering the resolution since March, the Hartford City Council at a special meeting voted to reject the naming of the corner of Albany Ave. and Main Street as Keith L. Carr Sr. Corner.

keith-carrCarr was an active member of the city for more than 30 years.  He helped organized the West Indian Week celebration and the business community on Albany Ave. He died Jan. 7.

Council Veronica Airey-Wilson sponsored the resolution and is now circulating the phone numbers of two council members for residents to call and voice their concerns.

But tAirey-Wilson’s timing was off, says Luis Cotto, who abstained from last night’s vote. Cotto said he abstained because there was a compromise between two communities, Clay Arsenal and North Main Street. Cotto said the Clay Arsenal area is the birth of the Puerto Rican community. And he questioned “why that corner.”

In a July 14 e-mail to Airey-Wilson Cotto expressed his concern.

“I thought I would hear rationale that spoke to Mr. Carr’s link to that specific site.  Instead I now understand that this represents a compromise between two communities, the communities in the upper Albany area (1.2 miles away from the proposed site) and communities in the North Main street area (1.3 miles away from the proposed site.)  It is because of this that I must respectfully NOT support this item.  That Tunnel section of the city is inextricably connected to the birth of the Puerto Rican community in this city,” he said in his letter to council members.

Of the nine-member council, Cotto was one of five present last night. Kenneth Kennedy, RJo Winch and Calixto Torres were abent.  Airey-Wilson, Pedro Segarra, Matt Ritter and James Boucher.  Cotto abstained. Larry Deutsch, who voted yes in committee, voted no at the meeting.

This apparently caught some residents off guard.

Hartford resident Reggie Hales stated in an e-mail that he was surprised by the news.

“Wow.  I was there at the non meeting and they ok’ed it,” he stated in an email to Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson.

Airey-Wilson said she would re-introduce the bill to the city council at the August 14 meeting and asked her supporters to voice their concern at that meeting.  But this would be after the West Indian Week celebrations, which begins Aug. 1 and ends Aug. 8. The goal of introducing it at the special meeting last night was to have it in time for the celebrations, some say.

Calls to the office of Councilman Larry Deutsch were made today. We are waiting for a response.

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State Revenues Slip, But Tax Panel Ready

By Keith M. Phaneuf, CT Mirror

A legislative panel not only recommended hefty tax increases to balance the next state budget, but also endorsed enough to run up more than $300 million in surpluses by 2017.

The reason for that became apparent late Thursday when a new report downgraded how much revenue growth the state can count on in its new budget.

The consensus report delivered by the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis and by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget staff showed the current fiscal year’s revenues also aren’t meeting expectations.

And with only two months left in the fiscal year, the governor and legislature are running out of time to eliminate the red ink in the current budget. If they can’t, they probably will tap Connecticut’s emergency reserves, borrow, or carry certain expenses into the next budget — where big tax increases already are under consideration.

Nonpartisan analysts have warned for the past year that state finances — unless adjusted — will run $1.3 billion in the red in the 2015-16 fiscal year, and $1.4 billion in deficit in 2016-17.

The legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee recommended a plan this week that helps to close that gap by boosting state tax and fee receipts by $1.8 billion over the next two years combined. The plan increases income, sales, corporation and other taxes to help support a $40.5 billion spending plan from the Appropriations Committee that restores many of the social service cuts offered by the governor.

The committee plans would also yield surpluses of $315 million over the next two years combined. A significant surplus can be politically difficult to defend when raising taxes by large amounts.

Yet income tax receipts, which had been trending modestly upward until the final week of April, slipped over the past week. And based upon the data in the new consensus report, three quarters of the finance committee’s surplus in the next biennial budget eroded.

Though the finance committee was focused on finding the right mix of revenues to sustain vital programs while not overburdening middle-income households, Rep. Jeffrey Berger, D-Waterbury, co-chair of the finance committee, said an important fiscal “cushion” fell into place. “We saw how the income tax revenues were going and we had to be leery of that,” he said.

The new report Thursday confirmed legislative leaders’ fears.

Though both income tax receipts and overall general fund revenues would grow in each of the next two years, this growth will be less than originally anticipated.

Income tax receipts should climb by about $465 million next fiscal year, approaching $9.7 billion, according to the new report. But that’s about $90 million less than was expected for 2015-16 when the deficit projections were developed.

Similarly, overall general fund revenues now are expected to grow by almost $70 million next year to $17.36 billion. That’s also about $90 million below the level anticipated earlier.

Tax receipts slip this fiscal year as well

The new report also reduced projected general fund revenues for the current fiscal year — which ends June 30 — by almost $70 million from the amount forecast back in January.

The new totals, which primarily reflect reductions in income tax receipts, also are down about $30 million from earlier this month, when nonpartisan legislative analysts estimated the current budget was on pace to finish $178.9 million in deficit.

Though this represents just 1 percent of the general fund — which covers the bulk of the state’s annual operating costs — anything above 1 percent is deemed significant because so much of the budget is fixed by contract or other legal requirements that make it difficult to reduce on short notice.

The governor’s budget office estimate for this year’s deficit is slightly less than that of nonpartisan analysts, standing at $162 million.

Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo must submit his next monthly budget projection on Friday.

Malloy spent much of last summer and fall insisting, as he ran successfully for re-election, that there wouldn’t be a deficit in the current fiscal year or in the next budget.

Though revenues have eroded, the administration also insists it continues to search for new options to cut spending.

“There are still two months in the fiscal year until June 30th,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget director, wrote in a statement Thursday. “We will take appropriate action to achieve additional cost savings and keep our state’s budget balanced for the year.”

But Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, charged Thursday that bipartisan talks earlier in the year would have led to a stable state budget.

“Month after month, in letter after letter, we have warned Governor Malloy that hesitation will lead to devastation,” Fasano wrote in a statement.  “Despite those repeated warnings, Governor Malloy has been either unable or unwilling to confront our state’s fiscal crisis.  Republicans have offered him solutions and advice, and he has dismissed us time after time. This mess is Governor Malloy’s. It’s a reflection on his leadership. Unfortunately, state residents will be the ones who will have to clean this mess up.”

Though Republican legislative leaders insist they have ideas to close this year’s deficit, they have refused to disclose them publicly, saying they only will do so in negotiations with the governor and Democratic lawmakers.


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Malloy Opposes Guns in Schools in State of the State Speech

By Mark Pazniokas and Keith M. Phaneuf

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday in a nationally televised State of the State speech that Connecticut must not turn its schools into armed camps in response to the murders of 26 educators and children in Newtown.

“Let me be clear. Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom,” Malloy said to the applause of legislators. “That is not who we are in Connecticut, and it is not who we will allow ourselves to become.”

Malloy began and ended his third annual State of the State address on the opening day of the General Assembly session with repeated references to the 20 first-graders and six educators shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14.

He offered no policy initiatives in the address, a first for the first-term Democratic governor.

The speech was carried live for a national audience on C-Span, as well as the state’s public affairs’ network, CT-N, and Connecticut stations.

“It won’t surprise you that this speech is very different from the one I first envisioned giving,” Malloy said. “In the early days of December, I began thinking about what I’d like to say today. Now, while it’s only been a few short weeks on the calendar, we have all walked a very long and very dark road together.”

Malloy issued a call for unity as the state explores measures on gun control, mental health and school security in the opening weeks of the 2013 General Assembly.

But he used the broad themes of resilience and persistence in the face of challenges to also cast his administration in a positive light, defending his use of a $1.5 billion tax increase as part of a solution to an inherited $3.6 billion deficit in his first year.

Elements of the 26-minute speech could have been written before Dec. 14. He hit a defiant note, one that didn’t jibe with the overall tone of the address, in defending his budget approach, even though Connecticut is facing new fiscal pressures as the economy continues to sputter.

“Anyone who tells you that the budget we passed two years ago didn’t do its job, that it didn’t make real change in how we approach our finances, is simply not telling the truth,” Malloy said.

He also recited his administration’s accomplishments, standard fare for a governor passing the midpoint of his first term. He faces re-election in 2014.

Malloy contrasted Connecticut politics with the gridlock of Washington, noting that much of the major legislation put forward by his administration on education, energy policy, economic development and new demands on utilities after two storms in 2011 passed with the support of Republicans.

“If these past two years have proven anything, it’s that we have the ability to rally around a common good and a common goal,” Malloy said. “We’ve done it in a way that just doesn’t seem possible these days in some places, certainly not in Washington D.C.”

But Newtown set the tone.

Legislators stood and applauded as Malloy introduced Newtown’s first selectman, C. Patricia Llodra, and its school superintendent, Janet Robinson, the two women who have led Newtown through the loss of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook.

“Tested by unimaginable tragedy, your compassion and leadership over the past month has been an inspiration to Connecticut, and to me personally,” Malloy said.

Malloy, whose State of the State speech a year ago set off a battle with teachers on education reforms, praised the profession as he pointed to the inspiration and courage exhibited on that dark day.

“In the midst of one of the worst days in our history, we also saw the best of our state,” Malloy said. “Teachers and a therapist that sacrificed their lives protecting students. A principal and school psychologist that ran selflessly into harm’s way.”

He talked about the police officers and firefighters who responded to the shooting, the town officials who brought comfort and stability to Newtown and teachers who quickly returned to the classroom.

“And then, of course, there are the families,” said Malloy, whose voice broke as he talked about the victims and the first-responders. “Twenty-six families that, despite an unimaginable loss, have gotten up each and every day since, have been there for one another, and have supported their community as much as that community has supported them.

“They have persevered. And in that perseverance, we all find strength. We have lifted one another up and continued on, carrying the spirit of our fallen heroes, our wounded families, and our beautiful lost children.”

Malloy won bipartisan praise for his call for a bipartisan response to the shooting in Newtown, though Republicans responded cooly to the governor’s defense of his fiscal policies.

“I thought the governor struck the perfect tone,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. “The governor understands we want to work as Democrats and Republicans to make our communities safer.”

House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, who became the new leader of the House on Wednesday, predicted both parties could find common ground tightening gun permits and licensing, as well as certain components of the statutes governing background checks for weapons purchasers.

“There are huge loopholes that exist right now” involving screenings for those looking to buy rilfes with high-capacity magazines, he said.

The Republican minority leaders, Sen. John P. McKinney of Fairfield and Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk, said they are optimistic that both parties will work together, whether it involves gun control, treatment of mental illnesses or enhanced school security.

“I truly believe we will have a multi-faceted bipartisan approach to what happened in Newtown,” said McKinney, whose district includes Newtown. He said there are “areas of controversy,” such as making the names and addresses of gun owners public record, but “we should all take a step back and look at all of this.”

“When you work together, good things happen,” Cafero said, adding that there have been bipartisan successes over the last two years including an October 2011 jobs initiative and the most recent deficit-mitigation bill.

The governor did rankle GOP leaders, though, when he declared his efforts to close the largest budget deficit in state history a success.

When Malloy took office in January 2011, analysts were projected a nearly 20 percent gap in the operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a hole of nearly $3.7 billion.

And though state government finished about $140 million in the red in 2011-12, and lawmakers met just last month to close a $365 million gap in current finances — both deficits of less than 2 percent — a much larger shortfall of almost $1.2 billion is projected for the fiscal year starting July 1.

So while Malloy insists that the mess he inherited has been cleaned up, “I would submit that is has not, unfortunately,” Cafero said. “Our fiscal problems have surfaced again.”

“I obviously didn’t agree that his budget was a success,” McKinney said, adding that the Democratic governor’s fiscal approach in the first two years as a “go-it-alone budget” that excluded Republican calls for deeper spending cuts.

Related: Text of Malloy’s speech

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Merrill Upbeat for Tuesday’s Election, But 100 Polling Places Remain Without Power

By Keith M. Phaneuf

HARTFORD — Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill was optimistic Wednesday about the prospect of an orderly Election Day next Tuesday, though she warned that her office continues to monitor nearly 100 polling places — and possibly more — that remain out of power.

Connecticut’s chief elections official also said that despite the massive flood damage along the shoreline and the widespread power outages, none of Connecticut’s communities have sought to relocate polling places.

“The election will go on,” Merrill told Capitol reporters during a midday news conference, adding that municipal officials showed in recent meetings they are ready to press on with Tuesday’s vote.

“They seem to be carrying on,” she said. “Most of the town halls are up and running.”

Merrill noted that a nor’easter featuring massive winds and up to 2 feet of snow throughout much of Connecticut hit the state last year on Oct. 29 — the same date Sandy arrived this year. “It feels like we had sort of a dress rehearsal,” she said.

State law doesn’t have any provision for postponing the election, and Merrill noted that all election machines are capable of functioning on battery power.

There are 773 polling places statewide spread across the state’s 169 cities and towns.

Connecticut Light & Power, which provides electric service to about 80 percent of the state’s residences and businesses, has confirmed that about 100 polling places in its service area lack power, Merrill said.

But there could be even more places out of power. Merrill said she hadn’t received a report as of noon Wednesday from United Illuminating, which serves some or all of 17 communities along the shoreline in central and western Connecticut.

UI spokesman Michael West said the utility hadn’t received a list of municipal polling places within its territory until 11 a.m. Wednesday, and began an immediate assessment. “We’re working on that list,” he said, adding that UI hopes to complete that assessment later today.

Merrill added that she remains confident the state’s electric utilities are making restoration of power at polling places a top priority.

No communities have sought to shift polling places to date. “So far people aren’t making that call yet,” Merrill said, adding that such a move would be “very confusing” for many voters. Half of all communities have just one polling place.

Another major concern, the secretary said, is getting absentee ballots to those residents who may be stuck in their homes because of flooding, downed power lines or fallen trees.

State law allows voters to cast absentee ballots for a number of reasons, including illness and disability, conflicting military duties and various responsibilities that could force a voter to be out of town.

But the state Constitution does not allow for what has been termed “no excuses” absentee balloting, or allowing a voter to cast an absentee ballot for just any reason. “It’s still a frustration to me personally,” Merrill said, adding that “we do have a law on the way to fix that.”

The legislature adopted a resolution last spring to begin the process of amending the Constitution to allow this and other modifications to election law. But because the House and Senate each failed to pass the measure with at least a three-fourths majority, it must be considered a second time.

If it is adopted again in the 2013 legislative session — even if only by a bare majority in each chamber — then the proposed constitutional amendment would go before voters for potential ratification during the 2014 state elections.

The deadline for potential voters to register to cast a ballot on Election Day originally was this past Tuesday, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy extended that deadline until 8 p.m. Thursday, because of the hurricane. Merrill said she has had discussions with the governor about another extension through Friday, but no decision has been made yet.

Residents who fail to meet the registration deadline still can cast a ballot for president only. Under state law, citizens can obtain a presidential ballot at town or city hall from their municipal clerk up to the close of business on Election Day.

Merrill declined to speculate on how the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy could impact Election Day turnout.

“There’s no way of telling.” In some communities, with little damage and almost no outages “by Tuesday this could be a memory in many places” but “certainly not along the shoreline and probably not in Fairfield County. It didn’t change turnout much last year.”

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Budget Challenges Put Malloy, Urban Democrats At Odds

By Keith M. Phaneuf

Here’s a preview of political drama that may be running at the Capitol for the next two years.

The central character is Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is running out of popular options for solving Connecticut’s fiscal woes.

The rest of the cast comes from Connecticut’s urban centers — which played a key role in electing the Democratic governor – and whose residents were among the hardest hit in the last recession.

The plot revolves around Malloy’s plan to curtail Medicaid benefits for single adults, a cut the governor needs to keep his new budget from slipping into an early deficit.

Meanwhile, Democratic legislators from Connecticut’s cities say this would leave more than 13,000 of the state’s poorest residents — most of whom are their constituents — with no health coverage in a legislative election year. A better alternative, they say, would be to raise taxes on big business or the wealthy, neither of which are prevalent in their districts.

Rather than embarrass Malloy publicly by rejecting his plan, majority Democrats on the Appropriations and Human Services committees abruptly adjourned their joint meeting last week.

If those panels don’t vote to block the plan before Aug. 18, Malloy can pursue this social services cut — and possibly more in 2013. Committee leaders are expected to meet Thursday with administration officials to try to find common ground.

And while that wasn’t the first social services cut the administration has sought since state revenue projections first began to shrink last November, it is arguably the most significant — and most visible — cutback offered to date.

‘Bare bones’

“When it comes to the safety net, I really think we are at bare bones,” Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, co-chairwoman of Appropriations, said Tuesday.

“The governor doesn’t want to cut social services either,” Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior policy adviser, said Monday. “But his job is to be the governor of the entire state, not just the cities.”

Occhiogrosso noted that Malloy was mayor of one of Connecticut’s largest cities, Stamford, for 14 years, through 2009. “He understands the problems faced by urban populations,” Occhiogrosso added. “It’s a balancing act.”

Malloy faced the ultimate fiscal balancing act when he took office 19 months ago, inheriting the largest projected deficit in state history. The legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis had projected a built-in hole as high as $3.67 billion in the 2011-12 fiscal year — a gap equal to nearly one-fifth of the entire budget.

The governor and legislature took a three-pronged approach to resolve that, ordering $1.5 billion in new state taxes and fees; assuming a significant economic recovery and increasing General Fund revenue projections by $900 million; and covering the remainder with a state employee concession plan and other cuts in spending below the level needed to maintain current services in 2011-12.

And while some aspects of the concession plan haven’t saved as much as Malloy had hoped, Connecticut’s sluggish economic recovery has created the biggest budget challenge.

It’s not that state revenues haven’t grown since 2011. They just haven’t grown as quickly as anticipated.

The latest projections for General Fund revenues both this fiscal year and for the next each are about $370 million less than the administration originally projected.

Part of Malloy’s solution to the current year was to save $50 million in the Medicaid for Low Income Adults program, or LIA, by restricting eligibility until 2014, when federal aid for the program increases significantly.

That was the largest social service cut proposed, but the governor also sought modest cuts this year for school-based health clinics, children’s health initiatives and community-based health services.

13,400 would lose coverage

LIA serves single adults who have no minor children and whose incomes are at or below 55 percent of the federal poverty level. Enrollment has shot up over the past two years from about 47,000 to nearly 78,000.

To control costs, the administration has proposed two eligibility restrictions: setting an asset limit of $10,000; and requiring that if a LIA applicant is between ages 19 and 26 and lives with a parent or can be declared as a dependent for income tax purposes, the parent’s income and assets must be counted.

The state Department of Social Services estimates that with these changes, nearly 13,400 LIA recipients would lose coverage.

Health-care advocates have argued that the proposed restrictions could, in fact, affect 15,000 people, most located in Connecticut’s cities. And more importantly, they say, there is no evidence that most of these recipients have the resources to buy private health insurance.

But if lawmakers block the change, that creates a new problem. That’s because the $20.5 billion budget adopted for this year already assumes the $50 million savings. When lawmakers approved the budget last May, full details on how the LIA savings would be achieved weren’t defined.

“I’m not a numbers person, but when I listen to the testimony of the people who are going to be the recipients — or the non-recipients — of these services, I am not pleased” with the planned reduction, said Sen. Edwin Gomes, a Democrat from Bridgeport, Connecticut’s largest city.

“I know we have problems in this state, but this is sad,” added Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, D-Hartford. “We want to fix our budget on the backs of poor people?”

Gonzalez, who — like Gomes — voted for the budget but now is wary of implementing the LIA cut with the details on the table, said she didn’t realize how much damage it might do until she looked into problems at the social services department this summer.

A health care advocacy group is suing the state, charging that the Department of Social Servicers has failed to process Medicaid assistance applications on time. Requests to renew assistance have been improperly terminated by DSS — even though clients submitted the correct paperwork on time — because the agency lacks staff to record this paperwork in its data processing system.

And despite assurances from Social Services Commissioner Roderick L. Bremby that more than 120 new staffers were added in March — and permission to add another 100 was just granted — Gonzalez and others fear the proposed asset test represents another wave of paperwork that will swamp the department.

The result, critics say, could be more clients improperly removed from the LIA rolls for months before errors are discovered and corrected.

Seeking solutions

So what’s the solution if urban Democrats want to cancel the cut and punch a $50 million hole in the new state budget? Just last month, Malloy and lawmakers had to raid nearly half of a $222 million account to pre-pay debt from the 2009 budget to avoid closing the last state budget in the red.

Gomes and Gonzalez both say Connecticut’s income tax needs to be more progressive, placing a higher burden on its top earners.

Occhiogrosso noted that, under Malloy, Connecticut established its most progressive income tax to date, expanding from three rates to six, and elevating the top rate from 6.5 percent to 6.7 percent.

Malloy has a strong sense that Connecticut’s tax policy should reflect the need to compete with neighboring states for the enormous wealth of Fairfield County’s businesses and residents. For the huge pocket of wealth centered on Wall Street, Connecticut’s competitors are New Jersey, westernmost Massachusetts, New York City and its closest suburbs.

The top rate in New York is 8.8 percent, though residents of New York City can add up to 3.6 additional percentage points to their top rate.

New Jersey’s income tax tops out at just under 9 percent.

Massachusetts has a flat rate of 5.3 percent on most income. But it taxes capital gains and other major investment income at 12 percent, forcing its high-end earners to pay more than they would in Connecticut.

“We have to maintain our competitive structure vis-a-vis our neighbors,” Occhiogrosso said.

Malloy also is finding himself in an increasingly tight fiscal box because of his concession deal with unions.

That agreement bars Malloy from imposing layoffs on most bargaining units since they agreed to wage freezes both last year and this one. That deal also calls for most workers to get a 3 percent wage hike starting in 2013-14.

The governor also committed last spring to increase spending on labor, particularly to expand contributions to the long-neglected, cash-starved state employee pension fund.

Municipal aid, another big section of the state budget, is politically off-limits for the most part, with both parties opposed to deep cuts in this area.

And with Republican legislators constantly decrying the $1.5 billion in taxes already raised, many lawmakers from both parties have said they don’t think the governor or many Democratic legislators want to go near the T-word again any time soon.

Taxing the wealthy?

But urban Democrats counter that Connecticut social service cuts aren’t the only budget-balancing alternative available. The state could raise income taxes on its wealthiest citizens and still maintain rates below its neighbors.

“Give me the power and it would happen,” Gonzalez said. “They need to pay their fair share.”

Urban Democrats also noted that Malloy narrowly won the 2010 gubernatorial contest against Republican Tom Foley, due largely to carrying Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven by huge margins.

Harp, a veteran senator, said she understands the political problems with revisiting the income tax. “I know the governor’s not going to want to do it just two years out from running for re-election,” she said, but quickly added there still are other alternatives to cutting social services.

The New Haven lawmaker said she would like the administration and legislature to explore the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business tax credits Connecticut has on the books, and repeal those that aren’t fulfilling any economic development goals.

“We should hold those tax credits as accountable as we hold our programs for the poor,” she said. “I think if we cut the safety net much more it would be very uncomfortable.”

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Immigrant Communities to Census2010 : Count Us Out

M’shale, News Report, Ramla Bile, Review it on NewsTrust

Despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has time and again upheld the spirit and confidentiality of census information, issues regarding access and privacy continue to persist with communities across the state.

Members of the African immigrant and refugee community present unique challenges, ranging from fear of disclosing housing information to overcoming the legacy of brutal regimes in their home countries. Census workers and organizers working with this subpopulation will undoubtedly face these questions in the months leading up to the count on April 1st, 2010.

“Sacdiyo Isse,” a resident in the Skyline Towers, says her greatest fear concerning the U.S. Census is disclosing her current place of residence. Sacdiyo lives in a house with a relative who has more people living in the apartment than the lease allows. She fears that her participation in the census count will jeopardize her current living situation, and place this generous woman and the other inhabitants in a vulnerable position. “I can easily [opt] out of the count and not hurt anyone… I can’t displace the same person who took me in,” she said.

She says the idea of participating in the count brings her anxiety, as she believes this information will be shared with the landlord. When pressed about this fear, she simply said, “I’m one person, [the census count] is not worth all problems I can cause.”

The truth is, Sacdiyo is one of many who will perhaps not participate in the census count because they fear backlash from disclosing residence and occupancy information. For many, it is not far fetched to assume that U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Homeland Security’s Immigration Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Census engage in a massive collaborative effort.

New Americans from Liberia, Ethiopia, and Somalia also expressed concern that they could not confidently say they had faith in how the information would be used. Though neither sources could cite an incidence of institutional racism or seemed to suggest foul play, they often referred back to their experiences in their home countries. American immigrants and refugees from the aforementioned countries have experienced war, as well as harsh leadership. One woman said her mayor almost fatally shot her son for information disclosed in a news story. Since then, she maintains a strong mistrust of government and would rather share as little as possible, including basic information. “One question will lead to another until I find myself spilling my life story over tea – I’m not ready to put myself in that situation.”

Hannah Garcia, Project Director with the Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing oversees census outreach to various communities, expressed that many immigrants and refugees mistrust the census because these communities have traditionally been undercounted, and do not trust the benefit factor of participating in the census.

“Too many communities feel like they have not yet reaped the benefits of being counted, and too often people will say, ‘we’re used to feeling like we don’t count, so there’s no point.’” Another organizer described this mentality as “a cyclical issue.” He added that the more communities fail to participate in the data collection process, the more they lose. “We anticipate better engagement this year because the last two census counts disproportionately missed ethnic minorities, but the organizing scene in 2010 is radically different from those years because more of those doing the count will represent the communities they will work with.”

The census campaign is centered on the idea of 10 questions over 10 minutes, a simple process that captures a snapshot of America. Even though the poster has been translated into different languages, it will perhaps take decades before communities are familiar and appreciative of this process. The census form which provides limited options for African immigrants and refugees to identify themselves as such will likely compound the feeling of exclusion. These groups will have to write in their hyphenated identity. The 2020 census will likely have to address emerging identity issues in order to provide options for people to self-identify. According to Representative Keith Ellison, organizing efforts will promote write-in opportunities for communities who find themselves unrepresented in the current format.

“New Americans are among the best citizens… they are knowledgeable on history and politics through the naturalization test and the pathway to citizenship. They are already invested in the engagement and activism, our job is to ensure that we carry out an inclusive count that addresses language and other barriers.” Ellison stressed that steps were being taken to build trust with undercounted communities, and his office worked to create a network of partners from different communities. Ellison says he believes the 2010 count will outperform our projected numbers and has hope that Minnesota will be able to keep it’s eighth congressional seat.

While community organizing efforts have heavily addressed language issues by hiring diverse staff and translating material, other questions remain. The Director of the U.S. Census, Dr. Robert Groves, said building trust takes time and that while it is difficult to erase the memories that people have of government either here or abroad, the U.S. Census is investing in diverse and capable staff to reach out to all communities. The challenge is, of course, communities vary and maintain unique challenges, as there is not a blanket solution to working with historically underreported communities. For example, what happens when you have communities that come from countries that have a brutal history of intimidating its people? How do you provide relief and security to those with ambiguous immigration situations fearing deportation or those in compromising housing arrangements?

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