Archive for the ‘General’ Category

2Connecticut insurance exchange hired marketing company for ‘legislative communications strategy’

Access Health CT, the health-insurance exchange implementing Obamacare in Connecticut, paid a marketing firm millions in part to “engage key legislators” but contends the agreement does not violate a ban on lobbying by quasi-public state agencies.

The original $7.2 million agreement with marketing consultant Pappas MacDonnell included $59,900 for a “legislative communications strategy.”

“The quick answer is, NO they do NOT do any lobbing for us, they are a Marketing Firm only,” said Kathleen Tallarita, spokeswoman for Access Health and a former state representative.

State agencies, including quasi-publics, are not allowed to hire lobbyists.

The agreement describes the goal of legislative communications:

“To establish Access Health CT as the marketplace for quality, affordable health insurance in Connecticut, Pappas MacDonnell will immediately engage key legislators to ensure that they understand what Access Health CT is, how it functions, its impact on Connecticut’s health insurance marketplace, and the potential implications of legislative action (or inaction) in the upcoming sessions.”

Connecticut law defines lobbying, with a few exceptions, as:

“communicating directly or soliciting others to communicate with any official or his staff in the legislative or executive branch of government or in a quasi-public agency, for the purpose of influencing any legislative or administrative action.”

Pappas designated its subcontractor, public affairs and lobbying firm Grossman Heinz, to work on the legislative strategy listing three individuals – all billing $300 an hour – Andrew Grossman, Chris Heinz and Lynn Pincus.

The agreement lists “legislation” in a description of the duties of two project managers: Logan Kelly ($75 per hour) and Quynh Tran ($60 per hour).

“As a secondary objective Pappas MacDonnell will also seek out legislators’ input on consumer outreach and Navigator programs to get their buy-in to aid in the coordinated consumer outreach process,” the agreement says.

Access Health agreed to pay Pappas another $10.3 million under an October 2013 addendum that does not mention legislative communications for a total payment of $17.5 million. According to Tallarita, the payments to Pappas include the cost of advertisements purchased by the firm on behalf of Access Health.

Separately, Access Health hired Global Strategy Group to handle public relations.

The Connecticut Health Investigative Team reported earlier this year that Access Health, considered one of the more successful state-based exchanges, spent $156.3 million to start up.

Access Health also paid Pappas $1,650 each for two “CEO messages.” The contract originally called for 15 such messages – totaling $24,750 – but Tallarita said the exchange only sent out two.

Access Health also paid three artists $24,980 each to paint murals.

2Connecticut pays out $13.8 million in longevity payments

Connecticut will pay out $13.8 million in longevity payments to 27,602 unionized state workers this week, up slightly from October’s payment, according to the Comptroller’s Office.

The average eligible employee received $500, a slight increase. The number of employees receiving a payment increased by about 200. In October, the payments totaled $13.6 million.

The state calculates the bonuses – paid in April and October – based on how long an employee has worked for the state.

The General Assembly made the non-union longevity bonuses part of regular salaries starting this year. Over time, this will cost the state more money as these employees earn percentage raises on their new, larger salaries. Gov. Dannel Malloy had already frozen their longevity payments.

 

356,000 Pounds of Why?

Watertown, Connecticut is a town of approximately 22,000 people. In 2012 its violent crime rate was less than half of the national average. Despite being a safe place to live, Watertown has recently acquired a 56,000 pound Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle from the United States Military at a cost of nearly $755,000. The Republican-American featured a rather fawning puff piece, which involved the police bringing the MAPV around to show school children, much like you would bring a fire truck to the local elementary school, but it did not ask the question as to why a small town with less than half the average national crime rate and only two murders in 2012 would need a vehicle that can withstand heavy machine-gun fire and Improvised Explosive Devices.

This is a new trend in the rapid militarization of police departments. President Obama approved the sale of military vehicles, including drones, to civilian police forces and small towns with virtually no crime have been buying them up. The only explanation given for the purchase is that it could be of use during natural disasters, serving dangerous warrants, or possible “active shooter scenarios,” such as the Sandy Hook Massacre but this explanation ignores many inconvenient facts. How many dangerous warrants are served in Watertown? And are they so dangerous, in fact, as to warrant the purchase of a vehicle that can repel military machine gun fire. “Active shooter scenarios” are rarely, if ever, actually ended by massive police intervention. Generally, the shooter takes his own life at the first sign of police presence, or, in a few rare exceptions, has been stopped by a guard or police officer who was already present. By the time you found the keys and fired up the MRAPV, the situation would have ended. Also, is this vehicle going to be loaned out to other departments?
At five miles per gallon, 56,000 pounds and wheels that cost $30,000 to replace, it would seem a bit overkill for a town that can hardly be considered a war-zone. One of the oft-repeated questions posed by gun-control advocates is, “why do you need an assault rifle?” To which, perhaps we should answer, “why does the local government need a tank?”

0Jackson Labs avoids local approvals as a ‘state project’

Construction on the Jackson Laboratory facility in Farmington is well on its way to completion thanks in part to unique treatment of the project: the lab didn’t need any local approvals.

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine will receive a $297 million subsidy from the state. Gov. Dannel Malloy has touted the project for its economic-development potential.

If all goes according to plan, the time between legislative approval and grand opening will be almost exactly three years.

In addition to the monetary benefits from the state, treating the lab as a “state project” allowed to it to avoid the time-consuming and costly land-use process faced by other developers. Instead, the project received state approvals.

Mike Hyde, the nonprofit lab’s vice president of external affairs and strategic partnerships, said another developer “would follow the exact same process that we are” – if it was building on state property and had state financial support.

“I don’t know if one is more stringent than the other,” Hyde said. “I couldn’t say it was a privilege because I don’t know what the other experience is like.”

According to a March 2014 update on the project, JGM received about $9 million in state money for research, training and other reimbursable expenses.

By the end of 2013, JGM spent $64 million on construction out of $135 million budgeted. The state gave JGM a $192 million forgivable construction loan.

According to hiring projections, the subsidy amounts to about $42,000 per job per year.

The General Assembly approved Malloy’s incentives for JGM in October 2011. The new law designated Connecticut Innovations, the state’s venture capital fund, to manage the state’s relationship with JGM.

Connecticut Innovations signed an agreement with JGM in January 2012.

JGM awarded the contract to manage construction of the 183,500 square foot lab in January 2013.

Hyde said the lab plans an Oct. 7 grand opening.

In order to maintain its incentives JGM needs to reach 300 employees within 10 years. Hyde said the building could fit up to 320 people. “We’ll hit the 300 employee mark sooner than we had imagined,” Hyde said.

Hyde said JGM has 79 employees in about 11,000 square feet of temporary space and is looking for about 35 new employees. “We’re adding people at a lively clip,” he said.

Some University of Connecticut employees count toward JGM’s hiring goals.

The legal principles that allow JGM to avoid local land-use regulations are the same that allow a contractor for the Department of Transportation to build a road for the state without local approval. These principles have expanded greatly. In 1959, Attorney General Albert Coles wrote an opinion giving the state the ability to give an airport hotel on state property a liquor license instead of following local regulations.

“Therefore, it is my opinion that the airport operation constitutes a governmental function serving the public need and by virtue of its nature is immune to the zoning power of the Town of Windsor Locks,” Coles wrote a half-century ago. “The hotel with a liquor permit would be in furtherance of, rather than a deviation from, the essential airport use and, therefore, exempt from the zoning regulations of the Town of Windsor Locks.”

Update: This  post was updated to clarify that JGM did obtain state-level approvals for construction in place of local approvals.

4Connecticut gets top rank in ‘zombie index’

zombie

The Institute for Truth in Accounting finds Connecticut has the highest “zombie index,” meaning the state “may be more likely than others to be taking on higher risk to address their debt problems.”

The index relies on a weighted average of three components – the TIA “Taxpayer Burden” measure (50%), the timeliness of the annual report (25%), and the share of total liabilities estimated by TIA to be ‘not fully disclosed’ (25%).

In turn, we note one other source of risk-taking incentive.  Our “State Data Lab” includes a measure of interstate migration, through the annual United Van Lines migration survey.  This survey, constructed by one of the largest interstate shipping companies in the nation, produces a statistic for “% of outbound shipments” for the lower 48 states.  Looking at how the latest results for this survey (2012) line up with our Zombie Index, there is a tendency for states scoring higher on the Zombie Index to have higher outbound shipments in 2012.  This can be an added source of pressure / risk-taking incentive for states in difficult financial condition, given the implications for tax revenue.

Previously, the institute named Connecticut a “turkey state” and a “sinkhole state.” Truth in Accounting also reports that Connecticut is in debt by about $46,000 per taxpayer.

0Candidate treasurer pleads guilty to stealing from state-funded campaign

The 2010 campaign manager and treasurer for Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, pleaded guilty Wednesday to second-degree larceny for stealing $3,854.07 from the campaign.

Tanzania Cooper, 43, of Bloomfield, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge under the Alford doctrine. Previously, she faced first- and sixth-degree larceny charges.

Judge Jason Lobo sentenced Cooper to two years of probation, two years of suspended jail time and to pay restitution.

Prosecutor Christopher Alexy from the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office said Cooper “appropriated for herself campaign funds provided by the state.”

McCrory’s campaign paid Cooper $6,600 as manager.

An Alford plea means the defendant disputes some of the facts alleged by the prosecution, but admits the state likely has enough evidence to convict.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Cooper said McCrory “had no knowledge” and “was not involved.”

“Cooper never denied using campaign funds for personal and other unauthorized reasons,” the affidavit said. “She disputed the amount.”

According to the affidavit, Cooper said the amount was “closer to $2,000.”

“Cooper also indicated that other campaign members were involved with the illegal use of campaign funds but would not provide any further details saying, ‘Everyone has families,’ ‘It’s already a mess, it’s embarrassing,’ and ‘It’s going to be a circus,’” the affidavit said.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission referred evidence Cooper embezzled about $4,600 to the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney in August, prompting an investigation.

According to the affidavit, about 23 debit card withdrawals appear on the campaign’s bank statements but not on its expense reports.

McCrory participated in the Citizens’ Election Program, which provides state grants to campaigns. On July 26, 2010, his campaign received $25,980 in public funds.

Three of Cooper’s alleged cash withdrawals occurred before that date, leading to the charge of sixth-degree larceny. According to the affidavit, at least 19 unauthorized debits diverted funds from the state grant, leading to the felony first-degree charge.

According to the affidavit, Shawn Council was the first treasurer for the McCrory campaign and Cooper took over that role after she left.

Inspector Matthew Schroeder, who conducted the investigation and wrote the affidavit, also found evidence of expenditures that were never received by the recipient reported by the campaign.

Aziel Brown, the campaign’s deputy treasurer, told Schroeder “he never attended any meetings or performed any tasks for the McCrory campaign in any capacity.”

Cooper admitted to falsely claiming to have paid Brown $450, which he never received, to cover up her withdrawals, according to the affidavit.

1UConn faces deficit and raises tuition while subsidizing sports by $18.9 million

With UConn facing a $42.6 million budget deficit and raising tuition by 6.5 percent next year, here is a look at the money behind UConn athletics.

Source: ESPN and author calculations comparing 101 NCAA Division 1-A public colleges and universities with available date for 2013. View data here.

UConn revenue: $63.3 million, rank 48

UConn Athletics revenue sources

1. NCAA and conference: $13.6 million
2. Licensing: $10.5 million
3. Student fees: $9.7 million
4. University subsidy: $9.1 million
5. Ticket sales: $8.9 million
6. Donations: $7.2 million
7. Media rights: $1.7 million
8. Away game payments: $1 million

Total subsidy (student fees plus university subsidy): $18.9 million, rank 12

Unsubsidized revenue: $44.5 million, rank 50

Coaching expenses: $15.2 million, rank 25

Return on coaching (unsubsidized revenue divided by coaching expenses): 2.9, rank 70

See also:

Raising Hale UConn ranks fifth nationally for head coach pay

Raising Hale The Final Fortune: Who would win the NCAA tournament if sports were all about money?

Raising Hale Final Fortune: Women’s Edition

Courant UConn Athletics Subsidy Ranks Second Among Bowl Championship Schools

Wait, What? Should Taxpayers Have To Subsidize UConn’s Athletic Program?

1Jepsen’s ebook win averages 86 cents per resident

Connecticut residents are beginning to receive settlement payments from ebook publishers thanks to the efforts of Attorney General George Jepsen and his peers across the country.

Nationally the settlement amounts to $166 million, with $3 million intended for Connecticut residents, or an average of 86 cents per person.

Five publishers that settled a price-fixing lawsuit will make the payments.

Apple, another defendant in the suit, did not settle. The company is appealing a Federal District Court ruling and awaits another trial to set the amount of damages.

Jepsen’s office issued a statement:

“I encourage Connecticut consumers who filed claims or are otherwise eligible for credits through these settlements to check their email or mail and their retailer accounts to take advantage of the refunds that will begin arriving this week,” said Attorney General Jepsen.
Account credits and checks will be based on the number of eligible eBooks purchased during the claims period – April 1, 2010, to May 21, 2012. Whether a consumer receives a credit or a check depends on the retailer through which the eBook was purchased and, in certain circumstances, whether a claim was properly filed. Eligible consumers should check their email for communications from their eBook retailer regarding account credits. Checks will be sent by mail to eligible consumers. For more information about the settlements, please visit www.ebookagsettlements.com.
 “Consumers are entitled to a fair, open and competitive marketplace, and consumers who have suffered as a consequence of violation of antitrust laws are entitled to compensation,” the Attorney General said, “At the upcoming damages trial, Connecticut – along with Texas and New York – will be leading the effort on behalf of our partner states to obtain substantial additional compensation for consumers as well as civil penalties for the state.”
Assistant Attorneys General Joseph Nielsen, Gary Becker and Richard Porter; Paralegal Specialist Holly MacDonald; and Assistant Attorney General Michael Cole, chief of the Antitrust and Government Program Fraud Department, are assisting the Attorney General in this matter.

4$2.6 million IT bonding package includes funding for ‘weapons registration system’

The State Bond Commission is scheduled to vote Friday on $2.6 million in information technology upgrades at three state agencies, including a “special licensing and weapons registration system.”

The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, which includes the State Police and other public safety functions, will receive a share of the money to ”upgrade current information systems which provide background checks for firearm permits and gun sale authorizations. The new system will incorporate e-government (online self-service) capabilities and will allow DESPP to properly manage increased volume of applications.”

The Day recently reported that DESPP, which enforces the new laws passed after the Newtown school shooting to ban the sale and purchase of certain guns, “received about 50,000 applications for certificates for the rifles and 38,000 for ammunition magazine declarations.”

The commission’s agenda did not specify how much of the $2.6 million would go to DESPP.

Funds will also go to the Department of Administrative Services and the Department of Developmental Services. DAS will purchase “enterprise content management services.” DDS will invest in two projects, a case management system and an upgrade to the quality of services review application.

0Democratic Party collects February donations from ESPN and Blue Sky Studios

The Connecticut Democratic Party continued to legally collect donations from state contractors using its federal account in February, according to the most recent Federal Elections Commission filing, raising a little more than $133,000 from all sources.

Six ESPN employees contributed $500 each for a total of $3,000. ESPN is a First Five company.

The Walt Disney Productions Employees PAC also contributed $5,000. Disney owns ESPN.

Joseph Carabetta, of Carabetta Management, gave $2,500 on Feb. 3.

On Feb. 28, the State Bond Commission approved a $2.5 million loan for renovation of 4-40 Vine Street Housing, a property managed by Carabetta. The loan is for 30 years at 1 percent interest.

Three employees of Blue Sky Studios contributed a total of $4,000. Blue Sky and ESPN have benefitted from Connecticut’s film tax credits. Blue Sky also received a $3 million state loan in 2011.

Kevin Segalla, founder of the Connecticut Film Center and CFC Capital, donated $5,000.

The latest report from the Republican Party is not available yet.