Archive for the ‘State Budget’ Category

0Malloy hosted 200 last year for St. Patrick’s Day bash

A peek inside the Governor’s Residence shows how Dannel Malloy has dealt with the joys and sorrows of being Connecticut’s chief executive.

Some parties were catered, others canceled.

On the joyous side, Malloy hosted a St. Patrick’s Day party for 200 people in 2013, according to documents obtained from the state agency that manages the Governor’s Residence.

After the Newtown school shootings Malloy canceled five holiday receptions.

Among the canceled events was a Dec. 20, 2012, press reception for 100 expected to cost $3,450, according to the documents from the Department of Administrative Services, emails spanning December 2012 to April 2013.

The administration rescheduled some of the canceled events for early 2013, but the documents don’t provide a clear picture of how the rescheduled events match up with the canceled ones.

According to the documents, taxpayers paid for six catered events totaling about $15,000 at the residence during the five-month period with most of that going toward the $6,900 St. Patrick’s Day party.

The March 16 St. Patrick’s Day party cost $30 per person, plus a 15 percent service charge.

On Jan. 10, 2013, Malloy had a “formal sit-down dinner” for eight catered by Russell’s Creative Global Cuisine. The menu included a romaine, fennel and blood orange salad with pomegranate vinaigrette; braised beef short ribs with green peppercorn demi-glace; and warm apple crisp. The dinner, including four extra orders of short ribs, cost $654.47.

Malloy hosted local elected officials for a breakfast on Feb. 6. Mary’s Catering charged $265.50 for 25 people. Another event for local officials on Feb. 26, also handled by Mary’s Catering, cost $1,239 for 75 people.

A Feb. 7 luncheon for commissioners catered by Russell’s Creative Global Cuisine cost $3,584.72.

Culinary Accents catered a cocktail party for “inner-city clergy” on Feb. 15 for $2,625.

Two outgoing members of Malloy’s staff, Roy Occhiogrosso and Andrew McDonald, paid for catered events at the residence. Occhiogrosso, who left the Governor’s Office at the end of 2012 to return to the communications firm Global Strategy Group, paid for a Jan. 11 event at the residence. McDondald, Malloy’s general counsel until he became a justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court in January 2013, paid for an event on Feb. 20.

Did Occhiogrosso and McDonald pay for their own farewell parties? The Governor’s Office declined to provide any context about the events, but it appears they may have.

The residence also frequently hosts charitable events. At one April event, according to the emails, a catering worker helped himself to some of Malloy’s personal ice cream and wine.

1New Democratic Party landlord gets bond commission funding for another property

The new landlord for the Connecticut Democratic Party received bond commission funds last week to renovate a different property totaling $320,000.

The Capital Region Development Authority will lend the money to 360 Main Street Associates at 3 percent interest for 20 years with a balloon payment in year three.

According to the bond commission agenda, CRDA funding will “assist in conversion of underperforming commercial space into 20 units of housing, including 16 micro units.”

The Connecticut Democratic Party recently moved to 30 Arbor Street. The property owner, 30 Arbor Street LLC, is controlled by Carlos Mouta, according to the Secretary of the State’s online database.

Mouta also controls 360 Main Street Associates according to the same database.

On May 23, according to party filings with the Federal Elections Commission, the Democrats paid $1,420 to 30 Arbor Street LLC for rent.

On June 12, the party made two rent payments to the same entity: $2,334.75 and $994.

0Election regulator says contractor donations to state parties can be “problematic”

New legal advice from the agency that regulates Connecticut elections suggests that state contractors using a common workaround to give money to state political parties could be violating the law in certain scenarios.

Previous advice from the State Elections Enforcement Commission, in the form of an opinion of counsel provided to the Connecticut Democratic Party in 2007, suggested the party “expressly state that it is soliciting funds only for its federal account,” with the word “federal” underlined, “to avoid the appearance of violating the ban against soliciting prohibited contributions.”

New advice issued earlier this month outlines an even more cautious view from the agency suggesting some prominent examples of executives of companies with close ties to the state, including Northeast Utilities CEO Thomas May, may have violated state campaign finance laws by donating to the Democratic Party’s federal account with the intent of supporting candidates for state office.

May’s solicitation, first reported by The Courant, asked his employees to give to the party’s federal account and “to join me in financially supporting Connecticut’s Governor Dannel P. Malloy.”

State parties are allowed to keep two separate accounts, one to support candidates for state and local office and another for federal candidates.

The ethics and contracting reforms enacted following the resignation and imprisonment of former Gov. John Rowland made it illegal for state contractors to donate to candidates.

The state contractor ban also prevents them from contributing to a party’s state account. The ban does not apply to candidates for federal office or to a party’s federal account.

Parties are allowed to transfer funds from their federal account to the state account, using the national party as an intermediary, and then to provide direct support for candidates for state office, significantly weakening the ban and obscuring the connections between contractors and the politicians they support.

Even without directly transferring funds, the party accounts are accounting devices with little practical distinction. Parties pay some of their employees with money from both accounts. If an employee paid partially by each account solicits a state contractor to donate to the party, which account is doing the solicitation?

In a July 2, 2014, opinion of counsel, SEEC’s lowest level of legal advice, the agency expanded on its previous advice to the Democratic Party, this time to the principal of a state contractor, William Ducci. According to the Federal Elections Commission website, Ducci has donated to a number of Republican candidates for federal office.

“The short answer to your question is that Connecticut law does not prevent a Connecticut state contractor from contributing to the federal account of the state party committee, to the maximum extent allowed by federal law,” wrote Shannon Clark Kief, SEEC’s legal compliance director. “There would be scenarios where such a contribution would be problematic, for example, if the contribution was solicited for the benefit of Connecticut (non-federal) candidates and that money was later used to make expenditures for that purpose.”

“Such expenditures, if coordinated with the state party committee’s state account, might be considered disguised contributions from the state contractor to the state party committee’s state account. Such contributions would be impermissible for a state contractor to make,” Clark Kief continued. “It is illegal for any person to, directly or indirectly, pay, give, contribute or promise any money or other valuable thing to defray the cost of any campaign or election to any committee, other than to a campaign treasurer. If the contribution was made to the federal account of the state party to defray the cost of a Connecticut candidate’s campaign, that too would be impermissible.”

SEEC spokesman Joshua Foley said “the basic answers are the same” although the law has changed in the time between the two opinions. “It’s more nuanced,” Foley said. “Our thinking on it, I guess, got more refined.”

Ducci, of Ducci Electrical, asked SEEC whether he could contribute to a state party’s federal account without negatively affecting his company’s state contracts.

“Frankly, after waiting all these months, I am very disappointed,” Ducci said. “I asked a very specific question as to whether or not I could contribute, and what I received was a five page ‘Opinion of Counsel.’ What I had hoped for was an answer to my question.”

“The opinion includes several different vague and highly subjective caveats, including who solicited the contribution, what purpose it was solicited for, what the money is ultimately spent on, and which political candidate the money ultimately goes to help, any one of which could make the contribution illegal,” Ducci said. “Bear in mind that most if not all of these are out of my control.”

”I’m not a lawyer, I’m a contractor.  I was trying to do the right thing by asking for a straight answer before making a contribution, but I can’t seem to get one,” Ducci said.

Because of the ambiguity, Ducci said, contractors might get away with giving to the party in power, “but it sure sounds pretty threatening if you are contributing to the other camp.”’

Donors to the Democratic Party’s federal account include:

Employees of companies involved in a joint venture selected by the Department of Transportation to manage a $500 million development in Stamford gave nearly $100,000 since DOT made the decision.

A former Republican-party donor gave almost $6,000 since the election of Gov. Dannel Malloy in 2010, while one of his companies received $4.3 million from the state bond commission and another got $18.2 million of contracts and subcontracts from DOT since 2011.

Two employees of Mystic Aquarium, a beneficiary of state funding, donated $6,000 in January, as have First Five companies, developers of affordable housing and other companies receiving state assistance.

Employees of another DOT contractor, HAKS Engineers, gave $45,000 in November possibly at a fundraiser attended by Malloy and have continued to give this year.

2Norwalk housing project gets millions from taxpayers while Boston-based developer gives to Dems

Connecticut’s oldest public-housing project, Washington Village in Norwalk, has received tens of millions in taxpayer money recently, including $30 million in federal funding this week, while a top leader of the developer in charge of the $110 million project has been contributing regularly to the Connecticut Democratic Party.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy along with Rep. Jim Himes, who represents Norwalk, celebrated the grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development Monday.

The funding is part of HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, which hopes to convert affordable housing into mixed-income housing.

On Tuesday, Gov. Dannel Malloy and state Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein announced $9.8 million in additional federal funding passed through Connecticut’s new Department of Housing. HUD awarded Connecticut a total of $31 million for disaster recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

Previously, Washington Village received a $1.89 million low-income housing tax credit.

Boston-based Trinity Financial will redevelop Washington Village with the Norwalk Housing Authority and the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

Patrick Lee, a co-founder and executive vice president of the company, donated $7,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party in the past year.

In 2013, Lee donated $2,500 on July 18 and again on Aug. 1.

HUD announced the availability of Choice Neighborhoods funding on June 13, 2013, and the deadline for applications was Aug. 12.

Malloy first announced the $9.8 million in disaster funding on April 11.

Lee donated another $2,500 on April 23. He made all of his donations to the party’s federal account. As a top executive at a company that receives state assistance, Lee would be ineligible to give to the party’s state account.

In November 2013, the party received thousands in donations from others with affordable-housing business, also through its federal account.

0State awards another $10 million in stem-cell grants to the usual suspects

The state awarded another $10 million in stem-cell research grants Tuesday, but not a single private company benefited.

Like the $80 million awarded in the previous seven years, most of the money this year went to the University of Connecticut Health Center or Yale University.

The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, already the recipient of $291 million in taxpayer largess, secured $1.1 million from this batch of stem-cell research funding.

In the history taxpayer funding of stem-cell research in Connecticut, only two private companies received grants totaling $2.4 million out of about $90 million, or less than 3 percent.

2IT audit reveals state may owe $5.2 million for 4,500 non-compliant software licenses

A review by an unnamed software company found 4,500 improper licenses on state computers, according to the Auditors of Public Accounts, a failure that could cost more than $5.2 million.

Auditors, reporting on the state’s former information technology agency now spread across multiple state agencies, suggested the development of a process for disposing of computers and software products. When state agency’s questioned the value of developing the policy considering its costs, the auditors pointed out the manufacturer’s review.

“This is an example of just one software compliance audit,” the auditors wrote. “It would appear, based on potential, future compliance audits and penalties that the benefits of a central software acquisition, management, use, deployment and disposal platform and policy would far outweigh the costs of development and implementation.”

Auditors also found:

– Errors in longevity payments. The agency overpaid at least three employees and underpaid one by more than $12,000 over a number of years.

– Improperly reported cases of misused state resources. One employee had to pay back the state for using a state cell phone for personal calls while another received a 30-day suspension for viewing pornography on state computers, but the agency didn’t report either case to auditors or the comptroller, as required by law.

0Agreement with parole officers restores nearly three years of expired time off

The Department of Correction agreed last year to restore nearly three years of expired time off for 40 parole officers, an average of 3.5 weeks each.

In 2011, auditors discovered an accounting glitch that allowed a small group of state employees to build up thousands of hours of extra time off. At least 40 parole officers kept compensatory time that should have expired.

The department fixed the error and time off started expiring for the parole officers. Their union negotiated the 2013 agreement to restore 5,800 of properly expired leave.

According to a list attached to the agreement, the Department of Correction reinstated time off ranging from half an hour for one parole officer to 688 hours – more than 17 weeks – for another.

In all, Connecticut owes its employees about $676 million for paid time off, down slightly from fiscal year 2012 when the value exceeded $700 million.

DOC had the parole officers in the wrong category. After auditors found the problem, DOC put the employees into the correct leave plan and opened negotiations with the union to determine how to handle the improperly-earned time off.

The department signed a March 2013 agreement with AFSCME Council 4 to resolve the issue by reinstating time off that expired between October 2012 and January 2013, which amounted to 147 weeks or nearly three years. The parole officers have three years to use the time off granted under the agreement.

DOC spokeswoman Karen Martucci said the agreement with the union set out to “address a discrepancy identified through an audit of the agency’s financial records.”

“Specifically, parole officers were entered into the payroll computer system coded into an incorrect leave plan, which wasn’t consistent with the compensatory time expiration language applicable to that job classification,” Martucci said. “The DOC and the union were in agreement to meet and discuss a fair resolution to the issue, which ultimately resulted in this signed contract.”

0Correctional supervisors at top of pay scale get ‘lump sum payments’

Connecticut’s longevity pay for state employees – $13.8 million in April – is no secret, but a small group of state employees also get “lump sum payments” equal to 2.5 percent of pay.

While longevity payments go to union state employees based on the length of their careers, lump sum payments go to about 100 correctional supervisors who have reached the peak of the pay scale.

The state makes the payments whenever the supervisors, members of the SEIU Local 2001 NP-8 bargaining unit, would otherwise be eligible for an annual increment in their pay.

Due to the payment code used to process the lump sum payments, it is not possible to precisely identify the total cost. However, all payments in the category – which includes certain other payments, too – to eligible employees add up to $184,058.

Two years ago, the legislature ended longevity pay for non-union state employees only to give them a raise of the same amount.

0With fewer served, costs rise at state-run homes for developmentally disabled

Fewer people with developmental disabilities in Connecticut need the highest level of care, but rising costs are growing the gap between high-cost treatment in state-run facilities and lower-cost private alternatives.

According to 2013 data provided by the Department of Developmental Services, the number of people in federally-designated intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities fell below 1,000 last year. The federal government reimburses half the cost of care at these facilities.

The cost of care is growing rapidly at state-run facilities. At the highest-cost regional centers, run by DDS, the average cost per person rose 10.5 percent in a year, from just over $400,000 to a little more than $442,000.

Costs at Southbury Training School, slightly lower-cost but still state-run, increased by more than 8 percent and now exceed $350,000 per person.

Private-run ICF-IIDs saw costs rise by a more modest 3 percent, nearing $165,000 or less than half cost of the state-run programs.

With more than 600 people seeking residential services from DDS as of December, private facilities offer the possibility of helping more people without increasing costs.

A DDS spokeswoman attributed the rising costs to “the drop in consumer counts.”

Recently, DDS has come under scrutiny for the death of a Southbury Training School resident and falling behind on its abuse registry.

0Suffield to claim bond funds 14 years later

After leaving a state grant unused for 14 years, Suffield is finally claiming $75,000 in borrowed funds, although for a new project.

Originally intended for “renovations and improvements to an existing bathhouse at Babb’s Beach,” the town never completed the project. The State Bond Commission will vote today on repurposing the money for improvements to the skating rink building on the same property.