Archive for the ‘Taxes & Spending’ Category

0Brookfield Board of Education confirms termination of superintendent

The Brookfield Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to terminate Superintendent Anthony Bivona, confirming a decision the board originally made in May.

The same board that fired Bivona earlier this year sat in judgment of him during a multi-part hearing that stretched on for months.

The board fired Bivona, who led the district for seven years, after auditors discovered the district had been using a gimmick to balance its budget. Bivona’s longtime business manager, Art Colley, resigned under scrutiny earlier this year.

The audit found that $1.3 million in school district bills had been pushed into the subsequent fiscal year. The town approved a supplemental appropriation of more than $1.1 million to bring the school district’s budget back into balance.

Bivona claimed throughout the hearing process he didn’t know what Colley was doing. The board’s attorney claimed Bivona should have known and the board agreed with his conclusion. Bivona’s attorney argued political pressure led to the firing making it arbitrary and illegal.

0Audit: Bridgeport Housing Authority rents too affordable, undercharged tenants millions since 2004

Federal auditors found the Bridgeport Housing Authority improperly set rental rates for more than 150 tenants, causing the authority to forego millions in revenue that it could have reinvested in its properties.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Inspector General, following up on a previous report that faulted the authority for offering employees “Cadillac” health insurance, said the authority, also known as Park City Communities, has not updated its flat rent since 2004.

Since the cost of housing has risen since 2004, the authority should have updated its flat rents, according to the report released last month.

Auditors said they couldn’t precisely estimate how much revenue the authority lost, but said it was at least “millions.”

In the most recent year, the authority missed out on about $600,000 because it undercharged 161 tenants an average of $300 per month.

According to the audit, new staff at the authority are implementing its recommendations, including updated flat rents.

The report also raised two issues related to unreported conflicts of interest.

Authority officials failed to disclose an apparent conflict of interest when they contracted with a director’s family member to perform work for the authority’s federal programs. After discussing the issue, the executive director took corrective action and terminated the contract.

The authority also had a longstanding contract with an individual who later became an elected official and thus had a HUD-defined conflict of interest. However, officials did not inform HUD or obtain the required approval. After discussing the issue, authority officials agreed to request the waiver, and HUD officials indicated that they were inclined to approve a waiver for this individual to run an after-school program.

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.

3Connecticut taxpayers fund shorter CEO commutes

CEO Commute Bridgewater Cigna-01

The First Five, Connecticut’s signature economic development program under Gov. Dannel Malloy, prompted five CEOs to move their companies. In return, they got taxpayer funding – and a shorter commute to work.

Last month, a plan to move the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest, from Westport to Stamford at a cost of $115 million in taxpayer money fell through.

Charter

The move would have reduced the commute for its billionaire founder Ray Dalio by two thirds. Instead of driving about 45 minutes from Greenwich to Westport, Dalio would drive only 15 minutes to Stamford, according to estimates based on Google Maps.

In some cases, the move was drastic. Charter Communications moved its headquarters from Town & Country, Four other First Five/Next Five deals still in place will move the company headquarters and keep the same CEO. In each case, the office moved closer to the CEO.

Missouri, to Stamford. For CEO Thomas Rutledge, who already lived in New Canaan, the new location is 990 miles closer to his home.

Alexion

Charter will receive $6.5 million in taxpayer support.

“Our CEO has had an office here and in Philadelphia for years, and still does,” said company spokesman Joe Mondy. “Cigna has offices in 30 nations and jurisdictions around the globe. Our decision to designate our flagship Connecticut offices as our corporate headquarters is all about the opportunity to leverage the highly educated, experienced and talented labor pool our state offers, so that our businesses may grow and flourish here and around the world.”Cigna CEO David Cordani saved himself some travel time by moving the company’s headquarters from Philadelphia to Bloomfield. Cordani’s Simsbury home is about 210 miles closer to the Connecticut site.

Cigna could receive up to $71 million from taxpayers.

Navigators

Spokesmen for Malloy’s office and the Department of Economic and Community Development, which coordinates First Five incentives, did not respond to a request for comment.

The pharmaceutical company Alexion plans to move from Cheshire to New Haven next year in return for $51 million in state assistance. CEO Leonard Bell will cut his commute from Woodbridge in half, from about 30 minutes to 15.

The insurer Navigators Group will receive $11.5 million to move from Rye Brook, N.Y., to Stamford. CEO Stanley Galanski will reduce his commute by a third, shaving about 15 minutes off his commute from Ridgefield.

CEOs in the First Five/Next Five program aren’t the only ones shortening their commutes. Fifth Street Finance received a $5 million forgivable loan from DECD to move from White Plains, N.Y., to Greenwich.

CEO Leonard Tannenbaum cut his commute from Greenwich in half, from about 30 minutes to 15. Fifth Street spokesman James Velgot said the shorter commute was unrelated to Fifth Street’s move.

“Len believes in the state, and wants to help it succeed in the long run,” Velgot said.

Another company, Sustainable Building Systems, was planned as a new joint venture so it did not have a previous location. In any case, the company has had trouble getting started. TicketNetwork withdrew from the First Five program after its CEO was arrested.Some companies in the First Five/Next Five program, like ESPN and Pitney Bowes, did not relocate, instead expanding in an existing location. Other companies changed CEOs around the time of the move, including NBC Sports and CareCentrix. The accounting firm Deloitte did not move its headquarters to Connecticut, but did expand its presence.

FifthStreet-06-06

The Bridgewater move fell apart because of a land use dispute between the project developer, Building and Land Technology, and city officials. Even though the deal fell through, BLT still gets at least $16 million from the state – as much as $2.50 for each $1 invested – to complete the environmental remediation of the property.

Graphics by Colby Pastre.

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.

0IRS has three-year-old, $50,000 tax lien against Sen. Fonfara’s Hartford home

The IRS has a $50,406.93 tax lien against the Hartford home of Democratic Sen. John Fonfara, chairman of the legislature’s finance, revenue and bonding committee which handles state tax policy.

The IRS filed a notice of tax lien in October 2011 with the Hartford City Clerk for unpaid personal income taxes in 2008 and 2009. No release of the lien was filed with the clerk as of Tuesday.

Fonfara’s spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

According to the IRS, tax liens remain in effect until the entire amount is paid off. If a person has made progress paying down their tax debt but hasn’t paid the full amount, there would be no change to the lien. Conversely, if a person has not made any payments, the amount owed could grow because of interest and penalties.

The lien on Fonfara’s 99 Montowese St. home breaks down the amount owed between the two years. The unpaid balance for 2008 was about $8,600. In 2009, the unpaid balance was a little less than $42,000.

The IRS took out an earlier lien against Fonfara at his 23 Fenwick St. address in 1997 for about $16,500. The lien was released within a month.

In addition to his salary as a state senator, Fonfara works in the billboard business.

Update: View the liens here, now with certain identifying information redacted.

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.”