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Commission: Legislators should give themselves a 10 percent raise

The state’s Compensation Commission must have been inspired by the generosity Gov. Dannel Malloy exhibited last month when he gave dozens of senior officials 12 percent raises, and pushed several of his top commissioners’ salaries over $200,000.

The commission followed in Malloy’s footsteps by voting 7-1 Wednesday to recommend that the governor, the other five statewide elected officials and members of the General Assembly should all receive 10 percent raises.

If the legislature adopts the commission’s recommendations, the salaries will go from:

  • $150,000 to $165,000 for the governor;
  • $110,000 to $121,000 for the lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state and comptroller;
  • $28,000 to $30,800 for state representatives and senators.

The pay hikes would take effect after the next election – so 2016 for state legislators, and 2018 for the governor and other state elected officers at a cost of nearly $600,000.

In addition to their $28,000 base pay, Connecticut’s part-time legislators also receive annual stipends of $4,500 to $5,500 for expenses, and a majority also receive additional pay for serving in leadership positions.

Justin Bernier, a former Republican congressional candidate, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Bernier questioned the wisdom of the raises given that Connecticut’s governor already receives a generous salary compared to governors from states that are similar in size to Connecticut. The $165,000 pay would make Connecticut’s governor the 10th highest paid governor in the nation, he said.

But other members of the commission said the raises were necessary because the elected officials haven’t had a raise in 11 years, and said Connecticut could have a highly paid governor given how wealthy the state is.

It is unclear if the legislature will follow the commission’s recommendations, since Malloy is already scrambling to cut expenses to close a $120 million deficit for 2015.

Malloy and state lawmakers will also have to find a way to fill a $2.7 billion gap in the next two-year budget.

Will DEEP allow the Housing Dept. to subsidize $300,000 affordable-housing units in the Norwalk floodplain?

Washington Village flooded parkingTwo years ago, Superstorm Sandy flooded first-floor apartments at Washington Village in Norwalk. Now state and local officials are seeking to expand the project in the same flood-prone location using millions in state and federal taxpayer money, including $9.8 million designated for the Sandy cleanup, but they need approval from environmental regulators first.

The new development would include about 273 units at a cost of at least $85 million, meaning each unit will cost more than $300,000 to construct. In all the developer, Boston-based Trinity Financial, will receive $43 million in state and federal support.

Half of the new units will be considered public housing, targeted at a family of four earning less than $38,500. Another quarter is considered workforce housing, for family incomes between about $64,000 and $70,000. The remaining units will rent at market rates.

Some Norwalk residents have criticized city officials and the developer for building in the floodplain.

After Sandy struck, the Norwalk Hour reported on the damage:

Flood waters damaged dozens of first floor units at the Washington Village housing complex. Residents used hoses to remove an inch or more of water from their living areas. Norwalk Housing Authority employees helped residents clear the excess water from their living spaces and discard of soggy couches and ruined rugs.

There was flooding the area after heavy rain last week.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will hold a public hearing on the flood management exemption for Washington Village 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 15, at the South Norwalk Community Center. DEEP will accept written testimony until close of business on Dec. 18.

Trinity will build all of the first-floor units above the level reached by the worst flood scenario considered in the application. However, 198 parking spaces will be under the building.

One drawing included in the application shows how high up on a car floodwaters in the parking garage would rise. In one building, the worst-case flood – “a 500-year flood with wave” – would leave some cars completely submerged. A 100-year flood would rise up to the bottom of the windshield.

The flood contingency plan calls for the building manager to ask residents to move their cars to higher ground before a storm.

After Superstorm Sandy, the Hour reported that a Washington Village resident “who refused to give his name, said he was given ample warning to move his car, but he did not think the flooding would be that bad.”

The plan also calls for raising the intersection of Raymond and Day Streets above expected flood levels and building a raised pathway through nearby Ryan Park so that emergency vehicles could reach the development if the streets get washed out.

Patrick Lee, a co-founder and executive vice president of Trinity, gave $7,500 to the Connecticut Democratic Party’s federal account since 2013. State law would prohibit Lee, as a beneficiary of state funding, from making donations to candidates for state office or to the state party’s account to benefit those candidates. However, recipients of state funding and state contractors can give to the same party’s federal account.

Son of dead state employee continued to cash pension check for 16 years

The son of a Connecticut state employee cashed his dead father’s state pension and federal Social Security checks for 16 years until federal investigators learned of the father’s death in 2012 and discovered he stole nearly $350,000.

Raymond LaChance, of Spring Hill, Florida, illegally collected $161,002 in Social Security benefits plus $182,832 in Connecticut pension payments sent to his late father, Francis.

In 2011, the last full-year of Connecticut pension payments, the state paid $15,100, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis.

In October, a federal judge sentenced LaChance, who pleaded guilty over the summer, to a year in prison and ordered him to pay restitution.

The State Employee Retirement Commission, with the advice of Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Leonard Boyle, voted on Oct. 29 to forego prosecution of LaChance under Connecticut law to participate in a federal settlement and receive restitution soon.

However, SERC staff later learned the deadline for such an arrangement passed two days earlier on Oct. 27. Although SERC submitted the request to the Attorney General’s Office, it had to go to the Chief State’s Attorney instead because it dealt with a criminal matter, according to SERC minutes from Nov. 20.

Staff also reported the pension fund is writing checks to 2,138 beneficiaries over the age of 90.

Update: Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Leonard Boyle said the judge who sentenced LaChance included a restitution order for the amount stolen from Connecticut. He said the missed deadline did not impact the state’s ability to obtain the order. “We were better off having all this rolled into the federal case,” Boyle said, explaining the decision to decline prosecution under state law.

Republicans: Gruber paid at least $120,000 for Connecticut work

House Republicans say a controversial healthcare economist behind Obamacare received at least $120,000 for his work in Connecticut.

Jonathan Gruber of MIT has been in the spotlight for recently publicized video footage of him criticizing American voters for being stupid. Additional footage has Gruber saying former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy “ripped off” Medicaid.

Gruber did work for the $1 billion plus Sustinet plan in Connecticut. Sustinet never advanced beyond a board to study the idea because state employees turned on the idea.

The Sustinet board was able to avoid transparency requirements because two outside groups, the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut and the Connecticut Health Foundation, paid its expenses.

House Republicans said they have identified $120,000 in payments from the Universal Health Care Foundation to Gruber around the time of the Sustinet work.

“Jonathan Gruber made millions consulting on healthcare issues from Obamacare and from states, including Connecticut,’’ said incoming House Minority Leader Themis Klarides. “The man who famously said a lack of transparency on these issues was a political asset in passing Obamacare has benefited enormously from a lack of transparency when it comes to his personal income.’’

Klarides called for more disclosure regarding Gruber’s work in Connecticut.

Healthcare economist who believes in the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ advised Conn. in 2010

Remember Sustinet, Connecticut’s $1 billion-plus plan to combine Medicaid, state employee health plans and a government-run health insurer?

In 2010, MIT health economist Jonathan Gruber performed modeling for the Sustinet plan. Gruber, considered an architect of Obamacare, is in the news because of recently-uncovered video of him calling out the “stupidity of the American voter.”

The video shows Gruber explaining why the Obamacare legislation couldn’t say what it actually did, because then it wouldn’t pass.

Gov. Dannel Malloy’s transition team report on healthcare from four years ago includes a presentation on Sustinet with the results of Gruber’s work.

Sustinet failed when many state employees questioned the concept of combining their health plan with Medicaid and asked whether the union leaders pushing the plan were looking out for the best interest of the rank and file.

Gruber earned nearly $400,000 from the federal government and significant sums from other states, although the amount paid by Connecticut is not public. The Sustinet board used nonprofits to pay for its research which allowed it to skirt transparency rules.