20 May 2010

Health Care Advocate Lembo Makes Strong Case For Comptroller

Seasoned political observers will recall that the job of State Comptroller carried little weight in terms of governing a generation ago. At state elections it was the office used to balance a ticket based on diversity or geography.

For all of the time Connecticut has had a Constitution (and it is the "Constitution State") the office of Comptroller had been the backroom bean counter and, according to law, provided "accounting and financial services, to administer employee benefits, to develop accounting policy and exercise accounting oversight, and to prepare financial reports for state, federal and municipal governments and the public."

That started to change in 1991 when Democrat Bill Curry, a former state senator, got elected. Curry, an activist and policy wonk, who would become the gubernatorial nominee in 1994, raised the visibility of Comptroller considerably. Incumbent Nancy Wyman took up where Curry left off and has used the office to contribute to fiscal policy ideas, health care reform and the management of the state's finances. Under the Rell administration Wyman has emerged almost as a shadow governor delivering the sober news about state budget deficits and calling attention to the difficult choices Connecticut faces amid recession and dwindling tax bases.

Kevin Lembo, the state Health Care Advocate, is now running for state comptroller having abandoned an exploratory run for Lt. Governor when Nancy Wyman moved on to seek that office.

He gets my vote for the role he's played in helping residents deal with the health care system, especially the insidious practice of insurers denying coverage to people who thought they were insured. He may be the most experienced candidate in the race, having served as assistant State Comptroller for health insurance and implementing GAAP (You can ask your accountant what GAAP stands for). He co-chairs with Nancy Wyman the commission established under the Sustinet Plan to implement universal health care and as the state Comptroller would play a big rule in implementing such reforms as health care pools for local governments and small businesses (Pools = improved benefits at lower costs)

Meeting Kevin Lembo you can sense that this is an individual who believes in making real change in government at many levels. That, along with a hands-on progressive Governor, is what will be needed to, in Lembo's words, "reverse the years of neglect our state has suffered and regain the ground we've lost."

Lembo has my vote for continuing a more active and useful Comptroller's office and for what he will say and do about fiscal policy and management of state government. He'll make the bean counters in Hartford work in the best interests of citizens.

- John McNamara, Democratic Town Chair, New Britain

17 May 2010

Will City Avoid Layoffs To Frontline Education and Public Safety Jobs?

 From New Britain Democrat

The full weight of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression is falling on the city’s budget makers in shaping a fiscal plan for the year that begins July 1st. Few cities or towns in Connecticut and the nation are exempt. And with Connecticut’s over reliance on property taxes the fiscal crisis falls most heavily on cities such as New Britain.

If there is one item across all city departments and divisions that should not be cut it is jobs – specifically: the frontline jobs that are integral to government functioning effectively. In times like these layoff proposals are inevitable because personnel represents such a huge junk of expenditures.

Maintaining direct service positions, however, should be the priority for the Mayor, the Common Council, department heads and labor unions as all parties look at tough options, including an increase in the mill rate. Maintaining frontline staff is all the harder because state aid won’t grow by much, and not enough federal stimulus dollars have been appropriated to bring local governments through the recession.

Eliminating municipal jobs, including the patrolman on the street, the on-duty fire fighter and the teacher in the classroom, certainly represents the easiest path to save the millions of dollars that will be necessary to hold the line on regressive taxes. But there is a direct correlation between layoffs of direct-service personnel and the reduction of essential services – a prospect that city residents will find untenable and an outcome that will prove more costly to the city over the long term. Cutting teachers means crowded classrooms. Cutting public safety personnel can lead to longer response times in an emergency. Pink slipping inspectors or depriving the city law office of sufficient legal counsel could even mean less revenue because of insufficient enforcement of what is due the city.

It is to be expected that the Mayor and Common Council will implement standard austerity measures for this year: hiring and spending freezes, consolidated purchasing between City Hall and the School District, eliminating the non-essential wherever possible -- ultimately raising the mill rate as the last resort as the Mayor has proposed.

All of these efforts, however, will not be enough to preserve services, avoid lay offs and minimize a tax hike. To implement a no-layoff budget the city and unions will have to strike deals through good-faith bargaining. Temporary furloughs are one option. State employees are in the middle of giving up seven pay days over two years along with other other short-term concessions that turned into job savers.

Municipal employees may be willing to step up, but only if management steps up first for the shared sacrifices that will be needed in fiscal year 2011 to preserve jobs and deliver city services.

There’s no guarantee that it’ll work completely, but setting the goal of a no-layoff municipal budget will serve the city and its residents best.