<![CDATA[NBC Connecticut - Connecticut Political News, NY and CT Politics, and More]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/politics http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/NBC_Connecticut.png NBC Connecticut http://www.nbcconnecticut.com en-us Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:26:45 -0500 Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:26:45 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Hartford City Council Passes Proposal to Remove Registrars]]> Tue, 27 Jan 2015 02:00:10 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/hartford+registrar+of+voters+2.jpg

Undeterred by the blizzard that prompted a state of emergency and travel ban throughout Connecticut, the Hartford City Council convened Monday night to push through a proposal that will start the process of removing the city’s three registrars of voters.

The registrars found themselves at the center of controversy after problems at the polls caused some voters to be sent away on Election Day in November. Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden filed a resolution last week seeking to remove the trio – Democrat Olga Vazquez, Republican Sheila Hall and Urania Petit of the Working Families Party.

An attorney representing Vazquez has said she will fight any attempt at removal, while Petit vowed not to resign, according to the Associated Press.

It comes after a committee of inquiry created to probe the Election Day issues released a report documenting “multiple, serious errors” and a dysfunctional working relationship among the three registrars.

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<![CDATA[Christie Woos Iowa Conservatives]]> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 01:46:55 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/12415chris.jpg

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is trying to connect with Iowa conservatives by assuring them that "you'll always know who I am" if he runs for president.

While still undeclared, Christie left few doubts Saturday at the Iowa Freedom Summit that he is primed to enter the 2016 GOP race.

Christie told the Republican voters in the leadoff primary state in the nomination battle that they shouldn't let his blunt style turn them off. To those not enamored with all aspects of his record, Christie asserted "you'll always know what I believe and you'll always know where I stand."

He spoke at length about his anti-abortion views, which tends to resonate with Iowa's social conservative caucus-goers.

Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and many others turned the Iowa Freedom Forum into the unofficial launch of the next campaign for the Iowa caucuses. More than 1,000 religious conservatives met at a refurbished theater to hear their pitches.

The forum's sponsor, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, opened the event by asking the crowd, "Do you believe that the next president of the United States is going to be speaking to you today?"

The audience erupted in applause and King responded, "As do I."

Few would pick Christie, an abortion rights and gay marriage opponent better known for his union and budget battles, to emerge as the favorite among Iowa's evangelical voters. Yet his appearance could allow him to make inroads with a group focused as much on ideological purity as defeating the Democrat nominated to follow President Barack Obama.

"He has gusto that makes him an everyman. That appeals to me," 29-year-old Steve Friend of Sioux City said of Christie. "But I think he tanked the 2012 election by praising President Obama after (superstorm) Sandy."

Christie has defended his praise of the president for visiting storm-ravaged New Jersey in the weeks before Romney lost. But it's an image that sticks in the craw of Iowa's most right-wing conservatives.

"I don't trust him," said Mary Kay Hauser, another forum attendee. "I think he's disingenuous. I think he's part of the old New Jersey party."
 

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<![CDATA[New Criticism of State Capitol Security Measures]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 19:48:39 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/connecticut+state+capitol+722.jpg

A pair of Democrats from Waterbury and Danbury want the entire General Assembly to consider changing the security systems installed at the state capitol over the summer.

“Personally, I’d take the whole damn thing out," said State Rep. Bob Godfrey, who represents Danbury. "Give it to Bradley Airport."

Godfrey is leading the effort to reverse the $600,000 security upgrades, including metal detectors, wands and new security staff.

He said he feels there's now a barrier between legislators and residents just trying to meet with their elected officials.

“If I have constituents who come up, I just can’t get them into the building easily," Godfrey explained. "Are we assuming that my mother is a terrorist?"

After years of receiving security recommendations, legislative leadership finally decided on the current system last year and installed it over the summer.

Capitol Police oversee the contracted firm that staffs security checkpoints in the Legislative Office Building and the Connecticut Capitol.

Staff, press and members of the General Assembly are given computer-coded badges that allow them access to bypass security in both buildings. In the LOB, there are open-air turnstile-type entrances and exits.

The Connecticut Capitol contains closed vestibules allowing only one person to enter the building at a time. That's an issue Godfrey has had personal experience with.

“I've been trapped in some of the air locks," he said. "The system counted me as two people once and... this wasn’t well thought through.”

Visitors to the Capitol on Friday said they thought the building was beautiful.

Cindy Davis from Canterbury said getting through the security wasn't a problem and that it was "much, much easier" than at the airport.

She also said she felt an extra layer of security just going through the metal detector.

“I think it does give you that feeling of a little bit of safety,” she explained.

Lawmakers could consider Godfrey's proposal to discuss changing the system over the next few months.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Governor Announces $31.4M in Budget Cuts]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 19:49:22 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/connecticut+state+capitol+building.jpg

Gov. Dannel Malloy has announced more than $31 million in rescissions to combat the state's predicted budget shortfall of more than $120 million.

A report released by the governor's office details the breakdown, which includes but is not limited to the follow:

  • $1 million in cuts from community technical colleges
  • More than $1.5 from the Connecticut state university system
  • $8.3 million from the Department of Developmental Services
  • $6 million from the judicial branch
  • $1.1 million from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
  • More than $1 million from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services

The full list of rescissions is available online.

It's the second round of rescissions in the past two month and comes in the wake of a $50-million spending reduction that took effect toward the end of 2014.

Malloy said earlier this week he wasn't fazed by the predicted deficit, which seems small when compared to the state's $20 billion budget..

"We'll manage this just as we've managed other challenges in the past," he explained on Wednesday.

State Sen. Rob Kane, a Republican representing Watertown and ranking member of the legislature's Appropriations Committee, released a statement Friday afternoon applauding the latest round of cuts.

"Cutting spending is the way to fix our state’s financial crisis. We simply can’t afford more and more tax hikes in this state. We face multi-billion dollar problems in the years ahead. We need to stay focused on what taxpayers’ dollars are spent on, and go line by line in the budget to make cuts," Kane said. "The sooner we confront our state’s spending addiction, the better off Connecticut taxpayers will be in the long run. We have got to work together, as Republicans and Democrats, to do what is best for Connecticut."

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<![CDATA[Sen. Rubio Taking Steps Toward Possible 2016 Run]]> Fri, 23 Jan 2015 18:51:11 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/121113+marco+rubio.jpg

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio rode into Washington on a wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment in 2010. He may soon be hoping to ride a similar wave all the way up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House in 2016.

NBC News has confirmed that Senator Rubio is taking steps to prepare for a run for the White House in the 2016 election. The news was first reported by ABC News on Friday.

Rubio has hired Anna Rogers to be his finance director. Rogers comes from American Crossroads, a Super PAC backed by former senior Bush advisor Karl Rove. Rogers is expected to start her new job with the Rubio campaign in the first week of February.

The senator has laid out plans to visit multiple states for the next month and will skip Senate votes next week in order to attend fundraisers in California.

Rubio’s rapid rise to political stardom started in the Florida Legislature, which he led at one point. He entered the 2010 Senate race far behind then-Governor Charlie Crist and was able to outflank Crist in the Republican primary. The moves electrified Rubio’s political star and sent Crist’s political career tumbling.

Rubio won his seat in 2010 primarily based on the Tea Party wave of anti-Obamacare sentiment. He also benefitted from having a three-way race with Crist as an independent and Kendrick Meek running as a Democrat. The two effectively split the electorate opposing Rubio, opening the door to the Senate for Rubio.

The junior senator from Florida may be hoping to start and catch a similar wave to the White House that Obama followed when he ran after just two years in the Senate. However, Rubio would have filled out his entire first-term if he runs in 2016.

The path to the White House for Rubio will be much tougher. He angered many of the Tea Party voters that supported him when he helped pass a bi-partisan, comprehensive immigration reform bill a few years ago.

As the conservative backlash started, Rubio quickly backed away from support on many of the bill’s key policies and won back support from some of the voters who lifted him to the White House. He will also face a field full of big Republican names hoping to win the nomination.

While none have officially declared their pursuit of the presidency, it’s expected that Mitt Romney will make a run at the White House. He could be joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, former Senator Rick Santorum, former Governor Rick Perry, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.

“The interesting thing here is that Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are friends they look like they are both running for each other and they both live really close to each other and that is going to make for one interesting kind of awkward campaign,” said Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo.

Bush could prove to be the biggest obstacle for Rubio to make a successful presidential bid. Bush has more experience as an executive and skillfully navigated the Florida political machine for two terms as governor and is still well-liked by many of his former supporters in the Sunshine State.

“I think Jeb is going to be the one that’s going to finish the race,” said Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “Marco is still a young boy. He has a lot of years left in him.”

Rubio said Bush has the political acumen to raise the amount of money necessary to mount a successful presidential campaign. The 2016 presidential campaign could end up being a multi-billion dollar campaign and will likely be the most expensive in U.S. History.

Rubio has been a fierce critic of almost every policy move made by the Obama Administration. He’s also been a leading critic of the move to normalize relations with Cuba, though polls show a national majority back the moves by the White House.

For Republicans, if Rubio follows his previous comments that he will not run for re-election to the Senate if he runs for president (which also is a Florida law); his plans may open up a new battleground in the almost evenly-divided swing state of Florida.

That could prove especially beneficial to Democrats. The 2016 electoral map is expected to tilt towards the Democrats in many swing states and voter turnout could help Democrats re-take the U.S. Senate and also keep the White House.

Rubio could also be angling for another key position in a potential Republican White House, that of vice-president. If Rubio doesn’t win the presidential nomination, he could be a leading contender to join the winner’s ticket as the vice-presidential candidate.

Still, whoever the Republicans end up choosing to run for the White House will have one of the toughest challenges ahead in the general election, a potential Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

“If Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush run against Hillary Clinton; they’re gonna lose and they’re not only going to lose the White House race, they’re even going to lose their home state of Florida,” said Caputo. “But, that is what the polling says now. And as you know and I know, in a state like Florida; don’t predict the elections too early, heck even on election day as we sometimes don’t know the winner.”



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Raises Proposed for Governor, Elected Officials]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 18:48:49 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/connecticut+state+capitol+building.jpg

The Connecticut Compensation Commission for Elected State Officers and General Assembly Members recently took steps that could lead to a 10 percent increase in compensation for all statewide elected officers and members of the General Assembly.

“I think it’s time,” said Richard Balducci, the former speaker of the House, who sits on the commission.

Balducci said he views the state as a sort of company that operates with a $20 billion budget and has top executives that haven’t received raises in years.

"It isn't so much a value on do I think my state representative or my governor deserves a raise," Balducci said. "I think it's more in the perspective of the office we're talking about and the responsibilities that goes with it."

The state's top elected officials and members of the General Assembly have not received raises since 2001.

The governor earns $150,000, constitutional officers earn $110,000 and members of the General Assembly earn $28,000 for what’s considered a part-time job and are allotted more than $4,000 toward expenses.

State Sen. Rob Kane, a Republican from Watertown and ranking member on the Appropriations Committee called the idea of a raise, “ridiculous.”

"The message I think is we are more concerned with the people that line our offices rather than the constituents we serve, and I think that's wrong,” Kane said.

He added that there’s an issue with the optics of a proposed raise when a budget shortfall has been projected in the current and subsequent fiscal years.

Any possible raise is far from becoming official. The General Assembly would have to approve an appropriations bill that included funds for raises.

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<![CDATA[State Senator Pitches New Kind of Car Tax]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 18:51:45 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/6558-000166.jpg

The top Democrat in the Connecticut says it’s time for a change in the way the state and municipalities charge their residents for their cars.

State Sen. Martin Looney is crafting a proposal that could do one of several things, such as create a median rate at which certain property would be taxed and allow municipalities room to meet their revenue needs. The proposal could also provide some kind of tax break up to a certain level.

“There has to be some progressivity in it by exempting part of the value of the car, let's say $4,000,” Looney said Thursday. “So someone who, let's say, has a car that's only worth $5,000, they might only pay $1,000 on that with a $4,000 exemption, whereas someone whose car is assessed at $40,000 would get taxed at $36,000."

Individual towns and cities set their own mill rates at which property is taxed. Such a system leads to automobiles with the same assessed value having drastically different tax bills depending on the municipality.

According to the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, the same $20,000 car carries a tax bill of $1,486 in Hartford, $831 in New Haven and just $219 in Greenwich.

Looney says it’s time to stop penalizing Connecticut residents based on where they live.

"I think the system, such that I've suggested here, I think, would build much more fairness into a system that's just grossly unfair now," Looney said.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities estimates that $800 million in annual revenue goes to cities and towns as a direct result of the car tax.

“CCM’s concerns focus around the ability of the state to establish and maintain a lock box to ensure the revenues are returned to towns in the short and long-term; and that all towns are held-harmless and maintain at least the same level of revenues,” CCM spokesperson Kevin Maloney said in a statement.

Maloney added that a change to the way cars are taxed could lead to tax hikes on other property likes homes and businesses.

Officials with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association also say they could see some issues with changes to the car tax.

"Let's say you have a large fleet of automobiles so if you're in a town where that mill rate is going to go up, that can be a significant cost increase for you and the alternative is that if you're in a town where the mill rate is going to go down, it could be a cost savings. So it really depends town by town and what the plan is," said Joe Brennan, the group’s President and CEO.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[East Haven Mayor Maturo to Seek Re-Election]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:53:45 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Mayor+Joe+Maturo+1200.png

East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. is running for re-election.

He made the announcement on Thursday that he filed his official campaign paperwork and will be seeking an eighth term as mayor.

“For 14 of the last 18 years, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of leading our great community.  During my tenure, we’ve stabilized and reduced taxes, balanced fourteen straight budgets, reduced our debt to historically low levels, and completed a host of public safety and infrastructure upgrades across Town,” he said in a statement on his campaign Web site. “ I am seeking re-election because I know my team and I have the experience and the vision to continue to keep our community moving forward on the right track.”
 



Photo Credit: Maturo for Mayor 2015]]>
<![CDATA[Top NY Lawmaker Arrested on Corruption Charges: Source]]> Thu, 22 Jan 2015 22:21:24 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/silver7.jpg

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested Thursday on federal corruption charges and is accused of using his position in the state legislature to collect millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks, according to a criminal complaint.

Silver, who has held office in the State Assembly since 1976 and been speaker of the legislative body since 1994, turned himself into the FBI at its field office near Foley Square Thursday morning.

The embattled legislator told reporters after his court appearance that he did not plan to resign.

"I will be vindicated," he said. 

His attorneys, Joel Cohen and Steven Molo, released a joint statement calling the allegations baseless.

"We’re disappointed that the prosecutors have chosen to proceed with these meritless criminal charges," the attorneys' statement said. "That said, Mr. Silver looks forward to responding to them -- in court -- and ultimately his full exoneration.”

At a news briefing shortly after Silver's arrest, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara accused the longtime politician of duping taxpayers through a series of secretive schemes and backroom dealings to line his own pockets, and "cleverly" seeking ways to monetize his public office in violation of federal law.

Silver allegedly collected around $4 million in bribes and kickbacks and used his law license and lax New York disclosure laws to disguise the profits as referral fees, Bharara said.

Those alleged ill-gotten gains accounted for two-thirds of the speaker's outside income since 2002, the prosecutor added. Bharara said a judge issued warrants allowing authorities to seize $3.8 million Silver had dispersed in eight bank accounts at six different banks in alleged fraud proceeds.

"For many years, New Yorkers have asked the question, 'How could Speaker Silver, one of the most powerful men in all of New York, earn millions of dollars in outside income without deeply compromising his ability to honestly service his constituents?'" Bharara said. "Today, we provide the answer. He didn't."

The five-count criminal complaint unsealed Thursday focuses on two alleged schemes by which Silver acquired millions -- attorney referral payments and alleged real estate kickbacks. One firm, identified by sources familiar with the investigation as Goldberg & Iryami, allegedly paid Silver about $700,000 over the course of about a decade in "undisclosed bribes and kickbacks" to get real estate developers in the state to do their business with the firm.

One of the real estate developers, described in the court papers as "Developer 1," is Leonard Litwin of Glenwood Management, according to the sources. The sources said Litwin cooperated with investigators, as did law firm partner Jay Goldberg.

The firm Weitz and Luxemberg also allegedly paid Silver about $5.3 million since 2002. About $1.4 million came from an annual salary, which the complaint alleges Silver received "based on his official position rather than any work he was expected to perform."

"For many years New Yorkers have also asked the question, 'What exactly does Speaker Silver do to earn his substantial outside income?'" Bharara said. "Well, the head-scratching can come to an end on that score, too, because we answer that question today as well. He does nothing."

The rest of the money came from attorney referral fees, with about $3 million coming by way of a scheme where Silver allegedly passed on asbestos cases from a New York doctor, identified by sources as Dr. Robert Taub, in exchange for secretly providing Taub access to $500,000 in state grants and research funds. Taub is the director of the Columbia University Mesothelioma Center. 

Investigators said Silver referred about 100 clients to the firm, but none of the asbestos clients or their family had ever had any contact with Silver at all, court papers said.

Taub cooperated with investigators, sources said.

Messages left with Goldberg, Litwin and Taub were not immediately returned. 

Despite making assurances that he represents "plain ordinary and simple people," investigators found no court records indicating that Silver ever made a single appearance in state or federal court.

"The problem for Sheldon Silver was that he was neither a doctor nor an asbestos lawyer, so Silver did not have relevant legal or medical expertise, but what he did have was extraordinary power over state money that he had the ability to dole out quietly, even secretly," Bharara said.

Bharara had been focusing on how state representatives earned and reported income after the Moreland Commission was shut down in Albany before completing its own examination of alleged wrongdoing in Albany. Bharara says that too was Silver's doing.

"A deal was cut that cut off the commission's work to the great relief of Sheldon Silver, who furiously fought its subpoenas and urged the commission's early shutdown," he said. "Moreland was made to close its doors after only nine months, its work barely begun, and while litigation over those subpoenas about Sheldon Silver's outside income was still pending before a state judge."

If convicted of all five counts in the complaint, Silver faces up to 100 years in prison. He did not enter a plea during a brief court appearance Thursday and was released on $200,000 bond. Silver surrendered his passport and was told he needs permission to travel anywhere outside New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C.  

Mayor de Blasio said New York should let the judicial process play out. 

"Although the charges announced today are very serious I want to note that I have always known Shelly Silver to be a man of integrity and he certainly has due process rights and I think it’s important that we let the judicial process play out here," the mayor said.

Questions in the past have been raised about Silver’s outside income that supplement his part-time assembly work and he has always denied wrongdoing.

In a statement Thursday, FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard Frankel said Silver took advantage of his "political pulpit" to reap unlawful rewards.

"We hold our elected representatives to the highest standards and expect them to act in the best interest of their constituents," Frankel said. "In good faith, we trust they will do so while defending the fundamental tenets of the legal system. But as we are reminded today, those who make the laws don’t have the right to break the laws."

Albany has had its fair share of corruption scandals over the years. The last legislative leader to be charged was former State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Bruno, a Republican, was acquitted last year after fighting two federal corruption counts for much of the last decade.

Bharara’s office is prosecuting Democratic state Sen. Malcolm Smith in an alleged scheme to bribe his way to run for mayor as a Republican, and has charged numerous other current and former state and local politicians including State Sens. Vincent Leibell, Hiram Monserrate and Carl Kruger and New York City councilman Larry Seabrook.

-- Pete Williams and Richard Esposito contributed to this report.  



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Malloy on Projected Deficit: "We'll Address It"]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 18:56:21 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/111714statebudgetdeficitj00000000.jpg

The Office of Policy and Management projects a fiscal year shortfall of more than $120 million, according to a memo sent from OPM Secretary Benjamin Barnes to Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

When asked about the possible deficit, Gov. Dannel Malloy said he wasn’t concerned about such a small amount inside a much larger budget.

"With the current numbers, we're talking about $121 million out of $20,000 million dollars,” Malloy told reporters. “So we'll manage this just as we've managed other challenges in the past."

The governor and OPM ordered $54 million in cuts toward the end of 2013, but according to the most recent budget estimates, they weren’t enough.

"One, I'm thinking this is not a shocker, two they should have seen this coming,” said State Sen. Len Fasano, Minority Leader of the Connecticut Senate.

Fasano said he wants to sit down with the governor’s staff and Democratic members of the General Assembly to craft a long-term budgeting solution. He said there have to be ways to cut spending that haven’t yet been identified.

"We haven't had a lot of snow. Maybe there's some... some snow removal money we can move over or sand that we can move over that we're not going to spend," he said. "I don't know that. That's what conversations are about."

The governor said he's interested in hearing from the GOP.

"What they should do is you know, sit down and on the back of an envelope tell us what they would cut out of the budget," Malloy said. "I would invite them to do that. That would be wonderful.”

He then added, “I'd love to hear their suggestions. It's not so long ago that they considered eliminating children's vaccinations."

Fasano said with the General Assembly weeks away from hearing the governor’s budget proposals, “it’s time to set partisan politics aside.”



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Pilot Program Aimed at Trimming College Debt]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 18:42:45 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/SERVEherePIC00000000.jpg

Some Democratic lawmakers are backing a new program designed to help recent college find jobs, provide incentives to employers who hire them and offer student loan debt relief.

“Lots of other state programs have failed and this is an attempt to do something different” said State Sen. Steve Cassano, a Democrat representing Glastonbury.

The pilot program called Serve Here Connecticut would start with a pot of $300,000, half of which would come from the state and the other half from matching donations. Fifteen participants would be selected from a pool of applicants to work in state government, local government or non-profit jobs.

Each recent college graduate would then receive $10,000 toward student loan debt, or toward furthering their education in the form of a scholarship. Participating employers would each receive $10,000 to offset the program participants' salaries.

"We wanted to create a program that would offer jobs to unemployed and under-employed millennials and would also offer assistance to the employers who are hiring them,” explained Alva Greenberg, one of the creators of Serve Here Connecticut.

Lawmakers have already filed legislation to create the program. Despite concerns that $150,000 might be tough to secure in light of projected shortfalls for the next two fiscal years, Democrats remain optimistic.

"We're not asking for a lot of money here. I obviously know we have a big deficit with this budget. I know it's not really hard and really solid with what we're dealing with but this is not that much money," said State Rep. David Alexander, of Enfield.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA["Pivotal": LGBT Groups Praise Obama's "Historic" SOTU]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 18:38:42 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/obama+state+of+union.JPG

LGBT rights activists and organizations across the country are applauding President Barack Obama for becoming the first U.S. president to use the words "lesbian," "bisexual" and "transgender" in a State of the Union Address.

In the nearly hour-long address in front of Congress Tuesday, Obama condemned persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, while declaring that same-sex marriage is a “civil right.” His remarks come on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court agreement last week to rule on whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained," Obama in his sixth State of the Union address. "That's why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in California, said the mention made the speech “especially historic for transgender and bisexual people.” The first-of-its-kind nature of the reference was widely reported following the Tuesday night address and confirmed by NBC Owned Television Stations.

“We’ve never heard a president address their needs during a State of the Union Address,” Davis said. “That was just historic. By simply saying the word 'transgender' in a speech, it represents the progress for transgender people and the United State’s broader movement for equality for all.”

Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington D.C-based National Center for Transgender Equality said that the “mention of us” is a way that “empower trans people to stand taller and work harder.”

“The president of the United States condemning persecution against transgender people is pivotal,” the transgender rights activist said in a statement.

Former NFL player Wade Davis II, executive director for You Can Play Project, an advocacy organization that is working to eradicate homophobia in sports, said the inclusion shows that society is starting to recognize that "gay" is not a universal term for those in the LGBT community.

“It’s not an inclusive term for someone who is bisexual or transgender, and we hope people would realize that,” said Davis, who came out as gay in 2012. “The struggle of someone being gay is not a representative of the struggles of someone who is bisexual or transgender. Gay is not this universal term that stands for lesbians, bisexual and transgender. And transgender has zero to do with sexual orientation.”

While the wait may have been long for a U.S president to make such move at the annual joint session of Congress, Obama’s calls for LGBT rights and protections are not entirely new. He was the country's first sitting leader to support same-sex marriage, an announcement he made in 2012.

Obama made a more robust move in 2013, when he reportedly became the first president to use the word “gay” during an inaugural address ─ at his second inauguration in 2013. Last year, the president signed an executive order extending protection against discrimination in the workplace for gay and transgender workers in the federal government.

Masen Davis said more work need to be done, and he urged Congress to pass laws to help LGBT individuals get more access to the services they need, including protections against housing discrimination.

Wade Davis, the NFL player, echoed those remarks, saying he hopes Obama’s message Tuesday night “will start some serious conversations about the discrimination” people in the LGBT community faces, particularly transgender individuals.

“It’s unfortunate for this to be the first time a president talks about it, but it speaks to some come change that is happening,” Wade Davis said. “I hope that the outcome of those conversations will be a policy. Talking without having a policy to back it up is just empty.”



Photo Credit: ap]]>
<![CDATA[New Md. Gov: What to Expect]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 16:02:30 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/20141104+Hogan.jpg

Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland governor Wednesday, becoming just the second Republican to hold the post in more than 45 years. He'll face a $750 million budget deficit, a legislature controlled by Democrats and an electorate awaiting the tax cuts he promised on the campaign trail.

But what he will try to do in office remains something of a mystery, political observers say.

"He was not at all specific about policies during the campaign," said Donald F. Norris, director of the School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "He basically ran against the outgoing governor for being a tax-and-spend liberal and claimed that we were not only overtaxed but over-regulated."

Hogan, 58, defeated Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown last fall, in what was described as an astonishing upset and a rebuke to two-term Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley and the tax increases he implemented. Hogan, a commercial real estate broker, is the son of a former congressman and county executive for Prince George's County in Maryland. He is the state's second Republican governor since former Vice President Spiro Agnew held the role.

Hogan has promised better fiscal management, but now must contend with spending formulas that control some of the budget's largest expenses.

"I can't see him imposing new taxes so really he's left with cuts and that's where he begins to engage real battle with the legislature," said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for The Cook Political Report.

Mandated appropriations account for 81 percent of the state's portion of spending proposed for the 2015 fiscal year beginning in July, according to a November report from the Department of Legislative Services' Office of Policy Analysis. The two-year budget shortfall has grown to nearly $1.2 billion.

"Beyond what's in his initial budget, I think you'll see him trying to change some of those mandatory spending patterns to give the state a little bit more flexibility and an ability to avoid ongoing structural deficits," said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science and chairman of Political Science Department at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Hogan vowed during the campaign that he would work with the state legislature, and observers will be watching carefully to see how long bipartisanship will last in a state with a 2-to-1 Democratic registration.

"I would say the two presiding officers in the state legislature are moderate to conservative Democrats but their rank and file, particularly in the House, are very liberal so that's going to be a pressure point for all of these four years," said Josh Kurtz, a political blogger for Center Maryland.

Kurtz and others noted that the previous Republican governor, Bob Ehrlich, similarly pledged compromise but instead fought with the legislature through much of his single four-year term.

"So if Hogan chooses to fight with the Democrats, it's going to be an ugly four years," Norris said. "He won't get anything accomplished. If he can find ground for compromise and cooperation, then I think things will work out pretty well for both sides. We just have to wait and see."

Hogan, who won 54 percent of the vote to 45 percent for Brown, has said he wants to appeal two environmental measures: a storm water remediation fee, otherwise known as the rain tax, and regulations governing how much nitrogen can be released into the Chesapeake Bay, particularly from chicken farmers on the Eastern Shore, Norris said.

Hogan also has questioned the expense of two large public transit projects on the boards: the Baltimore Red Line, a 14-mile light rail transit line linking the city's east and west sides to the downtown that would cost $2.9 billion, and the Greater Washington Purple Line, a 16-mile east-west transit line connecting Bethesda to New Carrollton that would cost $2.45 billion. Both would gotten $100 million in federal funding, and could get up to $900 million each if Maryland signs funding agreements.

In recent days, Hogan refused to discuss the projects until after he took office, but during the campaign, he said he would spend money on roads rather than on expanding public transportation.
Observers noted that he was elected by predominantly suburban and rural voters.

Others programs that could prompt objections from voters if Hogan tries to cut them: school construction and prekindergarten.

"Nobody really knows what Hogan is going to be like when things don't go his way because he's never held elective office before," Kurtz said. "So in that respect, he's a big mystery."

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<![CDATA[GOP Congressman Slams Obama for "Deportable" SOTU Guest]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 20:52:56 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AP060731031104.jpg

A Republican congressman took a social media swipe at the White House over one of its young State of the Union guests Tuesday, tweeting that the first lady would have a "deportable" joining her.

Iowa Rep. Steve King said the president "perverts 'prosecutorial discretion'" by inviting Ana Zamora, a 20-year-old student from Dallas, to sit "in a place of honor" with first lady Michelle Obama during Tuesday's address.

Zamora, who was brought to the United States illegally as a young child, was granted temporary work authorization under Obama's executive order seeking to protect undocumented children living in the U.S. under such circumstances, often referred to as "DREAMers." The White House has said that Zamora's parents, a small business owner and a construction worker, are expected to benefit from more recent actions meant to shield millions from deportation.

When asked about the tweet by NBC News' Luke Russert, King, a vocal critic of Obama's immigration policies and actions, said to  "shake it off and have a sense of humor." The conservative congressman, who is hosting a gathering of potential GOP presidential candidates in this home state this weekend, said he didn't think the comment would hurt his party's possible 2016 contenders.

Zamora is one of nearly two dozen guests invited to watch the State of the Union along with the first lady. Others include a teen from Chicago's South Side who wrote a letter asking Santa for safety for Christmas, an astronaut set to spend a year aboard the International Space Station and Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen recently released after five years in Cuban prison.



Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
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<![CDATA[Hartford Lawmakers Seek to Remove Registrars]]> Wed, 21 Jan 2015 00:30:01 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/hartford+registrar+of+voters+2.jpg

The Hartford City Council is pushing to remove the city's three registrars of voters as officials probe problems at the polls that caused confusion and delays on Election Day.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office said the city council is meeting Tuesday night to discuss the proposal. The registrars – Democrat Olga Vazquez, Republican Sheila Hall and Urania Petit of the Working Families Party – are at the center of the city's investigation into what went wrong Nov. 4.

The city council's Committee of Inquiry, which was commissioned to examine the issues and formulate a plan to ensure a smoother process next election cycle, released a report Friday that identified "multiple, serious errors" at the polling places, as well as a dysfunctional working relationship among election officials.

"The poor personal relationships between and among the three Hartford Registrars contributed to their failure to carry out their official election duties before and after the November 4 General Election," the report alleges.

According to the mayor's office, the city council is introducing a resolution at a Tuesday night meeting that would bring in outside attorneys to "draft charges" against the registrars and move forward with a plan to remove them.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra declined to offer an opinion on the situation but said he has faith in the committee and its findings.

"I have made my position on this subject pretty clear. I support any decision that prevents our citizens right to vote from being further compromised in any way," Segarra said in a statement Tuesday. "I applaud City Council for taking swift action on this issue."

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<![CDATA[Marine's Widow to Attend State of the Union]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 18:23:05 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/SOTUguestPic00000000.jpg

The widow of a U.S. Marine who took his own life in October 2013 will join Sen. Richard Blumenthal at the State of the Union Address to drum up support for the Department of Veterans Affairs and push for more help for troubled vets.

“I think Justin’s story fits in the best with all of this because he did end his life, even with the help that was provided," Joanna Eldridge said of her late husband. "It didn’t work for him and what is happening now isn’t working for soldiers.”

Justin Eldridge joined the Marines in 2005 as an engineer and later served an emotionally trying eight-month tour in Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, his bouts with depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder began.

“My husband was a very private man as far as his illness went. He put on a very good face for other people but he struggled. It was a very, very long, arduous process to get him into the VA," Joanna Eldridge explained.

She admitted to having dark thoughts about where his behavior might take him.

“I have to be honest. I felt that something like this may happen somewhere down the road simply because of how bad his injuries were," she said. "I was 31 when he passed and [had] four small kids. It really was a very difficult transition. We’re very lucky to have so much support from my family and my friends."

Joanna Eldridge said she feels she has an obligation to attend the State of the Union to rally support for other military families affected by the terrors of war.

Blumenthal has presented legislation for the second straight year that, if passed, would provide millions of dollars to doctors and mental health professionals, as well as increased research into health issues facing veterans.

“I think there needs to be more help. I think there needs to be different kinds of help. I think they need to be researching more into PTSD and traumatic brain injury because most of the time those are going hand in hand, and the correlation between those and how they affect the soldiers, the marines and the sailors coming home,” Joanna Eldridge said.

She said if her story helps another family somewhere that's dealing with similar issues, her trip to Washington will be worthwhile.

“My number one priority with this is to get veterans help because I do not want to see another family go through what my family went through," she said. "To see children deal with this type of loss is just heartbreaking.”



Photo Credit: Joanna Eldridge]]>
<![CDATA[Gov. Touts "Massive" 30-Year Transportation Plan]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:06:32 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/malloy+transportation+presser.JPG

Gov. Dannel Malloy held a news conference Tuesday morning to announce "massive" and "comprehensive" long-term transportation plan coming within the next few weeks. 

Malloy stood alongside Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and other state and local officials in downtown New Haven to address the 30-year plan.

The governor did not mention specifics during the briefing but said the plan includes roads, bridges, buses, rails and alternative transportation, as well as walking and bike trails.

“What we are in the process of doing is trying to judge whether Connecticut wants to be best in class in transportation or not,” Malloy said during the news conference. “In the coming weeks, we will roll out a comprehensive plan that takes us over the next 30 years, from where we are, where transportation is holding our state back, where employers are deciding not to come to portions of our state because of transportation issues… and change it.”   

The state plan will comprise a four-to-five year "gear up," and months of discussion, Malloy said.

"We'll see whether the Legislature or the people of Connecticut indicate... they want to stop talking about transportation and actually doing something about it," Malloy said.

Harp also discussed efforts city officials are making to improve transportation in New Haven, where one out of every four families lacks access to a car.

"What we see on the ground through our city is that sustainable transportation also means being able to walk and bike to work," Harp said. "This is important, not just for residents with access to a car, but also for residents who cannot afford to drive."

She said New Haven is planning to expand on the 40 miles of bike lanes that already exist in the city so residents can better access essential services and workplaces.

"For instance, this year, we'll reach into the neighborhoods again with a 2.1-mile cycle track along Edgewood Avenue," Harp explained.

When the project is done, it will connect Westville, Edgewood and Dwight to the central business district.

"New Haven is the core of a significant, overwhelming almost, amount of investment today, but still needs more in the vision of a sustainable, expanded system of transportation by all modes to and through New Haven as where we're going," Redeker said.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Va. Gov. Suffers 7 Broken Ribs in Fall From Horse]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 18:09:49 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/0115-mcauliffe.jpg

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is recovering from injuries he received after being thrown from a horse while on a family trip to Africa, several media outlets are reporting.

McAuliffe is being treated for seven broken ribs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Spokesman Brian Coy says the governor was with his family in Tanzania over the Christmas holidays when the riding accident occurred.

The governor had been working since his return from Africa and expected the injury to heal on its own, but Coy said doctors identified increased fluid around his lungs that required treatment.

The governor is expected to spend two to three days recovering.

"My husband is resting comfortably after a successful procedure this afternoon. He and I want to thank the outstanding medical team at VCU Medical Center who just informed us that he is expected to recover well and get back to his full schedule within the next few days," Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe said Monday. "We would also like to thank the many well-wishers from all across Virginia who expressed concern and support for Terry as he continues to recover."

Coy stressed that the injury is not a "dire thing'' and the governor has been on the job since the accident. That includes delivering the State of the Commonwealth last week.
 


 

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<![CDATA[State of the Union: What To Expect]]> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 11:31:05 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/NC_sotupreview0119001_1500x845.jpg President Obama's upcoming State of The Union address is already being met by Republican criticism.]]> <![CDATA[Chicago Teen Who Asked Santa for Safety Invited to State of the Union]]> Tue, 20 Jan 2015 18:54:02 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/217*120/letter+to+santa+safety.jpg

A South Side Chicago teen who wrote a letter to Santa asking for safety and received a reply from President Barack Obama has now earned an invitation from the first lady.

Michelle Obama invited 13-year-old Malik Bryant to be one of her guests for the State of the Union address Tuesday night.

It is customary for the first lady to invite guests to the speech, and the guests are often mentioned in the president's address.

Malik, who lives in Englewood, wrote a letter as part of a charitable Letters to Santa program in Chicago in December that said, "All I ask for is for safety. I just want to be safe." The letter made its way to the president, who wrote Malik a response.

"I want to offer you a few words of encouragement," the president wrote, according to the Sun-Times. "Each day, I strive to ensure communities like yours are safe places to dream, discover, and grow. Please know your security is a priority for me in everything I do as President. If you dare to be bold and creative, work hard every day, and care for others, I'm confident you can achieve anything you imagine. I wish you and your family the very best for the coming year, and I will be rooting for you."

Malik will be seated with the first lady, Dr. Jill Biden and Valerie Jarrett, the senior advisor to the president, along with Michelle Obama's other guests from across the country.

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<![CDATA[Romney Hints at Presidential Run]]> Sat, 17 Jan 2015 19:15:09 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/mitt+romney+rnc+011615.JPG

Mitt Romney is addressing the GOP's winter meeting delegates aboard the USS Midway Museum on the Embarcadero Friday evening, a week after he told donors he would consider another presidential run in 2016.

The early meeting of party leaders looking ahead to the 2016 Republican presidential primary season has been creating nationwide buzz in Coronado this week. But a big question is whether La Jolla's high-profile homeowner could become the party's nominee again.

Romney hinted at another run as he addressed the party’s winter meeting delegates aboard the USS Midway Museum Friday evening, saying he is "giving some serious consideration to the future." 

“In the last few days, the most frequently asked question I get is, ‘What does Ann think about all this?’" Romney joked. "She believes people get better with experience, and heaven knows I have experience running for president.”

His chances of making a third time running for president a success have been the subject of recent poor-mouthing in media outlets and among prospective rivals.

But former California GOP chairman Ron Nehring said the former Massachusetts governor’s doubters shouldn't overlook this: "He has universal name ID across the country. He has a large existing political enterprise of donors, supporters, volunteers, activists. Everybody knows who he is. So obviously he would go into a race with a tremendous number of advantages."

Still, Republican leaders are encouraging a large field of prospects — from household names such as Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Chris Christie to others less known outside the party, but highly regarded within it.

While the heavy hitters are a ways off from declaring candidacy, nearly two dozen possibilities have been mentioned as prospects, and it can't be said that Romney's considered the front-runner at this stage.

In any case, GOP leadership is risk-averse in considering the sharp downside posed by a third straight loss in presidential sweepstakes.

"We have to elect a Republican president,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus told an audience of several hundred party delegates at Hotel del Coronado Friday. "As we move forward in this election cycle, don't ever lose sight of that. It's not about me. It's not about you. It's not about us … 2016 could be a do-or-die moment for our party."

The GOP has seized control of both the House and Senate since Romney lost his 2012 challenge to President Obama.

And party bosses want to make it a clean sweep by taking the White House in 2016, vigorously talking up their chances at the gathering in Coronado.

"The candidates are all speaking at the public events,” said Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County. “But the real excitement happens behind the scenes where there are private meetings, and people get to kick the tires — if you will — of the candidates and the hopefuls."

So what's the pressure that would be left in "the tires" of a Mitt Romney candidacy for the White House, after he finished 4 points behind President Obama in the 2012 popular vote and 23 percent behind in the Electoral College numbers?

It's something that figures to give party leaders pause.

"This is why those people who want to do away with the primaries and just kind of anoint a candidate — they're wrong,” Nehring told NBC 7. “Because in the course of that primary contest, we get to decide: do we want to have a fresh face? Or do we want to go with a candidate who almost won last time?"

Meantime, a prominent local Democrat who's served as press secretary to congressmen and senators including Robert Kennedy cautions that Romney's credentials shouldn't be discounted.

"I think too many people, in judging him, judge him in just a solely political context,” said George Mitrovich, president of the City Club of San Diego. “Which means they don't like his politics. I don't think you can do that. I would not dismiss him as being the nominee of the Republican Party in 2016."

In an interview Friday, Mitrovich pointed to Richard Nixon's being elected president after losing eight years earlier: "So why are we so quick to think that Romney doesn't matter? Romney matters!"

Nonetheless, fresh online postings Friday raised continued raising concerns about Romney's viability as a prospective nominee.

Reports from Mother Jones magazine cited a former 2012 Romney policy adviser wishing that Romney wouldn’t run again, and a “huge new conflict of interest program” stemming from Romney family business ventures.

There have been earlier references to Romney as “a retread … recycled … yesterday’s news” – some speculating that he might meet the fate of the late Gov. Thomas Dewey (R-NJ), who lost presidential elections twice in the 1940s.

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<![CDATA[Mortgage Insurance Reduction Could Spike Home Sales]]> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 20:55:59 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Mortgage_Insurance_Reduction_1200x675_385565763757.jpg

With the Federal Housing Authority reducing fees for agency-backed mortgage insurance plans, more potential home buyers in Connecticut will have more money to spend on housing.

“This is a big deal,” said Norbert Deslauriers, interim director of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. “We did about 60 percent of our mortgages FHA insured and we expect that number to go up for 2015.”

Mortgage insurance is required if a home buyer places a down payment on a house that is less than 20 percent of the home’s value. The insurance acts as protection for the lender, not the home buyer, to ensure that the entire mortgage will be paid off.

The announced change from the Obama administration could lead to savings anywhere from $600-$1,000 per year for individual homeowners.

“This step means real money in people’s pockets to spend on things they want and will drive the economy because consumer spending on home buying and everything that goes into a home are the Launchpad for our economy,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who, along with more than a dozen other Democrats, urged such a change at the Capitol.

Realtors are excited about what the reduction means for home sales.

“That mortgage premium can make a difference on if someone even qualifies for a loan or not so that’s one of the major components of having it reduced,” said Linda Fercodini, a real estate agent in Wolcott.

Fercodini said the industry is referring to 2015 as “the year of the first-time home buyer,” which she says so far rings true, at least in her office.

“The calls coming into the office have been incredible," she said. "The agents are all very busy out there right now.”

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<![CDATA[Segarra Challenger Says Hartford Needs New Leadership]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 18:47:33 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/6pbroninstill011515max00000000.jpg

For a Yale Law School graduate, Rhodes Scholar and former adviser to Connecticut's governor, Luke Bronin certainly looked the part as he stood in front of Hartford City Hall to address his candidacy for Hartford mayor.

Dressed in a red-and-blue spotted tie and a light blue suit, Bronin laid out part of his vision for Hartford in an interview Thursday afternoon.

“We need a city hall that works better," Bronin said with a firm but quiet tone. "We need city government that’s more responsive, that’s held accountable and that’s a little more focused on getting things done.”

Bronin is the first official challenger to Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, who announced last week that he would seek a re-election.

Just last month, Bronin ended his tenure with Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration, where he served as chief legal adviser, opting to become a partner in a Hartford law firm instead.

Bronin said he wouldn't be a micro-manager in any sense, but added that he thinks Hartford needs a mayor who will be very hands-on in making sure things get done properly.

"I would have every intention of assembling a team that’s trustworthy, that works hard every single day, and I would hold their feet to the fire," he said. "And if things aren’t moving fast enough, they will be held accountable.”

Bronin used the development of a $60-million minor league baseball stadium as an example of a project that hasn't gone as smoothly as it should have.

"I would have handled the project differently. It's going better now, and that credit goes to Shawn Wooden and the city council," he said. "Hartford has to make sure it's getting what it's supposed to get."

“We need to make sure that we don’t end up with another situation like we had at Adriaen’s Landing, where there was a convention center built, with so much other land that remained vacant for so many years,” Bronin added.

The candidate also has plans to improve education. He said that while some schools like magnet and charter facilities have being doing better than in the past, a "two-tiered system" remains in place and the city has to focus on investing in neighborhood schools.

Hartford's voting population consists of predominantly minorities, and Bronin, who is white, said he has faith in Hartford voters and believes they're in favor of fresh and innovative ideas, not just someone who looks like them.

“I think one of the beautiful things about this city is that it is a culturally diverse, ethnically diverse city, and I think the people of Hartford are going to vote for the next mayor of this city who can fulfill the promise this city holds,” Bronin said.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Millionaires Make Up Half of Congress: Report]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 16:32:59 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/capitol+generic+federal+government+generic.jpg

Congress is getting richer and seeing its number of millionaire members grow, as average Americans continue to struggle to recover from years of economic distress, according to a new report.

The median net worth of a member of Congress hit nearly $1.03 million by the end of 2013, an analysis of financial disclosure forms by the Center for Responsive Politics found. That figure, up 2.5 percent fron the previous year, makes the body's average elected representative 18 times richer than the average American household, which one recent study found was worth about $56,000 the same year.

In all, Center for Responsive Politics identified 271 millionaires elected to federal office— about half the total membership of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. That's up slighly from the year before, when the group counted  at least 268 millionaires.

 “At a time when income inequality is much debated, the representatives we choose are overwhelmingly affluent,” CRP’s Executive Director Sheila Krumholz said in a statement. “Whether voters elect them because they are successful or because people of modest means do not run, or for other reasons, is unclear, but struggling Americans should not assume that their elected officials understand their circumstances.“

The Senate is the wealthier of the two bodies, with a median net worth of $2.97 million compared to the House of Representatives' $843,000.

GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of California led both houses with an estimated net worth of $448.4 million. At $254 million, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was the wealthiest senator, the group found.

Not all members boast anywhere close to those nine-figure sums, though. About two dozen members, including Rep. David Valadao, a Republican from California who was named Congress' least wealthy member, reported being in the red.

Click here to read the full report.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Proposal Would Allow for Sale of Tesla Cars]]> Thu, 15 Jan 2015 14:14:05 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/209*120/10-09-2014-tesla-model-s-470486031.jpg

Connecticut lawmakers will consider passing a law allowing for the sale of Tesla Motors cars in the state during the current session of the General Assembly.

Tesla historically has not sold cars like other automotive manufacturers through traditional dealerships. Instead, the car manufacturer maintains owned-and-operated retailers in 22 states, selling directly to customers. Twenty-six states have outright bans on direct car sales.

"It's a new way of doing business," explained state Sen. Art Linares, of Westbrook, who is proposing the measure and recently purchased a Tesla himself.

"If somebody wants to buy a Tesla, they’re going to buy a Tesla, and right now that’s what’s happening, but they’re going to New York to do it,” Linares added.

New York and Massachusetts allow for the sales of Tesla automobiles.

Connecticut has 270 new car dealers, and the association is on the record against direct sales of the cars from Tesla.

Jim Fleming represents the dealers and their 15,000 employees through the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association.

"They make a great product," Fleming said, of Tesla Motors. “We would love to see them sold in Connecticut through the franchise system under all of the same rules all of the other dealers have followed.”

Fleming cited serious issues associated with car shoppers buying directly from manufacturers, which has never been done before.

"I think it puts them at risk, which is why we have franchise laws in Connecticut, and I think it will be anti-competitive,” Fleming said.

Tesla cars are all electric and are powered by numerous lithium-ion batteries on their undercarriages.

Telsa models have zero emissions, and the company has installed charging stations all over the country, including along Interstates 95 and 84 in Connecticut.

There is a Tesla service center in Milford and a showroom in Niantic, but purchases cannot be made at either location. According to the company, 500 Tesla cars are driving around Connecticut.

"We don't use dealers," Tesla Vice President of Regulator Affairs Jim Chen said Wednesday. "We are not looking to upend the entire franchise system. What we're trying to do is provide consumers a choice and purchase of their Tesla vehicles."

Chen said any concerns from dealers or elsewhere are unfounded and compared Telsa to Apple as another example of direct consumer purchasing.

"We received a 99 out of 100 from Consumer Reports on customer satisfaction," he said. "That's not us; that's an independent publication."

Richard Jordan purchased his Tesla S in March 2014.

"I love the acceleration, not having to stop at a gas station ever again and just how smooth it rides,” he said.

Jordan called the company directly and a representative filled out an online order form.

“Dealing with Tesla has been easy as ordering anything," Jordan said. "If you order anything from Amazon, it’s that easy.”

He said for his next Tesla, he would love the opportunity to purchase one in the state where he actually lives.

"It would make things much easier," Jordan said.

Fleming said in a statement Thursday that "local Connecticut dealers are ready and willing to sell Tesla immediately."

"We currently offer many electric vehicles through our dealerships and we are strong supporters of growing that market," the statement continues. "We don't understand why [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk wants to introduce legislation that would circumvent the auto laws and rules that we all follow, particularly since this past week Musk said at the Automotive News World Congress he is open to working with franchise dealers."

Chen said the company has a lot at stake and direct sales are the company's business model, whether the sale takes place in California or Connecticut.

"If we don't get it right, as the newest car company, then we're history," he said.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tolls on the Table in Connecticut General Assembly]]> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 16:19:29 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/toll-booth1.jpg

The five-letter word that hasn't reared its head in Connecticut in decades could be making a comeback: tolls.

The state's neighbors to the north and southwest have made billions off of tolls, and Connecticut could become the next state to start charging drivers to use state roads.

“Border tolls would raise a substantial amount of money for this state," said Tony Guerrera, who chairs the Transportation Committee.

Guerrera said he wants to see the state monetize out-of-state drivers who enter and exit the state. In light of the state's need for vast public transit improvements and the governor's call for a transportation overhaul, Guerrera said tolls are the logical next step to explore.

“Our gas tax isn’t going to cut it anymore," he said.

Guerrera added that any approved toll plan must include either a reduction in the state's 25-cent-per-gallon gas tax.

"The two go hand in hand," he said.

But members of the General Assembly who live along the borders allege any plan that targets those regions doesn't make sense to them.

"It's a Band-Aid," said Rep. David Alexander, who represents Enfield.

Guerrera said he estimated that tolls could range in cost for drivers from $3 to $7.

Alexander contends that his constituents would be unfairly targeted.

“It’s not fair to ask my residents who travel three or four miles who go out to eat on a Friday night in the Springfield area to pay a toll when someone in Rocky Hill could go seven or eight miles and not pay a toll," Alexander explained.

Nothing has been approved by committees or the General Assembly, but Guerrera said he expected to see a public hearing on the proposal in the near future.

"We'll have a better idea of costs and what everything may look like once we hear from the experts," he said.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New Train Cars Coming to New Canaan Branch]]> Tue, 13 Jan 2015 19:10:12 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/metro_north_still_011315.jpg

The imagery was exactly what Gov. Dannel Malloy was looking for as he walked the aisle of a brand new train car making its way from Springdale to New Canaan as part of the Metro-North New Canaan Branch on Tuesday afternoon.

The governor said it represents the future of what Connecticut transportation will look like if the state makes all of the necessary investments.

“What we have to do is unwind the damage that has been done by underinvestment over two generations in transportation in Connecticut," Malloy told reporters during a press conference on the platform ahead of the train's arrival.

The state spent $2.2 million apiece on 380 rail cars them that will be integrated into the railroad over the next four years. The new cars present a welcomed upgrade along the branch lines.

Rep. William Tong, a Democrat from Stamford, said he's completely behind the governor and his transportation overhaul and said it's telling that the plan is so detailed as to include some of the smaller Metro-North stations.

“This New Canaan quarter, this line, this is our lifeline to Connecticut’s economy and it’s our lifeline to maybe the most important economic center in the world, New York City,” Tong said.

Republicans are also on board with the governor's vision.

"I absolutely agree with him on this issue," said Rep. Tom Odea, of New Canaan. "The transportation system is strangling the economy and I think if we improve our infrastructure on transportation we will see it increase in the jobs as long as we make our state better for economic growth.”

Republicans and Democrats have said they want to discuss paying for what will surely be a multibillion dollar project eventually.

"We have to talk about easing taxes and making this a more business friendly state," Odea said.

Malloy has said he wants to have a "comprehensive" discussion about the state's transportation needs before the topic of how to pay for it is addressed.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[PURA Commissioners Want Autonomy]]> Wed, 14 Jan 2015 17:27:20 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/connecticut+state+capitol1.jpg

The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority is pushing for more independence in the wake of a 2011 merger that put it under the aegis of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

In a memo to members of the Malloy administration outlining PURA’s 2014 report and 2015 agenda, the three commissioners cite a need for “radical restructuring” in 2015.

“Work remains to be done to bring PURA to where it needs to be as a serious, independent, professional, respected and efficient regulatory body,” the PURA commissioners wrote.

While the memo applauds DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee for working to improve relations with PURA, the commissioners outline problems they say are a direct result of the agency’s ties to DEEP.

“PURA believes we urgently need to change our structural relationship with DEEP,” the memo says. “The inclusion of the public utility regulatory authority within DEEP was an unusual step, one not taken elsewhere in the United States, and one that should be discontinued.”

Problems include DEEP’s control over PURA’s budget and personnel management, staffing cuts resulting in an “aggressive reduction” in the size of the agency and trouble agreeing on “human resource decisions,” according to the memo.

“Now entering the fourth year of experimenting with the placement of PURA within DEEP, much of the relationship remains dysfunctional and ethical strains are obvious despite the best efforts and good will of all involved,” the commissioners wrote.

Gov. Dannel Malloy responded with skepticism to the agency’s demands.

“I’m not in agreement with it,” he said. “I’ve been in government a long time. I used to people wanting to have their own empire. I don’t believe that’s what’s necessary. I think we need to constantly be looking for greater efficiencies.”

Malloy urged the commissioners to resign if they’re unhappy with the state of affairs.
 

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<![CDATA[Lawmakers Consider Statewide Ban on Plastic Shopping Bags]]> Mon, 12 Jan 2015 19:05:14 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/tlmd_plastic_bag_ban_115.gif

Connecticut lawmakers are in talks to reintroduce legislation that would either ban the use of disposable plastic bags at grocery stores and similar retailers or impose new restrictions on them.

“They’re such a waste,” said State Rep. Jack Hennessy, of Bridgeport, who has supported the legislation in the past.

Approximately 400 grocery stores in Connecticut would likely be affected under any proposal.

“Now is not the time,” said Stan Sorkin, president of the Connecticut Grocery Association. “Especially in today's economic environment, we hear about a lot of the middle class to lower-income families who are still suffering in terms of no salaries and no growth in disposable income and that's a cost.”

Hennessy, who’s been involved in environmental matters throughout his years in the General Assembly, said Connecticut has the opportunity to get rid of something that becomes an eyesore in the state’s urban areas.

"They become an unsightly nuisance on the side of the roads, requiring state and municipal employees to use state taxpayer dollars to clean up these bags that are not biodegradable,” Hennessy said.

Westport has had regulations in place since 2008 that ban most plastic bags in grocery stores and similar retailers, including pharmacies.

Last year, California became the first state in the country to place restrictions on plastic bags and required retailers to charge 10 cents per bag at grocery stores and pharmacies. Grocery stores pocket the money and were provided more than $2 million in state assistance to help with the transition.

Shoppers who received assistance paying for groceries do not have to pay the fees.

Kathy Droney, of West Hartford, said she’s been using reusable bags for years and called the bags “so annoying.”

"Getting to use reusable bags is so easy and why build up all this plastic?” she said.

Sarah Howland, who had several plastic bags in her grocery cart said, “I normally use reusable ones but a law would definitely force me to use my other ones.”

Sorkin said he wants the conversation to be a reasonable one and for lawmakers to avoid jumping to conclusions, and said grocery stores have always been open to adjustments.

“We’ve been ahead of the game with environmental issues in the past,” Sorkin said. “We were at the forefront of recycling cardboard.”

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<![CDATA[State Approves $5.75M in Funding to Expand Rail Lines]]> Mon, 12 Jan 2015 19:37:09 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/216*120/Railroad+Crossing+Train+Generic.JPG

The governor has announced $5.75 million in funding to revamp the 62-mile rail line spanning from New Haven to Springfield and build new stations along the Metro-North New Haven Line.

According to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office, the State Bond Commission approved the funding Monday morning. The money will be combined with a previously approved sum of $4 million.

Funding will allow the state to build new stations along the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail, now called the CTrail Hartford Line, and improve existing stations in Windsor and Windsor Locks. The money will also allow plans to move forward for the design of a potential station in Hamden, the governor’s office said.

According to the NHHS Rail website, when all is said and done, trains are expected to run at speeds of up to 110 mph, cutting travel time from New Haven to Springfield to 73 minutes. The corridor will include stations in New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Hartford, Berlin, Windsor, Windsor Locks and Springfield, with trains running every 30 minutes during peak travel times. It will also provide service to New York City, Boston and Vermont.

The state Department of Transportation is seeking a service provider to help operate and maintain the CTrail Hartford Line beginning at the end of 2016.

As for the Metro-North New Haven Line, funding will allow the state to build a new station in Orange and construct the long-discussed Barnum Station in Bridgeport. The state also expects to make improvements to the existing Merritt Seven Station along the Danbury Branch, the governor’s office said.

"Creating a commuter rail line along the I-91 corridor is part of our transformative transportation vision for Connecticut,” Malloy said in a statement Monday. “This bond authorization will give this important project needed momentum. Completing environmental work and design is what will propel the projects toward reality. This $365 million project will improve the quality of intercity service along the corridor and enhance regional rail connections."

Republicans, however, fear that using bonds to pay for large-scale projects like this one could create lingering debt in the future.

"You're creating money by creating a bigger obligation going down the road for future generations," said State Sen. Scott Frantz, of Greenwich.



Photo Credit: NBC10.com]]>
<![CDATA[Malloy Wants Amendment for Transportation]]> Fri, 09 Jan 2015 21:09:43 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Malloy_Interview_5pm_1200x675_382520899604.jpg

Gov. Dannel Malloy told NBC Connecticut in an exclusive interview Friday that if the state is going to get serious about improving its roads and railroads, then two things must take place.

"We need a real legislative answer on the short-term basis because we can't wait two years to have this discussion, and we can't wait two years to start spending the money, so we need a legislative solution foremost," Malloy explained, "and we need a constitutional solution."

Malloy said the state must protect its Special Transportation Fund from future governors and members of the General Assembly who might be tempted to dip into it.

If the proposed constitutional amendment, which has yet to be drafted and presented to lawmakers, is passed by the Connecticut House and Senate, it will then be on the ballot for the 2016 election.

The governor will also propose a statutory change that would allow some transportation improvements to take place immediately.

"If we don't represent that we're serious about changing our ways, that we're going to make these investments in a very planned way, then I think we're going to lose big time," Malloy said.

He said the changes to transportation are about much more than getting people around the state. According to the governor, the state has “absolutely” lost out on economic development projects, purely because of the its crumbling infrastructure.

Part of the sales pitch for improving the roads and rails, according to Malloy, is to show that there are places in Connecticut ripe for development that aren’t named Stamford and Greenwich.

"I believe that jobs that might have come to Connecticut either moved to or stared in Westchester or moved to northern Jersey," Malloy said.

The governor did not elaborate on a plan to pay for the plan, which includes widening all of Interstate 95 and could easily cost tens of billions of dollars. He wouldn’t rule out the notion of building tolls and charging some drivers to travel in Connecticut.

“We have to have the conversation,” Malloy said. “I challenge people to see all of the out-of-state license plates on 84, 91 and 95. If we're going to raise money, the people who use our roads should be contributing. If we're going to make a better system for all of our residents and non-residents alike, non-residents should be contributing."

On the issue of the state’s budget, the governor said he’s had numerous meetings on crafting the two-year spending plan.

He’ll address the General Assembly next month with his spending plan, which he said will be a “tough” budget to assemble.

"Revenues, nationally, in state after state after state are growing far less rapidly than at any similar time since the Second World War, which means that states have to change the way they do business," the governor said.

Malloy also shot down any notion that he would leave office before the end of his second term, with the 2016 presidential race already stealing headlines.

"I'm going to be governor for the next four years. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I love the job. I love to tackle big issues and we're going to do it," he said.

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<![CDATA[Celebrations Conclude With Inaugural Ball]]> Wed, 07 Jan 2015 23:02:33 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/2015+inaugural+ball.jpg

After a day of ceremonies and celebration, state officials walked the red carpet Wednesday night, escorted by the Governor's Guard, to kick off the 2015 Connecticut Inaugural Ball.

Hundreds looked on as part of a tradition first adopted in colonial times.

"We've been doing this since the late 1700s, and it's tradition we've been doing ever since then," explained ball chairman Major Lee Fongemie.

Aside from a change of venue to the Connecticut Convention Center, much has stayed the same since the First Company Governor's Foot Guard began hosting the gala centuries ago.

"It's so easy to lose tradition, and this is one of our mainstays, is to keep some of it alive today," said Lehmann.

Some 2,000 people attended the soiree to celebrate the start of Gov. Dannel Malloy's second term. NBC Connecticut's Gerry Brooks served as Master of Ceremony.

"The First Company Governor's Foot Guard was formed in 1771. How many states can say that? Since 1791 they've been charged with organizing the inaugural festivities, so this is just a continuation of history. And it's such an honor to be a part of it," said Brooks.

Smart tuxedos and flowing gowns added to the glitz and glam that marked the end of a momentous day for Connecticut.

The governor kept his words brief in addressing the crowd.

"This is a night of celebration, of getting to see one another spending some time honoring those public servants, Republicans and Democrats who took the oath of office today," said Malloy.

At $400,000, the ball wasn't cheap, but officials said admission of $200 per person covered the cost.

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