<![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 Sat, 28 Feb 2015 15:51:57 -0500 Sat, 28 Feb 2015 15:51:57 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[New Haven a Key Part of Transportation Overhaul]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 23:04:00 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/new+haven+transpo+presser.JPG

One of the cornerstones of Gov. Dannel Malloy's transportation proposal is improving infrastructure along the Interstate 95 corridor.

Widening I-95 in both directions from New Haven could transform how people view the city and compare it to others in the region, according to New Haven economic development officials.

“The extra lane going all the way from New Haven to Greenwich to the New York border will change people’s perception of being 70 miles from New York City," said Matt Nemerson, who handles economic development for the city.

Increasing travel speeds and adding a lane could make New Haven closer to suburbs just by improving access.

Nemerson said just getting people through Greenwich and Bridgeport faster would make travel much easier and better for recruiting employers.

"If we can get it down to 45 minutes, it means that the high quality of life and the low cost of real estate means that we can compete with White Plains, with Stamford, and all of those places and all of the businesses that need to be back and forth to Westchester and the downtown New York area," said Nemerson.

Malloy said he wants to replace the electrical system along the Metro-North New Haven Line, adding that the ramp-up of his $100 billion transportation proposal includes a commitment to rail because plans have already been complete.

“We'll continue as fast as we can, the modernization of the Metro-North line. The Walk Bridge (in Norwalk) is paid for," Malloy said.

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<![CDATA[NJ Officer Meets President Obama]]> Thu, 26 Feb 2015 13:39:24 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/216*120/Officer+Obama+Camden.jpg

Although cops are used to being called to important gatherings, a New Jersey officer was shocked to discover who she would be meeting at an upcoming event.

Officer Virginia Matias of the Camden County Police was told by Chief Scott Thompson that she would be meeting President Barack Obama.

“He called me and told me I would have the honor of meeting the president,” the 28-year-old said. “It was unreal, I thought ‘is this a joke?’”

Matias went to the White House and met Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in at the White House on Feb. 24 along with five other officers across the U.S. who were nominated by the heads of their respective departments.

“As soon as they opened the door to the Oval Office he was right there with a smile on his face,” Matias said. “He was very welcoming, I felt like I was at home.”

Obama met with the officers to thank them for their service and discuss how law enforcement can work with communities to ensure public safety.

“We’re a model of community policing, so he wanted to get our feedback on what’s working,” Matias said.

Matias was motivated by a tragic event in her teens to become an officer.

“When I was around 17, I had an uncle who was murdered in North Camden while he was operating his bodega in 2003,” Matias said. "At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a part of a change in my city."


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<![CDATA[Tolls on the Table in Transportation Committee]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 19:47:04 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/179*120/PHI+headlights+busy+highway.jpg

Lawmakers heard some of the pros and cons of implementing tolls at the state border during a public hearing Wednesday.

Tolls have been considered the clubhouse favorite by some top lawmakers as a way to pay for continuing infrastructure needs. They would also help fund the governor's proposed overhaul of highways, trains and bridges, which he announced last week.

Patrick Jones testified on behalf of the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association that a new system of tolls in Connecticut would be modern, without people collecting money at toll booths.

“You’ll use a system of electronic toll collection with overhead gantrys, in which people can pass through the toll without slowing down," Jones told the Transportation Committee on Wednesday.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, who handles budget matters for Gov. Dannel Malloy, said the administration doesn't favor one revenue mechanism over another.

He said tolls are an option, but that the governor's priority is for the legislature to send a proposed constitutional amendment to voters. The amendment would allow them to decide on a "lockbox" to protect revenues meant to pay for transportation.

“The resources, whether they’re raised from tolls or bake sales, or sales taxes, or property taxes or what have you, that those revenues are being dedicated to transportation purposes is very critica,l" Barnes said.

Republicans lined up against the proposal for border tolls, saying they're just a tax. They've said only putting tolls in places where the state sees traffic from neighboring states isn't fair to the residents who live there.

State Sen. Scott Frantz, a Republican from Greenwich, said he even thinks such a specific tolling system wouldn't be constitutional. He also said it could put excess strain on local roads.

“I think It’s amoral to do it to the people that live in those border towns, because we know it’s going to happen," he said. "And people are going to get off and try to avoid the tolls, especially if they’re going to all the way across the state if they know they’re going to get sensed on the other 102 miles of the state, and they’ll take the time to go around."

State Rep. Tony Guerrera, a Democrat from Rocky Hill who has said publicly he thinks tolls are the answer, said the state has to find a way to pay for infrastructure with sagging gas tax revenues.

"We've given the General Assembly a wide range of options today," Guerrera said, referring to different kinds of toll possibilities.

He said the state has to take tolls into consideration.

“Relying on the gas tax is insufficient and we know that, and if we’re serious about redoing 84 or the viaduct, which is going to cost $5 billion, where are we going to get this money? You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure this out,” he said.

A committee vote on the toll measure could take place next month.



Photo Credit: Brian Stablyk]]>
<![CDATA[Runoff for Rahm: Mayor Falls Short]]> Wed, 25 Feb 2015 07:22:19 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/rahm+and+chuy.jpg

Rahm Emanuel failed to clinch another term as Chicago's mayor on Tuesday, setting the stage for an unprecedented runoff election against challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

Results showed the incumbent mayor with about 46 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent-plus-one support he needs to win another term outright. Garcia, a Cook County commissioner, came in second place with 34 percent. 

The results mean the two will face off April 7, a potentially embarrassing result for a high-profile politician who has already spent millions in his re-election bid. It is the first time since the city changed its election system in the 1990s that an incumbent mayor is forced into a runoff. 

"We have come a long way and we have a little bit farther to go," Emanuel told supporters. "This is the first step in a real important journey for our city. To those who voted for me in this election, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. For those who voted for someone else, I hope to earn your confidence and your support in the weeks to come." 

A boisterous Garcia celebrated the outcome as a win over moneyed interests and other powerful forces supporting the incumbent, saying the results show "the people have spoken."

"Nobody thought we’d be here tonight," Garcia said. "They wrote us off; they said we didn’t have a chance. They said we didn’t have any money while they spent millions attacking us. Well, we’re still standing! We’re still running! And we’re gonna win!" 

Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, struggled to rise above 50 support throughout the campaign, even as he outpolled his four lesser-funded and known challengers. A late campaign blitz that blanketed the airwaves and a public appearance last week with President Barack Obama — a move seen as an effort to appeal to undecided African-American voters — couldn’t propel the 55-year-old mayor to victory.

The 55-year-old Democrat anchored his re-election bid on first-term efforts to better the lives of Chicagoans, highlighting pushes to expand access to early childhood education, raise the minimum wage and improve the city’s business climate and infrastructure. But he faced criticism for other major policies pursued during his first term, including his decision to close dozens of schools.

The school closures fueled a tumultuous relationship with the Chicago’s Teachers Union, which went on strike in 2012. The union, which also clashed with Emanuel over other changes to the city’s education system, endorsed Garcia after a brain cancer diagnosis sidelined its own president, Karen Lewis.

Political expert John P. Frendreis said while Garcia is “funny, he’s got a good speaking presence, he’s been around long enough, he’s got this colorful nickname so people kind of know him,” it was the support of the teachers that made the race competitive. 

“It’s really the school controversy, the closure of schools, the continued opening of charter schools and then the ... battle with the CTU and Rahm that has generated any kind of heat in this and has made him even remotely vulnerable,” the political science professor at Loyola University in Chicago, said ahead of Tuesday’s race.

Emanuel's “bare-knuckles” approach to running the city, despite yielding results in some areas, also hurt his standing with some voters, analysts say.

“He’s reasonably good at his job,” Freindreis said. “Now where he has stumbled is that he is a tough guy and he is a bully and sometimes he is just too smart for his own good and so he’s rubbed people the wrong way because he’s not nice.”

Emanuel’s challengers criticized him throughout the campaign for not doing enough to help bring jobs, safer streets and other opportunities to all Chicagoans. Garcia told NBC Chicago he would, to hire a thousand more police officers, reduce class sizes and standardized tests and “invest in neighborhoods to attract manufacturing or industrial-creation jobs.” In addition to the backing from the teachers, he also gained headlines for winning the endorsement of the liberal political group MoveOn.org. The group applauded Tuesday's results as a "huge win for progressives and working families across Chicago." 

Even if Emanuel succeeds in winning a second term in April, some observers say the education initiatives he pushed in his first four years could take a hit in Chicago and beyond.

“Over the next few years you could have mayors, some Democrats and some Republicans, in cities across the nation saying I’m going to pick the kids over the unions,” said Keith Koeneman, author of “First Son: The Biography of Richard M. Daly.”

Check back with NBCChicago.com for more on this developing story. For complete election night coverage, visit the Ward Room blog. 

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<![CDATA[Budget Miscalculation Means Another $55 Million in Cuts]]> Tue, 24 Feb 2015 20:36:38 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/connecticut+state+capitol+building.jpg

The state is bracing for another $55 million in cuts after budget chief Benjamin Barnes announced Tuesday he had made a mistake in crafting the governor's biennial budget, which was rolled out last week.

Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy Management, said his office detected a "potential discrepancy in its calculation of the expenditure cap growth rate for FY 2016."

He said the mistake stemmed from an issue with a vendor that helped calculate the state's spending cap.

According to Barnes, the formula used factored in data from the 2008 recession era, which led to a discrepancy of about $55 million between the actual spending cap and the one factored into Malloy's budget.

A spokesperson for the Office of Policy Management said the General Assembly will need to make an additional $55 million in cuts to account for the error.

"On behalf of the agency, I personally apologize for this discrepancy, and commit to working with [the Office of Fiscal Analysis] and the legislature to identify the adjustments necessary to ensure compliance with the expenditure cap," Barnes said in the statement.

He declined an interview request Tuesday.

It's not yet clear which areas will be affected by the additional cuts.

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<![CDATA[Low-Income Residents May Need to Buy Health Insurance]]> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 19:43:19 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/tlmd_061912reformasaludpng_bim.jpg

One of the major cuts to social services contained in Gov. Dannel Malloy's two-year budget is a change in eligibility for some Medicaid recipients who are covered through either HUSKY or Medicaid.

Children on the program would remain covered even though their parents may need to purchase plans on the Access Health CT exchange.

Roughly 34,000 adults could be forced to purchase health insurance.

Malloy's plan banks on the savings worth $120 million over two years to help balance the budget and to keep spending under the statutorily obligated cap.

"It's still very early in the budget process," said State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, of Milford, who serves as vice chair of the Human Services Committee.

She worries whether families with incomes between $27,000 and $40,000 who are targeted in the budget will even be able to afford to pay premiums and copays for the first time.

“That’s really the question we have to ask," Slossberg said. "What is the real world impact for these populations, and how are we going to address that?”

Advocates for the poor say health outcomes could become worse purely because of requirements leading to new out-of-pocket costs.

“Even if the copay is fairly low – and some of these copays aren’t that low – people don’t go to the doctor when they know they’re going to have to come up with that copay and they have other priorities," said Jane McNichol, with the Legal Resource Assistance Center of Connecticut. “This would be a step backwards that we shouldn’t take.”

Malloy said the budget cut decisions were "tough" and lawmakers have said they will work on crafting a budget that's likely to change over the next several months.

A similar proposal failed in the legislature in 2013.



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Officials Say State Deficit Lower Than Expected]]> Fri, 20 Feb 2015 19:43:50 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/connecticut+state+capitol+building.jpg

The most recent letter from the Office of Policy Management secretary to the state comptroller provides a slightly less bleak budget outlook for Connecticut.

In his monthly letter, budget secretary Benjamin Barnes wrote that the state's operating deficit is projected to be less than January's estimate of $120 million.

The reasoning for the reduction has to do with a settlement dating back to the 2008 recession that will see Connecticut take in approximately $36 million in one-time revenues. The settlement has to do with securities ratings.

The other reason for the downward deficit figure pertains to the second round of rescissions that Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered in January. He ordered the first round in November.

The governor announced his two-year budget proposal earlier this week, which included $590 million in cuts to state services in the 2016 fiscal year.

The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis projects a deficit of more than $1 billion in each of the next two fiscal years.

Barnes said the state anticipates increased tax receipts in April, which would help toward closing the current year budget gap.

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<![CDATA[Towns Could Be on Hook for Resident Trooper Costs]]> Thu, 19 Feb 2015 20:10:02 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/BudgetTroopersPIC00000000.jpg

Towns across Connecticut received mainly good news from Gov. Dannel Malloy's biennial budget, which included flat funding for municipalities.

However, included in about $600 million in cuts is a change in the cost-sharing for resident state troopers, which contribute to law enforcement in about 40 towns.

"We actually hoped this year the state would take back some of the costs, but they went the other way," said Brooklyn First Selectman Rick Ives.

Brooklyn received its first resident trooper in 1993 at a cost of about $30,000 per year. Ten years ago, the town got its second trooper, leading to increased costs but increased coverage as well. In 2016, the cost of two troopers will be about $325,000, according to the governor's budget.

The state covered 30 percent of the cost in recent years, while 70 percent is covered by the town. Ives said that losing a trooper could mean a gap during certain parts of the day.

"It’s really been good to have 12 hour of the day or at some points, 18 hours of the day covered," Ives said.

State Sen. Beth Bye, who chairs the Appropriations Committee in the Connecticut General Assembly, said she and others will examine all of the governor's proposals carefully.

“In these tough times, we’ve got to spend our dollars smartly and we need to make sure we’re funding things fairly," said Bye, a Democrat who represents West Hartford.

Ives said starting a police department in Brooklyn wouldn't be feasible given current budget conditions. He added that troopers themselves are more than just law enforcement, they're members of the community who contribute in myriad ways.

"They help out at events. They really become a part of the community and that’s really what this neighborhood policing is about," he said.

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<![CDATA[Governor Warns State to Expect Hundreds of Millions in Cuts]]> Wed, 18 Feb 2015 13:23:35 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/malloypic02172015.jpg

Gov. Dannel Malloy said unequivocally on Tuesday that the state budget will be whittled down significantly from last year's numbers.

“There’s more than enough pain to go around, and they are serious cuts. There’s no way around it," Malloy said.

He didn't offer up details on what those cuts will look like or which agencies will see the biggest reductions but did say he doesn't have a choice given the state's current revenue situation.

Nonpartisan budget analysts have projected an operating deficit of over $1 billion next fiscal year and an even greater deficit in the following year.

The governor will present his two-year budget proposal to a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly on Wednesday.

“Obviously, I have to present what I believe is a balanced budget and by the time we’re done in June, we have to have a balanced budget, and so we will," he said.

Cuts could have an impact on state funds for municipalities, funds they rely on during brutal winters like the one Connecticut is experiencing now.

"Right now I have this year in public works the same people that I had in 1989 but I have 100 more miles of road," South Windsor Town Manager Matthew Galligan said. "I have more parks to take care of more streets to clean and we’ve used all the technology so any cut to our staff or our services would devastate our local government."

The governor has used the weeks since his inauguration to drum up support for several proposals, including a transportation overhaul, criminal justice reforms aimed at non-violent offenders, and more recently, a cut to the state's sales tax rate.

Malloy used the sales tax issue as a way to start the conversation about what he referred to as "re-stacking the tax code."

“The budget is a tough document. It cuts hundreds of millions from a same service budget comparison," he said. "On the other hand, I like to get a lot of things done at the same time and re-stacking our tax system to be fairer to the middle class seems to be fairer to the middle class right now.”

The governor said there would be "some surprises" but didn't allude to specifics such as potential tax hikes for wealthier individuals, which have been proposed in other Democratic-controlled states as well as by the president.

He said sales tax cut over the next two years would put more money in people's pockets while simultaneously adding more revenue to the state's coffers by virtue of increased spending in-state, and by urging more out-of-state shoppers to stop in Connecticut.

A cornerstone of the budget address will be the governor's multi-billion-dollar plan to overhaul all elements of transportation in Connecticut. He has spoken about the need for an "adult conversation" on the topic since the middle of January.

“I think they’re going to look at what we’re saying about transportation [and] take a deep breath because our under-investment in transportation has been staggering over the long term over the past 50 years," Malloy said, "and I’m actually going to show you what you need to spend if we’re going to straighten this mess out.”

The governor is expected to provide details on how to pay for the overhaul as well as what his proposed constitutional amendment will look like.

On education, the governor said his budget proposal will "stay the course" on reforms he supported during his first term.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Senate Democrats Propose Bigger Tax Break for Vets]]> Tue, 17 Feb 2015 18:59:15 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Vetrans00000000.jpg

Veterans who retire after at least 20 years of active duty must declare 50 percent of their military retirement pay on their state income tax returns, but under a bill introduced today by top State Senate Democrat Martin Looney, they would no longer have to declare any of it.

"Thirteen states with a state income tax now offer a 100 percent exemption for military retirement pay, including our neighbors in Massachusetts and New York," State Sen. Looney told the legislature's Veterans Affairs Committee.

Members of veterans service organizations such as VFW state commander Greg Smith attended a news conference alongside State Sen. Looney and other Senate Democrats on Tuesday.

"This bill really shows those folks that have served our country and the communities throughout Connecticut how important the citizens of Connecticut think they are," Smith said.

Veterans' activists and the Democrats painted the bill as an effort to keep veterans from leaving Connecticut in favor of states that have no income tax.

A Republican member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, State Rep. Pam Staneski, declined to comment on the bill but said she hoped it would be something she could support.
 

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<![CDATA[Congresswoman DeLauro on Delegation Trip to Cuba]]> Tue, 17 Feb 2015 12:06:59 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/congresswoman+rosa+delauro.jpg

Several Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives will be heading to Cuba on Tuesday for the first delegation trip since the change in policy governing U.S. relations with the Caribbean nation and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is one of them.

“This delegation travels to Cuba in friendship and to build upon the announcement of U.S. normalization of relations and other initiatives announced by President Obama,” House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “This delegation will work to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade.”

The delegation will meet with Cuban government officials, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, local community leaders and representatives, and American officials at the U.S. Interests Section.

Other members of the delegation making the trip include U.S Rep. Eliot Engel, D-New York; U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota; U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California; U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-New York; U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts; U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York; and U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island.

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<![CDATA[Hartford to Break Ground on Downtown North Baseball Stadium]]> Tue, 17 Feb 2015 07:50:30 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/rock+cats+generic.jpg

It has been 60 years since professional baseball was played in the capital city of Hartford and the groundbreaking ceremony happening on Tuesday for the new Downtown North baseball park that will house the Rock Cats symbolizes its return. 

The stadium is slated to open in April 2016 between Interstates 84 and 91 for the start of the Minor League Baseball season.

An online contest to rename the Rock Cats will also begin come the start of the ceremony.

The ceremony will start at 1:30 p.m. Team owner Josh Solomon, Mayor Pedro Segarra and City Council President Shawn Wooden are expected to be there.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Hartford City Councilman Will Run for Mayor]]> Mon, 16 Feb 2015 11:46:23 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/Joel+Cruz+edited.jpg

A Hartford city councilman announced Monday that he's running for mayor.

Councilman Joel Cruz said that he's unsure whether he'll run as a Democrat or to represent the Working Families Party.

He'll be up against incumbent Mayor Pedro Segarra.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Governor Proposes Lower 5.95% Sales Tax]]> Mon, 16 Feb 2015 15:12:14 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/shopping-generic_2.jpg

Gov. Dannel Malloy wants to cut the state sales tax to 5.95 percent, which would be the lowest level since 1971.

To lower the tax, Malloy would eliminate the sales tax exemption for clothing, which was scheduled to begin on July 1. It would not, however, affect “Sales Tax Free Week” in August, when no sales tax is charged on clothing that costs less than $100.

“My goal is to support, stand with, and expand Connecticut’s middle class. By reforming our tax system, we’ll be able to lower the cost of almost all items – for everyone,” Malloy said in a statement. “Our economy continues to improve, and the state is seeing the largest private-sector job growth since 1998. By streamlining and simplifying our sales tax structure, we can give working families the lowest sales tax level in four decades.”

Malloy will be announcing the budget on Wednesday, which includes a plan to reduce the sales tax to 6.2 percent on Nov. 1, 2015, and down again to 5.95 percent on April 1, 2017.

According to his office, the lower sales tax rates would save residents $70 million in fiscal year 2016, $155 million in fiscal year 2017, $300 million in fiscal year 2018, $311 million in fiscal year 2019, and $323 million in fiscal year 2020.

Connecticut’s sales tax was 6 percent from 1991 to 2011, between 7 and 8 percent from 1976 to 1991, and 6 percent in 1975, a news release from the governor says.

Malloy is scheduled to present his budget proposal on Wednesday.
 



Photo Credit: clipart.com]]>
<![CDATA[Governor Proposes Longer Liquor Store Hours, Lower Prices]]> Fri, 13 Feb 2015 18:00:51 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/liquor_bottles_alcohol_generic.jpg

Gov. Dannel Malloy is proposing a plan to extend liquor store hours, cut prices on alcohol and increase the number of permits sellers can obtain.

Malloy made the announcement on Friday morning on the Chaz and AJ radio show, which airs on WPLR, 95.9 The Fox and 102.9 The Whale.

The according to the CT Mirror, Malloy would allow stores to stay open for an extra hour, increase the number of store permits one owner can hold from three to six and keep minimum bottle pricing, but allow for discounting.

Liquor sales would be allowed until 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 p.m. on Sundays, according to the Mirror. Liquor stores are currently open until 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Malloy cited the difference in prices between alcohol in Connecticut and neighboring Massachusetts and Rhode Island.



Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS]]>
<![CDATA[Philly Chosen as 2016 DNC Host]]> Thu, 12 Feb 2015 19:51:07 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/philly+skyline+generic+camden+waterfront+sunset+comcast+liberty+place.jpg

The 2016 Democratic National Convention will be held in Philadelphia, party leaders announced Thursday.

Philadelphia beat out two rival cities for the chance to host the party’s nominating convention in July 2016. Both Brooklyn and Columbus, Ohio, were in the running through the final round of the bidding process.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the city’s “deep rooted place in American history provides a perfect setting for this special gathering.”

“I cannot wait to join Democrats across the country to celebrate our shared values, lay out a Democratic vision for the future, and support our nominee,” she said.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter said the city's "proven track record of hosting big events safely and efficiently with a dynamic team of top-tier professionals to organize and manage a conference of this magnitude, paired with our City's tremendous amenities, its accessible location and historical significance" made it an ideal pick.

"We're all delighted to make history again, here in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection," he said.

The final contract between the DNC and Philadelphia was signed Thursday, Wasserman Schultz said. The convention will take place the week of July 25, 2016. The decision was made following a meeting between Wasserman Schultz and President Barack Obama Wednesday night in the Oval Office, a source involved in the selection process confirmed to NBC10.

"The president enthusiastically signed off," said the source.

The meeting of Democratic politicians and delegates will be the second major event for the city in less than a year's time. In September, millions are expected to flock to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis during the 2015 World Meeting of Families.

Philadelphia last hosted a national convention in 2000, when Republicans gathered there. Republicans have already announced plans to hold their 2016 nominating convention in Cleveland.


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<![CDATA[Lawmakers Seek to Prevent Future Insurance Data Hacks]]> Wed, 11 Feb 2015 20:05:17 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/AnthemBreachPic00000000.jpg

Top members of the State Senate announced plans Wednesday for the state to adopt new standards of data encryption for health insurance companies.

The proposal comes less than a week after Anthem, Connecticut’s largest insurer, told customers it was the victim of a data breach that compromised more than 1.5 million names, addresses, and phone numbers.

State Sen. Martin Looney, the top Democrat in the Connecticut Senate, said there have been informal talks about online protections but the news of the hack provided more urgency.

“It has certainly enhanced, I think, the degree of alarm and also just the sheer size and scope of this Anthem hacking is creating alarms everywhere,” said Looney.

Anthem announced Wednesday that any of its 80 million policy holders who may have been affected by the hack nationwide will have free access to credit monitoring and identity theft protection services starting this Friday.

The company said in a statement it’s been working with a vendor to arrange credit monitoring for potentially tens of millions of people. The services will be provided free of charge for two years.

Attorney General George Jepsen sent a letter, along with nine other state attorneys general, laying out their concerns to Anthem. He said Anthem has been more transparent than other corporations that have suffered similar hacks.

“They had a good start,” Jepsen said. “They got out there with the information much more quickly than Target or Home Depot did with their breaches.”

Republicans are on board with examining ways for companies to encrypt data in better ways, but added that they don’t want to create new problems with new legislation.

“When we make laws, we have to make sure that we don’t end up with unintended consequences, so I definitely think it’s something we ought to look and say, 'What is the problem we want to solve?' and make sure that nothing we do causes another problem,” said State Rep. Themis Klarides, Minority Leader of the Connecticut House.

Both Looney and Klarides have Anthem insurance plans. Klarides said she’ll use the services the company is offering.

“I’m certainly concerned about it, and on Friday, when this starts, you better believe that I’ll be on there signing up for identity theft and fraud protection,” Klarides said.

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<![CDATA[Governor, GOP Trade Transportation Proposals]]> Wed, 11 Feb 2015 20:05:55 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/TransportationFixPic00000000.jpg

Gov. Dannel Malloy gave one of his first detailed hints of his transportation overhaul which he says will come out "in the next couple of days."

The governor announced the latest round of $30 million in aid for towns and cities to use for road improvements in Waterbury on Tuesday.

One of the governor's focal points is the Mix Master, a massive structure with several miles of ramps and overpasses in Waterbury where Interstate 84 and Route 8 merge. Malloy said restructing the Mix Master will be a priority project under his transportation plan.

“The Mix Master itself is a multi-billion-dollar project which will eat up a large amount of resources," Malloy said during an event at the Waterbury Public Works Department on Tuesday. "I’m committed to not treating that program the way the state has treated other large projects.”

Just a day earlier, Republicans in the General Assembly announced their plan, which included $1 billion per year in bonding over 30 years to improve roads across the state.

The plan doesn't include tolls, and GOP leaders said they would meet with engineers and transportation experts about where to prioritize the funds.

State Rep. Themis Klarides, the Minority Leader of the Connecticut House, said she thinks the GOP plan is a middle ground between what the state really needs and what taxpayers want.

“Our goal was to say we have to prioritize transportation but how do we fund it," Klarides said. "So we bonded what we bonded and we put it under the spending cap without increasing gas taxes, any other taxes, or implementing tolls, and I think it’s been clear in this state people do not want tolls.”

Malloy was quick to criticize the GOP proposal during his stop in the Brass City.

“It’s not a plan, and you know it’s not a plan. There’s not a single project called for. It’s the usual Republican fantasy world looking to get a talking point," the governor said.

He inched closer to saying his plan included tolls but wouldn't commit, instead explaining that the GOP plan without tolls is unrealistic considering how roads have been treated for decades and the fact that the state still has to fund colleges and universities.

“We are wasting billions of dollars and paid for by every man woman and child in this state because we didn’t build a modern transportation system. That's a tax," Malloy said.

In responding to the criticism, and the fact that the GOP didn't present a list of proposals, Klarides said the governor is speaking on topics with which he has no familiarity, adding that she looks forward to contributing to the "adult dialogue" the governor has stressed.

"I’m not aware that he’s an engineer and I certainly am not so I don’t know which projects should be prioritized but I’d like to sit down and have those conversations," Karides said.



Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com]]>
<![CDATA[Miltary Families Applaud New Veterans Bill]]> Fri, 06 Feb 2015 20:17:55 -0500 http://media.nbcconnecticut.com/images/213*120/military+troops+generic.jpg

Family members of veterans who have taken their own lives joined U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal in Hartford on Friday to celebrate the passage of the Clay Hunt SAV Act, which is aimed at preventing suicide among American veterans.

“My hope is that we will fulfill what we owe to our nation’s veterans, that will keep faith to them that we will provide better health care,” said Blumenthal, who sponsored the measure.

The bill passed the U.S. Senate 99-0 earlier this week. The only senator absent was Mark Kirk from Illinois, who was delayed due to weather.

If President Barack Obama signs the measure, as expected, $22 million in new funds will pay for increased efforts to prevent suicide among veterans.

The funding will be used to boost recruitment efforts for recent psychology graduates to work with veterans by paying for their student loans. The funds will also be used to evaluate existing programs for preventing suicide and to create new programs and peer groups for veterans when they return home.

Joanna Eldridge was a guest of Blumenthal at the State of the Union address last month. Eldridge’s husband, Justin, was an engineer in the Marines and served an eight-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. He committed suicide in 2013.

“There is just a lot of sadness for all of us but there’s a lot of hope, too,” Eldridge said, of the passage of the Clay Hunt Act, adding that she wished more resources had been available to her husband.

“I know had this been in place, there would have been a better possibility for my husband to have survived. But since that didn’t happen, I’m just hoping that his life now will not be in vain and this will be a way for him to leave his mark,” she said.

The president is expected to sign the bill into law later this year.

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<![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.”



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<![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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