Newtown voters have been invited to the polls on April 22 to commit themselves to $111 million in expenditures and another round of property tax bills for 2014-15. While overall spending in the proposed budget does inch up by slightly less than one percent, the accompanying tax rate does not increase at all, thanks to growth in the grand list, supplemental motor vehicle taxes, and various unanticipated grants and payments from the state. This reprieve from Newtown’s long legacy of annual tax increases, however, is not just happenstance or serendipity, like a mild winter or a found fiver in a forgotten pair of pants. It is the result of unprecedented teamwork by the town’s budget-making Boards of Education, Selectmen, and Finance, and the Legislative Council.
One of the first lessons of marketing is that novelty sells. That is why all those products you’ve seen a million times before are invariably marked “New!” at the point of sale. But every now and then, something truly innovative comes along and starts selling briskly even before consumers know very much about it. The novelty of e-cigarettes for erstwhile smokers is almost irresistible. They are in essence a nicotine delivery system that dispenses with the sooty old-school ritual of burning tobacco and inhaling the toxic results, which made a mess of pretty much everything from car interiors to mortality rates. The propylene glycol vapor produced by e-cigarettes is “generally recognized as safe” by the Food and Drug Administration, and it also seems to vaporize the guilt and stigma of modern-day smokers. No wonder the top four tobacco companies started marketing e-cigarettes.
Once again this week, we have been reminded that at least some of the key players in Connecticut’s political realm view the democratic process as more of a game with mutable rules than a trust between the electorate and their chosen representatives. A deep-pocketed businessman, Brian Foley, and his wife, former congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley, admitted in US District Court Monday that they conspired with former governor John G. Rowland to skirt campaign finance laws and hide $35,000 in payments to Rowland for political consultations in Ms Wilson-Foley’s 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination in the Fifth District. Rowland, as we all recall, was forced from the governor’s office in 2004 and subsequently convicted of corruption. He spent ten months in federal prison for accepting gifts from state contractors. Why anyone would accept even free political advice from someone with such poor judgment — much less pay $35,000 for it — is deeply confounding until you consider that the whole fiasco was predicated on cheating. In that case, Rowland’s your man
With so much focus on the March 31 deadline for signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, it has been easy to overlook some of the other seismic shifts in Connecticut’s health care landscape that have the potential to affect how people access medical services in the future. Having insurance is important. So is having a health care delivery system that preserves the primacy of the physician/patient relationship over profits.
When the ceilings opened up and unleashed torrents of water down through the lower floors of the C.H. Booth Library on January 4, the extent of the damage to the furnishings and infrastructure astonished and completely discouraged the library’s staff and regular patrons. Finally, after months of pulling down walls, pulling out hardware and wires, pulling up carpets, and replacing it all from the floor up, the library doors opened again on March 8 and patrons emerged from their involuntary winter hibernation, reacquainting themselves with this place of cultural wakefulness and hungry for the full menu of programs and services available at The Booth.
When the legislature passed a law last year that shielded from public view the crime scene photos from the 12/14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, lawmakers were standing in line to express their solidarity with the people of Newtown. They wanted to stand with us in our grief and our resolve to resist sensationalist exploitation of the horrific tragedy that shook this town and shocked the world. Now we are seeing signs that political fidelity in Hartford has a limited shelf life.
If you are looking for proof that information is power, perhaps the best evidence can be found in the converse condition. When Governor Dannel P. Malloy was first elected in 2010, he took the helm of a state government with a $3.6 billion deficit. He concluded after some investigation that the state ended up in such a weak condition because of a lack of information. On Monday, he told an open data conference of the Connecticut Data Collaborative that the inefficiencies that plagued the previous administration could have been remedied by a freer flow of information. In creating a more efficient state government, he said, “We may find we’re collecting insufficient information, the wrong information, or we’re asking the wrong questions.” The remedy, he hopes, will be the Connecticut Open Data Portal, which the governor has created by executive order.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” —Dr Seuss
Newtown may remember this line from Seussical: The Musical presented by the 12.14 Foundation last August at Newtown High School. It seems the foundation has taken this bit of Loraxian advice to heart, because the group is enlisting people who care a whole awful lot to join their quest to create something that is destined to help Newtown get a lot better: a performing arts center located in town for children not just from Newtown, but from across the state, region, and beyond
Newtown’s school and municipal officials have a new piece to fit into the town’s annual budget puzzle this year — a new priority, a new expense, a new conundrum. As the town transitions from the various ad hoc arrangements it established in the wake of 12/14 to better secure local schools, the Board of Education, at the urging of First Selectman Pat Llodra, has proposed a security budget totaling just under $3 million that is separate from the school board’s proposed $71.5 million operating budget for 2014-15. This security budget will supplant those “short-term” arrangements for 2013-14, which have consisted largely of placing police officers in the schools and paying for the inevitable overtime for these extra services from the local police force.
There is a classic line from a Saturday Night Live sketch delivered by Chevy Chase portraying Gerald R. Ford in a 1976 presidential debate responding to a convoluted and complicated question on the economy: “It was my understanding there would be no math during the debates.” Since that sketch first aired, math has become a staple of political discourse because of — not in spite of — Chevy Chase’s everyman response to shifting facts and figures. Math is confusing, especially when you want it to be.