PUBLIC LEFT OUT OF ‘DEFICIT MITIGATION’ PLAN PROCESS

The Rell administration is well into the process of putting together another “deficit mitigation plan” or a series of new cuts in state spending. This is necessary, says the governor, because just a month and a half removed from enacting a new, two-year state budget, it is already $389 million in shortfall.

So where will the ax fall this time? The answer is, no one knows because the plan is being put together behind closed doors. No updates from the administration, no input from the outside and certainly no say from the people who will actually be affected by what the governor and her staff decide to leave on the cutting-room floor—the people of the state themselves.

Hopefully the administration will resist the urge to again whack state commissions and agencies that already took a pounding in the newly passed budget. These agencies serve a valuable purpose to the people of the state and now are struggling to continue to do so after seeing cuts to their budgets of 50%. It’s time to look elsewhere and focus the ax on other areas of state spending that may take some time and effort to find.

Here’s radical idea: How about holding a public hearing in the legislative office building and take some input from the people on what services should be maintained or agencies saved in any deficit mitigation plan? At the very least, it would give the people a feeling of being involved and they very well may have some useful ideas as to what can be cut and what should be preserved.

The Rell administration would also do well to make a presentation at such a hearing as to what cuts they are considering. That way, legislators who have to vote on any plan will at least have an idea as to what to expect.

It was bad enough when the governor and legislative leaders imposed a news blackout during the ridiculous (and historic) budget stalemate that lasted all summer. No one had any idea what was going on. Lack of transparency only raises suspicion on the part of the public and should be avoided whenever possible. However recent disclosures in other areas show Gov. Rell and her staff to be no fans of transparency. Too bad for the public.
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The last two weeks or so have been very tough for Gov. Rell and her staff. Ethical questions involving the use of UConn professor and pollster Ken Daurich for the governor’s political ends won’t go away. And now e-mail correspondence between Dautrich and Rell’s Chief of Staff Lisa Moody contradict the governor’s explanations for the whole mess. She appears to be not telling the truth. Worse, when the Capitol press corps is able to track down the governor (usually at some feel-good, ceremonial event), she becomes testy and defensive with them as if it’s their fault for doing their jobs and asking questions.

Reporters will not get what was an anticipated chance to question the governor about these and other issues today. The monthly State Bond Commission meeting is today at 10:30 am. The Bond Commission votes to fund certain projects around the state by selling bonds (borrowing money). The governor alone decides what is on the commission agenda.

It is a long-standing tradition—one that predates Rell’s time in office—that the governor holds a news conference after the Bond Commission meeting breaks up. Set up outside the first-floor hearing room in the atrium of the legislative office building (LOB) is usually a podium, microphone, speakers and folding chairs for the media. There is no limit on the topics the press can ask about. It is seen by reporters as a chance to ask any question on any issue of the day.

However today’s press conference is canceled. The governor is attending the funeral of former Republican State Chairman Fred Biebel in Stratford at the same time the meeting is scheduled in Hartford. The bond commission meeting is still on, only the traditional fielding of questions from the press is no longer happening. Lt. Governor Michael Fedele will preside over the meeting. He won’t preside over the press conference. No one can blame the governor for showing due respect to the late Mr. Biebel. But the timing is bad. The governor and her staff have been caught, at the very least, not coming clean about the recent controversies (or as the chair of the state Democratic Party put it, “lying” to the people of the state). She should reschedule the press conference for later today or Monday. At the very least, Fedele should field some questions. After all, he fashions himself as Rell’s partner in government. A close cousin to the old saying, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up,” is certainly, “It’s not the controversy, it’s how one handles it.” The Rell administration is handling it badly.
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The bond commission meeting itself is not without controversy. On the agenda is $15 million for a new juvenile detention center for girls in Bridgeport. State Rep. Christopher Caruso (D-Bridgeport) told The Hanging Shad this week he had been kept in the dark by two state agencies about how Bridgeport was chosen for the new facility. Caruso said the bond panel should reject it until questions are answered.

Also, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a bond commision member himself, wrote a letter to Rell administration budget chief Robert Genuario asking for further review of state public works officials’ conclusion that the new project doesn’t need an environmental impact statement.  Blumenthal said that while it doesn’t appear to be legally required, it would be a good idea to hold some community forums and open up the process. He added it should have been done before the governor’s big announcement about the facility last week.
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A guilty pleasure for those who work late, have trouble sleeping or who are just plain night owls is a radio talk show called “AM Coast to Coast.” It can be heard locally on WTIC-AM at 1 am. Its topics include things like whether there are aliens among us (the E.T. kind, not the kind who cross the border), telepathy, Roswell, Bigfoot, various conspiracy theories and something called “remote viewing.” Its callers range from seemingly normal people with normal questions, to folks who are clearly suffering from sleep deprivation to shut-ins who are completely delusional and insist they just had a nice, sit-down dinner with the Mothman.

One recent topic was whether NASA actually landed a man on the moon or whether the whole thing was faked on a Hollywood sound stage. (Fortunately, the guest was of the opinion it was real although it’s hard to tell when one is inches from REM sleep).

It brought to mind an incident from several years ago when Buzz Aldrin, one of the first astronauts to walk on the moon, was confronted by one of these moon landing skeptics . The man angrily called Aldrin a “coward” and a “liar.” Aldrin told the man to get away from him, and when he refused, Aldrin promptly punched him in the face. The HS never endorses violence but this guy had it coming. The conspiracy theorist tried to sue Aldrin but the judge threw out the case.

It’s not hard to understand that it’s not a good idea to get up in the grill of the 79-year Aldrin after watching the incredible documentary, “In the Shadow of the Moon.” Aldrin still displays the intensity of a man driven toward his goals, one who gives the benefit of the doubt until he’s pushed too far.

The entertaining documentary itself uses no narrator, just about a dozen of the men who landed on the moon, in their own words. Also included are images and remastered film from that time period some of which haven’t been seen in 30 years. Astronauts Mike Collins and Aldrin are featured however the third member of the first moon-landing team, the notoriously private Neil Armstrong is not. It’s amazing to hear them talk about their experiences and how they seemingly knew they were in the midst of making history as they were doing it. A great movie to watch for the weekend.