Saturday, August 23, 2008

Urban Schools

I consider this the biggest issue facing Connecticut. Our urban schools are failing, and if it continues, it will have serious consequences for everyone in the state. We need an educated work force to maintain and build our economy. And, education is the answer to poverty and crime. We all have a large stake in improving the education of all the children of Connecticut.

I have volunteered for educational programs in the greater Hartford area for 18 years, and for the last two years I've done volunteer work every week in a Hartford middle school. I've talked a lot with Hartford kids, teachers, and guidance counselors. I've come to believe that there are a number of things we should emphasize to change the trajectory of urban areas:

1. Create more Charter Schools. This should include some vocational/technical high schools.
2. Provide behavior management training for teachers, especially in the summer.
3. Provide education and training for parents and guardians. Require attendance to allow school choice.
4. Require that schools have honors classes based on student behavior.

All of these things can be funded, encouraged, and even required by state legislation. And, they don't have to cost a lot of money.

Fiscal Responsibility

When the economy is in a temporary downturn, it’s important for the state to focus on the basics when it comes to spending. We should stop doing as many expensive, special projects until the cycle of the economy returns to a period of healthy growth.

State Debt:
Connecticut has one of the highest debt-per-capita of any state in the nation (we’re in the bottom four). The state government has been selling too many bonds for special projects in recent years. We need to consider the effect of debt maintenance on future budgets, and reduce the number of special project bonds that we sell.

In numbers: the state government has run up $16 BILLION dollars of debt, nearly an entire year's budget! This is despite the fact that we have a balanced budget requirement. Part of the problem is that bonds are issued by the Bonding Commission, a group appointed by the governor, and not accountable to the voters. We need to require that all bonds are voted on by the state legislature, up or down, so that elected officials are held responsible for the finances of our state. We also need our elected officials to be responsible, and address this problem. When is the last time you heard one of your representatives even mention our state debt problem?

Corporate Tax Loopholes:
Corporate tax rates have been greatly reduced in Connecticut since the 1990's. Only 3.6% of Connecticut's total state tax revenues came from corporate business taxes in 2003, less than a third of what it was in 1992. (In comparison New Jersey was 12%, Massachusetts was 7.6%, New York 5.2%.) I believe they have been cut too much, and that Connecticut corporations need to pay their fair share. Connecticut should enact reasonable corporate tax reform, similar to what was passed in recent years in New Jersey, that will not drive businesses out of Connecticut, but will raise corporate tax revenues to appropriate levels.


Here are a few specific things we should be doing now to help the environment. They will also improve our economy and save us money.

Connecticut should pass the same kind of resolution passed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, prohibiting the use of state funds to purchase bottled water except during emergencies. Why? If you fill a bottle of water 1/3 with petroleum, it shows you how much equivalent oil it takes to put that bottle of water in your hand. Drinking bottled water is costly and bad for the environment. In addition, it's healthier to drink tap water! There are scientific studies that show drinking out of plastic bottles may contribute to long term health problems, especially for children.

Nuclear power: I support beginning the process of building another nuclear power plant in Connecticut (similar to the Millstone plants). I realize this is controversial, but every source of energy has pros and cons. Nuclear power produces nuclear waste that must be stored. However, fossil fuels produce greenhouse gases and air pollution, which I believe are worse problems. In addition, fossil fuel prices, and electricity prices, have risen drastically in Connecticut the last 10 years. Building another nuclear plant will lower electricity prices, ease the strain on the energy supply in Connecticut, drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in Connecticut, and create a lot of jobs.

I am a big proponent of wind and solar power (especially wind). Unfortunately, they are not viable as large energy sources in Connecticut due to our climate and geography.

Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain Abuse should be prevented. No government entity should be able to force someone to give up their home for private developments. A number of states have passed laws that prevent this abuse as a result of what has happened in New London (see below). Connecticut has failed to do so. I strongly believe that we need to pass a law that prevents eminent domain abuse.

From Wikipedia:
The Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005) affirmed New London’s authority to take non-blighted private property by eminent domain, and then sell the property to a private developer. This 5-4 decision received heavy press because the Court sided with the city in recognizing the public benefit of the new development. It also inspired a public outcry that eminent domain powers were too broad. This resulted in several states enacting or considering state legislation that would further define and restrict the state's own power of eminent domain. The Supreme Courts of Illinois, Michigan (County of Wayne v. Hathcock(2004)), and Ohio (Norwood, Ohio v. Horney(2006)) have recently ruled to disallow such takings under their state constitutions.

Term Limits

I believe that no one should spend more than 12 years in a particular office. Connecticut should institute 12 year term limits, similar to those passed in numerous other states. Elected officials should be public servants, not career politicians.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Auto Insurance

Connecticut Law requires all Connecticut drivers to purchase "uninsured/underinsured motorists" insurance. (Check your insurance statement: it's on there.) This coverage is deceptive: the only thing this covers is medical expenses that you and your passengers may incur if you are hit by a driver without adequate coverage. It does NOT cover physical damage to your vehicle. So, if you have adequate health insurance, this coverage is redundant.

In addition, insurance companies automatically set your coverage at $100,000/$200,000, five times the legally required levels. In order to reduce your coverage, you are required to send in a written request to lower it. And, the insurance companies don't tell you that you can do this unless you ask.

I believe that we should be allowed to show proof of health insurance coverage to our auto insurance companies and opt out of paying for this redundant coverage. (How many of you have EVER used your "uninsured/underinsured motorist" insurance?) And, I believe that insurance companies should be required by law to inform us of our options.

Gay Marriage

I believe Connecticut should pass the same kind of legislation recently passed by Massachusetts and California that allows same sex marriage by a justice of the peace. Unfortunately, civil unions and domestic partnerships do not provide the same legal protection as marriage for committed gay couples. It's what's right, and what's fair. And, it would also be good for the state of Connecticut economically.