Get a load of this: late Tuesday afternoon I spoke to Bob Curwen, co-chair of the City Council Budget and Appropriations Committee, and he says city budget officials notified him that Board of Education bean counters are reporting an approximate $3 million surplus from the budget year that ended July 1.
A state education review apparently turned up the unspent money. Curwen is not happy, especially in light of the angst over the budget process the council and Mayor Bill Finch just endured, with Board of Ed officials urging more funding and implementing layoffs. “What happened to the money they requested?” Curwen asked. “Why are they laying off people? This is not fiscally prudent.”
Curwen said he was told that the BOE wants to apply $800,000 to a health benefits line and the rest for textbooks. In the BOE’s defense it’s limited in how surplus money can be spent and can’t just spend it on personnel. This story is timely as result of the $250,000 in state money that will be applied to a full forensic audit of the BOE books. Where is the money being spent, or in this case not being spent? On the positive side, it beats a deficit.
I need to do a better job at begging. A collection of great (and near-great) Nutmeg pols will welcome House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this Saturday in Westport when she stumps for Democratic Congressional candidate Jim Himes.
Get a load of this line up: Attorney General Dick Blumenthal, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, State Comptroller Nancy Wyman, State Treasurer Denise Nappier, State Democratic Party Chair Nancy DiNardo, Mayor Bill Finch, Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, State Senator Andrew McDonald.
Funny, my name’s not on the list. I’ve been a complete failure persuading Himes’ folks to plug me in. Now that Maura Keaney is no longer campaign manager I must suck up to new guy Dana. Yo, Dana, I’ll bring the cannoli. Hey, Con Filardi, how about bringing the sfogliatelle?
Speaking of failure, have any of you heard about Bob Woodward’s new book War Within that gets inside the head of Bushy’s bungled war? In one of the president’s interview sessions with Woody he actually breaks down and admits a failure, his inability to change the tone in Washington. How’s that for a ringtone?
Are you tired of hearing this crap about us winning the war? Winning what? Attacking a country that didn’t attack us? So, Bushy has announced bringing home 8,000 troops in February. BFD. Still more than 100,000 troops over there.
We’re starting something new today, a guest commentary by a political candidate. Republican State Senator Rob Russo kicks it off. Russo was elected in March in a special election for the seat once occupied by Mayor Bill Finch. The 22nd State Senate District includes Trumbull and parts of Bridgeport and Monroe. Russo lives in the Brooklawn section of Bridgeport. Democrat Anthony Musto is challenging Russo. Every candidate is welcome to send in a guest column to me. (I’m looking forward to Republican State Rep. candidate Joel “Speedy” Gonzalez’ bombshell.) If you have questions for Russo — whether taxes, budget, education — post them in the commentary section and he promises to respond. Russo’s commentary starts now.
Hello Only In Bridgeport! I’m a regular reader and I was thrilled when Lennie offered me the opportunity to be a guest host. I read this blog every day and always enjoy it, even when you’re calling me names – some of which are quite creative!
I thought I’d take this opportunity to map out a few important observations from my first months as a State Senator. If you’d like to learn more or support my campaign, please check out my website at www.russoforsenate.com.
I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have. Please post them in the comments section and I’ll post my answers there as well.
It’s been an honor being the Senator for the 22nd district for the last five months and I hope this post gives you a better idea of what my concerns are for the district and Connecticut.
Bridgeport, Trumbull and Monroe have a lot more in common than most people think. I’m often asked: How do you represent all three towns equally when some decisions may be good for one town and not for another? I really see their diversity as a strength. Bridgeport, Trumbull and Monroe really have a lot they can learn from each other. “Property taxes” is the number one issue in all three towns. Each town feels the state overburdens it with unfunded mandates that are either unnecessary or simply the state passing its responsibility on to the towns and cities.
My job is to focus on the issues we have in common and find solutions.
1. Education is the most important issue in the world; let’s start treating it that way. We could fix every other problem in the world today but if we don’t educate our children, how will they know how to maintain what we’ve accomplished? Unfortunately, we as a state don’t treat education as a top priority and neither does the City of Bridgeport. It’s time to change that and to begin putting our money where our priorities should be. I want the state’s education cost sharing formula re-written so that towns get the funding their children deserve.
I believe we need a strong public school system in every town – especially our inner cities, and we need to bring our school systems into the 21st Century. By this I mean a lot more than just new buildings. We need to make sure our children have access to computers and that they’re learning what they need to be successful in all facets of life. We need to teach our kids more than just reading, math and science. They need to learn about nutrition, health care, money, retirement, mortgages and credit cards too.
If I’m reelected State Senator I will immediately request appointment to the Education Committee to fill the seat vacated by a retiring member of the General Assembly. I want to play a roll in strengthening our public schools for the 21st Century and making sure our towns and cities have the funding they need to do it.
2. The Audit of the Bridgeport Board of Education. My number one goal for this session was to obtain the funds from the State necessary to audit the Bridgeport Board of Education. The first thing the Governor and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney heard out of my mouth was how important the audit is. They allowed me to plead my case and the City of Bridgeport won a $250,000 grant.
The money will fund the four-phase independent management and operational study of the Bridgeport Board of Education. This is the plan that the Board of Education, the City and the Bridgeport Regional Business Council have all agreed to support.
After the study is completed, they will be responsible for implementing its findings and building the consensus to do so. I am counting on the members of the committee overseeing it such as Committee Chair Merle Berke-Schlessel of the United Way and Bruce Hubler to make sure that every aspect of Bridgeport Education is looked at and that the final report is an unbiased and frank look at our schools and how to fix them.
3. The State of Connecticut doesn’t have a limitless supply of money. The State of Connecticut doesn’t have a large rainy day fund, and too much of the budget is already taken up by debt service. Yet everyday in Hartford there are 169 towns all crying for more. If we’re going to seriously increase funding for education and transportation we must thin the bureaucracy and cut out a lot of the pork. Raising taxes really shouldn’t be an option. When we tax our businesses, they leave; when we tax the rich, they move their residency to their vacation homes; and the middle class is already taxed to the limit.
4. Connecticut’s too expensive, especially for our seniors. The cost of living in Connecticut is way too high. We have the second highest priced gas in the U.S., the second highest priced electricity in the U.S., and property taxes through the roof. The people that this is toughest on are our seniors and they need relief immediately. The constantly rising property taxes can be terrifying to seniors who are trying to get by on fixed incomes. It’s time we seriously considered across the board tax relief for seniors on their main residence as long as it’s under a certain value. I would like to see a freeze for seniors on their property taxes on up to $600,000.00 of their home’s value.
5. A Property Tax Cap makes sense. When it’s working successfully in 40+ other states it’s not a gimmick. Our towns need to start thinking about doing more with less. Governor Rell has increased municipal aid by over 60% since she became Governor, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the individual towns. A cap on property tax increases will encourage towns to start budgeting better and looking for more efficient and effective ways to govern.
6. The income gap in Connecticut is disgraceful. We can shrink the income gap by recruiting new businesses. CT Voices for Children released a study this spring that says that Connecticut has the fastest growing income gap in the country. This means the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, at a quicker rate here than anywhere else. Ultimately, it means we as a state are failing at making the American Dream available to everyone.
Why is this? I don’t think it’s because we don’t tax enough and I don’t think it’s because we don’t have a substantial enough social safety net in Connecticut. It’s because we do not host the same caliber of businesses that we used to. Connecticut offered numerous entry-level jobs, with upward mobility, when it was a manufacturing powerhouse. Plenty of factory presidents in Connecticut started on the shop floor. We lost, however, most of our manufacturing industry and much of what it has been replaced with offers only dead-end entry-level jobs or executive level positions.
We as a state need to focus on bringing businesses to Connecticut that offer jobs that allow people to move up the socio-economic ladder. We need to be prepared to cut their taxes and offer them incentives to come here. I cannot think of a better way to close the income gap in Connecticut.
7. Good Government is directly related to the amount of Democracy in town. In Trumbull this year the First Selectman proposed an 11.6% increase. The Town Council and Board of Finance, made up of both Democrats and Republicans, cut it down to a little more than 7%. In Monroe the First Selectman proposed a 4.5% increase and the people through referendum reduced it to 3.75%. In Bridgeport, a town run by one political party, the proposed increase was 10% and was shaved by a few percentage points. The better representation the people have in the process, the lower the taxes. Enough said.
Thank you for taking the time to read all of this. I hope this has given you a better idea of what I’m all about. If you have questions, please post them in the comments section, e-mail me at Rob@russoforsenate.com, or call me at home at (203) 333-2538.