Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sequester Cuts: When and Where They’re Happening

by Categorized: Economy, Politics, Public finance Date:

The 2-year federal government meltdown is finally at Code Red and the sequester is here.

We have endless stories about the gridlock, the economic effects and the blame game.

But here, in one place, I plan to collect basic information in a usable form without bias: When and where the sequester cuts are happening.

The goal is to show actual cuts, not just predictions. In the early days, it’s still going to be more of the latter.  Look for constant updates.

ProPublica: A graphic guide to the sequester

Reuters: Fed furloughs range from 14 to 22 days through Sept. 30

New York Times: Housing, food, health programs for low-income people to be hit hard

LA Times: 2 percent Medicare haircut for docs and hospitals; health research labs already laying off

CNNMoney: Medicare cut for docs means less care for patients

Hartford Courant: Small airports threatened, defense contractors waiting, UConn researchers nervous

Rick Newman, US News & World Report: The 10 hardest hit industries

New Haven Independent: Tweed’s air controller cut would happen in April

New York Times: HUD grants, furloughs, delayed vendor payments

Fox News: No military flights for US Reps; Biden taking Amtrak; Conference travel slashed

AP: Nuts and bolts Q&A

Wired: Delayed funerals for vets at Arlington National Cemetery



Malloy’s Team Meets Gun-Makers, Raising Hopes Of ‘Common Ground’

by Categorized: Jobs, Manufacturing, Politics Date:

The divide between Connecticut’s gun manufacturers and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy would seem too wide to bridge, but after a cordial meeting, both sides are showing some optimism.

The meeting happened Monday between Malloy’s policy staff, including Mike Lawlor, the administration’s criminal justice chief, and a group of executives and owners from Colt’s Manufacturing Co., O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Stag Arms and others.

By all accounts the 2-hour confab at the state Capitol, initiated by the governor’s staff, was friendly. Malloy himself — who wants to ban the extremely popular AR-15 class of rifles — was not there. He was at the National Governor’s Association in Washington, D.C.

To the firearms makers, most any ban by the state on currently legal equipment in the state where it’s made represents a move that would not improve public safety, but would cost jobs.  They prefer to see tighter background checks and other forms of access restrictions.

“We can find common ground by building on and improving those systems, like National Instant Criminal (NICS) background checks, that we know work,” said Dennis Veilleux, President and CEO of Colt’s Manufacturing Co.

He added, “As the birthplace and historical center of the modern firearms industry, what we do here will send a message to the rest of the country and Connecticut must set an example of thoughtful and balanced decision making.”

They’ve been through this before, several times in fact, since Connecticut adopted some of the nation’s strictest gun-control rules in 1993 — a precurser to the federal ban that was adopted in 1994 and ended in 2004.

Malloy’s surprise release Thursday of a gun-control plan that includes a virtual ban on civilian purchases of the AR-15 military-style rifle was a deep disappointment to the manufacturers. Also Monday, the group issued a 25-minute video through the National Shooting Sports Foundation, in which employees and executives defended their work and their livelihood.

“What kind of message does it send to my employees who are honest, law-abiding citizens, who can’t purchase the product in their own state? They can’t own their own product,” said Mark Malkowski, founder and president of Stag Arms in New Britain, which employs 200.

Even under the current law, there are versions of the AR-15 that are not legal in Connecticut and several other states. Malloy’s plan would tighten the rules considerably by allowing no military-style features on semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines — including the pistol grip that’s central to the AR-15.

“The governor hasn’t produced a fully written bill,” Lawlor said Tuesday. “At the discussion, a lot of points were raised. Some of them were valid.”

“They’re all thoughtful, reasonable people,” said Lawlor, who worked with several of the manufacturers — often as an adversary — in his years as co-chairman of the General Assembly’s judiciary committee.

“I was very pleased by the warm reception we got,” said Joe Bartozzi, vice president and general counsel at Mossberg.

By Tuesday, Bartozzi was in Washington, where he was a hot office guest of representatives from Georgia, Alabama and other states eager to end Mossberg’s 94-year history in and around New Haven.  Malkowski had also heard from three Southern states with offers even more enticing than usual, as they smell opportunity in Malloy’s hard-line proposal.

“I’m not itching to move but business is business,” said  Bartozzi, whose firm has 270 people in Connecticut, up by 100 in the last year or so, and a plant in Texas. “I hope Connecticut appreciates that we are a good citizen and a good employer.”

Based on this week’s meeting, we are at least at the cordial stage; in other words, it could be worse.




Gun Makers Issue Emotional Appeal As Other States Beckon

by Categorized: Jobs, Manufacturing, Politics Date:

Connecticut’s firearms manufacturers dramatically stepped up their campaign against proposals to ban guns Monday with a 25-minute video featuring three company executives and a dozen of their employees talking about their roots in the state, and the devastation a ban would bring.

The video, issued by the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports  Foundation, was in the works well before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy rolled out a sweeping agenda on Thursday.

Malloy’s plan includes an outright ban on the popular AR-15 semiautomatic, military-style rifles that have been at the center of the debate since an assailant used one to kill 20 children and six women in Newtown on Dec. 14. The shooter also killed his mother and himself.

Since Thursday, other states have stepped up their efforts to recruit these companies to move from Connecticut — an effort that’s constantly aimed at manufacturers of all sorts, with or without a controversy. Executives and employees in the video deal with the prospect of leaving Connecticut head-on.

“I don’t want to have to think about leaving here. This is our home. This is where our families are,” said Mark Malkowski, who founded AR-15 maker Stag Arms in 2003 in New Britain and now has 200 employees and dozens of local firms as suppliers.

“The rush to legislate, in my mind, seems very very sad to me,” said Jonathan Scalise, owner of Ammunition Storage Components of New Britain, which makes bullet magazines for Stag Arms and other gun companies — many of them the 30-round models that would be banned in Connecticut under Malloy’s proposal.

Scalise said the company, founded less than three years ago, will soon have 100 employees. He’s a third-generation New Britain manufacturer.

“We restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens in order to curb criminals and people who are insane … who are unaffected by those laws,” Scalise said in the video.

Trading public safety for jobs would be a non-starter, of course. The point the manufacturers are making is that a ban would not improve safety, and it would threaten jobs. In my column on Thursday, I said firearms bans should be national, not state-by-state.

The third executive in the video, Joe Bartozzi of O.F. Mossberg & Sons in North Haven, talks about the long family tradition of rifle-making at Mossberg, founded by a Swedish immigrant in 1919.

“So we have long roots in this state. In fact, Mossberg is the oldest family owned and operated firearms manufacturer in America,” said Bartozzi, the vice president and general counsel. “There are not a lot of layers of red tape between an assembler on the floor and the CEO, who is fourth-generation Mossberg family.”

The three executives all talk about the high skills of the workers they employ. They are among nine gun company managers and owners from Connecticut and Massachusetts who have testified twice at the state Capitol since Jan. 27.

The local industry has risen up before in Hartford, most recently over the last several years to oppose a proposed ban on magazine sizes and the mandated use of so-called “smart-gun” technology, which they said was not yet ready to be commercialized.

Some opponents, led by Malloy, say they value the firearms industry for its defense jobs and for the manufacture of non-military-style guns, but that weapons like the AR-15 — which they call assault rifles — have no place in the hands of civilians.

As hearings continue at the Capitol, it’s likely we’ll see more of the executives now becoming a familiar sight and also of employees in Monday’s video.

“I’m a single mother with two kids so I definitely need to have some financial stability,” said Sara Davis, an employee at Ammunition Storage Components.

In all, NSSF says Connecticut has 2,900 direct firearms industry jobs, and indirectly more than 8,000 jobs supported by the industry, which is responsible for $1.8 billion in economic activity here.

As for the other states, including Mississippi, which appealed to several Connecticut companies on Friday, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal issued this statement: “This preposterous pitch to companies with long, successful histories in our state shows the need for national standards and statutes to reduce gun violence. Competition among states for less protective laws is a race to the bottom that should be avoided.”

Another worker from Ammunition Storage Components said he would tell lawmakers, “Don’t take our jobs away. … They should put theirself in our situation and see what would they do. They should try to do everything possible to keep everybody employed.”

Malloy’s Faulty Logic On Military-Style Rifles

by Categorized: Commerce, Manufacturing, Politics Date:

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is pushing a plan to ban military-style rifles outright. Connecticut’s firearms industry executives will say it jeopardizes thousands of jobs and does nothing to improve safety.

Emotion is on Malloy’s side. Tighter registration and sales rules, which he also rolled out Thursday, are in order.

But where equipment bans are concerned, logic may well be on the industry’s side.

For now, everyone is doing a dance. Malloy is saying he wants to ban all “assault weapons,” which he says is an obvious definition akin to Supreme Court Potter Stewart’s “know-it-when-I-see-it” label for pornography.

What Malloy is not saying is that he wants to ban outright the firearm that represents 60 percent of all rifle sales, the gun design that is basically where rifle evolution has taken us, with perhaps 6 million in civilian hands.

As it happens, the military-style AR-15, not a brand but a type, is a Connecticut product. It was invented in California but developed in Hartford by Colt Firearms and Colt’s Manufacturing Co., as the company has been called at various times. It’s made by Colt’s and three other companies here, plus Smith & Wesson up the road in Springfield — along with about 60 other firms across the nation.

Malloy’s critics did not say Thursday that such a ban is illogical — not yet, anyway. Instead, Republican leaders in the legislature and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents manufacturers and retailers, said they were upset that Malloy upstaged his own handpicked commission and a bipartisan legislative task force with a laundry list of gun control measures on the day of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit.

Setting aside that purely political flap, Malloy argues that “assault weapons” should be banned.  Fair enough. He says the AR-15 is obviously an assault weapon, and that people who think otherwise “have a reason not to see it that way.”

Two problems with that: It’s not obvious that the AR-15 is an assault weapon, and even if it makes sense to ban it, the action ought to be national rather than state-by-state — especially in the very state that’s still the cradle of the firearms industry.

Malloy’s plan would ban any firearm that is semi-automatic, meaning it shoots a bullet with each pull of the trigger; takes detachable bullet magazines; and has at least one military-syle feature.

He calls these “assault rifles.”  The industry calls them “modern sporting rifles” and says assault rifles — which are virtually banned for civilians — are fully automatic machine guns that spray multiple bullets with a single trigger pull. The neutral term is “military-style rifles.”

Regardless of the words, the current Connecticut law, similar to the federal ban that was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, allows two of a list of features, including a pistol grip, removable flash-suppressor, bayonet mount, collapsible stock and grenade launcher.

My colleague Matthew Kauffman illustrated why it’s hard to define an assault rifle in a blog post Thursday.

Makers of the AR-15 have gotten around the ban by offering a model with a pistol grip but none of the other features. Those weapons still function more or less the same as any other AR-15 that’s excluded from Connecticut and a half-dozen other states that kept the ban.

Take away the pistol grip and it’s hard to imagine the AR-15 existing in any form. That may be fine with Malloy, but the industry will argue that there are weapons out there — many of them — that are not military-style, but which are just as deadly as an AR-15.  In fact, they will say, the pistol grip might even make the world safer because it’s easier to handle by someone defending him- or herself, while a determined assailant could do just as much damage without one.

Put another way, just because mass killers tend to use military-style weapons does not necessarily mean they must use those weapons to do the same damage. Banning all semi-automatic weapons that take detachable magazines, with or without pistol grips, might do the trick. But that would essentially take us back to the 19th century.

“Do you want to make the streets safer for the children? Arbitrary restrictions on features don’t do that,” said Mark Malkowski, founder and president of AR-15 maker Stag Arms of New Britain, at the state Capitol on Jan. 28.

Malkowski owns one of four factories within a 40-minute drive of Hartford that make versions of the AR-15. He and his fellow owners are in the sensitive position of appearing to put profits and jobs ahead of public safety. Not true; they’re only saying that bans don’t bring safety, and that by the way, we have thousands of jobs in Connecticut, including a web of suppliers from spring-makers to metal-coaters.

Access, sale and registration rules are one thing.  Malloy’s plan to require registration of ammunition purchases will bring the mother of all constitutional debates and I’m eager to witness it.  But if an equipment ban makes sense, it’s only logical as national legislation where borders matter — not in a state with three superhighways capable of bringing guns in, and jobs out.

“What does a factory like Mossberg do?” said Lawrence Keane, general counsel at NSSF, the industry group based in Newtown, referring to O.F. Mossberg & Sons of North Haven, which introduced a line of AR-15’s last year,

“Do they continue to invest in Connecticut or do they move jobs to Texas?”




Retail: Westfarms, Buckland Close Early; Stop & Shop Staying Open

by Categorized: Retail Date:

Governors call states of emergency all the time but it’s serious when malls close early — so Westfarms Mall’s announcement at 11:21 a.m. that it’s closing at 1 p.m. today means we’re in this for real.

Buckland Hills mall in Manchester was closing at 3 p.m., according to its web site, which warns that restaurants and department stores might have different hours. No word yet on what time either mall planned to open Saturday.

As for supermarkets, Big Y said it was closing all stores at 5 p.m. and was planning to reopen at 11 a.m. Saturday. Stop & Shop stores had no plan to close as of midday. At the Hartford store on New Park Avenue, the plan was the remain open until midnight, per the regular schedule, a person there said.

Banks were closing, including Webster, which issued a statement saying its bankers hours Friday ended at 11 a.m.

I conducted a survey of one retailer, REI at Blue Back Square in West Hartford, which would seem as likely as anyplace to stay open — for obvious reasons.

“We’re playing it by ear,” a woman at REI said. “If you want someone to be here, I would get here by 3.”

The REI store did close early.



Survey: CT’s Paid Sick Leave Law A Burden For Some

by Categorized: Health Care, Labor, Retail, Small Business Date:

When Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation paid sick leave law was being debated in 2011, advocates said it would not be a burden to businesses — in fact, it would help them boost productivity by keeping their employees healthy.

Restaurant owners and the state’s general business lobbying group called it an onerous burden.

On Tuesday, a Washington, D.C. group released a survey showing that some business owners scaled back employee hours, cut wages and canceled plans to expand as a result of the law, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

The report by the Employment Policies Institute fuels both sides of the argument. At a time when the state is spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to boost community businesses — what I call the “butcher, baker and candlestick maker” strategy by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy — anything that adds to the cost of doing business is rightly viewed with suspicion.

Here’s the key finding:

Of the 156 businesses that responded to the survey, 86—
or 55 percent—had started providing sick leave to comply
with the new law. Prior to the law taking effect in January
2012, 31 of the businesses surveyed had scaled backed
on employee benefits or reduced paid leave (or both) to
account for the cost of the new law. Twelve had cut back
employee hours, and another six reduced employee wages.
Nineteen businesses raised consumer prices, six laid off
employees, and three converted part-time positions to
full-time positions. Sixteen businesses indicated they
had decided to limit or restrict their expansion within
the state.

That sounds worse than it is in reality. The survey by EPI — a business-backed group that opposes such measures as raises in the minimum wage, not to be confused by the other EPI, the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute — is not scientific.  The 156 businesses in the survey voluntarily responded, from a list of about 800 businesses identified by anti-sick-leave groups, including the Connecticut Business and Industry Association as likely to have been affected by the law.

So, if 12 businesses cut back hours and 19 raised prices, but 150 Connecticut residents didn’t get the flu as a result of the law, what’s the cost and what’s the benefit?

Under the law, firms with 50 or more employees must offer paid sick leave at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked, a maximum of 40 hours of paid sick time per year. Employees must work at least 680 hours to be eligible and employers can charge the time off as vacation time if they offer vacation.

The law does not apply to manufacturers and tech firms, which is important. Service firms such as school bus companies and restaurants can raise prices and they can hurt the economy by not expanding, but they can’t move jobs to other states.

The concerns of business should not be waved off even if the direct effects of the law don’t turn out to be large.  Attitude matters when we’re trying to be “business friendly,” whatever that means, and all of us hear stories from our friends who own businesses about how hard it is to comply with Connecticut’s mandates.

Moreover, it’s always risky to the the first state mandating a new cost for businesses. Cities such as San Francisco and Seattle have mandated paid sick leave, but no other state has joined the club.

What we have here is a survey that shows a very small number of businesses claiming a large burden from the law.  Credit should go to Employment Policies Institute, which did not try to overstate the burden in its report.

Among those businesses that started providing sick leave
to comply with the new law, 43 said it would have a large
effect on their cost of business, 30 said it would have a
small effect, and 12 said it would have no effect. (One
business opted to not respond to the question.)

The state Department of Labor, which has held seminars on the law for hundreds of employers, has received just four complaints — arising from confusion, not hardship, spokeswoman Nancy Steffens said Tuesday.

“The vast majority of employers are complying with the law without experiencing an undue burden on their business,” Steffens said, adding that the sectors most affected added jobs in 2012.

Breaking down the numbers, 60 percent of the companies that responded are in businesses whose employees have significant contact with the public: food/beverage, retail, health care or social services/child care.  That’s exactly where we don’t want sick people working.

For some companies, the chief complaint was not direct added cost, but record-keeping and workflow management.  This from a restaurant:

The owner expressed frustration in the ‘antagonistic relationship’ the law created between him and his employees. He said the business ‘always took care of its people,’ and that the lack of a paid policy was never an issue until labor unions decided to make it one. He said the sick leave law itself wouldn’t cause him to close his business, but that it was ‘one more anti-business piece of regulation’ that makes Connecticut less-friendly to job growth.

By limiting the scope of the law, lawmakers watered down the bill to make it palatable, and probably not an economic burden on the state as a whole.

We can find a few restaurants that have been hurt, and their voices matter. But we can’t easily identify the countless companies that gained a tiny bit of output in 2012 because their employees or their employees’ kids were not sick as often as they would have been.