Forty-three years ago, as Connecticut officials were gearing up to sell the very first tickets for the state’s newly approved lottery, Gov. Thomas Meskill bullishly declared that residents’ appetite for legalized gambling would put $14 million into state coffers in that first year – a figure editorial writers at the Courant eyed dubiously as “optimistic.”
The paper needn’t have been skeptical. Meskill hit his figure, and in the years since the lottery’s launch on Feb. 15, 1972, ticket sales – and the state’s take of those sales – have skyrocketed.
In fiscal year 2014, lottery sales in Connecticut topped $1 billion for the fourth year in a row. That’s a hair under $400 a year for every Connecticut resident old enough to buy a ticket. Adjusted for both inflation and population, that is a five-fold increase over that first heady year. And with national surveys showing only about half the population plays the lottery, that suggests the average player is spending close to a $1,000 a year on tickets – with heavy players dropping several thousand.
As ticket sales have grown, so has the state’s share of the take, increasing from $14 million the first full year, to $319.5 million in 2014. For the last 20 years, inflation has accounted for much of that growth; since the mid-1990s, ticket sales and state revenue have been generally flat on an inflation-adjusted basis. But overall, the state has sold more than $24.7 billion since the lottery launched, keeping about a third of the money – more than $8 billion – as revenue. Continue reading →
I recently obtained an internal email in which a lawyer for a public agency laid out the agency’s strategy for responding to a request for records under the Freedom of Information Act.
Step One was identifying the records the agency was willing to release.
Step Two was identifying the records the agency had no intention of releasing.
And then Step Three, almost as an afterthought, was determining whether there was actually an exception under the Freedom of Information Act that would provide a legal basis for keeping the withheld documents secret from the public.
“As we discussed we can always withhold a document even if there is no exception,” the lawyer wrote, with the understanding that the agency might have to concoct a justification for the illegal act if the requester was savvy enough to pursue an appeal to the Freedom of Information Commission.
It wasn’t the first such email I had been made privy to, and it reminded me of the need for vigilance in Freedom of Information matters and the importance of constantly reminding the public servants who work for us that they do, in fact, work for us. They’re paid by us, they’re sworn to serve us. And with rare exceptions, all of the paperwork and data they produce and collect while on our payroll belongs to us, and should be provided to us without a fight.
So as the Legislature gets down to business this week, here’s one transparency advocate’s wish list, for any lawmakers willing to champion the not-so-radical concept that the people’s business really is the people’s business. Continue reading →
The Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system, with its 90,000 students and $300 million in state aid, is among the most expensive and most important government operations. So when Michael Gargano Jr. abruptly resigned his $224,554 job as provost last month, the taxpayers of Connecticut might have felt entitled to a robust exit interview, to learn why he was dissatisfied with the governance of the system and in particular how his thinking differed from that of his boss, Board of Regents President Gregory Gray.
But that’s not likely to happen.
As my colleague Kathy Megan has reported, a separation agreement Gargano and Gray signed contractually bars Gargano from uttering a sentence that disparages Gray – or anyone else connected to the state’s higher education network. Specifically, Gargano’s deal prohibits him from making any derogatory statement about the Board of Regents, about his employment with the Board of Regents or about any current or previous member, employee or officer of the Board of Regents.
On the other side of the ledger, the agreement continues Gargano’s paycheck for nearly 16 weeks, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $65,000. That payment – roughly equal to a year’s salary for a typical state employee – is not required by Gargano’s employment contract.
As is typical of negotiated employment separations, the agreement also bars Gargano from suing his former employer. There’s no indication he had any basis for a suit, although if he was in fact treated in a way that violated the law, perhaps that, too, is something the taxpayers had a right to know.
So in the end, an employee of the public has signed off on giving tens of thousands of dollars of the public’s money to another public employee as part of a deal that will keep the public in the dark about the public’s business.
Whatever advantages attach to incumbency at election time, there is one obvious potential downside: Officeholders create an inescapable trail of policy decisions and are typically linked to the fortunes — and certainly the misfortunes — of their dominions during their terms.
All of that creates opportunities for opponents, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley is out with an aggressive new ad mining the record of incumbent Gov. Dan Malloy on key pocketbook issues: taxes, jobs and the economy. Continue reading →
Tom Foley won a broad and commanding victory in Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor, taking a majority of votes in all but a relative handful of lower-Connecticut cities and towns.
Challenger John McKinney, who lives in Fairfield, had a strong showing in his hometown and bested Foley in 18 other municipalities as well, most of them on the water in Fairfield and New Haven counties. But Foley dominated in every other part of the state.
Below is a town-by-town map of election results as reported by Reuters. Towns shaded red indicate vote spreads favoring Foley and towns shaded blue indicate vote spreads favoring McKinney. Click on a town to see actual results. Results are not available for the two Eastern Connecticut towns in gray: Pomfret and Preston.
Connecticut is making national news with legislation boosting the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour beginning in 2017. With Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s planned signature on the bill Thursday evening, the Nutmeg State becomes the first in the nation to agree to eventually knock through the $10 mark for the lowest-paid workers.
But adjusted for inflation, we’ve topped $10.10 before – albeit not for several decades. As the chart below shows, the hourly minimum wage, in 2014 dollars, exceeded $10.10 in 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972 and 1978. The top rate was in 1968, when the inflation-adjusted minimum was $10.78.
The $10.10 wage is, however, significantly higher than the average inflation-adjusted minimum wage over the last 63 years. Since 1951, the lowest-paid workers have earned an average of $8.39 in today’s dollars.
So $10.10 isn’t the most Connecticut employers have been required to pay, and it certainly isn’t the least. And that alone will assure the topic remains controversial and politically divisive.
I began teaching a journalism class at Central Connecticut State University this semester, with the taxpayers and students’ families picking up the tab for my modest salary. At some point, I imagine the school will evaluate my performance, and when that happens, it will be the official policy of the state legislature that it’s none of the taxpayers’ business whether I’m doing a great job or a crummy job.
If you teach in a public school in Connecticut, from Kindergarten to a Ph.D. program, state law deems that records of your “performance and evaluation” are off-limits to the public that pays your salary. I was given a stark reminder of that today, just as transparency advocates are wrapping up “Sunshine Week,” a national campaign highlighting the importance of open government.
Today happened to be the day I was provided with a large number of documents I had requested from the University of Connecticut, which included the draft of a review of Robert Miller, the former UConn music professor now under the microscope for allegations of sexual misconduct that spanned decades.
The evaluation runs 28 pages – 19 of which have been blacked out completely, and the rest of which have no more than a sentence or two visible. There is a list of “Dr. Miller’s Strengths” and another of “Dr. Miller’s Weaknesses” – but they have been almost entirely blacked out. There is a section marked “Comments from the Faculty” – immediately followed by a page and a half of black boxes. Under “PERSONALITY ISSUES,” the report notes that neither the review committee members nor those interviewed are trained psychologists, but the rest of section, taking up nearly two pages, is completely redacted.
This isn’t the university getting overly exuberant with a magic marker; it’s just following the law.
As I’ve written before, a move to keep teacher evaluations secret began 30 years, resulting in the passage of a law titled “Nondisclosure of records of teacher performance and evaluation,” which made teacher evaluations in local public schools exempt from the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Legislators were persuaded that parents would use evaluations to shop for the best teachers and pressure schools to place their children accordingly – though every parent I’ve ever talked to already knows who the great teachers are in their schools.
And even while the bill was pitched as a way to prevent teacher-shopping, the final language covered all professional staff in a public K-12 school except the superintendent. Assistant superintendents, principals, librarians – all covered by the law putting their performance evaluations off limits.
Before long, that sort of secrecy started looking good to those in higher education. And in 1989, a similar statute was put on the books blocking public access to performance records for the faculty and professional staff at UConn, the state university system and the state’s technical colleges.
And that’s why the document below is mostly black boxes.
Transparency advocates would like to change that. I’ll start with my eval. If and when CCSU gauges my performance, I’ll be happy to send a copy to anyone interested in reading it.
On April 7, barring objection – and no objection has been registered so far – Schuman may formally eliminate the organization Walter “Doc” Hurley dreamed up four decades ago to help needy high school students reach their college dreams. The foundation – which held more than $1 million in assets seven years ago – is now penniless, and Hurley’s daughter, Muriel, is facing a civil suit brought by the attorney general accusing her of looting the charity.
The collapse of the Hurley foundation is on stark display in a series of affidavits filed by nine Hurley scholarship winners who didn’t receive the money they were promised. As part of the Courant’s investigation of the foundation, we tracked down more than a dozen winners who were shortchanged, and lawyers for the state then soon followed up.
Utsarga Bhattarai was awarded a $2,000 scholarship when he graduated from West Hartford’s Hall High School in 2008. But he said the money never came. “On multiple occasions, up and through my junior year of college, I contacted the Foundation through multiple telephone calls and e-mails, but never was contacted by the Foundation,” he wrote.
That sentiment is repeated over and over. “I sent multiple e-mails and made multiple telephone calls to the Foundation and left messages, but never received e-mails back or any return telephone calls,” wrote Alyssa Cusano, who received $500 of the $2,000 she was promised.
Brittany Cavaliere left phone and e-mail messages after her aid stopped. So did Jermaine Thomas and Amanda Trothier. And several other students. But they said they either received no response, or were assured that the scholarship money was on its way. But it never arrived.
The affidavits are included in the dissolution lawsuit merely to bolster the state’s case that the Hurley Foundation was no longer operating as a charitable organization and should be shut down. There is no means through that process to make the students whole.
State officials aren’t foreclosing the possibility of recovering assets that could be distributed to past scholarship winners. But the foundation’s bank accounts are empty, and finding any seizable assets is proving to be a difficult feat.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed an executive order today designed to take some of the massive piles of data held by the state and move them onto an easily accessible website where researchers can dive in.
“This data belongs to the people of Connecticut, and this initiative will help make that data more easily and conveniently accessible to them,” Malloy said, expressing a sentiment not always championed by government officials.
The executive order instructs the state’s executive agencies to identify a first round of datasets that will be made available on what is being dubbed the Connecticut Open Data Portal, at data.ct.gov. Agencies have been told to look for data that is reliable, already in electronic form, frequently requested by the public and free of confidential information.Malloy told the departments to also consider whether disclosure of the information would “improve agency accountability and efficiency, enhance public knowledge of the agency’s operations, or create economic innovation and opportunity.”
Agencies have 90 days to come up with that first list.
Tyler Kleykamp, who works for the Office of Policy and Management, will l lead the enterprise as Chief Data Officer (not to be confused with the television character “Data,” who was a chief officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise).
The initiative builds on the state’s transparency website, which already provides data in searchable and downloadable form on the state’s payroll, pension, contracts, grants and payments. And it’s part of a larger trend of freeing “big data” for analysis by researchers, journalists and business interests. States maintain enormous amounts of data on everything from health care spending to educational performance to highway safety. And more and more of it is seeping into the public domain.
“Timely and consistent publication of public information and data is an essential component of an open and effective government,” the executive order proclaims.
But as it moves to place that information online, the governor’s office also said it would safeguard private information, and said the initiative “does not apply to any protected data that, if disclosed, would violate state or federal law, would endanger the public health, safety or welfare, hinder the operation of government or impose an undue financial, operational or administrative burden on a state agency.”
The way officials interpret those parameters may determine just how public all that public information really will be.
Last fall, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy invited the public to chime in on state regulations that are “outdated, unnecessarily burdensome, insufficient or ineffective.” More than 2,000 comments came in to a special website.
And what was on people’s minds?
Guns. Specifically, handguns in state parks and forests.