How Can You Junk Your Furnace, Cut Your Heating Bills, and Still Stay Warm (and, in the Process, Make Housing More Affordable)?

. August 31, 2011

That’s easy: move to Key West, Florida. Ok, that’s one way to do it. But the Cleveland Museum of Natural History has an exhibit showing how this can be done without moving south: build a house with foot-thick walls, big triple-pane windows, bank vault-size doors, and clever engineering. These houses cost about 20% more to build than regular homes, but they cut heating and cooling costs (and, not to mention, pollution) by 90%. These “passive houses” are popular in Germany, but are just starting to catch on in the U.S. and Canada.

Despite the costs, the outlook for passive homes is brightening, especially as energy prices increase and the equipment needed to build them becomes more available. “The key to keeping passive houses cost effective is to increase the building’s performance to the point that conventional heating systems can be eliminated entirely. The savings will make up for the costs,” according to Chris Straka, the principal designer for Ottawa’s Rideau Residences, Canada’s first passive housing development.

What is Your Neighborhood’s “Walk Score”?

Walkscore.com is a website that ranks cities and neighborhoods based on their walkability. Its walk score algorithm measures the walkability of individual addresses based on proximity to nearby amenities. Among the 32 largest cities in Connecticut, it ranks Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport as the most walkable. Shelton, Trumbull, and North Haven round out the bottom of the list.

So how does your neighborhood rank? Type in your address to find out.

2010 Connecticut Utility Consumer Scorecard

. August 30, 2011

A few months ago, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP; formerly the Department of Public Utility Control) released its 2010 utility consumer scorecard. It ranks each electric, natural gas, water, telecommunications, and cable provider based on the number of complaints it receives against how many customers it has. For all industries, the number of complaints dropped to 3,917 in 2010, a 6% decrease from 2009. The electric industry had the most complaints at 1,760, followed by the cable industry with 845 complaints. According to the scorecard, United Illuminating has better customer service than Connecticut Light & Power; Connecticut Natural Gas is the most customer-friendly gas company in the state; and Aquarion Water has the best customer service of any utility in Connecticut.

Bachelor’s Degree Program for Autistic Students

The Sage Colleges in Albany, NY established a new online bachelor’s degree program designed specifically for students with autism or learning disabilities. The program, known as the “Achieve Degree,” begins on January 15, 2012. It is the first of its kind; while many colleges offer programs for students with learning disabilities, this is the first one that will specifically focus on autism (while not excluding students with other conditions) and that will award a bachelor’s degree.

CT Supreme Court Rules that FOIA Address Disclosure Prohibitions Apply to Motor Vehicle Grand Lists

. August 29, 2011

In Commissioner of Public Safety v. Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC), 301 Conn. 323 (2011), the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled unanimously (two justices filed a separate concurring opinion) that, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), names and addresses of certain public employees may not be disclosed on a municipality’s motor vehicle grand list. The decision reversed an FOIC ruling (which was affirmed by the trial court) that had ordered North Stonington’s complete motor vehicle grand list to be disclosed.

The case involved two conflicting statutes. CGS § 12-55 requires the grand list to be available for public inspection, while § 1-217 prohibits public agencies from disclosing, under FOIA, the names and addresses of certain public employees. Reading the statutes together, the court concluded that “there is no ambiguity regarding a town assessor’s obligation not to disclose the home addresses…when making a grand list and its component data available for inspection.” The court pointed to CGS § 1-210(a), which generally provides for access to public records “except as otherwise provided by any federal law or state statute.”

False Claims


The Internet Crime Complaint Center reports that people buying cars online are being tricked by fraudulent vehicle sales and false claims of vehicle protection programs.

In the scam, con artists sell vehicles they don’t own, often by offering them for less than book value, claiming they must sell them quickly because they must relocate for work or are being deployed by the military. They often falsely claim that the vehicles are protected by a legitimate vehicle protection plan, such as the eBay Motors Vehicle Protection Plan. But the eBay plan does not cover vehicles sold through sites other than eBay.

To further gain a prospective buyer’s confidence the scammers sometimes use a live-chat feature, posing as on-line sales people who assure the buyer that the transaction is safe.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center is a partnership of the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Help for Serious Crime Victims Not Extensive

. August 26, 2011

A new study by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) finds that few crime victims use services designed to provide them with counseling, help to navigate the criminal justice system, or help to get restitution. The study found that from 1993 to 2009, only 9% of violent crime victims received help from a victim service agency and only about one in five rape victims received such help. Among the study’s other highlights:

  1. victims were more likely to receive services if they reported the crime to law enforcement (14% compared to 4%),
  2. victims who received direct services from an agency were more likely to see an arrest made,
  3. female victims were more likely than male victims to receive services (15% compared to 6%),
  4. a greater percentage of serious intimate partner violence victims (23%) received assistance that other serious crime victims (8%), and
  5. a greater percentage of serious violent crime victims living in rural areas (12%) than in urban areas (8%) received assistance.

Connecticut Making Some Progress with Children’s Well-Being


The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization, has released its 2011 Kids Count Data Book. The book, which compiles data on child well-being in each state, ranked Connecticut sixth nationally.

The data shows that between 2006 and 2009, the most recent year data was available, Connecticut had a reduction in the number of low-birth weight babies, teen dropouts, and teen deaths. On the other hand, the state saw an increase in infant and child deaths and children without secure parental employment.

Between 2000 and 2009, Connecticut experienced an 8% increase in the child poverty rate. However, this was well below the 18% increase nationally.

The “Oreo Problem” in Pharmaceutical Drug Marketing

. August 25, 2011


There has been a longstanding concern in the medical community about how pharmaceutical companies market drugs to doctors. Some believe doctors are being inappropriately influenced by these companies when making clinical decisions. A recent Boston NPR news article examines this issue, sometimes referred to as the “oreo problem.”

Pharmaceutical salespeople have very detailed information about the prescriptions written by each doctor that they then use to make their marketing as specific and effective as possible. The article describes the problem as the equivalent of having a charming Nabisco representative approach you in a supermarket, saying that they’ve noticed that you used to buy Oreos, but lately have switched to Nutter Butters and would like to get you to resume buying Oreos by offering you free samples.

In 2007, Vermont attempted to address the issue by passing a law prohibiting pharmacies from selling doctors’ prescribing data to data miners and drug companies unless the doctor opted in. While patient names are protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, physician names are not. But, in June 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the law allowing drug companies to continue to buy information that helps them market their drugs to doctors. The court said that prescribing data is protected under the First Amendment.

Federal Appeals Court Finds Health Law is Constitutional

The Wall Street Journal reports that a federal appeals court in Cincinnati upheld the 2010 federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, handing the Obama administration its biggest victory yet as challenges to the law advance toward the Supreme Court. “The decision, from the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, marked the first time a Republican-appointed judge has found the [act] constitutional, after federal district courts hearing separate challenges divided along partisan lines. The court ruled that the law's requirement that most Americans maintain health insurance fell within Congress's constitutional authority over interstate commerce.” The New York Times also reported on the decision.

Kaiser Health News is keeping track of the status of all the health law court challenges.

Foreclosure Filings Down for FY 2011

. August 24, 2011

According to statistics from the Judicial Branch, the number of foreclosures filed in FY 2011 decreased significantly from the prior fiscal year. Between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011, 15,614 foreclosure cases were filed, compared to 26,510 cases filed between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010. There was also a slight increase in the percentage of foreclosure mediation certificates filed in eligible cases from 47% in FY 2010 to 50% in FY 2011.

The state’s Foreclosure Mediation Program, which began July 1, 2008, provides homeowners and lenders with the opportunity to resolve mortgage foreclosure actions through mediation. It applies to foreclosure actions against homeowners of one-to-four family owner-occupied residential properties. The foreclosure action must have a return date of July 1, 2008 or later and the property must be the homeowner’s primary residence.

As of May 31, 2011, 10,781 foreclosure cases have completed mediation with 65% resulting in the homeowners remaining in the property either through (1) loan modification, (2) forbearance or a repayment plan, or (3) reinstatement or a partial claim.



Chart Source: State of Connecticut Judicial Branch,

Why Doesn’t Washington Hear the Unemployed?


"With 15 million people unemployed, and more than 20 million underemployed, you’ve got a fairly large constituency for action on the jobs crisis. But it’s not a constituency that has any evident power in Washington," the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes in his blog on economic and domestic policy. Klein says a number of writers have put forward a variety of explanations why this is. The reasons posed vary greatly.




OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book

. August 23, 2011

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has put together a very informative, interactive FAQ website providing short answers to a number of questions concerning juveniles as victims. Topics covered include child maltreatment, school and violent crime victimization, suicide, sexual assault, trends in violent crime victimization, and adult and juvenile victim comparisons.

Why Small Businesses Were Hit Harder by the Recession

A recent article by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York confirms that the recession was especially hard on small businesses. Researchers found that from December 2007 to December 2009, jobs declined by 10.4% in businesses with fewer than 50 employees, compared to a 7.5% decrease in larger businesses. Generally, small firms lost a greater percentage of jobs than large firms regardless of business sector. Manufacturing was an exception, with relatively uniform losses across both small and large firms.
According to the article, the major difficulties small businesses faced during those years were economic uncertainty and reduced sales due to decreases in consumer demand. These issues certainly affected larger businesses as well, but to a lesser degree. The article also concluded that credit availability played a secondary role in explaining why small firms struggled more than their larger counterparts.

Tolls Under Consideration in Other States

. August 22, 2011

A story on Stateline.org details the discussion taking place in other states regarding tolls as a potential way of paying for existing highways. It notes that the federal gas tax, the primary revenue source for the Highway Trust Fund, has not increased since 1993 and that the fund is projected to go into the red by late 2012.

In light of this, a number of states have raised the possibility of placing tolls on existing interstate highways to help pay for their maintenance. A focus of the story is Rhode Island, where a recent study found that the state needs to spend about $300 million more a year just to keep its current roads and bridges in good repair a figure that is twice as much as the state typically spends. The story also describes currently federal law, which sharply restricts the ability of states to establish tolls and possible federal responses.

Taking the “Amazon” Tax to the Voters


Connecticut is not the only state to enact an “Amazon” tax on out-of-state online sellers in 2011 – Arkansas, California, and Illinois did as well. Amazon.com, and other online retailers, severed its ties to its affiliates in all four states. But Amazon.com pushed a bit further in California by petitioning for a statewide referendum on the law.

The California state attorney general’s office approved its petition on July 18. If Amazon.com can collect 500,000 signatures by September 27, voters will be able to decide in 2012 whether they want to pay sales taxes for online purchases.

Meanwhile, Senator Dick Durbin and Representative John Conyers Jr. introduced legislation (H.R. 2701 and S.R.1452) called, “The Main Street Fairness Act,” to establish a nationwide requirement that online retailers collect sales tax on behalf of consumers in each state.

Revitalizing Neighborhoods the Artistic Way

. August 19, 2011


Traditional neighborhood revitalization programs usually buy up dilapidated buildings and vacant lots and sell them at a discount to private developers. Sometimes, these programs take a back seat to…artists. “A growing number of practitioners, researchers, funders, elected officials, and traditional community development and financing organizations are taking a close look at culture-driven community revitalization” (emphasis added).

Besides creating wealth, artists often change a community’s physical fabric. Some create live-work space in unused or underutilized buildings. Arts organizations have even helped old industrial towns turn warehouses into live-work spaces and galleries. These projects “decrease blight and animate neglected spaces, increase arts-participation for residents, contribute to local pride, and catalyze other economic gains in their communities.”

But culture-driven community development could backfire on the artists and their neighborhoods. “Whether artists develop the space on their own or someone else develops it with artists in mind, artists who do not become owners can soon find themselves being priced out. Longtime residents of the surrounding community can be priced out, too—unless they have a real estate ownership stake” (Communities and Banking, “Artists as Revitalization Agents,” Summer 2011)

Annual Report on Connecticut’s Charter Schools


The State Department of Education recently issued its annual report on Connecticut’s charter schools. Among its facts and conclusions:

o Although the state’s 18 charters schools are located in only 10 school districts, nearly half (85) of Connecticut’s school districts had at least one resident among the 5,170 students who attended those schools in 2009-10.

o State funding for charter schools increased by more than 340% between FY 01 and FY 10, from $14 million to over $48 million.

o 68.3% and 67.6% of charter school students performed at or above the state goal in math and reading, respectively, on the Connecticut Mastery Tests in 2010, an increase of roughly two percentage points over 2009 in each category.

o Although these percentages lag behind statewide averages for all other public schools, Hartford, New Haven, and Bridgeport students who attend charter schools located in those cities outperform students in city public schools.

o The demand for charter schools is high, with long waiting lists. Charter school enrollment would double if the schools had enough space and state funding to accommodate all who are interested.

o Limited financial resources is the main obstacle to maintaining and extending charter schools in Connecticut.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)” Repeal Final as of September 20, 2011

. August 18, 2011

According to a Saturday, July 23, 2011, Christian Science Monitor (CSM) article, “On Friday [July 22], President Obama formally certified that the US military is ready to accept those in uniform regardless of sexual orientation. The day before, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen both signed off on the certification as well.”

Under the law, the DADT repeal becomes final 60 days after certification that the military is ready for the transition. According to a December 18, 2010, article on the Huffington Post website, “The Senate voted 65-31 on Saturday [December 18, 2010] to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, defeating a 17-year policy of banning gay and lesbian service members from serving openly in the military.”

As the countdown continues, the Christian Science Monitor goes on to state: “‘It remains the policy of the Department of Defense that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter,’ said Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness and a retired Marine Corps major general. ‘There will be zero tolerance for harassment, violence, or discrimination of any kind.’”

Looking Out for Our Seniors — Gatekeeper Program To Expand In State

The Hartford Courant is reporting that an innovative program run by St. Lukes Eldercare Services will be expanded to include several towns throughout the state. St. Lukes has been involved with the Gatekeeper program, which began in Washington State in the late 1970s, for over a year. In addition to St. Lukes, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has chosen three other agencies across the state to host the statewide program.

The program teaches postal workers, municipal employees, firefighters, hairdressers, and others to look out for signs that something isn’t right with a senior. If they see something, they refer the senior to the Gatekeeper program, which offers services, including financial planning, in-home medical care, legal advice, and transportation, among other things. One goal of the program is to keep seniors in the community instead of a nursing home or other institutional setting.

OSHA Launches Campaign to Beat the Heat

. August 17, 2011


With record-setting hot and humid weather settling in over much of the nation, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a new website aimed at educating employers and employees on ways to avoid heat-related illnesses. Sporting the slogan “Water, Rest, and Shade: The Work Can’t Get Done Without Them,” the site warns that thousands of workers every year get sick due to heat exposure on job sites. It also offers fact sheets, posters, and training resources with information on how to prevent and respond to heat-related illness.

Middle-Class Children Falling Behind

The Foundation for Child Development is highlighting a report that tracks, over a 24-year period, the relationship between family income and positive and negative outcomes for children. According to the report, even before the Great Recession, middle class children were losing ground and their families are relying on public programs, particularly pre-kindergarten education and health care access programs, to maintain their children’s well-being.

Among the report’s key findings:

From 2000-2008, middle class families with children saw their incomes drop by more than $4,000 per year compared to $139 for high-income families.

  • The income gap separating the typical middle class family from the typical high-income family rose by more than 50% from $59,000 in 1985 to $93,100 in 2008.
  • The proportion of children in middle-class families who lived with only one parent increased from 14% in 1985 to 23% in 2008.
  • The percentage of children with a securely employed parent rose between 1993 and 2000, but 75% of these gains were lost by 2008.

States Cut Higher Ed Budgets While Demand for College Degrees Seen to Rise

. August 16, 2011


The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) outlines the competing ideas of cutting the state budgets for higher education while the need for workers to attain a college decree increases in an online article.

NCSL cites a number of states who have cut their higher education budget, from California, which cut its budget by $1.4 billion to Georgia, which raised tuition at the University of Georgia by 46% over two years.

On the flip side, the article notes that the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, a Colorado-based education policy organization, states that by 2025, 55% of all jobs in the U.S. will require at least an associate’s degree.

The article suggests a few solutions. One is to tie funding to meeting targets for student retention and graduation. Another is increasing state colleges’ online presence.

Calculating Your Carbon Footprint


Researchers at the University of California, Berkley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory have published a study finding that everyone has a unique carbon footprint based on where and how they live. A carbon footprint is a measure of greenhouse gases release during production, use, and disposal of products and services. The study analyzed household carbon footprints in each U.S. state, 28 regions, six household sizes, and 12 income levels. It estimates that about one-third of typical household emissions are from transportation, about 20 percent from household energy, and about 15 percent from food, with the remainder from goods, services, housing construction, water, and waste.

The study’s results have been compiled in an online carbon calculator which an individual can use to estimate their carbon footprint, pinpoint areas where changes can be made to decrease their footprint, and compare it with footprints from other similar households. The carbon footprint estimate is obtained by answering questions pertaining to an individual’s location, household size, income, and lifestyle choices.

Professional Sports Teams’ Bankruptcy Filings Rare But Not Unprecedented

. August 15, 2011

When the Los Angeles Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection in June, they became the sixth major professional sports franchise to do so in the past decade, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Bankruptcy Beat online blog. Other teams to file for bankruptcy since 2000 include two MLB teams (the Texas Rangers in 2010 and the Chicago Cubs in 2009) and three NHL teams (the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009 and the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators in 2003). According to the post, no NFL or NBA team has ever filed for bankruptcy.

While the Dodgers were several games under .500 when they filed for bankruptcy, not all team bankruptcy filings are accompanied by on-the-field struggles. The Texas Rangers made the World Series last year after filing for bankruptcy earlier in the spring.

New Federal Crib Safety Standards


The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission recently approved new crib safety standards which all cribs manufactured and sold, including resales, must comply with starting June 28, 2011. The new standards prohibit the manufacture or sale of traditional drop side cribs, strengthen crib slats, improve hardware quality, and require more rigorous testing.

GAO Report Examines Implications of Standardizing Federal Agencies’ Global Regions

. August 12, 2011


In 2011, legislation was proposed that would have required uniform service regions for all Connecticut state agencies (i.e., a Southwest region, a Central region, etc.). However, a recent federal report shows that this concept is not as simple as it may appear.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined this issue at the federal level as it pertains to federal agencies’ organization of their global regions. GAO found that a common alignment of world regions would present agencies with a number of challenges. It noted that different geographic alignments are due to agency-specific mission objectives, as well as cultural, historical, or economic connections among countries. For instance, the Department of Defense has India and Pakistan in separate geographic combatant commands, but the Department of State has the countries in the same regional bureau.

Teen Drivers and Passengers Most At Risk in the Summer


AAA reports that seven of the 10 deadliest days of the year for teenagers driving and riding in cars occur in the summer, and urges parents to help keep their kids safe. According to an AAA report, more than 7,300 teenage drivers and passengers died in traffic crashes between Memorial Day and Labor Day between 2005 and 2009. An average of 422 teens died in traffic accidents during each of the summer months, compared to an average of 363 teen deaths in other months. “Life feels more care-free when school’s out and teens have more opportunities to drive or ride in cars late at night with other teens,” AAA vice-president Kathleen Marvaso said.

Among other things, AAA urges parents to:

• Restrict driving and eliminate non-essential driving,

• Limit the number of teen passengers, and

• Restrict night driving

Car Safety Group Calls On GM to Equip Older Cars with Interior Trunk Releases

. August 11, 2011


A national car and children’s safety organization is again calling on General Motors to recall its 2000 and 2001 model year vehicles and retrofit them with internal trunk releases.

KidsAndCars.org repeated its request following the June 17 deaths of two young Indiana boys trapped in the trunk of a Chevy Malibu.

The organization, whose efforts helped lead to a federal regulation requiring glow-in-the-dark trunk releases in all vehicles manufactured since 2002, first asked GM to retrofit its vehicles after two Arkansas children died in a car trunk in 2009.

According to the New York Times, GM responded to KidsAndCars.org by citing its work with Safe Kids Worldwide, an international child safety organization, and stating that it has provided interior trunk releases in all its passenger vehicles since 2001.

KidsAndCars.org recommends that owners of older cars equip their vehicles with aftermarket interior trunk releases. The organization sells a retrofit kit called the Quick-Out Emergency Trunk Release.

Charter Oak Changes—Higher Premiums but Some Caps Removed

. August 10, 2011

The 2011 legislature made changes in the Charter Oak Health Plan, including lowering the state premium subsidy as of September 1, 2011. Currently, program enrollees who do not get subsidies pay $307 in monthly premiums. This includes people with incomes above 300% of the federal poverty level and those who enrolled in the program on or after June 1, 2011.


DSS has just informed enrollees that effective September 1, 2011, the monthly premium for those who must pay the full premium will rise to $446. Individuals who receive subsidies will also have to pay more because the subsidy is based on the full premium amount.

DSS attributes the higher premium costs to higher medical costs incurred by program enrollees. However, the blow is softened somewhat by DSS’ decision to eliminate the annual $100,000 limit on benefits and caps on drugs and durable medical equipment. Additionally, the governor has just announced that the state’s Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan’s premiums are now much lower thanks to federal approval of a single, collapsed premium rate of $381 per month. Only people with such conditions may participate in that program. Charter Oak has no such limitation but many wishing to enroll in it have such conditions and may find they are better off in the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan.

Food Truck Fad Running Up Against Local Ordinances


The food truck craze has spread across the country. And as the trucks grow in popularity, communities are starting to take a closer look at how they regulate them.

While some folks may not see a downside to cupcakes and tacos on wheels, cities are wrestling with the parking shortages, crowds, and diesel fumes that come along with the trend. Brick-and-mortar restaurants are also increasingly frustrated by the competition from mobile restaurants that face much lower overhead costs.

The New York Times reports that cities are increasingly tightening parking regulations for food trucks and requiring that they park a certain distance from restaurants.

The issue recently came to a head in New London when a local vendor appealed the city’s decision to enforce a 2007 ordinance restricting street vendors from its central business district. The city council
ultimately decided to allow the vendor to operate in the district during lunch hours on Fridays only.

National Health Care Spending Projections

. August 9, 2011


A new report by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Office of the Actuary projects that U.S. health care spending will increase at an average rate of 5.8% over the next decade and reach almost $4.5 trillion by 2020. Expanded Medicaid and private insurance coverage are expected to increase demand for health care significantly, particularly for prescription drugs and physician and clinical services. Also, growth in Medicare enrollment, and premium and cost sharing subsidies for exchange plans are expected to increase the federal government’s share of health care spending.

Survey: Teachers Increasingly Take an Alternative Route

"Four out of 10 new public school teachers hired since 2005 came through alternative teacher-preparation programs, according to a survey just released by the National Center For Education Information. That's up from 22 percent of new teachers hired between 2000 and 2004," reports Education Week’s Teachers blog.

The blog reports the survey found that alternative-route teachers are more likely to favor reforms such as performance pay, tenure elimination, tying student achievement to teacher evaluations, and market-driven pay to strengthen the teaching profession than their traditionally prepared counterparts.

According to the blog:

[N]early all teachers, regardless of certification route, support removing incompetent teachers without concern for seniority. And all teachers "are slightly more satisfied with general working conditions and are more satisfied with the status of teachers in the community than were teachers surveyed in 2005, 1996, 1990, and in 1986," according to "Profile of Teachers in the U.S. 2011." This result stands in contrast to the sentiments expressed by those teachers attending the Save Our Schools Rally in Washington, D.C., the weekend of July 30-31.

New Crime Solutions Website

. August 8, 2011


The U.S. Office of Justice Programs recently launched a new website compiling research on different crime-fighting programs and rating each program’s effectiveness. The website aims to help practitioners and policy makers find out “what works in criminal justice, juvenile justice, and crime victim services.” It covers a broad range of topics including police strategies, forensics, sentencing, corrections programs, substance abuse, and child protection and exposure to violence. The site’s rating system indicates whether the research finds a program effective, promising, or has no effect.

The Coming (Port) War Between States

The traditional economic development war between states may take a new twist. Historically, states battled to lure businesses away from each other, promising generous tax breaks, low-interest loans, and customized job training. Very soon, the battle will shift to harbors and ports as cities and states dredge channels, raise bridges, expand terminals, add rails, and expand highways.

What’s shifting the battle from industrial parks to seaports? Technological change and its countless consequences. First, ships are getting bigger, and that’s a plus because experts say it costs less to transport goods by ships than by trains or trucks. Well, if that’s true, why do ships bringing goods from Asia unload in Los Angeles and Long Beach instead of Savannah or Newark? The Panama Canal isn’t wide or deep enough for these ships, but not for long!

The Panama Canal is expanding, and that, according to some experts, will make it cheaper to ship goods directly to east coast ports. (That, plus the truck traffic congesting west coast highways and unmet demand for new warehouses there.) Other experts argue that the picture isn’t so clear, pointing to major structural impediments at east coast ports and Congress’ reluctance to fund major harbor improvements.



Source: “The Battle of the Ports,” Planning, May/June 2011, available in the Connecticut Legislative Library

Food Supply Struggles on Warming Planet

. August 5, 2011

The New York Times reports on the impact a warming climate may have on food supplies around the world. Scientists have been studying the link between climate change and agriculture for nearly two decades, thinking it would take a long while – until 2080 – to feel the impacts. But recently these assumptions have been challenged, as the food system already has been destabilizing and food prices soaring. Farmers face challenges from extreme weather, like floods and heat waves. They are experimenting with new crop varieties that may better tolerate such extremes.

Meanwhile, the National Conference of State Legislatures has published A Policymaker’s Guide to Climate Economics, available here.

Pew Trusts Launch Federal Tax Expenditure Website

The Pew Charitable Trusts have launched the first-ever website of searchable and downloadable data on federal tax subsidies, known as tax expenditures. Tax expenditures are federal tax provisions that allow people or businesses to reduce their taxes by claiming deductions, exemptions, preferential rates, deferrals, or credits. Federal tax expenditures can also affect state tax revenue because most states use the federal tax code as a starting point for state taxes.

The new site allows users to select particular tax expenditures and find estimates of their annual cost from both the U.S. Treasury and the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation; view aggregate or individual subsidies for various sectors of the economy, such as housing, energy, or education; or view subsidies to business and individuals separately.

The site is part Subsidycope, a joint project of Pew and the Sunlight Foundation. Other parts of the site provide information on federal grants, contracts, and loans and loan guarantees. Its overall goal is to “raise public awareness of the role of federal subsidies in the economy.”

Rentership Society: The New Normal?

. August 4, 2011

Are Americans becoming a society of renters? According to this article on Housingwire.com, the answer is heading toward yes. Citing Morgan Stanley researchers, the article puts the current homeownership rate at just below 65%—down over 4% from its all-time high of 69% during the housing boom. And the researchers predict that the rate will drop even lower to about 59%, causing the rentership rate to rise and rental market investments to overshadow the ownership market investments for years to come. Among the reasons for the shift: falling home prices, which have a negative impact on the desire to own a home lack of credit; new securitization rules; and mortgage interest deduction reform. To accommodate the surge in the demand for rentals, localities are reducing barriers that hampered rental development during the housing boom, according to the National Multi Housing Council.

Should the State Remove Very Obese Children from Their Parents?

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that children who are in the 99th percentile for body mass index and consume 1,000 calories per day more than they should might be better off being removed from their home. The researchers, Drs. Lindsey Murtagh and David Ludwig, cite “immediate and potentially irreversible consequences, most notably type 2 diabetes” as the leading reason.

While bariatric surgery is possible for adolescents, the researchers note the “long-term safety and effectiveness of this invasive procedure in adolescents remains unknown” and so protective custody has to remain an option.

The researchers note the federal definition of child abuse is, “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm . . . or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

Like under-nourishment that has long been considered child abuse, the researchers argue that state intervention, including “intermediate options such as in-home social supports, parenting training, counseling, and financial assistance” might be the best way to control childhood obesity.

Presenting legal justification for removing the child from the home may prove challenging the researchers acknowledge. Thus, they conclude it should be pursued only under carefully defined criteria.

Regional Project, Clean Water, and the Legislative Process

. August 3, 2011

According to a July 18th Middletown Press article, “Members of the Mattabassett District’s board of directors expressed equal measures of exasperation and frustration Monday with a proposed revision that would allow Middletown to join the regional sewer district.”

The article states, however, that an appearance at the board meeting by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) commissioner and two local legislators helped keep the atmosphere calm.

During the 2011 regular legislative session, the legislature approved Special Act 11-15, which allows Middletown to join the Mattabassett District (and thereby close its own plant). The district currently consists of Berlin, Cromwell, and New Britain. The article reports that some board members from these town felt as though they were left out of the legislative process.

At stake if the board rejects Middletown’s joining is greater cost for all concerned. “But if the board accepts the proposal, Middletown will close its aging plant and come in with Berlin, Cromwell, New Britain and the Metropolitan District Commission to help defray the cost of the Mattabassett upgrade,” according to the article.

Vermont Moves Toward Single-Payer Health Insurance

Vermont recently passed legislation establishing something close to a universal, single-payer health insurance system, with providers and hospitals billing the state for their services. The new system, “Green Mountain Care,” will be phased in alongside federal health care reform changes. All state residents are eligible for coverage, which proponents argue will be cheaper than the current network of insurers. A five-member board appointed by the governor will determine provider payment rates, benefits, and other system components. The system relies heavily on federal Medicaid waivers that reallocate funds and other unspecified funding sources. Eventually, the system will replace fee-for-service payment with a system that pays providers a certain amount of money to care for a specific population, providing incentives for preventive care.

OLR’s Worst Nightmare

. August 2, 2011

Ever wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, awakened from an it-seemed-so-real dream about forgetting to do something really important (like study for that imaginary exam)? This link takes you to the subject of many an OLR bolt upright (just go to the link, it's ruling showing judges have a sense of humor).

How Did Affordable Housing Fare in This Year’s Budget?

By most calculations, very well. According to a recent Partnership for Strong Communities article, it looks like many programs geared toward affordable housing creation will get a boost. For example, the Department of Economic and Community Development will receive about $130 million over the biennium to put toward its Housing Trust Fund and Flex program, and up to 150 new permanent supportive housing units. Other recipients include the Small Town Economic Assistance Program and the Rental Assistance Program.

College Cost Calculator

. August 1, 2011

The price of a college education continues to increase faster than the rate of inflation. The New York Times has a college cost “calculator” that estimates higher education costs in the near future.

Largest Solar Farm in Vermont Opens

The Burlington Free Press recently reported the opening of the state’s largest solar farm in South Burlington. The facility, which can produce up to 2.2 megawatts of power, has 9,000 solar panels mounted on 382 GPS-controlled solar trackers that can move to remain squarely facing the sun. According to the article, the ability to follow the sun allows the tracking panels to produce 40% more power than fixed solar panels. Thanks to a 2009 state law that encouraged the development of renewable energy sources, the $12 million facility has a power purchase contract with Vermont to sell power to utilities for 30 cents per kilowatt hour.