December 6, 2016

Uniform Chart of Accounts Q&A

What is the uniform chart of accounts (UCOA)?

Connecticut’s Uniform Chart of Accounts (UCOA) is a benchmarking system that allows for the comparison of municipal and educational revenue and expenditures across towns and school districts.  It is based on a uniform system for reporting town and school district financial information.  Towns and school districts are not required to replace their current accounting systems with the UCOA; rather, they report their financial data in accordance with UCOA requirements.

Where did the UCOA originate?

The UCOA was first proposed by the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement, a commission of business executives established by an executive order from then Governor Rell to study ways to address the achievement gap in Connecticut.  The commission issued its report in the fall of 2010 and one of its recommendations was to establish a chart of accounts (see pages 21-22).  (The concept was used in Rhode Island when it reformed its school finance system.)

In 2011, the legislature authorized $6 million in bonds to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to develop a state and local benchmarking system.  In 2012, it required the State Department of Education (SDE) to (1) make a uniform chart of accounts for school districts available on its website and (2) submit it to the Education and Appropriations committees by July 1, 2013. It required each board of education, regional education service center, and state charter school to start filing annual financial reports using the chart starting July 1, 2014 (PA 12-116, §§ 15 & 16).

In 2013, the legislature expanded the UCOA project to include all municipal revenue and expenditures, not just education, and designated funding for grants to towns and school districts to help them implement the project.  It required the OPM secretary, in consultation with SDE, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, and Council of Small Towns, to develop and implement, by July 1, 2014, a uniform system of accounting for municipal revenue and expenditures, including board of education and grant agency expenditures and revenue. It required the system to include a UCOA for municipalities that lists (1) amounts and sources of revenue and (2) cash and real or personal property donations of $500 or more. It required (1) OPM to make the chart available on its website and (2) by June 30, 2015, municipalities to implement the accounting system and use it to file any annual reports the OPM secretary may require (PA 13-247, § 257).  That same year, the legislature designated up to $450,000 for FY 14 for grants to towns and school districts to help pay for the new system (PA 13-247, §§ 87 & 328).  OPM set a December 31, 2014 deadline for the grant applications.

What is the UCOA’s status?

OPM contracted with Blum Shapiro to implement the benchmarking and UCOA projects.  They provided an update on the project to the MORE Commission in December 2015.  The presentation indicates that as of December 2015, the benchmarking database included municipal-level data for 147 of 169 municipalities.  It also indicates that the education-level data will be validated and entered into the database in 2016.

Where can town officials go to learn more about the UCOA?

Here are several resources on the UCOA that town officials may find helpful:

November 14, 2016

Medicaid Reimbursements for Brand Name versus Generic

According to the Department of Social Services’ (DSS) website, HUSKY providers must generally prescribe generic drugs when they are available. By law, for medical assistance recipients, including HUSKY members, pharmacists must dispense a generically equivalent drug product for brand name drugs unless the prescribing provider has specified that the brand name drug product and dosage form is medically necessary compared to the generic substitution (CGS § 17b-274(b)). The law also requires DSS to require pharmacists to obtain approval from an independent pharmacy consultant acting on behalf of DSS when dispensing a brand name drug to a medical assistance recipient when a chemically equivalent generic substitute is available (CGS § 17b-274(c)).

October 13, 2016

Do Nonresidents Pay Connecticut Income Tax on Powerball Tickets Purchased in Connecticut?

Yes, nonresidents are generally required to pay Connecticut income tax on multistate lottery winnings, including Powerball, if they purchase the winning ticket here.  Specifically, nonresidents must pay Connecticut income taxes on the winnings if (1) they meet the gross income test (i.e., have taxable income that reaches the filing thresholds listed below) and (2) the amount paid is reportable to the IRS (i.e., $600 or more and at least 300 times the amount of the wager).
For the 2016 tax year, the filing threshold is:
  • $12,000 for married people filing separately,
  • $15,000 for single filers,
  • $19,000 for heads of household, and
  • $24,000 for married couples filing jointly or surviving spouses.
By law, the Connecticut Lottery Corporation withholds state income tax from payments of reportable Connecticut lottery winnings, including Powerball winnings (Conn. Agencies Regs. § 12-705(b)-2).

For further information, a 2015 Department of Revenue Services informational publication explains the income tax treatment of state lottery winnings received by residents and nonresidents. 

October 12, 2016

Fuel Oil Grades Explained

Fuel oil grades are generally based on viscosity (i.e., thickness or flow resistance), boiling point, and use. The federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) categorizes fuel oil as distillate (i.e., number 1, number 2, and number 4 fuel oil) or residual (number 5 and number 6 fuel oil). The following table describes each grade as defined in state regulations. Number 3 fuel oil is no longer widely used as a classification.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while heavier residual fuel oils contain significant amounts of ash, nitrogen, and sulfur, emissions from fuel oil combustion depend not only on the grade and composition of the fuel, but also on the (1) type and size of the boiler, (2) firing and loading practices, and (3) level of equipment maintenance. For more information, see Table 1.3-1 in EPA’s Compilation of Air Pollutant Emission Factors.

Fuel Oil Grades

Regulatory Definition and Examples
Number 1
A light distillate fuel oil intended for use in vaporizing pot-type burners. Number 1 fuel oil is used primarily as fuel for portable outdoor stoves and portable outdoor heaters.
Number 2
A distillate fuel oil for use in atomizing-type burners for domestic heating or for moderate capacity commercial-industrial burner units.
Number 4
A fuel oil for commercial burner installations not equipped with preheating facilities that is extensively used in industrial plants. This grade is usually a blend of distillate and residual fuel stocks, but can be a heavy distillate.
Number 5
A residual fuel oil more viscous than number 4 distillate fuel for burners capable of handling a more viscous product. Preheat may be necessary depending upon equipment design and climatic conditions.
Number 6
A high-viscosity fuel oil for commercial and industrial heating and power generation. Preheating is required for satisfactory use. This grade includes (1) heavy-grade residual fuel oil referred to as Bunker C fuel oil and (2) Navy Special, a grade of residual fuel oil for use in steam powered vessels in government service and in shore power plants.
Source: Conn. Agencies Reg., §16a-22c-1

September 7, 2016

What is the Municipal Spending Cap?

Connecticut’s municipal spending cap is a feature of its new municipal revenue sharing grant program.  Municipalities will receive these grants beginning in FY 17, but the cap applies beginning only in FY 18. 

The cap is the greater of the inflation rate or 2.5% or more of the prior fiscal year’s adopted budget expenditures, including expenditures from a municipality's general fund and any nonbudgeted funds.  Municipalities that increase their adopted budget expenditures over the previous fiscal year by an amount that exceeds this cap receive a reduced revenue sharing grant.  The reduction is equal to 50 cents for every dollar the municipality spends over the cap.  But grants will not be reduced in any year in which a municipality’s adopted budget expenditures exceed the cap by an amount proportionate to its population increase over the previous fiscal year.

Municipalities must annually certify to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) secretary, on an OPM-prescribed form, whether they have exceeded the spending cap and if so, the excess amount.

The spending cap does not apply to expenditures:

1.   for debt service, special education, implementing court orders or arbitration awards, budgeting for an audited deficit, nonrecurring grants, nonrecurring capital expenditures of at least $100,000, or payments on unfunded pension liabilities;
2.   associated with a major disaster or emergency declaration by the president or disaster emergency declaration issued by the governor under the civil preparedness law; or
3.   for motor vehicle property tax grants or municipal revenue sharing grants disbursed to special taxing districts (CGS § 4-66l(h), as amended by PA 16-3, MSS (§ 189)).

August 30, 2016

Germany’s Silicon Valley

By focusing on the site of “The Factory,” future archeologists digging in Berlin could learn a great deal about how technological changes in the previous three centuries transformed the world.

This 130,000 square foot building was a brewery in the 19th century and an air raid shelter in the 20th century. Now, in the early 21st century, it is mecca for Europe’s entrepreneurs and high tech workers. The Factory is also a testament to the late 20th century political winds that swept through eastern Germany and East Berlin. It overlooks an area where, during the Cold War, East German watchtower guards shot at people trying to escape to West Berlin.

Today, the retrofitted factory “is packed with all the perks of a Silicon Valley campus: nap rooms, scooters, 3D printing stations,” reports Bloomberg Businessweek. “It’s a social club for startups,” the Factory’s co-founder told the magazine. But it’s not all fun and games. “A decade ago there were a few dozen tech startups in Berlin. Now there are 2,500, and the Investitionsbank Berlin, the government’s regional economic development agency, says there are 70 percent more digital jobs there than there were in 2008,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

And these startups are giving German’s big high tech companies a run for their money when it comes to attracting hardware and software developers. A 27-year old code writer who moved from Austria to Berlin told the magazine, “I really want to work for a startup. You have more responsibilities. It’s not just 9-to-5. You actually change something and your opinion matters.”

Connecticut’s newly established CTNext hopes to give The Factory, Silicon Valley, South Boston and other innovation centers a run for their money. The legislature gave this Connecticut Innovations, Inc. subsidiary the resources to help grass roots organizations make it easier for innovators and entrepreneurs to hook up and launch new businesses. (See the OLR bill analysis for SB 502, May Special Session, sections 1-9.)

August 25, 2016

Connecticut’s Jobs and Wages by Industry Since 2008

The following chart compares the jobs gained and lost in Connecticut by industry since 2008 (in blue) and the average annual wage for each industry (in green).  It is based on data from the Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL).  As the chart shows, the largest gains over this timeframe were in educational and health services, while the largest losses were in manufacturing. 

For more details, including descriptions of the industry sectors, visit DOL’s website.

Note: Wage data is from 2014 because it is the most recent available data

July 26, 2016

Over Four Million Salaried Employees Becoming Eligible for Overtime Pay

As reported in USA Today, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has finalized a new rule that raises the salary threshold at which white-collar workers are exempt from overtime pay from $23,660 to $47,476.  An estimated 4.2 million executive, administrative, and professional workers whose salaries fall within that range will now be entitled to overtime pay.  The rule will take effect December 1, 2016.  The salary threshold will be updated every three years and will rise to $51,000 on January 1, 2020.

The rule clarifies the duties white-collar workers must perform in order to be exempt from overtime pay (e.g., "administrative" duties involve exercising discretion and independent judgment).  If a salaried employee makes more than $47,476 but does not perform the duties required to be exempt, he or she is still eligible for overtime pay.  Labor Secretary Thomas Perez estimates that an additional 8.9 million workers would become eligible for overtime pay if their jobs were properly classified.

Employers can comply with the rule by (1) starting to pay overtime, (2) raising employees’ salaries to the new threshold to avoid paying overtime, (3) instructing employees not to work more than 40 hours a week, or (4) cutting employees’ base pay to offset the new overtime payments.

Visit DOL’s website for more information.

July 18, 2016

State Voting Rights for Felons

About 5.85 million Americans cannot vote because they were convicted of felons, according to the New York Times, which cited research done by the Washington based The Sentencing Project. But, during the last 20 years, about 20 states have restored voting rights to felons, with Virginia being the most recent one to do so.  Its governor recently issued an executive order restoring voting rights to about 200,000 convicted felons who served their prison time and finished parole or probation, the New York Times reports.

States that allow felons to vote vary in terms of conditions under which they allow felons to do so.  Virginia’s executive order places it with Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky as having the strictest restrictions.  A couple of states, including Vermont and Maine, have no voting restrictions; some restore voting rights automatically when a felon is released from prison while others do so after the felon completes the sentence, including prison, parole, and probation; and others restore rights only for felons convicted of certain criminal convictions.  The Brennan Center for Justice provides a resource map identifying each state’s provision.

Connecticut law restores voting rights automatically following release from prison or a parole discharge.  Thus, convicted felons are allowed electoral privileges while on probation.  CGS § 9-46a outlines the procedures for restoration following release, which include the correction commissioner’s certification that the person was discharged from prison and, if applicable, released from parole.  The commissioner must also notify the secretary of the state who subsequently notifies the registrar of voters in the municipality where the convicted person resided.  Once notified, the registrar must restore the released person’s voting privileges.  If that person was not an elector at the time of the felony conviction, he or she must provide proof of their qualifications to become an elector.  

The trend toward restoring felons’ voting rights shows some signs of reversing. The executive orders imposing Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky’s actually overturned previous orders allow felons to vote under less severe restrictions.