November 30, 2012


The Bridgeport and Hartford school districts are among 61 finalists for district-level Race to the Top grants, the U.S. Education Department has announced.  Other finalists include New York City, Newark, and Philadelphia. Three other Connecticut applicants, New Haven, Norwalk, and the Capitol Region Education Council, did not make the cut.

To be eligible to apply, districts must serve at least 2,000 students, with at least 40% from across all participating schools coming from low-income families. The Education Department received 372 applications from school districts, school district consortia, and charter school networks in 41 states and the District of Columbia.  It plans to award an aggregate of $400 million in grants to 15 to 20 winners by December 31, 2012.  Grants will vary from $5 million to $40 million, depending on district size.

Winners must promise to:

  1. implement teacher, principal, and superintendent evaluation systems by the 2014-15 school year;
  2. measure student performance against state-adopted college and career-ready graduation requirements; and
  3. have data systems that can link individual students to teachers and provide timely data on student academic growth.
The new competition is the fourth round of federal Race to the Top grants.  Only states were eligible to apply for the first three. Connecticut competed in the earlier rounds, but did not win.

Report Attempts to More Accurately Count College Completion Rates

A criticism of college completion rates is that they capture only full-time students who start and finish at the same institution, thus not accounting for part-time or transfer students. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center recently released a report that seeks to more fully measure completion rates.

The report found that, when nontraditional enrollment patterns (e.g., part-time and transfer students) are taken into account, the national college completion rate increases, from 42% to 54%. The data show that more than one-fifth of the students who (1) complete college do so in a nontraditional manner and (2) are counted under traditional measures as not completing college actually do complete.

Additionally, the report found that most students who earn a four-year degree after starting at a two-year institution do so without earning a degree at the two-year institution. According to the report, 15% of students who started at a two-year institution earned a four-year degree within six years, but two-thirds of these students did not earn a two-year degree.

However, the report also showed that part-time students struggle to complete college; at least two-thirds of part-time students dropped out without earning a degree.

November 29, 2012

What's This "Fiscal Cliff" Everyone's Talking About?

For those of us a little confused about federal budget and tax policy, the Tax Foundation recently released a primer on the "fiscal cliff" that lays out all of the tax provisions and budget bills expiring on December 31, 2012. 

The tax changes scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2013 alone are wide-ranging:

·       The 2001 and 2003 tax cuts "Bush tax cuts" are set to expire, which would increase marginal income tax rates, increase the tax on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends, decrease the standard deduction for married couples, and decrease the child tax credit.

·       The estate tax will increase, from 35% on anything above $5.12 million to 55% on anything about $1 million.

·       The alternative minimum tax (AMT) patch is set to expire, resulting in tax increases for taxpayers earning between $50,000 and $200,000.

·       The employee portion of the payroll tax will increase from 4.2% to 6.2%.

·       Several dozen tax deductions will expire, including those for tuition expenses, alternative fuels, and mortgage insurance premiums.

Workplace Health Clinics' Usage Rate Remains Steady

About 4% of U.S. families visited a workplace health clinic in 2010, the same percentage as in 2007.  This is according to a recent research brief by the National Institute for Health Care Reform, reporting the results of a national study by the Center for Studying Health System Change.

According to the research brief, workplace health clinics are most common among large private employers or government employers.  Certain industries also show higher usage rates for such clinics, such as manufacturing.

Most visits to workplace health clinics are for minor or routine care.   In 2010, the most common primary reason for a visit to such a clinic was vaccination (63.7%), followed by physical exams for school, camps, or employment (31.1%), new illnesses or symptoms (26.5%), and work-related injuries (11.3%). The most common reason for choosing workplace health clinics was the convenience of the location (63.6%), followed by lower cost (38.0%), more convenient hours (35.1%), and no need to make an appointment (26.8%). (Respondents could select more than one answer to these questions, and thus the totals are more than 100%). 


November 28, 2012

Federal Workers Not Feeling the Love

Salary freezes, tight budgets and a dim view of federal work held by many Americans have soured the motivation and commitment of many government employees, according to a survey released on November 21. Federal employees still think that their jobs are important, and many are passionate and dedicated to their agency’s mission, reports the Washington Post. But increasing threats to their pay and benefits and criticism of their work during the national debate over government spending have taken a toll on morale, results of the Employee Viewpoint Survey show.

“Today’s federal leaders are facing significant challenges in keeping the workforce motivated and engaged in light of frozen salaries, slashed budgets, and recent public sentiment toward federal employees,” John Berry, the government’s personnel chief, wrote in the introduction to the survey, which was posted on the Office of Personnel Management’s Web site.


Torrington Commission Rejects Methadone Clinic Proposal

Torrington's zoning commission is facing the threat of a lawsuit after denying a zoning application for a proposed methadone clinic.  As the Register Citizen reported, board members agreed with the city planner's recommendation that the proposal was "not compatible with the neighborhood in terms of traffic, health, safety."  Members of the public also turned out to voice their opposition to the project, citing traffic and safety issues. The attorney representing the clinic will appeal the decision.

Only one board member supported the application on the grounds that the federal American with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discriminatory siting practices and opens the city to a legal challenge.  A 2005 issue brief produced by the National Conference of State Legislatures addresses how the ADA and other antidiscrimination laws limit local control of substance abuse treatment programs.

Federal Health Care Law Would Cause Insurance Costs to Fall for Small Businesses

The federal Affordable Care Act, if it had been in full effect in 2012, would have increased employer-sponsored insurance coverage and reduced the cost small businesses pay for employee health coverage, according to an Urban Institute study released in October.  As reported by Kaiser Health News, the study shows that the number of people covered by employer-sponsored insurance would have increased by 2.7% and costs-per-person for small businesses (fewer than 50 employees) would have decreased by 7.3%.  Mid-size businesses (between 100 and 1,000 employees) would have seen a 4.6% increase.

Urban Institute study:

Kaiser Health News:

November 26, 2012

What is Storm Surge?

Storm surge is the water rise, beyond the predicted tide level, that a storm generates. By contrast, a storm tide is the total water level rise during a storm, combining the tide and storm surge (see picture 1, below). According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property along the coast during a hurricane because it can cause extreme flooding particularly when it occurs during high tide. The combination of surge and waves can increase damage directly along the coast since surge allows waves to impact buildings further inland.

NOAA explains that storm surge is produced by the force of winds moving cyclonically around the storm and pushing water toward shore. Low pressure associated with intense storms has a minimal impact on surge compared to the impact of wind force (see picture 2, below). How much storm surge will occur at a specific location depends upon many factors such as storm forward speed, size, angle of approach to the coast, and central pressure; shape and characteristics of coastal features; and the width and slope of the continental shelf (shallow slopes are more likely to produce greater surge).

Picture 1: Storm Surge vs. Storm Tide
(Source: NOAA at 

Picture 2: Hurricane Storm Surge Wind and Pressure Components
(Source: NOAA at 

Residents Advised to Check Out Charities Before Responding to Solicitors

The consumer protection commissioner and the attorney general are warning Connecticut residents to ask questions of telemarketers before deciding whether to make a charitable donation. Solicitations, including those from scammers, generally increase during the holiday season.

Charities that solicit money are required to register with the Department of Consumer Protection and residents can check charity information on Complaints may also be registered there.

The press release offers advice on how to avoid scammers and being misled. These include, among other things:
  1. asking who is calling,
  2. asking for written information on the charity,
  3. donating to recognized charities,
  4. giving in non-cash methods,
  5. being mindful if prizes are offered for donations, and
  6. asking the solicitor not to call or hanging up.

November 23, 2012

The New Industrial Revolution? When Did That Happen?

It's happening right now, according to Wired's chief editor, Chris Anderson. When was the last time you saw an army of drafters hunched over tables using T-squares and slide rules to convert ideas and concepts into meaningful images for machine operators to convert raw materials in parts for others to assemble into products?
Well T-squares and slide rules have given way to computer screens and keyboards.  What's more, computers can digitize images into codes and electronically send them to other machines for cutting, bending, welding, or shaping raw materials into parts.  

Okay, but hasn't this been going on for a while? "The biggest transformation is not in the way things are done but in who's doing it," according to Anderson.  In his new book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, he describes how individuals, working in basements and garages, are "using digital tools, designing onscreen, and increasingly outputting to desktop fabrication machines," and, because they're the Web generation, they "instinctively share their creations online."

That wasn't true in the old days. "Because of the expertise, equipment, and costs of producing things on a large scale, manufacturing has been mostly the provenance of big companies and trained professionals."

So, can anyone be a Henry Ford? According to Anderson, "The digital transformation of making stuff is doing more than simply making existing manufacturing more efficient. It's also extending manufacturing to a hugely expanded population of producers--the existing manufacturers plus a lot of regular folks who are becoming entrepreneurs."

November 22, 2012

Childhood Obesity In The News

According to U.S.News and World Report, a recent study in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research links childhood obesity with joint pain, poor physical functioning, and mental health.

Researchers analyzed medical charts from 175 obese children, of which 51 reported lower extremity pain. These same children also scored lower on measures of physical function and psychosocial health than those who did not report such pain.

According to Dr. Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, "Our hips and knees bear five to seven times our body weight…The heavier the child, the bigger the pressure on the joints and cartilage, and that can be painful. It sets up their soft tissue for inflammation."

In order to effectively fight childhood obesity, early intervention is essential, according to a recent study cited in the Chicago Tribune. Researchers at the National Childhood Obesity Center in Stockholm, Sweden observed 643 children divided into three age groups: six to nine years, 10 to 13 years, and 14 to 16 years old. The children were also divided into groups of moderate and severe obesity. They found that over the three year study period, behavioral interventions such as learning healthy eating habits and increasing physical activity helped the youngest children to lose weight but had almost no effect on the oldest children.

The researchers note that "more and more evidence points to early childhood as a pivotal time for preventing in young children an obesity trajectory that is hard to alter by the time they enter middle school."

CT Health Care Facilities To Look For Child Abuse And Neglect

The Hartford Courant recently reported that the Department of Children and Families and the state's hospitals and clinics have teamed up to help the medical community recognize and identify child abuse or neglect when a child presents with unexplained injuries. The hope is that by doing so, interventions can occur to prevent additional abuse or even death.

DCF issued guidelines that include having the medical staff perform a clinical evaluation of children under age six who present with traumatic injuries. This involves having a child disrobe and put on a gown so the staff can do a complete exam. The next step is to check the child's medical records to see if there were previous injuries or referrals to DCF.

November 21, 2012

Banks Face Billions in Money Laundering Fines

The Washington Post recently reported that London-based bank HSBC set aside $1.5 billion to cover potential fines, settlements, and other expenses related to a money laundering probe by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and banking regulators. HSBC is facing both civil and criminal charges.

Historically, banking regulators primarily handled money-laundering investigations, but DOJ has recently launched several of its own criminal cases under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). The BSA requires financial institutions and their employees to combat money laundering. Michael Dawson, managing director of Promontory Financial Group, noted "the involvement of the Department of Justice in sanctions and enforcement actions is much greater now than it was five years ago, and the size of the fines has increased by a factor of 10 or more."

According to the article, in 2010 DOJ fined Wachovia $110 million for violating the BSA by failing to stop millions in Colombian and Mexican drug money from being laundered through its bank accounts.

The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has also increased money laundering fines. In 2011, OFAC fined 21 companies a total of $91 million. Through October 2012, OFAC fined 11 companies a total of $623 million.

Some speculate that the agencies' increased money laundering focus is due to congressional criticism that they were previously slow to act. Others posit that resources were reallocated to deal with the financial crisis for the past few years.

Hot Report: California's Self-Driving Vehicle Law

OLR Report 2012-R-0456 provides a summary of California's Self-Driving Vehicle law. The law, which takes effect on January 1, 2013, allows self-driving ("autonomous") vehicles to operate on state roads. The California legislature found that these vehicles “offer significant potential safety, mobility and commercial benefits for individuals and businesses,” and approved the measure to encourage their testing and operation on California roads.
California is the third state (after Nevada and Florida) to allow the operation of autonomous vehicles. For more information, read the full report

Federal Tax Filing and Payment Relief for Sandy's Victims

The IRS has announced that it is waiving various tax filing and payment deadlines and penalties for Connecticut taxpayers who live or have businesses in the Connecticut locations covered by the president's federal disaster declaration for Hurricane Sandy.  The declaration covers Fairfield, Middlesex, New Haven, and New London counties and the Mashantucket and Mohegan tribal nations.  The relief also covers taxpayers who do not live in the disaster areas but whose tax records needed are located there; relief workers affiliated with recognized organizations; and anyone visiting the disaster area who was killed or injured because of it.

The relief gives affected taxpayers until February 1, 2013 to file and make payments, including estimated payments due between October 27 and February 1.  The deadline extensions apply to individual, corporate, partnership, S corporation, and trust income tax returns and to estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer tax returns.  The IRS is also waiving penalties for failing to deposit employment and excise tax payments due on or after October 27 and before November 26, as long as the payments are made by November 26.  Normal fees for copies of filed tax returns for affected taxpayers will also be waived.

Affected taxpayers can claim disaster-related losses on 2011 or 2012 federal income tax returns. Claiming losses on an original or amended return for 2011 brings a faster refund but, depending on other income factors, claiming the loss on a 2012 return may generate greater tax savings, the IRS advises.

November 20, 2012

Changes in Arrests from 1990 to 2010

Using data the FBI collects from police departments nationwide, a new report analyzes arrest trends for different types of crimes.  The report finds that between 1990 and 2010 the:

  1. number of murder arrests fell by half and both adult and juvenile arrest rates (the number of arrests per 100,000 people) fell to their lowest levels since at least 1990,
  2. forcible rape arrest rate fell 59%,
  3. aggravated assault arrest rate fell 31%, and
  4. simple assault arrest rate remained largely unchanged even though the female arrest rate rose 75% and the male arrest rate fell 12%.
The report also found that police made one arrest for drug sale or manufacture for every four arrests for possession or use in 2010.  The possession or use arrest rate "increased substantially" during the period while the 2010 sale or manufacture arrest rate was at its lowest level during the period and 30% below the 1990 level.

The report notes a number of limitations to the FBI's data.  In addition, the number of arrests is not the same as the number of crimes committed and arrest trends cannot be assumed to match crime trends.

Read the full report, "Arrest in the United States, 1990-2010."

Federal Holiday Campaign Helps Prevent Financial Exploitation of Seniors

The federal Elder Locator program recently announced a holiday campaign to encourage seniors and their families to use the holiday season to learn about the warning signs of, and resources to prevent, the financial exploitation of seniors.

The program notes that such financial exploitation is often committed by a family member or other trusted person. Signs of financial exploitation include, among other things, (1) financial activity that is inconsistent with a senior's past financial history, (2) confusion about recent financial arrangements, (3) unauthorized changes to key documents, and (4) a senior who feels threatened by a caregiver or other person who is trying to control their finances. The program offers a guidebook with strategies to help seniors and their families avoid such behavior.

The Elder Locator program connects seniors with local services and resources. It is funded by the federal Administration on Aging and administered by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

November 19, 2012

Hot Report: Criminal Record Checks and Child Support Delinquency

OLR Report 2012-R-0480 explains (1) why Connecticut law enforcement officials do not have the authority to arrest and bring to court delinquent child support obligors, (2) for policy options to address this issue, and (3) if surrounding states give law enforcement officials such authority.

When a person fails to appear in court for a child support matter, the court often issues a capias warrant to compel the person to appear in court. The law does not explicitly prohibit law enforcement officers from serving a capias but it appears that a capias is considered civil process and law enforcement officers are only authorized to serve criminal process, such as criminal arrest warrants. Child support enforcement officials believe that it is the law enforcement community's interpretation of the law that they cannot serve capias warrants and in practice they do not do so.

The legislature could consider a number of options to address this situation. It could explicitly authorize law enforcement officers to serve a capias or allow them to detain someone until another authorized official arrives. To do so, officers would need capias information in their criminal database. It could also hire and authorize more officials to serve capias warrants. Each of these options has limitations, including budget constraints.

We contacted officials in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Rhode Island appears to be the only state of those we contacted that gives law enforcement officials the authority to arrest and bring to court child support obligors who have failed to appear in court in response to a witness subpoena. In that state, the court issues a “writ of body attachment,” which immediately gets transmitted into the Rhode Island warrant system. Law enforcement has access to this information when responding to potential criminal offenses and officers will arrest these individuals on the basis of the writs.

According to officials from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York, law enforcement officers do not currently have the power to arrest someone on the basis of a capias arrest warrant. However, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Services Child Support Enforcement Division has proposed legislation to authorize the child support agency and family courts to identify appropriate capias warrants for entry into the criminal database. Law enforcement officers would then know that the family court has ordered apprehension of the delinquent parent. It is unclear if officers would have the authority to arrest delinquent parents.

For more information, read the full report.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance for Hurricane Sandy

The state's Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced that residents of New Haven, Fairfield, Middlesex, and New London counties who are unemployed as a direct result of damages caused by Hurricane Sandy can apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. Administered by DOL, the program is part of the federal disaster assistance process that began when President Obama declared a major disaster in the state on October 30th. 

Individuals, including the self-employed, may qualify if the disaster (1) kept them form reaching their job because they could not travel through an affected area; (2) prevented them from starting new employment; (3) caused the death of the head of the household, making them the major support for the household; or (4) caused a work preventing injury. 

Interested applicants have until February 4, 2013 to apply.

November 16, 2012

New state Veterans Website Launched

The state has just launched a website ( that will give veterans one-stop access to services and benefits that the state and federal government provide to veterans.  In a press release announcing the website on November 9, Governor Malloy said: “since becoming Governor, one of my greatest honors has been to interact with servicemen and women both when they leave for active duty and when they return. . . .With two wars winding down, we have a responsibility to make sure that state government is in a position to honor their service. Creating a one-stop resource for veterans to access benefits and services is a small but important step in that effort.”

Seat Belt Use Lower for Police Officers

A 2011 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publication estimated nationwide seat belt use at 84%. It explained that since 1994, seat belt use has steadily increased while the percentage of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant fatalities has decreased. But not all segments of the population have the same seat belt use percentage. The Washington Post, citing federal data, recently reported that seat belt use among police officers is only about 50%. This is despite most states' laws requiring them to do so.

The Post cites several reasons why officers go unbelted, including an officer’s (1) desire to get out of the vehicle quickly; (2) concern that the belt will interfere with their gun, belt, or driving; and (3) concern that it will limit their ability to dodge a bullet. Citing a Prince George County assistant police chief, the article reports that the way to increase officer seat belt use is to change department culture and the way officers think about seat belts. This includes educating officers and instituting new policies and procedures.

To combat this problem, the St. Louis police department requires strict enforcement of its seat belt requirement. And in Fairfax County, Virginia, and Prince George County, Maryland, police parking lots have signs at their exits to remind officers to buckle up. The punishment for a police officer not wearing a seat belt in Prince George County is a written reprimand but, according to the article, the department intends to hold district commanders responsible for ensuring their officers use seat belts.

November 15, 2012

The Affordable Care Act and Ex-Cons: Increasing Access to Care May Reduce Crime and Racial Disparities

A recent report by the Sentencing Project examines opportunities the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) presents to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses or drug addictions who cycle in and out of the criminal justice system.  (About half of the prison population has a mental health diagnosis; 65% meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol or other drug abuse or addictions.)  Because these conditions are associated with criminal behavior, the report suggests that barriers to community care indirectly affect crime and recidivism rates.  And it notes that racial disparities in the criminal justice system have been tied to disparities in access to community-based health care.

In 2010, one-third to three-quarters of men booked into jails in 10 major cities had limited access to community health care, in part because they were uninsured.  Explanations include:  (1) difficulties finding and holding down jobs (thus limiting access to employer-sponsored health insurance) and (2) restrictive Medicaid eligibility rules.

The ACA creates new options that may reduce these barriers.  It requires states to have health insurance exchanges up and running by 2014.  Exchanges will act as regulated marketplaces offering policies to low- to-moderate income people without insurance.  Participants will qualify for tax credits on a sliding scale to offset costs.

The act also allows states to offer Medicaid to everyone under age 65 with income below 138% of the federal poverty level.  It requires health benefits for the new group to include prevention, early intervention, and mental health and substance abuse treatment services.

The report recommends that states planning and implementing ACA changes consider the benefits of (1) including outreach to disadvantaged groups involved in, or at risk for involvement in, the criminal justice system; (2) coordinating care between community- and corrections-based providers; and (3) capitalizing on mental and substance abuse treatment services to divert people from the criminal justice to the health care system.

Hot Report: OLR Backgrounder: Compensation Commission Recommendations, 2002-2011

OLR Report 2012-R-0489 summarizes the recommendations for judicial compensation made by the Commission on Compensation of Elected State Officers and Judges from 2002 through 2011.

Prior to the creation of the Commission on Judicial Compensation by PA 12-93, the Commission on Compensation of Elected State Officers and Judges was charged with recommending to the General Assembly legislative proposals for salary, expenses, pension, workers' compensation, and any other benefits to be paid to the state's judges (except probate judges), constitutional officers, and members of the General Assembly (CGS § 2-9a(b)). The law required the commission to submit recommendations during every odd-numbered year, but also gave it discretion to make recommendations during even-numbered years.

Over the ten years preceding the enactment of PA 12-93, the commission recommended a specific increase in judicial salaries once, when it recommended a 6% increase in 2004. The legislature subsequently enacted legislation increasing judicial salaries by 5.5% in 2005, 2006, and 2007. In years when the commission made recommendations from 2007 through 2011, it recommended that judicial salaries be automatically increased at the same rate as increases received by state managers, however the legislature took no action on these recommendations.

For more infomation, including a table that summarizes the recommendations from 2002 through 2011, read the full report.

Casino Games Coming to Rhode Island

Rhode Island has long resisted efforts to authorize casino games, but voters recently approved them at one of two slot parlors where they were on the ballot.

Voters earlier this month voted in favor of casino games at Twin River Slots in Lincoln, R.I., but not at Newport's Grand Slots. The ballot questions allowing casino games needed to pass both statewide and within the host community.

Both ballot questions passed statewide.  Locally, the Twin River ballot question passed easily, while the Newport Grand's ballot question was narrowly defeated. 

Casino games at Twin Rivers could be started as early as next summer.

November 14, 2012

Access to Justice Commission Makes Recommendations

The Judicial Branch's Access to Justice Commission recently released its first annual report, with several recommendations on how the court system can better help the public access judicial resources.  For example, the commission recommends that the judicial branch:

  • consider supporting an extension of the court fee increases which are currently set to sunset in 2015;
  • continue to work with bar groups on proposals for limited scope representation;
  • develop a guide for staff to assist them when working with people representing themselves; and
  • create additional resources and tools for these self-represented parties, including self-help videos posted online.      
The Access to Justice Commission consists of judges, attorneys, and others.  It is the successor to the Public Service and Trust Commission, which was formed in 2007.

More information about the commission, and the full list of recommendations, is available in the annual report.

Insurance Coverage After Sandy

The October 31 edition of the Hartford Courant ( had two insurance-related stories on the aftermath of Sandy. One notes that Sandy did not have hurricane-force winds in Connecticut. As a result, homeowners filing insurance claims will not have to face much more expensive deductibles.

In many coastal state, insurers are allowed to charge higher deductibles during a hurricane compared with some other natural disaster. The "hurricane deductible" is typically 1% to 5% of a home's value, compared to a standard deductible of $500 or $1,000. A law passed by the General Assembly last year after Tropical Storm Irene allows insurers to only require their customers to pay higher “hurricane deductibles” if the National Weather Service declares a hurricane and there are recorded sustained winds 74 miles per hour or more, anywhere in the state. Connecticut had gusts stronger than that, but not sustained winds.

The article recommends that people who have problems with their insurers contact the Connecticut Insurance Department's consumer affairs unit at 800-203-3447

The second article describes the types of losses covered by flood insurance, such as the building itself, electrical, heating, and cooling systems, and debris removal; as well as losses that are not covered, such as property outside of the building, vehicles, and temporary housing expenses. The information is taken from a Federal Emergency Management Administration website,

November 13, 2012

What Temple Grandin Could Teach Us about Housing Problems

Temple Grandin is the story of an animal scientist with autism who revolutionized the cattle industry because she saw things about cattle that more experienced cattlemen missed.  Are policy analysts similarly missing the real nature of the housing problem? Are they, in President Kennedy’s words, holding fast to the “clichés of our forebears” and subjecting “all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations”?

A November 2011 Planning article suggests that policy analysts have yet to perceive some radical shifts in the type of housing people, especially those in their 20s, prefer. According to the authors, 78 million members of Generation Y are delaying marriage and child-bearing, prefer cities over suburbs, and want “a richer array of choices in employment, transportation (namely, strong transit and biking infrastructure), arts and entertainment, and a ‘café culture’ similar to what’s found in many European cities.”

Okay, if this is what the people prefer, why the holdup? “Zoning ordinances make it virtually impossible to build new inexpensive housing," the article says. "The chief culprit is codes that require one or two parking stalls per dwelling unit.” These codes reflect the myth that “the U.S. is composed mostly of traditional nuclear families with two parents and two- and-a-half children each. Despite the unmistakable demographic trend towards more one- and two-person households, many decision makers seem to be rooted in a faded picture of the country.”

"Rooming House Redux," Mark Hinshaw, FAICP and Brianna Holan ACIP, Planning, November 2011 (available in the Legislative Library)

Hot Report: Taxes on Soft Drinks and Candy

OLR Report 2012-R-0490 details which states impose a tax on soft drinks or candy. (It updates the information in OLR Report 2002-R-1004.)

We identified four states (Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia) that levy an excise tax on soft drinks, but none that levy an excise tax on candy.

While most states do not impose excise taxes on candy or soft drinks, many tax these goods at a higher sales tax rate than other grocery food. Of the 46 jurisdictions (45 states and the District of Columbia) that impose a state sales tax, 32 exempt grocery food purchases from the sales tax and 7 tax such purchases at a reduced rate. Many of these 39 jurisdictions exclude candy or soft drinks from the definition of grocery food, thus making them taxable or subjecting them to the state's general sales tax rate. In all, 18 jurisdictions tax candy and 23 tax soft drinks at a higher rate than other groceries.

For more information, read the full report.

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Voting Rights Act Case

The SupremeCourt recently granted certiorari to a case challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The case (Shelby County v. Holder) was brought by Shelby County, Alabama, which alleged that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority in 2006 when it reauthorized Section 5 for 25 years.

Section 5 requires certain state and local governments (“covered jurisdictions”) with a history of discriminatory voting practices to obtain approval from the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court for D.C. before implementing any change affecting voting. Specifically, preclearance applies to any attempt to change “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to any covered jurisdiction.”

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (D.C.) Circuit rejected Shelby County's challenge. The court affirmed a district court decision that Section 5 remained a “'congruent and proportional' remedy to the 21st century problem of voting discrimination in covered jurisdictions,” and that failing to reauthorize it would leave minority citizens with inadequate remedies against discriminatory voting laws. It noted that, in reauthorizing the act, Congress compiled a 15,000-page record that found numerous contemporary examples of discrimination in the covered jurisdictions, thus showing a continued need for preclearance.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are expected in early 2013, with a decision expected by June 2013.

November 12, 2012

Connecticut West Nile Virus Cases Double in 2012

This year, Connecticut reported 18 cases of West Nile Virus infections, the most cases ever reported in the state and double the number reported in 2011. The state attributes the increase to an abnormally warm winter followed by a record-breaking heat wave this summer. The number of reported cases has risen nationally as well. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited 4,249 cases of the virus as of October 9th, the highest number of cases reported through the second week in October since 2003. Eight states account for 70% of these cases: Texas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Illinois.

A Quiet Year for State Taxes…So Far

According to a recent National Conference of State Legislatures report, many states have made tax policy changes in the first half of 2012, but the net effect of these changes is small.  State tax actions in the first half of 2012 have resulted in a net tax decrease of $1.8 billion, or 0.2% of total state tax collections. 

Most of the cuts were to personal income taxes. Thirteen states made income tax cuts, but Idaho, Kansas, and New York are responsible for most of the revenue reduction.  Idaho reduced its top income tax rate from 7.8% to 7.4%.  Kansas reformed its personal income tax by reducing the rate, repealing several tax credits, and increasing standard deductions for certain filers.  New York, on the other hand, restructured its personal income tax for the 2012 through 2014 tax years, reducing tax rates in most brackets and increasing rates in the upper brackets. 

Only three states raised income taxes. Maryland’s tax increase accounts for most of the new revenue.  It raised taxes on higher-income taxpayers by raising rates and lowering exemptions. 

On the business tax front, 13 states cut corporate taxes and three raised them.  Pennsylvania, for instance, enacted a single sales factor apportionment formula and approved several new business tax credits.  New York reduced its corporate income tax rate for manufacturers by lowering the rate from 6.5% to 3.25% and approved a new job retention tax credit.

As for sales taxes, 13 states cut their sales tax rate and two raised them.  Georgia reported the largest sales tax cut, which resulted from a cut to the sales tax rate on jet fuel and the repeal of a variety of tax exemptions. Rhode Island, on the other hand, expanded its sales tax base to include a number of previously exempt services.

November 9, 2012

Natural Gas Boom a Bust for Some

While the rapid expansion of the nation's available natural gas supply has generally benefitted most Americans with lower energy prices, a recent New York Times article describes how the production boom is hurting the very people who financially back and produce it. According to the article, the rapid increase in gas production created a supply glut that drove prices so low that gas companies are selling it for less than it costs to produce. The problem is compounded by companies' limited ability to reduce production due to (1) complex financing arrangements backing their production facilities and (2) leases for land that require them to drill or lose their rights to the land.  According to one investment banker cited in the article, "we just killed more meat than we could drag back to the cave and eat…Now we have a problem." 

Northeast Utilities Preserves Open Space

The Hartford Business Journal reports that Northeast Utilities (NU) announced the creation of a land trust to preserve 981 acres in Connecticut as open space. The land, located in Sharon, Enfield, Newtown, and Waterford, is valued at $20 million. The land trust was part of an agreement with Connecticut regulators when NU’s merger with Boston utility NStar was approved. The land will be open to the public. NU will post maps, pictures, and videos of the hiking trails and other recreation opportunities on the land at its website.

November 8, 2012

The History of Who's to Blame for Low Achieving Students

While blaming demographic factors used to be how educators and policy people explained poor student performance, that's giving way to something else: blaming the schools themselves.

As schools in urban areas have proved that students in those areas can succeed despite their demographics, the newest phenomenon is to blame the schools and the principals.

Blogger Larry Cuban, an education writer and former teacher, district superintendent, and professor, writes in a post called "Reframing Shame: How and When Blame for Low Student Achievement Shifted," that the two extremes (the students and their backgrounds vs. the school) are each incomplete and do not advance education.

Small Businesses Create Most of the New Jobs, Right?

Well, that’s certainly a mantra in economic development circles, but the May 2012 The Connecticut Economic Digest shows the story is a little more complicated. Small, medium, and large businesses are constantly creating and destroying jobs (i.e., churning). But firm size isn’t the only thing currently affecting churning; firm age matters too.

From 1988 to 2007, “essentially all net job creation came from new firms, which accounted for 31,600 new jobs.” Now, when you break down this group by size, 84% of these jobs came from small firms (under 50 employees). Well, that’s good, right? Yes, but remember, a new small firm cannot destroy jobs because it was just born, so to speak. The opposite is true for established firms, regardless of age.

But there’s more.  The data “shows that small firms end up destroying a majority of the jobs they create as they age from new, into young, established, and mature firms.” Job destruction comes with aging. Small firms, regardless of age, accounted for 39% of all jobs created from 1988-2007 and 38% of all that were destroyed. In contrast, “mature firms, which account for the majority of job creation and destruction, account for negative net job creation of -16,800, of which 70% comes from small firms.”

According to the study, most jobs are created in mature firms (11 years or older), regardless of size. “Even though a greater number of jobs are also destroyed by mature firms, the number of opportunities available from mature firms outweighs availability of jobs from firms of all other categories, including small businesses.”

What does this mean for public policy? At least two things: policy analysts might examine the reasons why jobs are destroyed in small and large firms and develop strategies to counteract that process. Or, they can find ways to help people who lose their jobs gain the skills needed to fill the ones that are created. 

November 7, 2012

What Payment Methods Do Consumers Use?

A recentstudy by the Boston Federal Reserve compared the use of different payment methods by consumers in 2006 and 2008.  As might be expected, the study found that the largest change in consumer practices involved the use of electronic payments.  Debit cards were the most intensively used payment method, accounting for 35% of transactions, while the use of checks dropped from 38% of all transactions to only 16%.

The study identified a payment method’s setup and recordkeeping requirements as especially important in determining whether consumers adopt the method.  Convenience, cost, and security affected whether a method was used.

November 6, 2012

Some OnLine E-Book Buyers In-Line for Refunds

Connecticut residents who bought certain electronic books (e-books) may be in line for about $1.3 million of a $69 million nationwide settlement with three e-book publishers, state attorney General George Jepsen announced in October.

The three publishers, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette Book Group, agreed in September to pay consumers more than $69 million to resolve antitrust claims alleging a conspiracy to fix e-book prices.

Jepsen said a court first must approve the settlement. Customers who bought one or more qualifying e-books between April 1, 2010 and May 21, 2012 will receive a credit or a check if they follow the instructions in e-mail notices they should have received.

More information on the settlement and the credits can be found at or by calling, toll free, 866-621-4153 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.

Good Health by (Public Housing) Design

The national goal of many federally funded housing programs includes providing decent housing and a suitable living environment for low- and moderate-income people. Well, the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) is stretching this goal to encompass its tenants' physical health. In 2009, DHA developed a new master plan for the Lincoln Park/La Alma neighborhood that incorporated a "Health Impact Assessment" (HIA), a tool that helps community developers identify how a proposed project potentially affects people's health.

But DHA didn't stop there. In 2010, as DHA and its developers began implementing the plan, they "decided to hold themselves accountable for improving health with every decision they made. They wanted to measure their success or failure and became on (sic) of the first in the country to use what's called Health Development Measurement Tool (HDMT)," an instrument that measures health broadly from "healthy housing and transportation to the economy, environmental stewardship and social cohesion--even how amenities affect people's well-being."

The tool led DHA and its developers to reconsider their design options.  For example, when they used the tool to assess competing designs, they discovered that "many smaller green spaces would be healthier for residents than building one large open space. They also decided not to put exercise equipment in the new buildings, but rather to encourage people to support their existing community amenities and walk to the nearby recreation center." 

DHA's experience shows (1) how housing and public health policies intersect and (2) the benefits of measuring any policy's interdisciplinary effects.

November 5, 2012

The Car’s in Charge

As many as three-quarters of the motor vehicles on the road 30 years from now may be driving themselves, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers(IEEE), an international professional organization.   As reported on, IEEE says the switch to these autonomous vehicles will not only remake today’s highways and roads but change how we think about driving.

“IEEE envisions an absence of traffic signals and lights since highly evolved, self-driving cars won’t need them, and it believes that full deployment could even eliminate the need for driver’s licenses,” the article states.

“People do not need a license to sit on a train or a bus,” the director of IEEE’s Center for Intelligent Systems Research says in the article. “In a full autonomy case in which no driver intervention will be allowed, the car will be operating. So there will not be any special requirements for drivers or occupants to use the vehicle as a form of transportation.”

IEEE predicts that driver reluctance to “let go of the steering wheel” will be a bigger barrier to the adoption of self-driving vehicles than technological issues.

Property Tax Deadlines Extended Due to Hurricane Sandy

Governor Malloy has issued a series of executive orders in the past few days that extend certain property tax filing and payment deadlines from November 1 to November 15.

  • Executive order No. 26 extends the property tax payment deadline for taxpayers who pay property taxes on a quarterly basis. The extension affects taxpayers in the following 12 towns:
    • Andover
    • Bethel
    • Brooklyn
    • Danbury
    • Fairfield
    • Killingly
    • Meriden
    • Ridgefield
    • Salisbury
    • Sharon
    • Trumbull
    • Westport

  • Executive order No. 25 extends application filing deadlines for various property tax exemptions, including exemptions for (1) farm machinery, buildings, and horses; (2) farmland, open space, forest, and maritime heritage property in the "490" program; and (3) property used for scientific, educational, literary, historical, charitable, or open space land preservation purposes.

  • Executive order No. 24 extends the deadline for filing or requesting an extension for personal property tax declarations.

Voters in Several States Face Education Ballot Measures

In Tuesday's election, voters in at least seven states will be called on to decide some controversial issues concerning K-12 education, including funding, charter school approval, and teacher working conditions. Among the hot-button ballot initiatives:

·         Arizona: Two measures would increase education funding, one by extending a one-cent sales tax increase for education currently scheduled to expire in 2013 and another by allocating more money to education from the state's public land trust fund.

·         California: Two measures would increase state income taxes to avoid major midyear reductions in state funding for K-12 education.

·         Georgia: Voters could amend the state constitution to allow the state to authorize public charter schools after the state supreme court invalidated a prior state charter school authorizing commission in 2011.

·         Idaho:  Three ballot initiatives would overturn recently enacted state laws (1) barring teacher collective bargaining over issues other than salaries and benefits and limiting contracts to one year; (2) establishing a teacher evaluation system based partly on student test performance; and (3) increasing technology use in classrooms including requiring that each high school student have access to a laptop computer.

·         Missouri: On the ballot is a measure to boost funding for both K-12 and higher education by increasing the state's tobacco products taxes.

·         Oregon: Voters will consider a ballot measure to allocate higher-than-projected corporate and excise tax revenue to K-12 education instead of refunding it to businesses.

·         Washington: Voters will choose whether to allow local school boards or a new state-level commission to approve charter schools.

Education Week and Reuters have detailed rundowns.