Report: Malloy, regulator misled public on Cigna. Probe underway

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy
Gov. Malloy/You Tube grab

The International Business Times is claiming that Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his insurance commissioner Katherine Wade misled the public over the proposed $54B merger between Bloomfield-based Cigna and Anthem.  IBT notes that even though Wade has put a halt to reviewing the merger, because the U.S. Justice Department has sued to block the union, that she and her boss are still not out of the woods over their efforts to help Cigna in the merger attempt.

IBT reported that the Connecticut Citizen’s Ethics Advisory Board and its general counsel, Barbara Housen never gave the okay for Wade to review the merger, as the commissioner suggested.   Now the board is pursuing a conflict-of-interest investigation with one member suggesting that Malloy and Wade misled the public.

Wade is under scrutiny for having once served as a Cigna lobbyist.  Her husband still works at Cigna.  Republicans and some high profile Democrats have called on Wade to recuse herself from reviewing the merger, but Wade claimed the advisory board gave her the clearance, telling her there was no conflict of interest. Housen insists no approval was ever given for Wade to proceed.  Malloy has steadfastly stood by the commissioner.

The governor and commissioner would not comment to IBT on the probe.  Wade stated she has stopped reviewing the merger proposal in the wake of JD’s lawsuit.

It has already been a tough week for Malloy as he heads to Philadelphia to play a prominent role in the Democrat National Convention.  The governor’s 2014 re-election campaign is under investigation by the feds, and a video caught him on tape getting special treatment from security last November at Bradley International Airport, to deliver his son’s backpack, which officials admitted was never checked by security.  Malloy, who chairs the Democratic Governor’s Association, has job approval ratings at a low 24 percent.

IBT has been aggressive in covering the merger story, claiming Wade set up a private email address to communicate about the proposed merger and that Malloy also worked behind the scenes to move the merger along.

The mainstream Connecticut media has covered the merger story but has not delved into the behind-the-scenes activities of the governor or commissioner that IBT has reported.

 

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Will Bridgewater pay back the money to Connecticut?

moneysign150It may have been the most controversial loan ever given out by the state of Connecticut.  In May, the state’s bond commission, chaired by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D), doled out $22 million to the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates LP.  Based in Westport, Connecticut, the firm is worth billions.

The deal included a $5 million grant and $17 million loan to expand in Westport, Wilton, and Norwalk.  As part of the arrangement, Bridgewater would not have to pay back the $17 million, if it maintained its 1,400 work force and hired 750 new employees by 2021.

The bond commission vote drew a stinging rebuke from Republicans and the public at large.  With Connecticut going through yet another budget crisis, leading to state employee and teacher lay offs, handing out millions of taxpayers dollars – which might not have to be paid back – to a hedge fund that handles $169 billion in assets, did not resonate a positive tone among the state’s taxpayers.   The Malloy administration defended the move.  Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith was quoted in the Hartford Courant: “This is a good boost to the revenue side of the general fund by using bonded dollars.   It’s an investment; every nickel we put in, we’re going to get back from this company.”

The logic being that Bridgewater employs people at high salaries and the state would reap the benefits from the income tax and employee spending habits at large.  Smith was also quick to remind critics, “if the company doesn’t perform, we have the ability to get our money back.”

Less than two months after the state bonded the money for Bridgewater, comes word that the company may not be hiring.  The July 18 edition of the New York Times reports that Bridgewater “is said to be slowing hiring.”   Word is the company’s flagship Pure Alpha fund is down 8.8 percent, the endowment for the California state university system has taken out the more than half-billion dollars it invested in Bridgewater, the firm has suspended its recruiting of new employees, and also cancelled scheduled interviews with potential hires.  The Times reports that the hedge fund is tight lipped about these developments but notes: “It was unclear whether the suspension of recruiting in some areas was temporary or a reflection of a new push to gradually shrink the size of the firm.”

“Shrink the size of the firm.”  That doesn’t sound like hiring 750 new employees to me.

Connecticut has a habit of keeping sketchy information, when doling out millions to companies who promise to hire new employees.   You have a better chance of finding out what’s in Hillary Clinton’s emails than getting the state to produce documentation of jobs created by firms getting a taxpayers’ handout.  Not to mention that the state has a distorted formula for jobs created.   If a firm getting the money, for example, hires an outside landscaping company to do work, it can count it as jobs created.

But the latest New York Times story should serve as a wake up call to Smith and others.  It might be a good idea to get that money back now, before it’s too late.

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Is Malloy’s proposed sales tax cut the softener, before he hits state with tolls?

Gov. Dannel P. MalloyConnecticut Republicans are caught between the proverbial rock-and-a-hard-place with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed cut in the state sales tax. Democrats are almost in the same position. The governor sent ripples through the political community on Sunday, when he announced a proposed cut in the sales tax from 6.35 percent to 6.2 percent by November and down to 5.95 percent the following year. Now that’s a proposal any Republican could support, except it is tough medicine for any Republican to swallow, when it comes from a Democratic governor as strident as this one.

On Monday, as Malloy touted his proposal – part of his overall budget package to be revealed on Wednesday – the GOP looked for the downside, and they found it. It’s a “shell game,” they howled. In return for a sales tax reduction, the governor would eliminate the sales tax exemption on clothing purchases up to $50. Not to mention, how is the state going to close a projected $2.7 billion two-year budget deficit?

Democrats were even more perplexed. Both Senate President Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey chose the silent route, preferring to wait until after the full budget is released. To Democrats, tax cuts are like being forced to take cod liver oil.

Even more distressing to Democrats, Malloy was sounding like a Republican. Making the rounds in Middletown on Monday, the governor said the sales tax “is a broader tax and will distribute more relief and, quite frankly, distribute it more equitably to the middle class.”

In that he is correct. If a Republican governor had been making that statement, GOP legislators would have been heralding the news, while Democrats would be less respectful, howling “shell game” rather than “let’s wait until the full budget is released.”

From a consumer perspective, who wouldn’t trade a sales tax exemption on $50 for a reduced sales tax? Taken at face value, a sales tax cut could produce more revenue for the state on large ticket items like automobile purchases and the like in addition to a overall purchases of all goods subjected to the sales tax.

Forget the Democrats for just a moment. The fact is, Republicans sound like nit-pickers if they oppose the sales tax cut. Malloy’s plan is not the panacea to what ills the state, but for a Democrat to propose a cut in a major tax is big news. For Republicans to oppose it smells like “politics as usual,” during a time when the public is fed up with that game. The GOP should signal the end to “politics as usual” and support the sales tax cut, now. It may be the only thing they can support in this budget, because the betting game from this corner is that the governor’s sales tax cut is a way of softening the blow for what’s also sure to be part of his proposal, tolls on Connecticut highways. That’s where the real “shell game” will be played.

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Why not legalize prostitution in Connecticut too?

marijuanaYou knew it was only a matter of time before the push would start in the Connecticut General Assembly to legalize marijuana for “recreational use.” And two bills have been introduced this session, if passed and signed into law, would do just that.

House Deputy Majority Leader Juan Candelaria is one of the sponsors of HB 6703. He claims legalizing pot would produce state tax income and would drive those currently using pot away from illegal activity.

Then you have Rep. Edwin Vargas, D-Hartford who has introduced HB 6473. He is quoted in the Hartford Courant as saying legalizing pot “could go a long way to help our economy.”

I would ask both Rep. Candelaria and Rep. Vargas why stop at marijuana? Why not legalize prostitution? It would drive people currently engaged in such behavior away from illegal activity by making “the world’s oldest profession” legal. Heck, Nevada has legalized it. And think about it? Making prostitution legal “could go a long way to help our economy.”

In fact, Rep. Vargas being from Hartford could promote a block in the city of whore houses and marijuana dens. Talk about a downtown revitalization program.

And if we can pry the door open a little bit by legalizing marijuana and prostitution, then down the road making other illegal drugs legal, such as cocaine and heroin, could also prove a tremendous economic revitalization program.

For years, governors and mayors in Connecticut have been attempting to find the golden nugget that would jump start their decaying inner cities. Who knew the answer was right under their noses?

A stupid idea, you say, legalizing prostitution? Who would have thought we would be having this conversation about marijuana today? While a state flounders in mediocrity, rather than discuss systemic changes to bring about a real economic turnaround, our lawmakers are consumed with legalizing marijuana. Legalizing prostitution may not be as far fetched as some think.

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When it comes to snowstorms, nobody does it better than Malloy

It took me awhile to figure out how Dannel P. Malloy won re-election as governor. How could someone, who placed a huge tax hike on the citizens of Connecticut and whose know-it-all attitude served as a turn-off to many, win a second term? But watching him from the State Armory on Monday, talking about the Blizzard of the Century, it hit me. When it comes to a snowstorm, nobody does it better than Dannel.

There he was on statewide television and radio, in front of a snow-starved-storm media, the always-present “best Lt. Governor in the United States,” Nancy Wyman by his side, directing the state’s emergency operations.

Malloy was in his element. From talking about prior snowstorms, “We’ve been through five of them now,” to CL&P and UI, the governor, always confident, seemed to be almost regal in his handling of the situation.

Put another way, the governor looked like a leader, blurting out announcements and reciting facts, right down to advising municipalities to keep their own emergency workers on location. He was Toscanni at the Met, Scully behind the mike, Ike on the beaches of Normandy, orchestrating the entire performance.

In CoGov. Dannel P. Malloynnecticut, snowstorms have become a big thing. The public gives the supermarkets and gas stations business and the media hypes every snowflake. For years, all that was lacking was a leader at the top. You got the idea Malloy’s predecessor, M. Jodi Rell, would rather be home in Brookfield sitting by a warm fire, anytime there was a snowstorm of consequence. Not Malloy. He basks in the public eye, anyway. Give him a good ol’ fashioned snowstorm, and it’s lights, cameras, action. Connecticut snowstorm enthusiasts have begged for this kind of leadership for years, and now for the last four years plus, their prayers have been answered. No non-essential state employee, parking ban, or DOT truck is going to get by this governor in a snowstorm. He has mastered every detail.

Let’s face it, a snowstorm for a governor is the equivalent of an international crisis – especially in Connecticut – for a president. How the president handles such a crisis can make-or-break his presidency. It’s the chance to shine in front of a captive audience without dealing with that stupid old legislative body. Shine and you’re golden. Blow it and you’re toast. Same goes for a governor and snowstorms. Just ask one-term governor Tom Meskill.

So adept is Malloy at this kind of leadership, I was secretly hoping had Tom Foley won the last election, he would have kept him on as the new Commissioner of Snowstorms. You know I am not a fan of government expansion, but this position would have been worth the taxpayers’ dough. Imagine Foley in front of this hoard, talking about CT Transit’s schedule or MetroNorth delays? That’s if he knew the difference between CT Transit and MetroNorth. It would have been a train wreck. But not with Malloy as the engineer.

As the winter continues, with more snowstorms still to come, we have a governor in command, at ease and directing the entire show. A state is glued to his every episode. It’s better than “Ray Donovan.” Forget budget deficits, tolls and tax hikes. When it comes to this governor, all it takes is a snowstorm to show who’s in charge.

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In Connecticut, be wary of politicians touting constitutional amendments

toll roadWe are going to here a lot of talk about Connecticut’s Constitution over the next weeks and months, as elected officials try to ram tolls down our throats. We will be told that our elected officials will save themselves from their own temptations by supporting a constitutional amendment to place revenue from tolls into a dedicated account to be used for transportation infrastructure improvements – only. Worse, as proof that constitutional amendments work, we will be reminded that the state has a constitutional amendment, mandating a spending cap on our annual budget. We will be told that voters endorsed it in return for granting a state income tax. Except that is not true.

Here’s the dirty, little secret that our elected officials won’t tell us. When the voters passed that spending cap in the form of a constitutional amendment in 1992, the legislature then had to knuckle down and design a plan to fully implement the cap. Approving the amendment was like passing the bill, before we even knew what was in it. Our illustrious elected officials were then required to design a spending cap – as demanded by the voters in that 1992 amendment vote. Then both the House and Senate needed to pass it by a three-fifths majority to make it a part of the state constitution. They never designed a plan, let alone vote on one.

Oh, we here conversations about the spending cap. And in fact, when the state income tax was passed in 1991 – by one vote – the legislature hoodwinked the public by enacting a spending cap by statute. But they play more games with that than UConn hands out raises, increasing expenditures well beyond what voters approved, by exempting more items from the “spending cap.” That enables them to claim they have held the reigns on spending.

But, repeat, there is no spending cap in the state constitution, even though voters passed an amendment to the state constitution mandating one. That is because legislators failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Again.

“We’ve done constitutional amendments, and they haven’t worked out the way people at the ballot box had anticipated,” House Republican spokesman Patrick O’Neil told the Hartford Courant in its Saturday, Jan. 10 edition.

That is why any talk about a constitutional amendment in return for tolls on Connecticut highways is a lot of hot air. In Connecticut, passing a constitutional amendment is no guarantee that amendment will be part of the constitution. We have a bloated budget to prove it.

So be wary of politicians touting constitutional amendments. In Connecticut, its not even worth the paper on which it’s never been written.

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Optimum Cable Responds. Countdown To Pulling Plug On WFSB Ch. 3 Continues

Optimum, the subsidiary of Cablevision, has responded to one of my Tweets about pulling the plug on WFSB Ch. 3.  Not a surprise.  Companies now have people or software-generated responses, anytime their entity is brought up in social media.

“We’re negotiating w/WFSB Ch 3’s owners & we want to reach an agreement that’s fair to our CT customers,” the Tweet reads.

Snow storm better end soon

The negotiations better conclude soon or the snow storm better end soon, like before 6:30 pm Friday night.  That’s when Optimum will pull the plug on WFSB.  Originally they were going to cut the cord when the clock struck 12 midnight on New Year’s Day.  The impending “Snow storm of the Century” led to both sides agreeing to extend the negotiating deadline to 6:30 Friday night, January 3. The explanation was to allow Ch. 3 to pump out storm news as a “service” to the people of Connecticut.  The real reason was Ch. 3 was not about to blow a ratings opportunity during the storm.  The viewers of Connecticut would have figured out there are other media venues to get their “service”, including three other Connecticut TV stations.  And it doesn’t matter if its storm “Bethany” or storm “Hercules.”

Deal must not include rate hike

But back to the negotiations.  To me, the only agreement that’s fair “to our CT customers” is no rate hike.  If WFSB raises the cost Optimum must pay to carry its signal, and if Optimum passes the cost along to rate payers, where is the fairness there?  People have had it with the price-gouging by the cable-TV industry, regardless of which side in negotiations raises the rates.

NFL part of the picture

And once again, remember that we get another one of these cable-TV disputes at the dawning of the NFL playoffs.  And guess which network carries the AFC playoffs?  And guess which network is affiliated with WFSB?  If you answered CBS to both questions, get a free pass to the Ed Sullivan Theater.

Cut the cable-TV cord

Regardless of the outcome, I am still determined to cut the cable television cord in 2014.  The cost is now beyond reason, as the cable companies or the TV stations with which they negotiate, expand into areas they have no business belonging, balancing their failed WFSBexperiments on the backs of their subscribers.

But I will repeat, the deal, and there will be one after much hand-wringing, must not include a rate hike, or there is no fairness.  Period.

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Murphy Continues Campaign To Demonize NRA

Connecticut first-term U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy continues his assault on the National Rifle Association.  The liberal Democrat is now demanding that NASCAR back out of its deal with the NRA over sponsorship of the April 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.  In a letter he wrote to Brian France, NASCAR CEO, he not only demanded that the NRA be given the boot, but that NASCAR has “crossed the line” in accepting NRA money, thus thrusting itself into the middle of a political debate over Newtown.

In the left’s mind – and Murphy personifies the left – the NRA caused the shooting at Sandy Hook.  In Murphy’s mind, the Second Amendment should be eliminated, because only Murphy and the ruling class know what’s right for America.   In Murphy’s mind, NASCAR exemplified a lot of gall, by exercising its First Amendment rights in taking NRA money.  Murphy and the left, would rather the NRA, and all other groups that demand observance of the United States Constitution,Texas Motor Speedwau just disappear.  These entities that constantly insist that the nation play by the rule book are just getting in the way of implementing the left’s socialist agenda.

The hope is, much like President Obama overplayed his card on sequestration, Sen. Murphy has overplayed his on this one.  Perhaps, such outlandish politicking will serve as a wake up call to an electorate to start voting for real leaders and not those who pander to a tired an worn out ideology, whose goal is to demonize all that hinders its agenda.

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Have Connecticut Voters Tuned Out Gov. Malloy?

The latest Quinnipiac University poll numbers are in and they are not good for Connecticut’s first-term Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.   The governor’s latest approval rating, 43 percent, is down two points since October.  That’s right, down, after Newtown, when the combative governor displayed a sensitive side in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  He’s never gotten above 45 percent approval rating.  Worse, 48 percent of unaffiliated voters disapprove of the job he is doing.  Even Democrats have problems with him.   Normally, a Democrat in office scores in the 70 or even 80 percentile range, but the first Democratic Party governor in more than two decades earns only a 63 percent approval from members of his own party.

Gun Control Telling

The numbers on gun control are especially, instructive, perhaps an indication voters have tuned out this governor, who pushed on state residents, the largest tax hike in history two years ago.  Just 41 percent of those polled, say they approve of the way Malloy is handling gun policy, 38 percent disapprove and 21 percent don’t know.

This is fascinating, because the Quinnipiac Poll was centered around gun control policy, and most everybody surveyed had an opinion.  The vast majority demanded stricter gun control.  Curiously, people in huge numbers, demanded what Malloy is proposing, yet the governor could barely score above 40 percent approval on his gun control policy.  That is a sure sign of a tune out.

Overexposure

Throw in the fact Malloy makes it a point to be on the evening news daily, does numerous radio interviews, even on rock stations, and seems to be traveling everywhere, and it could be Connecticut is experiencing Malloy overload.

Then there is the credibility issue.  During Business Day at the Legislative Office in Hartford, when Malloy promised to balance the state Radio dialbudget without tax hikes or not exceed the mandated spending cap, the audience expressed skepticism.

Listening Tour?

Now the governor is launching a “listening tour,” visiting municipalities around the state to get public input and gauge public opinion.  Except, at his first stop in Middletown, it seemed the governor did most of the talking.  Not to mention, the one-hour “community forum” was tightly controlled, with attendees being asked to submit questions in advance, and the topics then chosen, before the forum began.  That doesn’t sound like a listening tour.

One Term Governor?

From poll numbers to policy to personality, the story line does not bode well for the third-year Connecticut chief executive.  Lacking the charisma of an Obama, Malloy, even in deep, blue Connecticut, could very well be a one-term governor.

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