Tag Archive: Connecticut

  1. Poll shows support for education ruling

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    Nearly two-thirds of Connecticut residents support a September ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court that mandates reforms to educational inequality in the state, according to recent data from the research firm Benenson Strategy Group.

    Based on a poll of 600 residents early this month, 68 percent of voters support the decision, and 57 percent want immediate action to be taken. In 2005, the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding — a group of educators and ordinary citizens — filed the case arguing that the state was misallocating public school funding across districts. More than a decade later, Judge Thomas Moukawsher ruled that state officials would have 180 days to fix its spending, but Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen appealed the decision, saying the judge had overstepped his role by forcing officials to change their policies.

    “[There is a] broad sense that schools are failing,” said Danny Franklin, managing partner at Benenson Strategy Group.

    The data also show that 18 percent of voters believe Connecticut public schools are doing well, and 71 percent believe the state government has not done enough to strengthen all schools equally

    Jennifer Alexander, chief executive officer at ConnCAN, said the ruling was a “bold call to action” that shed light on long-standing issues in Connecticut education.

    The poll showed that most people believe the decision was appropriate, legitimate and not a breach of judicial power, Franklin said.

    According to the poll, 87 percent of voters believe that to have a strong economy, Connecticut must have a public school system that prepares every student to succeed in college and in the workforce. This opinion was shared across the party spectrum, Franklin said, adding that people see education as linked to their futures.

    Franklin said there is a low degree of confidence in the Connecticut school system. As the workforce becomes more competitive, citizens expect the quality of public schools to constantly improve, he said.

    Because people are more likely to immediately say they want schools to improve, Benenson had people hear arguments for both sides of the issue before they responded, Franklin said.

    Survey respondents were not asked where they would like to see education funds come from, Franklin said. The arguments presented to poll takers also did not include debates on disability education funding.

    According to Nancy Alisberg, managing attorney at Connecticut’s Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons With Disabilities, the court’s call for standardization of disability education could leave many children behind.

    Laurence Grotheer, director of communications for New Haven, said city officials have generally supported the ruling since it might eventually provide more stable and equitable funding and help bridge the achievement gap that exists in New Haven and other urban districts.

    The poll has a 3.4 percent margin of error.

  2. Who Pays?

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    This is a story about numbers. The first number is 1978.

    A story, with dateline New Haven, ran on page seven of The New York Times on May 29, 1978, with the headline, “Connecticut to Reimburse Cities for Tax Lost on Exempt Property.”

    Explaining that, for the first time, a state government would make payments to municipalities as partial compensation for the presence of nontaxable nonprofit organizations, the story opened with an anecdote evocative of the Elm City’s property tax predicament.

    “From his 13th-floor office window, Mayor Frank Logue [’48 LAW ’51] looked down at the Yale-New Haven Hospital and then at the hills beyond the city line — and beyond the city’s tax grasp — where most of the patients come from,” Matthew L. Wald, special to the Times, wrote.

    He then quoted Logue, who governed the city from 1976 to 1979: “Only one in five patients in the hospital over there comes from New Haven, but its tax exemption hits us.”

    The very same statement could come today from the mouth of Mayor Toni Harp ARC ’78, perhaps looking from her second-floor office window past the New Haven Green and beyond Center Church at Yale’s Old Campus.

    After representing New Haven for 21 years in the Connecticut State Senate, Harp took the city’s helm this January, nearly 36 years after Logue reflected on what remains one of New Haven’s thorniest problems. Roughly 47 percent of the city’s grand list — the enumeration of its properties — is nontaxable, either in the hands of the government or of nonprofit institutions exempt from paying property taxes.

    In recognition of the revenue problems tax exemptions create — most harmful, though certainly not unique, to New Haven — the state elected in 1978 to lend a hand. A $10-million hand. Of that sum, New Haven would get roughly $2.9 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the Times story reported.

    A 100 percent reimbursement was not sought, the article said, in recognition for the benefits towns and cities receive from playing host to institutions such as Yale.

    So they settled for a 25 percent in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), as the program is called. The state was already doling out $7.2 million in compensation for state-owned property through a program dating back to the 1930s. In total, the state would give $17.2 million that year.

    In 2014, the numbers are larger — much larger. Under a formula laid down in 1999, towns and cities are supposed to get 77 cents back from the state for every dollar they lose from tax-exempt colleges and hospitals. For nontaxable state buildings, the reimbursement is 45 cents on the dollar.

    In New Haven, the payment should sum to $105.3 million, more than 20 percent of the city’s current operating budget for fiscal year 2013-’14.

    Harp, who ran for mayor touting her clout in Hartford, put the matter succinctly.

    “The state of Connecticut is a lifeline to New Haven,” Harp said.

    THE COFFER HALF FULL

    In recent years, that line has frayed. In 2014, New Haven is slated to receive $43.6 million in PILOT, well under half the amount it is owed: Just 29 percent of lost funds from colleges and hospitals and 33 percent from state-owned properties.

    New Haven does not suffer alone. Statewide, the payments have not hit statutory levels in years. In the wake of the recession, Connecticut has had to tighten its budget, relying on a clause of a 1999 statute specifying that the payments to each municipality can be reduced based on fiscal constraints.

    “As a former [New Haven] alderman, I always used to read it as ‘You should give us 77 percent,’” said Connecticut State Rep. Roland Lemar, who represents portions of New Haven and East Haven in the body that help decides New Haven’s fiscal future. “Most of my colleagues see it as, ‘We fund PILOT based on however much we’re lucky to have.’”

    As New Haven’s budget dealings loom — and as it grapples with a major hole in state aid — some in city government are ready to do battle in Hartford for increased funding.

    Harp promised a lighter touch.

    “I’m going to go with my hat in hand,” she said, adding that budgetary requests from city department heads warn of a potential $19-million hole in the general fund. “If the state does find a surplus, they should give it back to the cities.”

    Lurking behind the fragile relationship between the city and the state is a third player: Yale University, the largest employer in New Haven and a multi-billion dollar institution that pays virtually no property taxes on its prominent downtown footprint.

    The property taxes the University does pay — more than $4.3 million for the golf course and University Properties retail locations — make Yale one of the five largest taxpayers in the city, according to Lauren Zucker, Yale’s assistant director for New Haven and state affairs. Those payments, combined with Yale’s vast voluntary contributions to the city, have put the question of Yale’s tax-exempt status to bed, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, Yale’s deputy chief communications officer, insisted.

    “What’s notable now … is that taxation of colleges and universities is not part of the conversation here because PILOT and the University’s voluntary payment have created a context where it’s not an issue and the focus can be on cooperation…,” said Morand, whose experience at Yale and in New Haven also includes a stint as a city alder in the early 1990s.

    MORE, PLEASE

    Taxation, however, is part of the conversation; lawmakers both in New Haven and across the state are making sure of that. As New Haven stares down its fiscal future — budget negotiations begin in March — city leaders are sending a message to Hartford: Give us what we deserve.

    New Haven’s Board of Alders unanimously endorsed a resolution in early February calling on Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and the General Assembly to fully fund PILOT. More than a dozen alders co-sponsored the resolution, drafted by freshman alder Mike Stratton, who represents Prospect Hill and Newhallville,

    “This is not charity for the city of New Haven — this is our right,” Stratton said before the Monday evening vote. “Just give us our money.”

    Stratton said the state has sought to substitute PILOT payments for piecemeal “pet projects,” putting cash into programs of its choice rather than giving autonomy to New Haven. The city is best situated to allocate its own money, he said.

    New Haven is taking the hit for all of Connecticut, Stratton added. Nonprofit institutions — including universities, hospitals, museums and churches — benefit the entire state, indeed the region, but cripple New Haven’s ability to raise revenue, he said, echoing Logue’s logic from 1978.

    “The whole region is freeriding on the backs of our taxpayers,” Stratton said. The city’s mill rate — which determines property taxes based on assessed value — is 41.88, one of the highest statewide. Under the current rate, the owner of a home with an assessed value of $200,000 would pay $8,376 in property taxes. Harp has said she does not want to raise taxes in the budget she presents to city alders by March 1.

    The Board’s statement is largely symbolic, Stratton acknowledged. But it represents just one piece of the alder’s plan to convince the state to send more money to New Haven.

    Stratton has also devised a lobbying strategy, which he has hired Bob Shea, a West Hartford lawyer, to execute.

    “Bobby [Shea] is helping us navigate where the power is,” Stratton said. Shea did not return multiple requests for comment.

    One idea Shea will float with state lawmakers is creating a board with regional oversight over the allocation of PILOT funds.

    If the 77 percent and 45 percent thresholds were met, Stratton said, New Haven could lower its tax rate by a full 20 percent.

    Nancy Wyman, Connecticut’s Lieutenant Governor, said reaching full PILOT funding this year is not possible. The state lacks the necessary funds, she said.

    Harp made a more modest ask in the legislative agenda she laid out the same week the Board passed its resolution. She requested a $5-million increase in PILOT payments to New Haven, a proposal that Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney called “reasonable” at the time. Anything more, he said, would be difficult given the city’s financial constraints.

    In his budget proposals — presented Feb. 6 at the opening of the legislative session — Malloy called for an $8-million statewide increase in PILOT for colleges and hospitals. If approved, the increase would mean just over $2 million more for New Haven, less than half of Harp’s stated goal and a fraction of the Board’s.

    Stratton said he is after more than one-time upticks in funding. A small increase does little to “change the culture in Hartford” surrounding PILOT, he said. He called on New Haven’s state delegation to fight harder for city. Right now, “They’re taking the easiest road to compromise,” he said.

    State lawmakers interviewed said more drastic alterations to PILOT funding this year are highly unlikely. The biennial budget is already in place. Legislative sessions during even calendar years rarely see new appropriations but rather amendments to the current budget.

    “A radical redetermination of our entire budget is not likely in the 90 days that we’ve got,” said Roland Lemar, House vice-chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

    Further, state spending is capped at roughly $21 billion per year, Lemar said. To fully fund PILOT, the state would have to “blow through that cap.”

    Still, Lemar said, full statutory reimbursement is a worthy goal, one he has to figure out how to pitch as an urban legislator to his suburban counterparts.

    AN EVER-SHRINKING PIE

    PILOT funding is like a pie, said Connecticut State Sen. Len Fasano ’81, a Republican who represents parts of Durham, East Haven, North Haven and Wallingford — suburbs surrounding New Haven. As the number of nontaxable nonprofits balloons, and as their footprints expand, different municipalities demand a bigger share of the pie. If funding is static, one town’s increase has to mean another town’s loss.

    Many cities get themselves into their own revenue crises, Fasano added, pointing to New Haven’s courting of Gateway Community College in 2012.

    “The legislature doesn’t have control over the expansion that municipalities themselves are pushing for,” he said.

    Rather than increasing PILOT funding, the state should clarify the process by which a nonprofit moves into a city and takes the property off the tax rolls, said Fasano, who sits on the Planning and Development committee. When Quinnipiac University took over the site of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in North Haven in 2007, the acquisition cost the city a fortune by making the property tax-exempt.

    As the PILOT law stands, he said, the state overpromises and underperforms every year.

    Fasano said problems of tax exemptions are not unique to New Haven — and the state already sends vastly more money to cities than to suburban towns. For every dollar New Haven sends to the state in taxes, it gets back nearly two dollars, he estimated; North Haven retrieves roughly 12 cents on the dollar.

    “Don’t make it sound like you’re doing all these great services for the state, and we’re starving the city,” Fasano said. “If that much is coming from all of our pockets, you need to tell us what you’re doing with the money. And let us review it.”

    Former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said moving toward fully funded PILOT is important, but additional revenue should not change the need to control expenditures. He said the debate highlights the need to diversify the tax base.

    An ability to levy a sales tax or to charge user fees would free New Haven from its exclusive reliance on property taxes, he said, which inevitably skyrocket when state aid falls.

    “Right now, we’re fundamentally attached to the state’s economic wellbeing,” DeStefano said. “When the state catches a cold, the city of New Haven gets pneumonia.”

    The best time to reopen the issue of the tax base would be when the economy is on firm footing, he added.

    What seem like upward trends in the state’s current economic forecast might loosen up funds to at least address municipal budget needs this year, Harp suggested.

    “If the [state] economy improves and the surplus deepens, that creates an opportunity to get more resources,” Harp said. Upgrades to information technology and more trucks for the Public Works Department are one-time payments that could be covered by isolated, single-year state contributions. Rebecca Bombero, a legislative liaison, said that following the passage of the Board’s resolution, the mayor’s office is putting consistent pressure on the state to up the payments. The mayor’s relationship with the governor is strong, Bombero added.

    U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 also pointed to the state’s budget surplus — of $500 million, not counting delayed bond repayments — as an avenue to redress New Haven’s revenue woes. Connecticut as a whole, Blumenthal said, is uniquely dependent on property taxes in funding education and other local needs.

    Partially in recognition of that fact, Connecticut is one of just two states to compensate municipalities for tax-exempt property. Rhode Island also furnishes its cities and towns with PILOT.

    “I CALL IT REVERSE PILOT”

    Simply increasing PILOT does little to address underlying inequities in revenue, said Speaker of the Connecticut House Brendan Sharkey.

    In a proposal that he said will take the form of a bill later this year, Sharkey said he wants to scrap the PILOT law altogether and impose property taxes on nonprofit institutions. Colleges and hospitals will then have to apply to the state for reimbursement, he said, but cities and towns will be guaranteed the revenue.

    “I call it ‘Reverse PILOT,’” Sharkey said. “We will have substantial discussion and debate about this. It will be heard in committee this year. I can’t say whether we’ll be able to work out all of the details by the end of the session.”

    The logic behind the proposed change is two-fold, Sharkey said. First, cash-strapped municipalities should not be subsidizing private institutions, some of which have endowments that dwarf local budgets. Second, the designation of “nonprofit” does not account for the ways in which major universities are involved in generating profit, Sharkey said.

    Sharkey said he thinks there is unique political will behind shifting the onus of taxation back onto nonprofits, namely because the process of haggling over PILOT funds has become acrimonious.

    Stratton said the law could be worked out to set a certain exemption level after which nonprofits have to chip in. The first $1 million of property value could remain exempt, he said.

    “A small church in Newhallville might still not pay any taxes,” Stratton said of the “Reverse PILOT” proposal. “It’s aimed at the bigger guys.”

    Harp said Yale may have a legal claim against such a move. The University’s tax-exempt status is unique; it is written into Connecticut’s constitution, immutable by simple statute.

    Sharkey said another possible loophole could exist for municipalities and nonprofits that can independently work out a mutually satisfactory arrangement. He pointed specifically to Yale as a model of how universities should orient themselves to their home communities.

    When asked if Yale should up its payments, both Harp and DeStefano — who presided over a renaissance in town-gown relations along with former Yale President Richard Levin — said the University already contributes immensely. Voluntarily, Yale will give New Haven more than $8 million this year alone. Since 1991, when Yale’s payments began, the University has bestowed more than $82 million in voluntary contributions on New Haven. Now it also gives money to West Haven and Orange, owing to the expansion of West Campus.

    Yale’s footprint, much of which occupies prime downtown real estate, constitutes no more than 6 percent of New Haven’s total acreage, Morand estimated.

    But Yale’s tax-exempt property is immensely valuable — and would generate substantial revenue for the city if it were taxed. This property totals roughly $2.44 billion in value, according to Michael Condon, a municipal assessor for the city of New Haven.

    Under that estimate, Yale would owe more than $102 million in property taxes. Yale-New Haven Hospital is worth roughly $748 million, which would generate another $31 million.

    James Pascarella, the president of Hamden’s Legislative Council, said the perception of exempting Yale from an otherwise statewide change would be disastrous. Pascarella called the “Reverse PILOT” idea a “last-ditch response” to a decades-old problem of “people who are barely able to make ends meet essentially subsidizing huge corporate nonprofits.”

    Quinnipiac gives Hamden an annual stipend of $100,000, which goes to various charities, not the municipal budget, Pascarella said. Unlike Yale, Quinnipiac does not have its own police force; when a fight breaks out on campus, the Hamden Police are called.

    “We want a partnership,” Pascarella said. The single Quinnipiac official authorized to discuss relations with the town is away until March.

    Sharkey said Quinnipiac has defended its actions — or inaction — by pointing to its federal nonprofit status. Though nonprofit designation is federal, Sharkey said, tax exemptions are all granted at the state level.

    Sharkey and other proponents say they are prepared for substantial blowback from colleges and hospitals.

    “I approach this fully aware that the proposal would impose a substantial burden on [nonprofits] in the short-term, which is why we should begin the conversation now,” Sharkey said. “Nobody likes to pay taxes. But we’re talking about equity.”

    Lemar said the item would be “really, really politically challenging to pull off in 90 days.”

    Connecticut State Rep. Pat Widlitz, House chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said she would have “great difficulty” supporting such a bill. Finding the money to put into PILOT would be more politically palatable, she added.

    Fasano simply said no.

    “This would not be a party line vote. Democrats and Republicans would be against it, urban and suburban legislators would be against it,” he said. “In an election year, when you have the governor’s office at stake and legislators up for reelection, I doubt the bill ever gets debated on the floor of the House or Senate. It would be a hugely unpopular vote to have.”

    BENEFICENCE OR BUST

    Judith Greiman, president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, said the “Reverse PILOT” proposal is bad policy — its legal complications aside.

    She said reversing tax exemptions would “upend town-gown relations at a time that towns and non-profits that are major employers need to be working even closer together.” Further, she said, the change would hurt students, because it would likely increase the cost of college.

    From Yale’s perspective, Morand said the change would disrupt an effective partnership between Yale and New Haven, one that has become a “poster child for how to get along,” he said.

    “One should not mess with longstanding policies in that way,” Morand said in response to Sharkey’s proposal. “This has proven to work.”

    The system — whether it is the fault of the state, the nonprofits or just bad economic times — does not work, according to city, state and national leaders. Yale and other nonprofits enjoy the services and benefits of New Haven, Blumenthal said — why should they not pay into them?

    Morand countered that Yale does not call on most municipal services. By and large, students do not have school-age children who attend the New Haven public schools. The city’s public works department does not pick up trash in Yale dormitories. Morand said the University’s net budgetary impact on New Haven is “actually quite salutary.”

    Fasano, who was born and raised in New Haven, agreed, putting the dynamic bluntly: “Without Yale, New Haven would perhaps be more like Bridgeport in terms of economic growth.”

    Blumenthal said it is also a question of equity: New Haven is at a disadvantage, while Yale has immense resources at its disposal. Under Levin and now under Yale President Peter Salovey, the University has advanced “lightyears in helping New Haven,” Blumenthal said. But the future is uncertain.

    “Do we want to rely on beneficence?” Blumenthal said. “Do we want to rely on the wisdom of really good leaders, like Levin?”

    He answered his own question: “At some point, there may be a need to revisit the principle that nonprofits pay no local property tax.”

    Voluntary payments are just that — voluntary. Yale’s payment formula has built-in growth: It is a calculation of the percent of fire services the University uses plus a figure tied to the number of employees and students on campus. When hundreds of new students arrive and begin to populate the two new residential colleges, Yale’s payments will likely increase.

    When asked if the formula itself is static — or subject to discussion and debate — Morand said the current method works.

    “Your University makes the single largest payment to any municipality … it’s already the single largest, and it has a built-in growth” he said. “It’s a question that need not be asked.”

    But that did not answer the initial question: Could the formula itself be revised to reflect changes in the city and perhaps growing need on the part of New Haven?

    “The University’s willingness is established,” Morand said.

    The question was put a third time: Is the amount the University pays up for discussion or revision?

    “The voluntary payment formula works extremely well and ties the University’s growth to growth in the payment,” Morand said.

    WHO PAYS?

    In the authoritativeWho Governs? Democracy and Power in an American City,” the late Yale political scientist Robert Dahl turned to New Haven to explore a mammoth question about power and governance: In America— indeed wherever popular government exists — who actually controls political decision-making? He theorized that power in New Haven was dispersed among many groups, not concentrated in the hands of the business elite. No single group held all the cards.

    In a new preface to the book’s second edition, Dahl dwelled on the complexity of his initial question.

    “The absence of satisfactory ways of measuring power and influence, and thus describing them accurately, presents a huge challenge,” he wrote.

    In 1978, power aligned in Connecticut to reimburse the state’s towns and cities for a portion of the money they lose every year to tax-exempt properties. The Times story noted an unusual coalition of municipalities and tax-exempt institutions, “two traditional adversaries.”

    Unlike power, money is an easy calculus. It adds up. Except when it doesn’t.

    Money is zero-sum — and not just for Connecticut municipalities competing in 2014 over shrinking PILOT funds.

    “Someone has to pay,” Stratton said. “For years, it’s been the taxpayers of New Haven. Maybe it’s time someone else pitches in.”

  3. How to Succeed in Connecticut Cannabusiness (Involves a Lot of Trying)

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    According to David Kimmel, the best way to understand medical marijuana is to think of orange juice.

    It’s a simple analogy. If you’re suffering from a cold, you won’t get much Vitamin C from a single orange. But squeeze the citrus into juice, and suddenly you’ve got a more efficient dose: eight oranges in one glass.

    It’s the same, so to speak, with medical marijuana. Kimmel explains that the active chemicals in cannabis can be potent pain-relievers. But for patients seeking palliative care, “one orange doesn’t do much like one joint doesn’t do much,” he says. Smoking marijuana — combusting the plant — isn’t particularly effective. That’s why the drug needs to be concentrated, delivered without a bong or pipe.

    Kimmel founded Vintage Foods Ltd., a health and wellness company, in 2010. Come this spring, he hopes to open and operate a medical marijuana production facility in Norwich, an hour east of New Haven. In the city’s industrial park, at 9 Wisconsin Ave., he and his team plan to produce a standardized, unit-based medication from the active oils in cannabis. If they succeed, they’ll be among the first businesses to bring medical marijuana to the state of Connecticut legally — and they’ll be doing it Tropicana-style.

    Kimmel’s interest in medical marijuana stems from his professional background. A veteran of the food and beverage industry, he gravitated toward projects in the health sector. “Food is medicine,” he says early on in the conversation. That philosophy guides him as he prepares for this next professional venture.

    Over the phone, he’s all science. He eagerly relays the latest developments in medical cannabis research (from Israel), and describes in detail marijuana’s “synergistic” health benefits (from its flavonoids, terpenoids and cannabinoids, he explains). He describes Vintage Foods as a “fledgling pharmaceutical company,” which underscores that its potential customers aren’t druggies, but patients: people with serious illnesses. They’re not interested in getting high, Kimmel says — “they want to get better.”

    But whether Kimmel will realize his professional ambition is still unclear. By the end of next month, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection will distribute licenses approving the state’s first medical marijuana production facilities and dispensaries. Competition is steep. Of the 16 companies that hope to become producers, the Hartford Courant has reported that likely three will receive approval. Just three to five dispensaries will open from among the 21 businesses applying.

    For most applicants, this round of vetting is yet another hurdle. Connecticut’s medical marijuana laws are some of the nation’s strictest, which has irrevocably altered the experiences of industry business owners in the state. Other difficulties, often rooted in the stigma surrounding pot, can similarly complicate the market.

    Understood fully, efforts to legalize medical — even recreational — marijuana are best understood as stories of economics and politics, science and health care. There is also real emotion at their center: not only that of patients and caregivers, but also farmers, pharmacists and entrepreneurs, many of whom have hinged future and fortune alike on a recent wave of marijuana-related economic activity known popularly as the green rush.

    *  *  *

    A century ago, marijuana was just a plant.

    In colonial times, hemp was as ubiquitous as churned butter. The Virginia Colony grew cannabis by the bushel, and both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson cultivated the crop at their estates. Its use climbed steadily throughout the next two centuries, according to Martin A. Lee’s “Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana.” Hemp-based tinctures and elixirs, once popular folk remedies, moved into the mainstream, and in 1854, Indian hemp made its first appearance in the U.S. Pharmacopeia, providing some evidence of medicinal use. Then, three years later, The New York Times dubbed hashish a “fashionable narcotic.”

    But the good vibes wouldn’t last forever. Around the turn of the century, the American public soured to marijuana use. A variety of hypotheses have since formed: a surge in anti-immigrant racism, suggests Lee the author; William Hearst and the plastic lobby, explains Kimmel the grower; the ubiquity of “Reefer Madness”-style propaganda, goes another popular theory. Around that time, the ladies of the Meriden, Connecticut women’s club could even attend a community meeting on the so-called “menace of marijuana,” according to ad copy in The New York Times.

    In 1937, Congress passed the “Marihuana Tax Act,” effectively banning cannabis. Public opinion would shift yet again, at least in favor of medical marijuana. In particular, the AIDS crisis catalyzed a generation of patients and activists eager to use cannabis for palliative care. California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Now, 20 states and Washington, D.C. have medical programs, and recreational pot is now famously legal in Washington State and Colorado.

    Connecticut is a far cry from Colorado. In fact, the Constitution State has been relatively conservative in its path toward medical marijuana, which came to Connecticut in 2012: six years after Rhode Island; two since D.C.; one after Delaware.

    In May 2012, the state legislature legalized medical marijuana. That October, patients could register for licenses, but the path to establish a regulatory framework for growing and selling took much longer. Applications for producers and dispensary facilities did not open until September 2013.

    From the start, state officials had emphasized the program’s strict limitations, arguing that such guidelines were critical protection against a marijuana free-for-all. In a June 2012 press release, Governor Dannel Malloy wrote that he did not want Connecticut to “follow the path” of states with medical programs that “essentially legalized marijuana for anyone willing to find the right doctor and get the right prescription.”

    In other words, Connecticut was no Colorado — and it wouldn’t be California, either.

    *  *  *

    Under no interpretation is the term “medical” a euphemism in Connecticut law. According to Morgan Fox, the communications manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, the state’s rules concerning patients are among the “most restrictive” in the nation.

    Under Connecticut law, patients must be over 18. They must reside within the state, and they must not be incarcerated. Most importantly, they must suffer from one of 11 pre-approved medical conditions, which range from post-traumatic stress disorder to cancer to epilepsy. Connecticut’s list of eligible ailments is comparatively slim. In Illinois, a state also currently in the process of establishing its medical program, patients with any one of 30 medical conditions are eligible. Connecticut law also prevents patients from growing their own marijuana, which is permitted in many other states with medical programs.

    Like the people they serve, Connecticut’s producers and dispensaries will be heavily regulated. As they prepare to open this spring, businesses will face a host of restrictions governing products (no THC-spiked candies or chocolates); packaging (must be child-resistant); and even advertising (pot leafs okay, unless on building exteriors or illuminated signs).

    Just entering the market is a challenge. Hefty fees, including a non-refundable $25,000 application fee for producers, priced out many potential business owners. Individual towns, which are not required to consider or permit applications from businesses in the marijuana industry, also proved a particularly powerful roadblock. Statewide, cities have banned or denied en masse applications from potential producers and dispensary owners. Some local officials have cited the relative newness of the medical program as justification. Others have expressed caution regarding its opposition to federal law. The Drug Enforcement Agency still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use.”

    “There’s always going to be a conflict between patients who want to have increased access and people who are afraid of medical marijuana being abused,” says the Marijuana Policy Project’s Fox. Citizens and local governments should have “some say” in determining the kinds of businesses permitted in their communities, Fox maintains. But he adds that in many cases, residents base their decisions on “misconceptions about both medical marijuana itself and the nature of the industry.”

    “It really comes down to whether or not people really want to take medicine away from seriously ill people, and when you put it in those sorts of terms, people really start second-guessing the local bans,” Fox explains. “Once they start seeing the tax revenue that comes from allowing the marijuana industry to operate within their borders, they’re going to start changing their tunes really quickly.”

    *  *  *

    There’s a lot of money in medical marijuana, but most of it is to be found elsewhere. According to Marijuana Business Daily, a leading industry journal, Connecticut’s market will total “$6 million to $10 million annually in revenues” once facilities finally open. Those sums are small potatoes compared to profits out in Colorado, where recreational pot sales exceeded $5 million within the first week of 2014.

    According to Brendan Kennedy SOM ’05, cannabis should be treated as a “mainstream product consumed by mainstream people.”  Kennedy is the CEO of the Seattle-based Privateer Holdings, a private equity firm dedicated exclusively to what’s billed as the “cannabis space.” In other words, it’s the Blackstone of bud. Founded in 2010, its roots, in part, are in Connecticut; Kennedy and his co-partner, Michael Blue SOM ’05, are Yalies, have Connecticut investors and “pay close attention” to the goings-on in the state.

    Alongside growers and business owners, the firm, with its sleek professionalism, suggests another kind of green rush career path. The proliferation of consulting firms, financial organizations and even start-ups within the marijuana industry speaks to a corporatization of cannabis possible only in a nation with rapidly changing drug mores. Marijuana, says Kennedy, is “no longer a subculture,” as evidenced by the proliferation of new products, from high-end vaporizers to innovative marijuana edibles.

    “It’s a giant experiment in democracy,” says Kennedy of the many different medical marijuana laws across the country. He adds that it will be “interesting to see how the Connecticut experiment plays out.”

    The latest stage in the waiting game is almost over, when applicants will learn the fate of their prospective businesses. For these entrepreneurs, the politics of marijuana remains personal. Vintage Foods founder David Kimmel says he’s at the “edge of his seat” waiting for word about his application. If this facility falls through, he’ll probably explore the hemp seed business. “One ounce of hemp seed is ten grams of vegetarian protein,” he says, which means that the curious seed is another superfood worth making into medicine. The medical marijuana market remains his first choice, but the green rush doesn’t have room for everyone — especially in Connecticut.

  4. Sun On My Ridge: WKND gets naked

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    Thrust.

    A relentless pattern; a relentless panting. Thump. Thump. Back and forth. Thrust and groan.

    The wind caressed our naked bodies.

    Sweat ran down our sun-kissed skin.

    Leah heaved. Yuvie squealed. He hit hard.

    Jennifer watched from the sidelines.

    We were playing tennis.

    Just three college students looking to blow off some steam. And we’d found a surprising sanctuary out in the Connecticut boondocks: Sun Ridge Nudist Resort in Sterling, Conn.

     

    * * *

     

    We took a collective deep breath as our borrowed black Ford inched up the hill to the resort. The easy banter of the drive waned to a heavy silence, in which the lyrics of a Jim Croce ballad became painfully audible: “I was so afraid to touch you/ Thought you were too young, you know/ So I just watched you sleeping.” We giggled awkwardly. We were about to come face to face with nakedness — our own, and that of others.

    While we had assured each other that there would be no funny business at this camp, each of us secretly wondered if that would really be the case. When we reached the climax of the hill, would we find only promiscuity or sexual abnormality? Would the people we’d meet be perverts? Was taking our clothes off in front of each other and these strangers, going bare in the unrelenting sunlight on this nippy day, something we really wanted to do? Were we prepared for the parade of pudenda and penis?

    At first we could only see some buildings, a small clearing and the pool area. A fully clothed woman, tanned to a crisp, told us where to leave our car, and motioned to the check-in cabin. As we walked up the steps, we spotted our first bare butt-cheeks under a sign that decreed “Party Naked.” Lydia, Sun Ridge’s owner and founder, gave us copies of the ground rules.

    “There’ll be a chowder bake at 4 — you should come!” she said, waving as we headed for the bathrooms.

     

    * * *

     

    Yuval and Leah went first. They had said they were going to change, but it was into their birthday suits. Walking out into the sun in only her neon salmon Nikes, Leah briefly panicked about the gazes that would soon fall on her exposed body. Then she saw Yuvie, as comfortable nude as he had been in clothes. She was there among friends, and as she looked at the visitors passing by, nobody seemed to fulfill her fears. Together, she, Yuvie and a still-clothed Jennifer walked through the campground.

    And it was by herself, some time after we had gotten our bearings, that Jennifer chose to strip in a field far removed from the main campground. First went her shirt: an oatmeal-colored tee she had worn in an attempt to blend in. Then: a camisole with elastic bands that at first entangled her in its straps; shorts, whose clasp she turned in her hand like she would a key; underwear, sliding abashedly onto the grass; shoes, kicked off; socks, pared from her feet; ponytail, unbridled.

    The first sight anyone has of an infant is of it alone, naked. But then it is quickly swaddled in blankets, and it permanently joins the ranks of the covered. To wear clothes is not only this infant’s right, but also a societal mandate. After the exposure the infant experiences in birth, being nude among others becomes a privilege that it is unlikely to take.

    Most who do lay claim to this privilege, like those at Sun Ridge, do so in groups. It is easier to be naked alone — take a shower, and look at yourself as you scrub. You will probably not look for long, but even a glimpse is enough to confirm that everything is in its place. You know what you are seeing, yet in public you cannot be sure of how you appear; the eyes of others reflect poorly. If you slam your eyes shut in the shower and then quickly don a robe as though your bare skin had never touched water, then what you look like will be a mystery even to you. You are a house whose furniture you know well, though your exterior is entirely unfamiliar.

    Awkwardly at first, Jennifer sat cross-legged on a towel, reading “The Canterbury Tales.” For her, nudity among others, even so far away from them, was a pilgrimage to a wilderness she had known only at birth. Small sounds disturbed her; then, less so. Within minutes, her hyperawareness had quieted.

    Thoreau, it is said, took daily walks in the nude he called “air walks.” No evidence exists that Emerson did the same, but he could have been won over to the practice — he did expound upon seeing everything in nature, after all. Free should the scholar be, and brave; “Know thyself” and “Study nature” become at last one fused maxim, espoused by this Girl Thinking.

    The American scholar will discover herself outdoors. In the middle of the woods, Jennifer entertained the possibility that she was doing Yale right.

     

    * * *

     

    Jennifer dressed and headed back to the swimming pool, where she spoke with Lisa. Lisa had grown up with nudism.

    “My dad was a hippie,” Lisa said. “[Going nude] feels natural.”

    Waving a hand over the floral place mats set out for the afternoon chowder bake, she said, “Out there, I work for corporate America. But here … here, I’m Momma Lisa. You need food, someone to talk to, whatever, you come to me. My door’s always open. My husband, Mike, he’s the camp DJ — he probably has any song you want.”

    It was chilly despite the sun, and Lisa was wearing pink terry sweatpants, but no shoes. No shirt, either.

    “Clothing … it puts a label on you. Be this, be that.” Scowling, Lisa described her preparations for the daily grind: “I have to fix my hair. Then I have to one by one do up my shirt buttons.” She mimed the action, her fingers inching up her bare stomach and breasts like a spider weaving its web. “It’s just so complicated. … Here, you can be what you want to be, do what you want to do. Wear clothes, or don’t wear clothes, whatever you want.”

    To get to Sun Ridge, you must wait at the bottom of the hill and call the office to inform them of your impending arrival. According to Lisa, the resort’s unofficial motto is “Leave your stress at the bottom of the hill.” On the weekends, Lisa leaves her corporate persona behind for her trailer (“the one with the Christmas lights”) at Sun Ridge, where she says she has made friends who live all along the Eastern Seaboard.

    Lisa has mentioned her weekly jaunts to her co-workers. Some of her Sun Ridge friends, however, have chosen to keep quiet about their pastime — what Lydia, the owner, calls the “fastest growing social sport.” If camp visitors, mostly in their 40s and 50s, choose not to disclose their activities, it is often not out of shame but an unwillingness to defend themselves from public ignorance. Lisa spoke of a couple, both ultra-conservative Catholics, that have declined to tell even their children of their weekend whereabouts. They haven’t even mentioned Sun Ridge’s location to their emergency contacts.

    What Sun Ridge is not is a voyeurs’ or hedonists’ haven. As in the clothed world, staring or ogling is a breach of etiquette. Visitors to Sun Ridge engage in activities like tennis, tanning, swimming and cooking; the facility is not a space to indulge wanton sexual fantasies.

    “If it was the orgy everyone thought it would be, I wouldn’t need counseling,” Lisa said dryly.

    If we are surprised by anything, it should be not the content of our physicality, but rather how little it matters to Sun Ridge’s patrons. They are just human beings, but humans being — what? Beyond the borders of Sun Ridge, who are they actually, and who are they supposed to be? The patrons, when at Sun Ridge, aren’t looking for the answer. For them, it is sufficient that humans simply be.

     

    * * *

     

    At Sun Ridge, people play tennis. So, when in Rome, right? We walked down to the courts. A woman in a golf cart pulled up to offer us tennis balls. We struggled to balance the balls in our arms before dropping them, finally, all over the concrete. After flailing about for several minutes, we abandoned the effort.

    “Giving up so soon?” a large lobster-red man asked.

    “Maybe another time,” we promised.

    We had come to Sun Ridge with high expectations. They weren’t met — instead, they were subverted. The debauchery that we feared and longed for did not exist in the community we joined for the day. Rather, we watched people come together in their natural state to find some respite.

     

    * * *

     

    Yom Kippur fell on the Saturday we drove up. Do the math: three Jews, skipping synagogue for a nudist resort on the holiest day on the Jewish calendar — the day when most of us apologize for skipping synagogue the rest of the year, for all the sick and nasty things we do in the nude. We reconsidered the trip. On Yom Kippur, Jews beat their chests and name their sins before God. We’d be beating our chests, too, but more in the Neanderthalic tradition.

    It’s a day of abstinence, Yom Kippur — from food and drink, work, leather, washing, sex. Free of desire and shallow self-regard, it’s a day to dwell sincerely on oneself. And our itinerary didn’t jive with that. As gonzo journalists, however amateur, our task would be to live the lives of others: nudists, serial nudists, people who can’t get enough of airing their privates. That wasn’t us we’d be writing about.

    Frankly, it felt like we missed the train to heaven. It wasn’t even a close shave. We were too busy chasing other gods, naked. We took on the project for its sensationalism. We thought it would be cool to write about our brush with that subculture. So very Swedish of us. God probably loves Sweden, but he doesn’t care much about cool. Especially not on Yom Kippur.

    We rationalized. Yuval ran to his rabbi to seek encouragement. The fasting would just be sexual. Imagine forsaking that deli of naked bodies, he said; having to not get a public erection — that’s hyperfasting right there. The rabbi wasn’t buying it. She wondered if the clientele at the resort wasn’t a bit old for his taste, anyways.

    There’s an old libel that the Jews run Hollywood. True or not, it’s often the case that synagogue feels like a feature film. “Who shall live and who shall die,” the rabbi intones on Yom Kippur, “who by fire and who by water.” The Jewish God’s all about lightning-bolt theatrics, and while Leah’s driving certainly forced us to reckon with mortality, so did getting naked with a bunch of pensioners. Staring at shriveled testicles is one way of staring death in the face. Nudity testifies to gravity’s slow, sad conquests.

    It’s an Enlightenment project, really — things come to light with nudism. Truth triumphs. It was a cold day in upstate Connecticut, and there was a temptation to cover up with a towel on the pretext of the chill. At some point, we cut that bullshit: We knew the towel was an excuse to not expose ourselves. In stripping, we got honest with ourselves. That’s what Yom Kippur’s all about. If you’re so inclined, you could say we stood naked before God that Saturday.

    Hopefully God recognized our newly tanned bottoms.

  5. Biting the Bullet — And Leaving Connecticut

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    Surrounded by a tobacco store and a deserted Thai restaurant in a strip mall off I-95, a white-haired man in a baseball cap and plaid flannel shirt took a midday smoke on the stoop of Connecticut Firearms and Tactical LLC. The only marking on the storefront was a large sign reading “GUNS.” Below the awning, someone at the Orange, Conn.,-based retailer had pasted advertisements for National Rifle Association pistol courses and a bumper sticker with another message: “God bless our troops … especially our snipers.”

    The date was April 19. 15 days earlier, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy had signed historic, tough new gun legislation into law.

    A customer entered the shop, surveying the walls lined with guns, ammunition and pistol cases.

    “Do you have a round of .40?” the customer asked. CFT was the only retailer in the state he had called that had that particular kind of ammunition in stock.

    “Get it while you can, before the prices go up,” the attendant replied ominously. With state legislators having cracked down on gun sales in all iterations, the going rate for ammunition might just be as volatile as prices at the gas pump.

    CFT used to stock AR-15s and AK-47s — the kind of assault rifles demonized in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. But the retailer had to completely reevaluate its merchandise and change its business model after the reform package extended the state’s assault weapons ban, limited the size of magazines and instigated universal background checks. The state’s House voted 105-44 in favor, with the approval of Malloy.

    Both gun retailers and gun manufacturers alike have been hit hard by the decision — and are in the process of reacting to it.

    Last week, Bristol’s PTR industries, which employs a staff of 50, announced that it will consider invitations to relocate to other states.

    In an April 9 press release, PTR indicated that it will choose a new location within the next six weeks and aim to complete its relocation out of Connecticut by the end of the year.

    “We feel that our industry as a whole will continue to be threatened so long as it remains in a state where its elected leaders have no regard for the rights of those who produce and manufacture its wealth,” the PTR release read. “We encourage those in our industry to abandon this state as its leaders have abandoned the proud heritage that forged our freedom.”

    PTR is one — and the smallest — of four Connecticut gun manufacturers; the others include Stag Arms in New Britain, O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. in North Haven and Colt Manufacturing Company LLC in West Hartford. Together, they employ over 1000 Connecticut residents.

    As PTR urges both gun manufacturers and retailers to leave the state, showing politicians what the company describes as the “true consequences of their hasty and uninformed actions,” the future looks bleak for Connecticut residents dependent on the gun industry’s role in the state economy. Lawmakers, then, are fighting not just the gun-rights backlash born of the recent legislation but also accusations that they have created a hostile working environment for the Nutmeg State’s gun industry, one gun-related businesses may just do well to abandon.

    “They don’t know what they can sell legally to whom, or when, or how,” said Josh Fiorini, the CEO of PTR.

    “Their world just got turned upside down.”

    ‘Talk to a manufacturer at least once’

    The gun industry has long regarded Connecticut as its home. In the early 1800s, Connecticut manufacturers produced the first affordable high quality firearms, earning the state designation as “the arsenal of democracy.” Hartford-born Samuel Colt, Colt Manufacturing’s namesake, invented the revolver design in 1836 and made his company the first in the world to produce firearms with interchangeable parts.

    But everything changed after Newtown. Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Chris Murphy have been lobbying the Senate since December to pass their background checks amendment, which failed just this past Wednesday. Local efforts for gun control were more successful: Malloy scrambled to create a bipartisan task force on gun violence prevention in the Connecticut senate and then pass the state’s sweeping 139-page package of new laws. Gun manufacturers claim the Malloy-backed legislative process did not incorporate their input. Fiorini said that he met with all of the legislative leaders responsible for the bill — and added that none of them had any technical expertise with regard to guns.

    “There was a 100 percent lack of consultation,” Fiorini said. “If you’re writing healthcare legislation, might want to talk to a doctor at least once.”

    Mike Bazinet, the spokesperson for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industry, confirmed that several industry executives went to Connecticut’s General Assembly with every intention of participating fully in the debate over reform. But he added that he took issue with the fact that the final legislation passed never received a public hearing.

    Both Fiorini and Bazinet claimed that as the package was sped through the Connecticut legislature, lawmakers failed to even read it in full. Instead, Fiorini suggested, they based their opinion on a 16-page pamphlet that was “floating around.”

    Things look different to those who backed the stricter laws.

    Rob Pinciaro, the spokesperson for advocacy group Connecticut Against Gun Violence, called the idea that gun industry figures were left out of the legislative process “patently untrue.” He added that manufacturers were specifically invited to pubic informational hearings.

    “I don’t know how many hearings they want,” Pinciaro said.

    Such verbal sparring has even surfaced in the national media, further straining relations between the two groups. In an April 7 interview with CNN anchor Candy Crowley, Malloy launched an attack on the gun industry for which multiple manufacturers are demanding an apology.

    “What this is about is the ability of the gun industry to sell as many guns to as many people as possible, even if they’re deranged, even if they’re mentally ill, even if they have a criminal record,” Malloy said on-air. “They don’t care.”

    Manufacturers have accused Malloy of targeting them and of muddying their brand name. Bazinet dubbed the governor’s comments “inaccurate, intemperate and unhelpful to having a civil dialogue” and Fiorini, arguing that the public would not tolerate such antagonistic treatment of any other group, said they were “blatantly offensive.”

    Gun industry representatives believe they have played their part. Bazinet said that the governor should know that all sales handled by federally licensed retailers at stores and gun shows go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check system (NICS), which he sees as the creation of the firearms industry.

    “No one in the industry wants any firearm to go to a prohibited person,” Bazinet added. “To say otherwise is an insult to everyone who works in our industry.”

    No longer the ‘arsenal of democracy’

    Facing hostility in the legislature, gun industry leaders are poised to strike back by moving their facilities — and the jobs they provide — away from Connecticut. PTR is the first to make the public leap towards relocation, but it is likely that the company will start a trend among Connecticut gun manufacturers.

    The exodus of manufacturers could pose a potent threat to the state economy. Connecticut’s unemployment rate of 8 percent is higher than the national rate of 7.6 percent and Malloy’s budget has been criticized as unrealistic, given the state’s $1.2 billion deficit.

    Bazinet pointed out that the firearms industry has an economic impact in the state of more than $1.7 billion. He added that manufacturers have clearly stated, both in testimony before the legislature and in the media, that they oppose the state’s new law for its potential effect on their companies’ brand equity and sales.

    “Whether more manufacturers ultimately decide to move will be their individual decisions based on their due diligence of the costs and impacts involved, but such decisions are under very serious consideration,” Bazinet said.

    Even Pinciaro conceded a concern for gun-related jobs, arguing that it is not in the best interest of the state for gun manufacturers to relocate.

    “They can sell just as well from this state as any other,” Pinciaro added.

    The stakes are higher for the governor. Andrew Doba, his press aide, emphasized that Malloy thinks about jobs and economic development “24 hours a day” but said protecting Connecticut’s public safety remains his top priority. The bill signed into law will improve security and make Connecticut’s communities and families safer, Doba added. He said Malloy hoped that the gun industry would join the state in that effort.

    But while public safety improvements may trump the economic activity provided by gun manufacturers from a Connecticut perspective, politicians in other states welcome any economic boost. Texas Governor Rick Perry practically rolled out the red carpet for Connecticut gun manufacturers with a post on Twitter last Friday. “Hey, PTR. Texas is still wide open for business!! Come on down!” he chirped.

    Manufacturers believe that states in the Southeast and Southwest boast cultures that would welcome their presence as an industry. Some 20 states have so far reached out to Connecticut-based gun manufacturers with invitations to move and offers of economic assistance.

    But Texas, Fiorini said, is at the top of PTR’s list, thanks to its cultural support for gun ownership and individual rights.

    “[Texas] is a business-friendly state government,” Fiorini said, identifying it as a “long-term safe haven” for gun manufacturers.

    Such a haven stands in contrast to other states with liberal leanings. Were PTR to move to a state like Massachusetts, Fiorini said, its fate would remain uncertain.

    In Texas, it is assured.

  6. Murphy, McMahon in dead heat, new poll shows

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    Conn. Senate candidates Chris Murphy and Linda McMahon are closer than ever in the upcoming battle for retiring Senator Joseph Lieberman’s seat, according to a new poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University.

    The poll suggests that Murphy, the Democratic candidate, is likely to receive 47 percent of the popular vote, just one percent less than McMahon, the Republican candidate for Senate.

    This marks a shift from polls released last week that put Murphy several percentage points ahead of McMahon. It also represents a move from the Real Clear Politics average poll that put Murphy 2 percentage points ahead of his competitor.

    The change is possibly a response to harsh ad hominem attacks by both parties, according to Douglas Schwartz, director of the Quinnipiac University poll. Murphy’s campaign has funded 1,564 television spots with negative advertisements, while McMahon’s campaign has sponsored 2,204. Unfavorable ratings have steadily increased for both candidates, a possible response to the negative advertising campaigns that have dominated the airwaves for the past several months.

    Still, both Murphy’s and McMahon’s campaigns reiterated their personal attacks after reading the Quinnipiac poll.

    “Linda McMahon is spending tens of millions of dollars on lies, smears and political attack ads in an attempt to distract voters from her strong support for right-wing Republican policies like ending Social Security, privatizing Medicare and giving millionaires like herself another massive tax cut,” said Murphy campaign spokesman Eli Zupnick.

    Meanwhile, McMahon’s campaign manager Corry Bliss said the poll indicates that state voters are “wary of promoting a lifetime politician who failed to show up 75 percent of the time for his current $170,000-a-year, taxpayer-funded job.”

    Bliss added that voters are not persuaded by the “nasty, false attacks Congressman Murphy and strong special interest supporters” have launched against McMahon.

    The poll also found that 55 percent of McMahon’s supporters are “very enthusiastic,” while 39 percent are “somewhat enthusiastic.” Meanwhile, 27 percent of Murphy’s backers are “very enthusiastic,” while 55 percent are “somewhat enthusiastic.”

    Only 46 percent of the eligible population cast a vote in the 2010 midterm election. For some, the closely-contested race is of national significance because decisions in a few key states will determine which political party controls the U.S. Senate.

    This year, Senate elections will be held on Nov. 6, 2012.

  7. Connecticut among nation’s least corrupt, study says

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    Connecticut is one of the least corrupt states in the nation, according to a study published on Monday by the D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity.

    The nonprofit Center for Public Integrity rated states on a number of “Corruption Risk Indicators,” in 14 areas including campaign finance, access to information, internal auditing and lobbying disclosure. The Center combined these metrics with assessments of public officials to put together each state’s numerical score, which was then translated into a letter grade. Connecticut scored an 86, earning it a “B” grade. Only New Jersey, which earned a “B+”, came out ahead of the Nutmeg state.

    The report cited the state’s transparency in government and campaign finance, and praised the state’s public financing of elections, adding that Connecticut is a place where “the average citizen can more easily believe that elected officials are voting in his or her, rather than special, interests.” The study did not give out any ‘A’ grades, but Washington, California and Nebraska all earned a “B-“.

    Eight states — Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia — received an “F”.

  8. UConn TV station in trouble over video

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    Students at the University of Connecticut are crying foul over a video they say makes light of rape.

    UConn’s student-run television channel broadcast a video as part of a sketch comedy series portraying a woman fleeing an apparent rapist, the Hartford Courant reported Wednesday. In the film, the woman attempts to use a number of emergency phones on campus, each of which malfunctions and fails to provide help. In one instance, the phone malfunctions, mistaking “rape” for “grapes.”

    The Courant reported that roughly 100 people attended an event at UConn’s Women’s Center, and the student organizers of the TV station issued a formal apology. The video had been up on the station’s website since it originally aired in November, but it was not discovered until a student saw it online Tuesday and emailed it to others.

    While UConn senior Mateo Gonzalez, the TV station’s general manager, told the Courant that all content aired on the station is screened beforehand, though he said time constraints cause some videos to skip the screening process. He said this particular video “fell through the cracks.”

    “I haven’t seen the video, but it’s always important to foster a culture of respect and understanding on a college campus,” UConn President Susan Herbst said in a statement. “When something crosses a line between just being plain old bad taste to something that is deeply offensive, it’s important that students speak up and talk about that.”

  9. For Connecticut, predicted surplus turns into deficit

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    Connecticut is currently looking at a budget deficit of $144.5 million, a far cry from the $100 million surplus it predicted two months ago, the Hartford Courant reported Thursday.

    The state’s ties to Wall Street are part of the problem — as a result of a downturn in holiday bonuses, wealthy bankers living in Fairfield County did not produce as much tax revenue. Real estate tax revenue has also fallen, while a consistently low unemployment rate means less income tax being paid. To balance the budget, the state is proposing a system of budgeted lapses for state agencies, with organizations spending less money than they were originally allotted.

    Some on the right have argued that Malloy’s tax increases have proven ineffective and indicate poor planning. Malloy has committed to ending this fiscal year with a surplus, the Courant reported.

  10. Advocacy group delivers 400 tacos to East Haven

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    Craving some tacos? Check out East Haven Town Hall.

    After East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo mentioned that he “might have tacos” when asked what he would do to support the city’s Latino residents, advocacy group Reform Immigration for America (RIFA) launched a texting campaign urging upset citizens to text “TACO” to 69866 — in return, the group said it would deliver a taco to the mayor’s office as a sign of protest.

    Sure enough, representatives from Junta for Progressive Action, a branch of RIFA, delivered an extra large order of 400 tacos to the city’s Town Hall Thursday afternoon. Maturo was not present to accept the gift.

    It doesn’t look like Maturo will get to savor all 400 tacos. Junta members said in an interview with the New Haven Register that they intended to leave one taco behind for Maturo and donate the rest to the less fortunate.

  11. New Haven Dems pick their U.S. Senate candidate

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    City politicos began to coalesce behind a replacement for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 on Sunday afternoon.

    A number of high-ranking New Haven Democrats attended a gathering of around 80 people at the East Rock home of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro to support U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy in his run for the U.S. Senate. Sen. Marty Looney, the senate majority leader, and State Reps Toni Walker, Roland Lemar and Gary Holden-Winfield were in attendance, as were 16 members of the Board of Aldermen, the New Haven Independent reported.

    Ward 9 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James-Evans and Ward 20 Alderwoman Delphine Clyburn all turned out in support of Murphy, while others, including Ward 2’s Frank Douglass, just came to hear what Murphy had to say.

    After the gathering, former Secretary of the State and senate candidate Susan Bysiewicz ’83 released a list of 36 New Haven Democrats, who she counts among her supporters. But on the list were Douglass and Ward 26 Alderman Sergio Rodriguez, who had said they were still undecided, and Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04, who said he was firmly behind Murphy.

    Murphy currently has the backing of all four U.S. representatives from Connecticut. The primary will take place in August.