Archive - Mar 2010
Last week, Connecticut Gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont had a meeting with a group of political bloggers in New Haven. It was a valuable conversation, but it only included a small subset of bloggers covering political events in Connecticut. Some of this may be a result of ambiguity of the role of bloggers in Connecticut politics. Some bloggers are activists. Some are journalists of one sort or another. Some are both, and some are neither. I try carefully to balance roles of an activist, a journalist, as well as a plain old blogger writing about daily life. It is a difficult balance to achieve and I suspect my critic might suggest I fail at some of this.
To a certain extent, I see journalism and activism much more closely related than some might suspect. The Society of Professional Journalism’s Code of Ethics calls on journalists to ‘Seek Truth and Report It’. This seems closely aligned with open government activists and I would love to see more bloggers approach their writing using some of the tools of professional journalism to achieve this simple but profound goal.
One organization I strongly encourage serious bloggers to find out more about is Investigative Reporters and Editors. They accept bloggers as members and offer great trainings. I went to an IRE training in New Haven some time ago, and I’ve just been told that they have a Watchdog Workshop scheduled for April 16th in Providence, RI.
One of the things I learned about was getting on the Census Bureau’s press list. Now, I regularly get emails from the Census Bureau about various data that they are releasing. Most people think of the census bureau in terms of the population census they do every ten years. However, they are a source of many other great bits of information.
As an example, on March 23rd, the Census reported State Government Tax Collections Decrease $67 Billion in 2009. The report noted that Income Tax collections were down 12 Percent and Corporate tax collections were down 21 Percent. Today, they issued an additional report noting about State and Local Government Tax Revenue noting that:
Tax revenues grew in the fourth quarter, marking the first quarter of positive growth in five quarters. Individual Income Tax and General Sales Tax revenues continued to decline, while Corporate Income Tax and Property Tax revenue increased.
There is a lot of valuable information in these tables if you dig a little bit. For example, according to the Census Report, state revenues in Connecticut went from $1.7 billion in the third quarter of 2009 to $3.0 billion in the fourth quarter, reflecting the national trend of a rebound in revenues for the fourth quarter.
Nationwide, the top revenue sources are general sales and gross receipts, individual income taxes, motor fuel sales tax, and corporate net income taxes. Connecticut mostly reflected this during the fourth quarter of 2009, with some notable differences. Nationally, sales tax and income tax both account for about 34% of States’ receipts each. In Connecticut, income tax accounts for 47% of the States’ receipts and sales tax only accounts for 27%. Connecticut receives 4.2% of its revenue from motor fuel taxes, while nationally, the average is 5.2%. Connecticut receives higher revenues from than the national average on tobacco, but half of the national average on alcohol. For amusements, Connecticut receives nearly 4 times as much in revenues as the national average, but corporate income taxes, Connecticut only receives about 70% of the national average. All of this is information bloggers covering the state elections, especially during these difficult budget times, should have access to.
Another interesting Census Bureau report is State and Local Public Employee Retirement Systems Assets Drop Nearly $180 Billion in 2008.
“Shortfalls in state and local government pension plans may have long-term consequences for some state and local governments,” said Lisa Blumerman, chief of the Census Bureau’s Governments Division. “These data allow the user to annually monitor the characteristics of these retirement systems.”
Woodbridge has done a good job of funding retiree benefits, but other municipalities may not be doing so well. For 2008, State and Local governments in Connecticut collected $2.8 billion for public employee retirement systems. About a billion dollars of this was from losses on investments during 2008. At the same time, the expenditures were $3.1 billion. The retirement system holdings for 2008 were $32.5 billion. Again, this sort of information would be very useful to bloggers seriously covering the current elections.
As a final note, about a year ago, I set up CTNewsWire, a Google Group that elected officials, candidates, state and local agencies, and nonprofit organizations can use to send press releases and media advisories to anyone that is interested, especially bloggers and citizen journalists. There are now over fifty subscribers to the Google group, and over 1800 releases have been sent to the group. Bloggers and citizen journalists that are not members of the Google Group are encouraged to check it out as another valuable source of information about what is going on in Connecticut.
Some bloggers wish to focus strictly on being activists or advocates. Others don’t want to get at all involved in news or politics. Yet if you are a blogger in Connecticut that wants to get more involved in seeking the truth about what is happening in Connecticut and reporting it, check out the IRE, the Census Bureau, and CTNewsWire. If there are other good sources, share them.
Students from the Multi Age Group program at Beecher Road in Woodbridge, CT received a special look at how legislation is made at the State Capital on Monday in Hartford. Second Year and Fourth Year MAG students visited the capital to hold an informatory hearing on invasive species in Connecticut and what the State Government is doing about it.
Unlike many trips to the capital which focus on historical aspects of our state government and rudimentary descriptions of the legislative process by state legislators, the students, led by Beecher Road parents, Aldon and Kim Hynes, experienced what it is like to work on a committee gathering information about proposed legislation. The program was carefully crafted in collaboration with the MAG teachers to integrate with the students’ current studies in invasive species.
First to testify before the MAG Special Committee on Invasive Species was State Representative Bryan Hurlburt. Representative Hurlburt, besides being one of the younger members of the General Assembly and a member of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee is a Vice Chair of the Environment Committee. The Environment Committee recently approved Raised House Bill No. 5320, An Act Concerning the Enforcement of Prohibited Actions Concerning Certain Invasive Plants. This bill would authorize conservation officers to enforce certain prohibitions concerning invasive plants. Rep. Hurlburt started off by explaining how people testify before a legislative committee and provided a good example. This was followed by questions from the students related to invasive species and what the legislature is considering. Much of Rep. Hurlburt’s testimony focused on the problems of aquatic invasive species, such as the Zebra Mussel, as well as actions that can be taken to try and prevent the spread of invasive species.
The second witness to testify before the MAG Special Committee on Invasive Species was State Representative Matt Lesser. Representative Lesser is a friend of one of the MAG students, serves on the Education Committee and is currently the youngest member of the General Assembly. Recently, Rep. Lesser voted against Raised House Bill No. 5491, An Act Concerning Certain School District Reforms to Reduce the Achievement Gap in Connecticut. He has expressed concern about how best to encourage parental involvement in Connecticut’s educational system. While he may have concerns about how Raised Bill No. 5491 addresses parental involvement, he provided a good example of how educators, parents and legislators can all work together to provide a richer learning environment than our current status quo.
Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Amey Marrella, was also invited to come speak to the MAG Special Committee on Invasive Species. Unfortunately, a last minute conflict prevented Commissioner Marrella from addressing the committee and instead she sent two DEP staff members to provide information to the students. As with the initial two speakers, the staffers from the Department of Environmental Protection were peppered with questions related to invasive and native species in Connecticut and some of the programs of the DEP.
With the committee work completed, the students broke for lunch and a brief opportunity to speak individually with members of the Woodbridge delegation to the General Assembly. This was followed by a brief tour of the State House and a trip back to Woodbridge. Some members of the special student committee on invasive species expressed interest in proposing legislation. Such ideas are bound to be explored with the students and teachers in the Multi Age Group program at Beecher Road School, in Woodbridge, CT as they work together in further explorations of their unique learning experience.
(Cross posted to the Woodbridge Citizen.)
Friday evening, Connecticut Gubernatorial Candidate Ned Lamont met with a group of about a dozen bloggers and staffers to discuss various issues that the state and the campaign faces. Friday was also the day that New Haven, along with over a thousand other municipalities, filed their requests to become cities where Google would test gigabit Internet.
Ned's company, Lamont Digital Systems, has been providing cable services, including high speed Internet to colleges and universities for over twenty-five years, and so I asked him his thoughts about the Google gigabit Internet effort. He wouldn't say a lot about what his company is doing, or planning in the future and only noted that they provide high speed internet connectivity to college campuses and it is up to the college campuses how they make that available to students. He did note that companies would be wise to study what students are doing with the Internet on college campuses as a good indication of the future of digital.
In terms of the efforts by New Haven to become a Google test bed, he noted the superb research institutions in New Haven and what a great boost gigabit Internet would bring to the area for research as well as for economic development. He went on to say that the state needs to be looking at how it would promote digital infrastructure across the state, not only in big cities but in rural areas as well.
When I asked about what could be done to improve the infrastructure in Hartford, he noted that many agencies look like they are still in the 1970s and technology in Hartford needs a major overhaul. He asked why there isn't more sharing of computing resources and information in Hartford. Improving the technology infrastructure, in the long term, would reduce costs, improve service and also improve government transparency.
Included in his ideas for more efficient technology in Hartford, Mr. Lamont suggested that the state government should do more electronic group purchasing, and should allow municipalities to join in on the electronic group purchasing for additional savings both in Hartford and at the local level.
Unfortunately, he noted, addressing many the technology problems in Hartford requires upfront spending, and during these difficult financial times, it is hard to make these sort expenditures. When asked about what can be done for the near term financial problems he spoke about elimination of longevity pay and more furlough days, two items that the Senate Democrats included in their deficit mitigation package. He spoke about eliminating some of the deputy commissioner positions and seeking recurring cuts, instead of simply one-time budget transfers.
Since this was a meeting with bloggers, and not the traditional news media I asked him his thoughts on media consolidation. Mr. Lamont did not seem especially concerned. He stated he was much more concerned about it fifteen years ago, but that now, with the Internet, people have much more choice about what news they receive and that there is much less central control over the news. He encouraged people to read from a wide variety of sources.
In closing, Ned Lamont noted the importance of projects like GoogleHaven. Most importantly, he said we need someone who will challenge the status quo. He did that, taking on the cable companies when he started his own company. His campaign in 2006 challenged the political status quo, and he hopes to get an opportunity to challenge the status quo in Hartford.
I’ve been using Drupal since 2002 and building my own sites in Drupal since 2003. I find it a great environment to work in. Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken at a couple different Drupal gatherings in Connecticut, and this is a followup to some of those discussions. Earlier this month I spoke at the Connecticut Drupal Group. Mostly, I spoke about some of the history of Drupal, especially as it related to Ecademy, DeanSpace, and CivicSpace. It provided a good opportunity to talk about various aspects such as multisite configurations.
Later, I spoke at the Southern Connecticut Open Source Users Group about Drupal. It was a well attended group that I adjusted to the level of the participants, who were mostly well versed in computers but had not done much with Drupal.
Since then, I’ve had a few frustrating Drupal projects cancelled, but I’ve done some interesting things.